Columns, Opinion

FENG: Science and state

The United States and foreign nations are equally enthusiastic for new sources of energy, and as the trend continues, the sphere of scientific research must not hold a “look but don’t touch” attitude; politicians should understand the research that is going on, as it could be an Archimedes’ lever in future policies. Researchers are just as likely to make profound influences on world politics as politicians. Without a doubt, the Erlenmeyer flask can be more powerful than any rhetoric or sword.
A prime example stems from the work of a microbiologist during World War I. Before the onset of the conflict, Germany controlled the chemical industry of most of Europe. Its exports mainly dealt with the raw material required to make munitions. Germany disconnected trade ties with the Allied Powers once war ensued.
The war effort demanded that Great Britain create its own munitions. However, the country didn’t have the up-to-date processing methods to generate the raw materials. Chaim Weizmann, a microbiologist at the University of Manchester, developed the method of industrial fermentation and generated the raw materials required for munitions out of flasks of bacteria. He manufactured cordite (the explosive substance in bullets and artillery shells), developed for Great Britain a means for munitions manufacturing and could arguably stand as the savior of his country. His services were sought again during World War II, when he developed the manufacturing of high octane fuel for tanks and heavy armor.
Rather than accepting any honor or reward as thanks from the British government, Weizmann persuaded it to redraw the postwar map and incorporate a place where the Jewish people could call home. His wishes were granted, and in 1948, he became the first president of the state of Israel, successfully redrawing maps and world politics and exemplifying the influence of science on politics.
Though the current world oil reserves are vast, they are finite. With the modernization of many countries, crude oil supplies are starting to peak and only time will tell when they will begin to decline.
The problem with renewable or green energy is that it is currently unreliable. We indeed utilize nuclear power plants, but they produce radioactive waste and are potentially radiation bombs (recall the Chernobyl disaster). Solar power is great, but what happens if there’s no sun?
Oil is reliable, in that it is tangible and not fleeting &- a barrel of oil will remain a barrel of oil until it is used.
Having been cursorily involved in solar panel research, I can say that they are unwieldy. For the sunlight it collects, a solar panel will only convert 40 percent to usable energy.
A future researcher will develop new ways to increase the efficiency of the solar cell and make it available to everyone. As the holder of the patent, the researcher will be in a position to do business with science partners and politicians alike &- a position of power and one that can sew the elements together.

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