SciTech Briefs

‘Virtual’ border goes up and running

A “virtual” fence consisting of sensor towers and advanced mobile communications has gone live on a 28-mile stretch of border separating the United States and Mexico. The fence, built near Nogales, Ariz., by Boeing, was delayed since its original launch date of 2007 by software problems.

Border Patrol agents report that the fence produces actual results in finding and allowing the capture of illegal immigrants and smugglers, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a follow-up on border-control efforts.

An estimated $20 million has already gone into funding for this stretch alone, and last month, President Bush asked Congress for an additional $775 million to continue construction of surveillance equipment along the border.

Source: Reuters

Arizona hosts largest solar plant

Abengoa Solar, a Spanish power company, is planning to construct a three square-mile large solar power plant in Gila Bend, Ariz., a small town 50 miles southeast of Phoenix.

The plant, named The Solana Generating Station, is projected to begin construction next year and could begin power production as early as 2011. Solana will produce 280 megawatts of power, enough to power over 70,000 homes.

Unlike conventional solar power plants, Solana harnesses heat from the sun rather than light as its source of power. The heat is used to warm liquids, which will then spin turbines and generate electricity. According to Abengoa CEO Santiago Seage, this will allow the plant to continue producing power even after the sun has set.

Source: CNN

Scientists measure force to push atom

Scientists at IBM have recently measured the amount of energy required to push single atoms along surfaces.

Approximately one 1600-millionth of an ounce of force is required to push a cobalt atom along a smooth copper surface. Up to 12 times more force is required to push the same atom along an aluminum surface, IBM researchers reported.

Single atoms fall into small indentations in the surface lattice structure, and significant force is required to push each of them out of an indentation and into the next. When measured on a larger scale, these atomic forces contribute to friction. This information may help scientists form electrical components from a single atom.

Source: The New York Times

Glaciers approach sea

A group of glaciers in west Antarctica spanning roughly the area of Texas is picking up speed as it flows toward the sea, British scientists report.

Scientists from the recently returned British Antarctic survey are alarmed by the rate at which these glaciers are accelerating. This rate has increased by 7 percent within the last season alone. This may be due to deep ocean currents eroding the glacier and underground geothermal activity.

If the entire group of glaciers melts, it could potentially raise sea levels worldwide by as much as five feet.

Source: BBC

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