Wind Power Blades Get Bigger, Turbines Get Smarter.

A look at tomorrow’s turbines

Wind Power Future
Metal inserts built into the carbon-fiber blade during manufacture mean the root end, bolted to the hub, can be slimmer, stronger, and more aerodynamically efficient. • Fabricating the carbon fiber in modular pieces, rather than one long blade, ensures the material’s consistency and reduces the risk of failure. • An erosion-protection material molded into the leading edge of the blade reduces wear and tear over the blade’s lifetime.
Graham Murdoch

In 2012, wind power added more new electricity production in the U.S. than any other single source. But even with 60 gigawatts powering 15 million homes, wind supplants just 1.8 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions. Tomorrow’s turbines will have to be more efficient, more affordable, and
in more places.

The Supersize Route

Bigger Blades

Big rotors generate more electricity, particularly from low winds, but oversize trucks hauling blades the length of an Olympic pool can’t reach many wind-energy sites. Blade Dynamics fabricates its 160-foot, carbon-fiber blade in multiple pieces, which can then be transported by standard trucks and assembled at a nearby location. It’s a stepping-stone for 295-foot and 328-foot blades now being designed for offshore turbines. (Currently, the world’s longest prototype is 274 feet.) The colossal size should enable 10- to 12-megawatt turbines, double the generation capacity of today’s biggest models.

Wind Power Scale
Graham Murdoch

The Networked Solution

Smarter Turbines

Reducing the variability of wind energy could position it to compete as a stable source of power. General Electric’s new 2.5-megawatt, 394-foot-diameter wind turbine has an optional integrated battery for short-term energy storage. It also connects to GE’s so-called Industrial Internet so it can share data with other turbines, wind farms, technicians, and operations managers. Algorithms analyze 150,000 data points per second to provide precise region-wide wind forecasts and enable turbines to react to changing conditions, even tilting blades to maximize power and minimize damage as a gust hits.

The Hybrid Hail Mary

Man-Made Thunderstorm Power

Solar Wind Energy’s downdraft tower is either ingenious or ludicrous. The proposed 2,250-foot-high concrete tower will suck hot desert air into its hollow core and infuse it with moisture, creating a pressure differential that spawns a howling downdraft. “You’re capturing the last 2,000 feet of a thunderstorm,” says CEO Ron Pickett. The man-made tempest would spin wind turbines that could generate up to 1.25 gigawatts (though it’s designed to operate at 60 percent capacity) on the driest, hottest summer days—more than some nuclear power plants. The Maryland-based company plans to break ground in Arizona as soon as 2015, provided it can secure $900 million in funding—a large sum but perhaps not outlandish when compared with a $14-billion nuclear reactor now under construction.

Scorpion venom is a painkiller for the grasshopper mouse | Mo Costandi

Researchers have identified the molecular mechanisms that make the grasshopper mouse resistant to scorpion venom.

Grasshopper mouse

A southern grasshopper mouse approaches and prepares to attack an Arizona bark scorpion. Photo: Matthew and Ashlee Rowe.

The bark scorpion is, according to Wikipedia, the most venomous scorpion in North America, wielding an intensely painful – and potentially lethal – sting that stuns and deters snakes, birds and other predators. People unfortunate enough to have experienced the sting say that it produces an immediate burning sensation, followed by prolonged throbbing pain that can last for hours.

But the grasshopper mouse is completely resistant to the bark scorpion’s venom. In fact, it actively preys upon scorpions and other poisonous creatures. As the film clip below shows, it responds to the bark scorpion’s sting by licking its paw for a second or two, before resuming its attack, then killing and eating the scorpion, starting with the stinger and the bulb containing the venom. Researchers have now established exactly why this is – paradoxically, the venom has an analgesic, or pain-killing, effect on the grasshopper mouse.

