Posts about China

Ancient Chinese Natural Gas Drilling Using Bamboo

This very interesting article is a great read about the history of Chinese bamboo drilling by Oliver Kuhn.

The first recorded salt well in China was dug in Sichuan Province, around 2,250 years ago. This was the first time water well technology was applied successfully to the exploitation of salt, and marked the beginning of Sichuan’s salt drilling industry. From that point on, wells in Sichuan have penetrated the earth to tap into brine aquifers, essentially ground water with a salinity of over 50g/l. The water is then evaporated using a heat source, leaving the salt behind.

At some point around 2,000 years ago the leap from hand and shovel dug wells to percussively drilled ones was made. By the beginning of the 3rd century AD, wells were being drilled up to 140m deep. The drilling technique used can still be seen in China today, when rural farmers drill water wells. The drill bit is made of iron, the pipe bamboo. The rig is constructed from bamboo; one or more men stands on a wooden plank lever, much like a seesaw, and this lifts up the drill stem a metre or so. The pipe is allowed to drop, and the drill bit crashes down into the rock, pulverizing it. Inch by inch, month by month, the drilling slowly progresses.

A major breakthrough was achieved around 1050 AD, allowing deeper wells, when solid bamboo pipe was replaced by thin, light, flexible bamboo “cable”. This dramatically lowered the weight that needed to be lifted from the surface, a weight that increased with the depth being drilled. By the 1700s Sichuan wells were typically in the range of 300 – 400m deep

One bamboo pipe line would take away the brine, and others the gas. The 2,000 year plus Sichuan salt industry has drilled approximately 130,000 brine and gas wells, and 10% of those were in the immediate Zigong area. Zigong has a cumulative gas production over this period of over 30 billion cubic metres. The area continues to be a major salt producer, and many of the historical wells are still in production.

drawing of Chinese drilling scene

An ancient sketch originally from “The Annals of Salt Law of Sichuan Province”. A “Kang Pen” drum is seen in the centre foreground, with gas pipes directly feeding the salt stoves on the right. At the top, brine from a remote well is being carried in buckets by men, who feed it into a bamboo pipeline that runs down to the stoves. One of the carriers is being paid at top left, and it appears that a blow out is depicted on a new well being drilled.
(from Zhong & Huang)

As recently as the 1950s there was still over 95km of bamboo pipeline in operation in the Zigong area.

Related: Research on Ancient Roman Concrete Will Allow the Creation of More Durable and Environmentally Friendly ConcreteWhy did China’s Scientific Innovation Stop?Hyperloop – Fast Transportation Using a Better Engineering Solution Than We Do Now

Youyou Tu: The First Chinese Woman to Win a Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 was divided, one half jointly to William C. Campbell (born Ireland, now USA) and Satoshi ÅŒmura (Japan) “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites” and the other half to Youyou Tu (China) “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”.

Youyou Tu is the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Diseases caused by parasites have plagued humankind for millennia and constitute a major global health problem. In particular, parasitic diseases affect the world’s poorest populations and represent a huge barrier to improving human health and wellbeing. This year’s Nobel Laureates have developed therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases.

William C. Campbell and Satoshi ÅŒmura discovered a new drug, Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, as well as showing efficacy against an expanding number of other parasitic diseases. Youyou Tu discovered Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from Malaria.

These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.

image of Artemisinin

via Noble Prize website

Malaria was traditionally treated by chloroquine or quinine, but with declining success. By the late 1960s, efforts to eradicate Malaria had failed and the disease was on the rise. At that time, Youyou Tu in China turned to traditional herbal medicine to tackle the challenge of developing novel Malaria therapies. From a large-scale screen of herbal remedies in Malaria-infected animals, an extract from the plant Artemisia annua emerged as an interesting candidate.

However, the results were inconsistent, so Tu revisited the ancient literature and discovered clues that guided her in her quest to successfully extract the active component from Artemisia annua. Tu was the first to show that this component, later called Artemisinin, was highly effective against the Malaria parasite, both in infected animals and in humans. Artemisinin represents a new class of antimalarial agents that rapidly kill the Malaria parasites at an early stage of their development, which explains its unprecedented potency in the treatment of severe Malaria.

Youyou Tu was born in 1930 in China and is a Chinese citizen. She graduated from the Pharmacy Department at Beijing Medical University in 1955. From 1965-1978 she was Assistant Professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, from 1979-1984 Associate Professor and from 1985 Professor at the same Institute. From 2000, Tu has been Chief Professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She doesn’t have a doctorate, very rare for a Nobel Prize winner in the sciences.

Read the full press release

Related: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 for Reprogramming Cells to be PluripotentNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008Parasites in the Gut Help Develop a Healthy Immune System2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or MedicineVideo showing malaria breaking into cell

2014 Ranking of the World’s Best Research Universities

Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University produces an annual ranking of research universities. The methodology values publications and faculty awards (Nobel and Fields) which belies the focus on ranking research not for example the quality of education provided.

