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April 23, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Focus on Sustainability: Gary Dirks, GIOS

  |   Video
  • Dr. Gary Dirks is the new director of Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability. Dirks will talk about his new role, his vision for GIOS, and sustainability issues.
  • Dr. Gary Dirks - Director of Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University
Category: Science   |   Keywords: focus, sustainability, ASU,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Gary Dirks was recently named Director of Arizona State University's Global Institute of Sustainability. Joining me to talk about his new role and his thoughts on sustainability issues is Dr. Gary Dirks. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Gary Dirks: Pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: what is the global institute of sustainability?

Dr. Gary Dirks: It's more or less exactly what it says. We're an institute that does research looking into the big issues that relate to how we create the future for humanity that is sustainable over multiple generations, so the bulk of what we do in the institute is to do research that looks at everything from water to energy to climate, things of that nature.

Ted Simons: next question was going to be to define sustainability. People hear it, it's everything from going solar to reusing water. What do you see as sustainability?

Dr. Gary Dirks: This is a good question. It comes up a lot. There are sort of two ends of the spectrum that I like to use. One is a fairly formal definition that came out of a report called the brundtland report from a couple decades ago. Basically that is supplying the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A little academic. There's a more earthy one that one of our advisors on the board likes to use, treating the planet like we intend to stay here.

Ted Simons: I like that one.

Dr. Gary Dirks: it works a lot better in most instances.

Ted Simons: It certainly makes sense. Now, at GIOS, what is your vision? What do you see the institute and the school doing?

Dr. Gary Dirks: Yes. Well, to begin with the institute and school are not exactly the same thing. The school as it implies focuses much more on the teaching side whereas the institute focuses more on research. But we do manage the two together as a strategic entity. In the case of the institute, what we really want to see is the institute providing new knowledge, getting that knowledge out to those decision makers who can make use of it whether in government or industry, other academic institutions, and really driving forward a set of concepts on how we can be more sustainable, how can we use energy more efficiently, find new sources of energy, how we can use water more efficiently. In the case of the school, we want to bring that knowledge that's being created in the research back to the school and teach our students skills on how to consider sustainability problems as well as how to get them engaged in doing actual solutions.

Ted Simons: give me an example of something GIOS would be involved in in terms of advising business or an industry or a government on how to work in a more sustainable way.

Dr. Gary Dirks: Sure. There's a great example of a project that we're working on right now called Energize Phoenix. This is a joint project with the City of Phoenix. We got a Department of Energy grant to do that. In the light-rail corridor we're looking at everything from how to make housing more energy efficient, how to use electricity more effectively, ideas on what to do about the greenhouse effect associated with the urban heat Island. All types of advice around how to do those sorts of things.

Ted Simons: you have experience as a business executive. I want you to talk a little bit about that and how that plays into what you would like to see out of GIOS.

Dr. Gary Dirks: As a business executive, there were a number of things and not all of them environmental that we used to look at. For example, education in developing countries is extremely important and how you go about developing a work force that is sensitive to environmental issues that are sensitive to the needs of the local communities where important things in business need to engage in. We would support institutions, academic institutions, NGOs to develop training programs, to look at the way that commerce is developed, creating jobs, all of that was part of what we would look at from a business standpoint. As we work with our business partners very much the same, so some of our business partners are interested in solutions having to do with work force development, particularly work force development related to sustainability issues. So better, more efficient use of raw materials, sustainable communities and how you develop work forces that are able to provide you with the kind of talent you need.

Ted Simons: Now you're directing GIOS, you were directing something called like works. Are you still with light works and what is it?

Dr. Gary Dirks: I'm still with light works. I'm the director. Light works is an initiative, not a school, not a center, not a college. It's a university-wide initiative. The idea behind light works is that at Arizona State University we do a lot of research related to light. If we were able to bring that research together from all the different departments, all across the university, we ought to be able to do bigger projects and bigger programs. We ought to be able to apply that insight to more complex problems. So that's what we have done. We focus on things like photovoltaic electrical devices. We focus on artificial photosynthesis, making fuels without plants from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. We focus on using plants specifically algae and bacteria to make chemicals, fuels, useful products. We also do energy efficiency. We look specifically at the state of Arizona. We got tremendous solar resources in Arizona. Education. Policy. All of this within light works an all of it intended to try to go for bigger, more complex problems.

