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May 23, 2013

Florida finally drops charges against Kiera Wilmot, NASA sends her to space camp

Wilmot was the student whose science experiment blew up--injuring no one--and the Florida justice system decided to throw the book at. They swear it isn't because she's black. But it's totally because she's black. After the media's Eye of Sauron focused on the case Florida decided to drop it. And NASA stepped up to show everyone how awesome they are again. Florida Honor Student Arrested For Science Experiment Cleared of Charges, Going To Space Camp | ThinkProgress
A Florida honor student who was expelled and faced possible felony charges for a science experiment gone awry has not only been cleared of charges, she’s heading to space camp thanks to a former NASA employee. Sixteen-year-old Kiera Wilmot combined household cleaner and aluminum foil in an eight-ounce water bottle on school grounds on April 22, curious to see what would happen. The chemical reaction “created a pop that sounds like a firecracker and smoke,” but no students were injured nor does there appear to have been property damage. At the suggestion of Florida Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty and after her science teacher said she had not sanctioned the experiment, the responding officer arrested Wilmot and charged her with possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property and possessing any destructive devices — both felonies she would have been tried for as an adult. Pursuant to her school’s zero tolerance policy, Wilmot was also expelled at the time of the incident. But last week the criminal charges against Wilmot were dropped following significant media coverage and an online petition that attracted nearly 200,000 signatures, upset that the arrest was the equivalent of criminalizing curiosity. She remains banned from her school, but her family is in discussions with the administration about a possible reinstatement.

The Dark Side of Greek Yogurt: Millions of pounds of toxic waste

The Dark Side of Greek Yogurt | Alternet
The latest in "healthy" foods that are not actually good for us is Greek yogurt. Over at Modern Farmer, Justin Elliott explains that every three to four ounces of milk produces only one ounce of the creamy snack, and what's left becomes acid whey, " a thin, runny waste product" too toxic to dump because whey decomposition could potentially turn waterways into aquatic-life-destroying "dead seas." Now, with a rapidly expanding $2 billion Greek yogurt market, the question has become, what to do with the whey? According to Elliott, the Northeast region alone produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey just last year. Though Chobani pays farmers to take their acid whey, this method has proven insufficient, as the waste product is difficult to incorporate into farming. Dave Barbano, a dairy scientist at Cornell, believes the small amount of protein in acid whey could be used in baby formula. Before he can say for sure, however, Barbano needs a cost-effective method of protein extraction, and is just beginning research. The best solution right now may be converting lactose into methane for electricity. "Scientists at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have been experimenting for nearly a year on how to get edible-grade lactose out of acid whey," wrote Elliott, and in Scipio Center, N.Y., "they’re converting the lactose into methane that can generate electricity." But even that is expensive and problematic.

May 22, 2013

Are we running out of phosphorous?

You Need Phosphorous to Live—and We're Running Out | Mother Jones
Who cares about phosphorus? For starters, every living thing on Earth—including humans—since all the crops we eat depend on it to produce healthy cells. Until the mid-20th century, farmers maintained phosphorus levels in soil by composting plant waste or spreading phosphorus-rich manure. Then new mining and refining techniques gave rise to the modern phosphorus fertilizer industry—and farmers, particularly in the rich temperate zones of Europe and North America, quickly became hooked on quick, cheap, and easy phosphorus. Now the rest of the world is scrambling to catch up, and annual phosphorus demand is rising nearly twice as fast as the population. Our addiction to cheap P (as it's known in the periodic table) is risky for two reasons. The first, better-known one is that not all the phosphorus that farmers put on their land is absorbed by crops. A lot leaches into water, ending up in lakes and rivers, where it causes algal blooms—which, as they decompose and suck up oxygen, create dead zones. But the scarier reason is that, like any mined material, phosphate rock is a finite resource, and there's fierce debate about just how long our supply can last. "Peak phosphorus" doesn't get a lot of buzz, but it should. In a recent essay in Nature, Grantham, who also runs an environmental foundation, put the case bluntly: Our P use "must be drastically reduced in the next 20-40 years or we will begin to starve." Grantham isn't alone. A group of Australian and European academics caused a small furor in 2009 when they predicted that P production would peak by 2030 (PDF), after which point prices would rise dramatically. This would squeeze farmers, drive up food prices globally, and hand massive geopolitical leverage to the Moroccan government, which reportedly owns a 94 percent stake in the country's mining and fertilizer company. . . .