You could argue one measure does partially address teaching as the Nobel and Fields prizes to alumni are created to the institution (that is separate from a measure of faculty that receive those honors). I would agree it partially measure the education though it also measures the ability of that school to attract the absolute best candidates (whether they would have been just as successful going elsewhere is a fair question).

Results from the 2014 rankings of top 500 universities with the number of schools by country:

location Top 100 % of World
Population
% of World GDP % of top 500
USA 52     4.5%   22.2%  29.2%
United Kingdom   8  0.9  3.5 7.6
Germany   4  1.1  5.0 7.8
Canada   4  0.5  2.4 4.2
France   4  0.9  3.8 4.2
Japan   3  1.8  7.8 3.8
Australia   4  0.3  1.5 3.8
China   0  19.2  11.7 8.8
Netherlands   4  0.2  1.3 2.6
Sweden   4  0.1  0.8 2.2
Switzerland   5  0.1  0.8 1.4
South Korea   0  .7  1.7 2.0
India   0  17.0  1.9 0.2

The top countries for top 100 and top 500 schools are listed above, but I skip over many after the top 7 or 8 to include a few countries I like to watch, see the ranking site for the full list. Country population and GDP data were taken from the World Development Indicators 2013, by the World Bank.

There is little change in top 100 since 2008, which I think is a good sign, it wouldn’t make much sense to have radical shifts quickly in this type of ranking. The USA lost 2 schools in the top 100, UK lost 3, Germany lost 2, Switzerland gained 2, Netherlands gain 2…

There is more change in the top 500 where changes are more sensible (there is probably not much separating schools ranked in the 300’s from those in the 500’s so variation and strong pushes (from countries like China) can have an impact. China gained 14 more schools in the top 500. China’s GDP also increased from 6.6% of global GDP to 11.7%.

University of Wisconsin – Madison is 24th, it was 17th in 2008 My father taught there while I grew up.
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Ranking Countries by Scientific Publication Citations: USA, UK, Germany…

The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators developed from the information contained in the Scopus database. I posted about this previously (in 2014, 2011 and 2008).

The data in the post is based on their data from 1996 through 2013. The web site also lets you look at these ranking by very specific categories. For example biotechnology #1 USA, #2 Germany, #3 UK, #4 Japan, #12 China or human computer interaction #1 USA, #2 Germany, #3 UK #4 Japan, #13 China).

I like looking at data and country comparisons but in doing so it is wise to remember this is the results of a calculation that is interesting but hardly definative. We don’t have the ability to measure the true scientific research output by country.

The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list.

Country h-index 2010
h-index
2007
h-index
% of World
Population
% of World GDP total cites
USA 1,518 1,139 793     4.5%   22.2% 152,984,430
United Kingdom 918 689 465  0.9  3.5 37,450,384
Germany 815 607 408  1.1  5.0  30,644,118
France 742 554 376  0.9  3.8  21,193,343
Canada 725 536 370  0.5  2.4 18,826,873
Japan 635 527 372  1.8  7.8 23,633,462
Additional countries of interest (with 2013 country rank)
16) China 436 279 161  19.2  11.7  14,752,062
19) South Korea 375 258 161    .7  1.7  5,770,844
22) Brazil 342 239 148  2.8  3.0 4,164,813
23) India 341 227 146  17.5  2.6 5,666,045

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DIY Air Filters for Your House

In January 2013 PhD student Thomas Talhelm, was living in Bejing, China with very bad air pollution and wondered why air purifiers cost so much. He bought a HEPA filter on Taobao, strapped it to a simple fan, bought a particle counter, ran some tests, and published the results.

As the effort gained publicity and people said they had trouble finding the right type of fan and a trustworthy HEPA, Thomas and his friends Gus and Anna decided to launch Smart Air in September 2013 to ship fans and the best HEPAs they could find to people all over China.

Smart Air believes that if more people saw their open­ source data and testing, more people would know that clean air doesn’t have to cost thousands of RMB (hundred of USD). The simplest solution (a fan, filter and strap to hold the filter to a fan) costs 200 RMB (under US $35).

I love simple solutions. And I love entrepreneurship combined with engineering to provide customers value.

Related: Air Pollution Resulted in 223,000 Cancer Deaths in 2010Extremely Bad Haze in Johor Bahru and SingaporeUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasPay as You Go Solar in India

It is also great that they provide useful data including: HEPAs lasted 90 days without any drop in effectiveness, then effectiveness dropped by 4% between days 100-130. It’s up to you to decide whether that 4% is enough to warrant changing your filter after 3 months of nightly use.