The animal’s secret lies in two proteins, the sodium channels Nav1.7 and Nav1.8, which are found in a subset of sensory nerve fibres called nociceptors. These cells express numerous other proteins that are sensitive to damaging chemicals, excessive mechanical pressure, and extremes in temperature, and have fibres that extend from just beneath the skin surface into the spinal cord.

The sensor proteins relay these signals to Nav1.7 and Nav1.8, which then change their structure in response, so that their pores, which span the nerve cell membrane, open up, allowing sodium ions to flood into the cell. This causes the nociceptors to generate nervous impulses, which are transmitted along the fibre into the spinal cord. From there, the signals are relayed to second-order sensory neurons, which then carry the signals up into the brain, where they are interpreted as pain.

Ashlee Rowe of the University of Texas in Austin and her colleagues started off by injecting scorpion venom, formaldehyde and salt water into the hind paws of southern grasshopper mice and common house mice, and compared their behavioural responses.

The house mice licked their paws furiously for several minutes after being injected with venom or formaldehyde, but not when they were injected with salt water. By contrast, the grasshopper mice seemed completely oblivious to the venom, and barely licked their paws at all after being injected with it. They found the formaldehyde to be far more irritating, and the venom actually reduced the amount of time they spent licking their paws when the two were injected together.

Next, the researchers isolated sensory neurons from both types of mice and grew them in Petri dishes. They then added scorpion venom to the dishes and used microelectrodes to measure the electrical activity of the cells. This showed that the venom strongly activated cells from the house mice, making them fire with rapid bursts of nervous impulses, but actually prevented cells from the grasshopper mice from firing. Further investigation revealed that the scorpion venom directly binds to, and potently inhibits, Nav1.8 sodium channels from the grasshopper mice, but not the house mice.

Rowe and her colleagues performed a final series of experiments to determine how this happens at the molecular level. They sequenced the Nav1.8 gene from the grasshopper mouse, and compared it to that of the common mouse, to identify multiple DNA sequence variations that confer insensitivity to scorpion venom. All the mutations encode amino acid residues in or around the pore region of the Nav1.8 protein, replacing neutral residues with acidic ones that are attracted to water.

As a result of these tiny structural changes, scorpion venom binds to Nav1.8 and switches it off, perhaps by plugging the pore or making it impermeable to sodium ions in some other way, thus blocking the transmission of pain signals into the spinal cord.

The researchers confirmed the importance of the pore region by using genetic engineering to replace this segment of the common mouse gene with the corresponding segment from the grasshopper mouse gene. This made the resulting protein resistant to the venom, whereas substituting the pore DNA sequence in the grasshopper gene with that from the common mouse gene rendered it highly sensitive to the venom.

The ability to detect pain is critical for survival, as it alerts organisms to potentially life-threatening injuries. Venomous creatures have capitalised on this, by evolving neurotoxins that inflict pain by activating nociceptors in one way or another, thus detering would-be predators from attacking again. The grasshopper inhabits the deserts of North America and Mexico, and probably evolved resistance to venom as a physiological adaptation, which enabled it to eek out an existence in such an extreme environment by feasting on venomous prey.

Previous work has identified Nav1.7 as a key player in pain signalling, and researchers have identified a number of rare mutations in the gene encoding it, which make people either completely or partially insensitive to pain. Drugs that block Nav1.7 activity could therefore be effective pain-killers, and various research groups have been researching and developing such drugs. The new findings identify Nav1.8 as another potential target, and provide another potential route for the development new analgesic drugs.

The Most Horrifying Drug in the World Comes to the U.S.

Krokodil, a heroin-like drug that rots the skin, has been reported in Arizona


A flesh-eating drug called Krokodil, because it makes user’s skin scaly and green before it rots away, has arrived on American soil. The Banner Poison Control center in Arizona has reported the first two users of the drug — which has been available in Russia for more than a decade — here in the U.S.

