"Our goal is to make the sun," says Dr. Ed Moses, principal associate director of the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. "A miniature sun on earth." Dream big much, Dr. Moses?
The facility, affectionately called "the NIF" is a $3.5 billion installation, and it houses the largest laser on earth -- by a factor of 100 times. The ultimate goal of the facility is nothing less than "changing the nature of our future" by creating usable energy out of simple water. This is Einstein's famous equation, using protons and neutrons to turn mass into energy.
"The problem is that it only works because it's really big," Moses explained Tuesday at The Atlantic's Big Science Summit in San Jose, California.
The NIF's ultimate goal is to make the space required to perform this transformation "about the diameter of your hair," he said. If that audacious goal is achieved, Moses said, you could power all of San Jose with 400 gallons of water per year and all of California with as much water as it takes to fill a swimming pool.
Which is all well and good if you know how to run a massive, atom-smashing laser. But what about those of us who just want to save energy at home? You've installed energy efficient windows and you wear big sweaters instead of cranking up the heat and yet it seems like your energy bill still goes up every winter.
According to Yoky Matsuoka
, VP of technology at Nest Labs -- and a Macarthur "Genius" award winner -- the problem is your thermostat. Fifty percent of the energy in your house is used for heating and cooling. Fully 44% of Americans have purchased programmable thermostats and yet only 11% of us ever actually program it. "It turns out the interface is a little bit complicated," Matsuoka says, so people put their thermostat on manual mode, override it, or just stop using it.
So, working with some of the design geniuses behind the iPod, Matsuoka developed Nest, the world's best thermostat. A simple dial with one big temperature number in the middle, the thing actually learns your patterns as you raise and lower the heat day by day. No setting, no buttons. Just dial it to the temp you want and the machine gets to know your habits so eventually you won't have to. It turns on when you're due home, and off when you leave. You can adjust it from afar with your smartphone, or just let it adapt to your changing habits as your lifestyle shifts over time.
Even better, Nest lets you put your stats online, and you can see exactly how much energy you've saved. Every "Leaf" you earn is a sign that you're saving money ... and reducing your carbon footprint. Online competitions have sprung up to see who can reduce their energy bill the most. Some people have found that they can save up to 30% of A/C runtime, without even breaking a sweat.
And at about $250, the Nest is a great energy-saving alternative for people who don't have three or four billion dollars to throw around.