Ted Simons: This may be off topic but do you see Arizona doing everything it can to utilize solar? It just seems as though we take three steps forward and move a couple steps back. How do you see what the state is doing regarding solar energy?

Dr. Gary Dirks: I think there is a certain amount of a few steps forward and a step back. On the whole not bad. If you look at the statistics, we're now number two in the country in the rate at which we're putting in new solar photovoltaic capacity. Only California is ahead of us in terms of the rate they are going forward. We are doing a lot of work both in our utilities and in our universities on how to more effectively use solar energy, particularly with respect to micro grids and stabilizing the grid. Could we do more? Yes, absolutely we could do more, but it would require us to look at the way that we manage the utilities and how we make it a win-win for both the solar industry and for the future of the utilities.

Ted Simons: are you concerned that other states, other countries are moving faster than us?

Dr. Gary Dirks: Well, California is certainly moving faster than we are. I don't think that what we should be worried so much about is who is moving fastest. I think what we should be looking at is who is on a path that is stable and they are going to be able to sustain. Who is taking those steps that will integrate both the use of solar and the production of solar devices most effectively. In other words, we want the jobs. We don't simply want to deploy solar. We would also like to have the jobs. I think in that regard there's more we could do on the job creation side. But on the deployment side, as long as we don't lose our way, as long as we keep plowing ahead we're not on a bad path.

Ted Simons: The U.S. as well?

Dr. Gary Dirks: The U.S. in terms of production, no. The Chinese and Asians in general have done a lot more than we have. Having said that, it's also to note that they are going through a wave of bankruptcies in China in particular, and this comes back to it's not so much who is going fastest, who is on a path that is sustainable.

Ted Simons: very good. Good to have you here. Congratulations and good luck.

Dr. Gary Dirks: always a pleasure. Thank you.

Lawrence Krauss on Science

  • Arizona State University Physicist Lawrence Krauss makes his monthly appearance on Arizona Horizon to talk about the latest in science news. He’ll talk about new information on the Big Bang theory being derived from photos taken by a European satellite.
  • Lawrence Krauss - Physicist, Arizona State University
Category: Science   |   Keywords: krauss, innovation, technology, physics, science,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The poll reveals that two of three surveyed think it's time to elect a new senator with just 21% in favor of returning McCain to the Senate.

Ted Simons: It's time now for our regular visit with ASU's physicist and best selling author Lawrence Krauss, who enlightens us every month with the latest science news.

Lawrence Krauss: Great to be back.

Ted Simons: Couple of big things to talk about including baby pictures from the big bang. These are kind of baby pictures.

Lawrence Krauss: they are. Unlike normal baby pictures where only the parents like to look at them, in this case there are pictures that everyone should be interested in, pictures that go back show us what the universe looked like when it was only about 380,000, years after the big bang. . 13.8 billion years ago. I say that now because in fact from these new baby pictures we have been able to learn new things that have changed some of the numbers slightly.

Ted Simons: what we're looking at now, this is a radiation view of what, the universe?

Lawrence Krauss: What you're looking at is first of all projection of the sky in all directions. You see projections of the earth. Take the surface of the earth and project it on a flat plain. Imagine taking a projection of the sky in all directions and projecting it on a plat plain. There would be a horizontal line where our galaxy sits. It would be right in that horizontal zone, in the equator of that image. Then the upper part of the image is the northern hemisphere of the sky and the bottom part is the owner hemisphere. Of course they are not real images but false -- they are real images but false color images of hot and cold spots in the radiation called the cosmic microwave, the after glow of the big bang.

Ted Simons: you know this is radiation because the radiation started when everything cooled down?

Lawrence Krauss: The universe was very hot in early times and so hot in fact that matter didn't exist in a neutral form. Hydrogen, which is protons and electrons, every time a proton tried to capture an electron the radiation was so hot it break it apart. Matter existed in a plasma, a plasma is opaque to radiation but then when the universe become 380,000 years, the radiation cooled below 3,000 degrees, a little warmer than Phoenix in July, then the matter became neutral and transparent to radiation, so that radiation is streaming at us from all directions from that time when the universe first became the matter in the universe first became neutral. Streaming at us in all directions and the radiation has cooled down. It was 3,00 , degrees. It's now three degrees because the universe has expanded by a factor of 1,00 since then an it's in the background wave. If you're as old as you or I, you've actually even it. Remember the days before cable TV?