Krokodil most closely resembles morphine or heroin and is injected into the veins. It is made of codeine, a painkiller often used in cough syrup, and a mix of other materials including gasoline, paint thinner, and alcohol. It has become popular in Russia, where it was first reported in 2002, because it is cheap–it can cost 20 times less than heroin according to Gawker–and can be made easily at home.

“As far as I know, these are the first cases in the United States that are reported,” Dr. Frank LoVechhio, co-medical director at Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center in Arizona, told CBS 5. “So we’re extremely frightened.” The average life span of a Krokodil user is two to three years, according to a 2011 TIME investigation of the drug’s prevalence in Russia.

When it is injected, the drug rots the skin by rupturing blood vessels, causing the tissue to die. As a result, the skin hardens and rots, sometimes even falling off to expose the bone.  ”These people are the ultimate in self-destructive drug addiction,” Dr. Ellen Marmur, chief of dermatological and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City told Fox News, “Once you are an addict at this level, any rational thinking doesn’t apply.”

Testing Sideline Tele-Concussion Robot at Football Games.


There will be a new face at Northern Arizona University (NAU) football games this fall – only the face of this new “team member” is a robot on wheels. Mayo Clinic researchers are working with NAU to test the feasibility of using a telemedicine robot to assess athletes with suspectedconcussions during football games.


With sophisticated robotic technology, use of a specialized remote-controlled camera system allows patients to be “seen” by the neurology specialist, miles away, in real time. The robot is equipped with a specialized camera system and remotely operated by a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix campus who has the ability to assess a player for symptoms and signs of a concussion, and to consult with sideline medical personnel.

The first time the robot will be used in a game is this Friday, Aug. 30, when NAU kicks off its season against the University of Arizona in Tucson at 7 p.m. MDT.

 Arizona, concussion robot, concussions, Football, neurology, Northern Arizona University


Coccidioidomycosis on the Rise in the U.S.

The incidence of coccidioidomycosis, or “valley fever,” increased eightfold in the endemic area of the U.S. from 1998 through 2011, according to MMWR. The endemic area comprises Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

Analyzing data from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, CDC researchers found that the incidence in this region rose from 5.3 to 42.6 cases per 100,000 population over the study period. The increase was seen among all age groups, but those aged 60 and older were most affected.

Speculating on the reasons for the increase, MMWR‘s editors note thatCoccidioides spores, which live in the soil, might have spread readily because of drought, rainfall, temperatures, or construction activity. They also acknowledge that changes in disease surveillance might have affected the numbers. Nonetheless, they conclude that clinicians “should be aware of this increasingly common infection when treating persons with influenza-like illness or pneumonia who live in or have traveled to endemic areas.”

Source: MMWR


Climate Change and severe drought in Arizona.

Medicaid Expansion Appears to Lower 5-Year Mortality.

Data hint that bolstering the system benefits even those already enrolled.

One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, scheduled to take effect in 2014, will allow states to expand Medicaid to include all adults with incomes near the federal poverty level. Researchers tried to predict health benefits from this measure by examining outcomes in three states that have enacted similar Medicaid expansions already.

Adjusted all-cause mortality in the Medicaid-expansion states (New York, Arizona, and Maine) declined by 6.1% in the 5 years after expansion, which is a significant difference compared with mortality in adjacent states used as controls (Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico, and New Hampshire). The differences were greatest among nonwhites, residents of poor counties, and 35- to 64-year-olds. A smaller (but also significant) mortality difference (2.6%) was observed in adults older than 65, along with a significant decline in cost-related delays in care.

Comment: This “natural experiment” addresses a long-debated statistic in the health policy world, in which Medicaid coverage has been associated with worse rather than better health outcomes among adults. This study shows that when confounders are removed, the association is more likely inverse. Although this study had a variety of statistical caveats to consider, its results are consistent with both mortality benefits of Medicaid already established for infants and children, and preliminary results of a randomized, controlled trial of Medicaid expansion in Oregon.

Source: Journal Watch General Medicine