New Nobels, Tesla for Puerto Rico, and A Very Old Lake On Mars | Vol. 4 / No. 50

This week we’ve got the low-down on the Nobel Prizes (except Economics, which isn’t really a Nobel anyway), the potential for a green rebuild of Puerto Rico’s energy grid, and evidence of a very old, very large lake on Mars. It’s the science and technology roundup for Sunday, October 8, 2017!

Nobel Prizes

The Nobel Prizes in science have all now been awarded for the year, but the coverage, at least in my feed, has largely been not about the science, but about the problems of the Nobel award itself. Over in the Atlantic, Ed Yong wrote a piece about the way the Nobel rewrites history by awarding a maximum of three people for the work of sometimes thousands—as is the case with the gravitational wave discovery by LIGO, which won the physics prize this year. In The Guardian, Hannah Devlin has a piece exploring the reasons by women and people of colour don’t often win the science Nobels (hint: it’s sexism and racism, but not just on the part of the committees). You should definitely read both. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in who actually won, Vox has you covered:



The Tesla Powerwall | Photo: Tesla

Puerto Rico to Tesla: Let’s Talk

The situation in Puerto Rico is terrible, so before I talk about it, I’d just like to post a couple of links where you can donate and find ways to help.

Now, you may have already heard that Tesla is shipping hundreds of its powerwall battery packs to Puerto Rico along with employees to install them where needed. But this week Musk upped his gain with a few very interesting tweets.

On Thursday he tweeted that “The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.” The company has already set up self-sufficient solar+battery systems on very small islands with populations of maybe as many as a few hundred, but if there’s one thing Musk loves, it’s scalable solutions (just look at the modular design of the Gigafactory). The best part was the response from the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, who tweeted back to Musk “Let’s talk. Do you want to show the world the power and scalability of your #TeslaTechnologies? PR could be that flagship project.”

The next day, governor Rossello followed up with another tweet: “Great initial conversation with @elonmusk tonight. Teams are now talking; exploring opportunities. Next steps soon to follow.”

If Musk can help in the efforts to rebuild the destroyed power grid while making Puerto Rico greener and more robust to future infrastructure challenges, then maybe they should give it a shot.


Wet Mars; Photo: NASA/Villanueva/Mumma/Gallagher/Feimer et al.

Where Life Would Have Been On Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has found the most likely place yet where like could have once been on Mars. According to a new report by the team running the CRISM experiment (Compact Reconnaissance Spectrometer for Mars), the Eridania Basin once held so much water that you could fill the combined Great Lakes ten times over. What’s more, at the time this water was there, 3.7 billion years ago, there would have been volcanic activity in the water, creating hydrothermal vents of the kind we often suppose had to do with the formation and/or development of life on Earth. What this means is that not only do we have a new target for looking for life on Mars, it also means that if we go study it we might learn about what life was like on Earth in the distant past. Unfortunately it’s not on the short list of candidates for Mars 2020, but maybe Elon Musk will send something in the mid-2020s. You can read more about the discovery at the JPL website.


Best of the Rest

No time, more stuff, linkspam. 🙂

That’s all for today. Have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.