Ted Simons: Yes.

Lawrence Krauss: back when TV programs went off the air and you saw static?

Ted Simons: First the national anthem, then --

Lawrence Krauss: The test pattern, then static. If you're desperate to watch TV as I was I waited until the static came.

Ted Simons: I hear you.

Lawrence Krauss: 1% of that static is actually radiation from the big bang.

Ted Simons: So you're literally being bombarded from something that's 13 billion years old?

Lawrence Krauss: Exactly. What's amazing is this radiation has been coming at us forever but wasn't discovered until 1965 in New Jersey of all places by two people who really didn't know what they were looking for. They were at bell labs building a radio telescope and that just meant they had a radio receiver and they put it up to the sky and kept getting noise. They got rid of what they called a white material inside, which is pigeon droppings, they still got the noise. They went down the road to some astronomers at Princeton who were very said because they were building an antenna to look for the noise. The two who discovered the noise won the noble prize for physics. The big bang really happened. It's not controversial. There's no need to worry about teaching it in schools. It really happened, and when we look at this radiation which gives us a picture of the universe we can tell all sorts of new things about the universe. This new picture from what's called the plank satellite, the satellite that was launched by the European space agency, it's been going around the last few years above the earth, measuring the entire sky and giving a picture probably ten times more accurate than any baby picture we have of the universe up to now. It's allowed us to know, for example, when I came on the show a year ago I would have said the age of the universe was 13.7 billion years approximately. Now we know it's closer to 13.8 billion years. We know that the amount of dark matter, dark energy is slightly different. On the whole it confirms everything we knew but there's some mystery still. That's what's interesting.

Ted Simons: I was reading about hot and cold spots, first of all can you see them in the image, tell where they are?

Lawrence Krauss: All the spots in that picture are hot and cold spots. The blue are colored to be colder regions. The others are hotter region. Those are small temperature variations. What's wonderful is those were the Primordial lumps we think were created at the big bang itself when could later collapse to form all the galaxies, stars, planets, aliens and TV broadcasters.

Ted Simons: So you go get to see what happened prior to that 300,000.

Lawrence Krauss: We think those were imprinted at the beginning of time. That allows us to test our theories about what the universe was like not when it was 380,000 years old but a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second old.

Ted Simons: So what you’re looking at became stars, planets.

Lawrence Krauss: The question is how did it get there? What was the physics at the beginning of time? So that is what people like me get paid to think about.

Ted Simons: Not all questions are answered.

Lawrence Krauss: No, in fact more questions than answers. In fact there's weird things which could be statistics. The problem is we only have one universe. Most of us do anyway. As far as we know. Most of us experience. Some people may claim to experience more and I make a political joke but I won't. The point is because we only have one universe if these things are statistical it turns out there's a few more large hot spots in the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere. We wouldn't expect that. Is an an accident of statistics or is that significant? With a sample of one it's hard to say. If we had another universe -- we may have to learn more. There's open questions. That's what makes science exciting.

Ted Simons: something else exciting, it just looks like this big old thing but when you realize what it is it's remarkable. Now,.

Lawrence Krauss: We're very proud.

Ted Simons: yes.

Lawrence Krauss: Any baby picture. We're very proud.

Ted Simons: couple of earth-like planets found like what --

Lawrence Krauss: 12 hundred light-years away. Probably one of the most exciting discoveries of the keppler satellite, which is a satellite that's been up for a while, here on the screen you can see that for the first time not only has it been able to discover planets comparable in size to the earth they are actually located around the star slightly smaller than our sun, slightly dimmer, but at a distance in comparison not that different from the earth. One of them is days 150 days its year is days, the other is 260 days. They are in the region, in the right size and in the region we think liquid water could exist. In my mind they are the first sort of candidates for actual habitable planets elsewhere.

Ted Simons: You're saying 12 hundred lights years a way there's a sun not quite as strong as ours. 5,6?

Lawrence Krauss: six planets. Solar system not that different than ours.

Ted Simons: two of them, 62 E and 62 F—

Lawrence Krauss: Very good.

Ted Simons: Well, thank you. Very similar to earth.

Lawrence Krauss: they are a little bit bigger but that shouldn't get in the way. If you had to pick a place outside our solar system where you may be reasonably certain life could form, those would be the places, but that's just the tip of the iceberg there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Pretty well every star has planets around it. I would suspect at least billion habitable planets in our galaxy.

Ted Simons: I hear about the habitual zone and the Goldilocks zone.

Lawrence Krauss: If you look at our own solar system everything is just right. Mars is too small and too far away. Venus used to not be so hot but had a runaway greenhouse effect. It's too hot now. We're right in the region right now liquid water can exist on a rocky planet. That's just right. It's not going to be just right for long. This program can't go on forever. In 2 billion years the earth will heat up and be much like Venus right now. I know you'll talk about sustainability next. No matter what we do the sun will be 15% brighter in 2 billion years and we will no longer be in the Goldilocks zone. If life wants to continue we have a few choices, one, move to Mars or maybe to move the earth. We could do that maybe.

Ted Simons: Or maybe take a ride up to keppler 62E.

Lawrence Krauss: 12 hundred light years away After or three million year voyage you could do that.

Ted Simons: 12 hundred light years inconceivable. Is it possible, is it possible to ever travel at the speed of light or beyond?

Lawrence Krauss: We can't say it's impossible to warp drive. We can have a discussion next time about that. It doesn't violate the laws of physics but it's an academic question. To travel at near the speed of light would cost -- would take so many resources you would have to harness the power output of a star to get a space ship and just have the fuel -- if you wanted to take an existing spacecraft with existing rocket fuel and accelerate it to half the speed of light the amount of fuel required would be more than the mass of the entire visible universe. NASA may appropriate funds for it but it's for the going to happen. The point is we aren't going to be traveling in space ships at near the speed of light. It's an economically prohibitive thing but that means aliens are not coming here.

Ted Simons: I was just going to say. Doesn't that make the idea of space ships coming to visit us a little unlikely?

Lawrence Krauss: Not only a little unlikely, it's incredibly unlikely. It just hasn't happened. None of us want to be alone. That's why this is so exciting. We want to know if we're alone in the universe. There may be microbial life on these plan its but is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Ted Simons: Do you think there's water on these things?

Lawrence Krauss: There's a reasonable likelihood of water on these things. There's lots of water produced around stars. When we look around our solar system all the ingredients of life are there. Water, organic material an sunlight. We have discovered a complex basis of amino acids, some recent experiments in Berkeley showed that even more complex molecules could be created by chemistry on those comets. If you expose them to ultraviolet light you can create dipeptides, basis of what forms RNA and DNA. So not only would I not be surprised if there's water, I wouldn't be surprised if there's microbes. I would be surprised if there is intelligent life.

Ted Simons: What about sea creatures? If you have water wouldn't you have a sea creature?

Lawrence Krauss: First you have to make the microbes that make sea creatures. It took a long time to happen on earth. That is what I exciting, we don't know what's possible and there's a whole universe of things to find out. That's why it's fun to come on each week.

Ted Simons: what is the keppler mission going to do?

Lawrence Krauss: It looks at stars and it's amazing that it can do that, how the stars get dimmer when the planets go in front of them. A teeny planet goes in front of the star and you change the brightness change by 1%, on a regular basis. Then you can see if the stars move wiggly back and forth in response to the gravitational pull of the planet. They have confirmed several hundred stars but discovered over -- not stars, planets, over 2,000 planet candidates and what we're finding is that basically every star probably has solar system around it. It's really neat.

Ted Simons: last point, the constellation lyra, I guess --

Lawrence Krauss: I don't worry about constellations.

Ted Simons: But I love that stuff. Vega is the bright star you can see -- if I look at Vega I could be looking at somewhere within that constellation --

Lawrence Krauss: Somewhere in that constellation there could be stars and sea creatures and there could be in 12 hundred years they will be able to listen to this program.

Ted Simons: Well, lucky them. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Lawrence Krauss: Thank you.