Country H-index Ranking for Science Publications

The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators developed from the information contained in the Scopus database (this site also lets you look at these ranking by very specific categories (I think 313 categories), for example biotechnology #1 USA, #2 Germany, #3 UK, #4 Japan, #9 China or Theoretical Computer Science #1 USA, #2 UK, #3 Canada, #6 China). I posted about this previously (in 2008 and 2011) and take a look at the updated picture in this post.

I like looking at data and country comparisons but in doing so it is wise to remember this is the results of a calculation that is interesting but hardly definative. We don’t have the ability to have exact numbers on haw the true scientific knowledge output by countries are. I think you can draw the conclusion that the USA is very influential, and along with other data make the case even that the USA is the leading scientific publication center.

The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list.

Country h-index 2007
h-index
% of World
Population
% of World GDP total cites
USA 1,389 793     4.4%   22.4% 129,540,193
United Kingdom 851 465  0.9  3.4 31,393,290
Germany 740 408  1.2  4.7  25,848,738
France 681 376  0.9  3.6  5,795,531
Canada 658 370  0.5  2.5 15,696,168
Japan 635 372  1.8  8.2 20,343,377
Additional countries of interest
16) China 385 161  19.2  11.3  11,253,119
19) South Korea 343 161    .7  1.8  4,640,390
22) Brazil 305 148  2.8  3.1 3,362,480
24) India 301 146  17.6  2.5 4,528,302

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H-index Rank for Countries: for Science Publications

The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators. As stated in previous posts, these types of rankings have limitations but they are also interesting. The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list (the top 6 repeat from my post in 2008 – Country H-index Rank for Science Publications). The h-index provides a numeric indication of scientific production and significance (by looking at the citations given papers by other papers). Read more about the h-index (Hirsh index).

Country h-index h-index (2007) % of World
Population
total Cites
USA

1,139 793     4.5% 87,296,701
United Kingdom

689 465     .9% 21,030,171
Germany

607 408     1.2% 17,576,464
France

554 376     1.0% 12,168,898
Canada

536 370     .5% 10,375,245
Japan

527 372     1.8% 14,341,252
Additional countries of interest
18) China

279 161 19.4% 5,614,294
21) South Korea

258 161     .7% 2,710,566
22) Brazil

239 148  2.8% 1,970,704
25) India

227 146 17.5% 2,590,791
31) Singapore

196 .01% 871,512

Related: Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and KoreaWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data Top 15 Manufacturing Countries in 2009Science and Engineering Doctoral Degrees WorldwideRanking Universities Worldwide (2008)Government Debt as Percentage of GDP 1990-2009: USA, Japan, Germany, China…

Lobopodians from China a Few Million Years Ago

image of a lobopodian fosil nicknamed the walking cactus

image of a lobopodian fosil from Nature

Cactus Walking On 20 Legs Found In China

There was a wild period — roughly 520 million years ago — when life, for no obvious reason, burst into a crazy display of weird new fantastic forms — producing creatures in shapes never seen before or since. Consider this animal, the newest fossil discovery from Jianni Liu in China. She calls it “the walking cactus.”

This is not a plant, not a sculpture. It was a live animal, with no eyes, what may or may not be a head, mostly a gaggle of limbs, armor-plated, covered in thorns, attached to a stomach.

What is it? Taxonomically, Jianni Liu thinks it’s a lobopodian, a group of animals described as “worms with legs.” Lobopodians are about the craziest looking critters that ever lived. A whole zoo of them appear in the rocks around Chengjiang, China.

All we know, says Richard Fortey in his classic history Life, is that a long time ago, the first of these strange animals popped into view and for a short while “there was a chain reaction, unstoppable once it started, a bacchanalia of zoological inventiveness, which has never been matched again.”

Every living thing on earth today is what’s left over from that amazing burst of forms. It’s true we now live on land and in the air, not just in the sea. We have grasses and flowers and beetles in more varieties than you can imagine, and yet, in some deep architectural way, the developmental paths were set way back then, 500 million years ago. The Walking Cactus is just another souvenir of that crazy moment.

Very cool. Actual science is so full of such interesting things. The Cambrian explosion of life, about 540-490 million years ago, marked the beginning of complex life on earth. Before Cambrian, the sea floor was covered by microbial mats. By the end of the period, burrowing animals had destroyed the mats through bioturbation, and gradually turned the seabeds into what they are today. Generally it is accepted that there were no land plants at this time, although it is likely that a microbial “scum” comprising fungi, algae, and possibly lichens covered the land.

Complex organisms gradually became more common in the millions of years immediately preceding the Cambrian, but it was not until this period that mineralized (readily fossilized) organisms became common. Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Over the following 70 or 80 million years the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude (as defined in terms of the extinction and origination rate of species) and the diversity of life began to resemble today’s.

Related: 500 Million-year-old Stromatolite FossilFossils of Sea MonsterDinosaur Remains Found with Intact Skin and TissueAncient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian DesertSouth African Fossils Could be New Hominid Species

Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and Korea

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)* report has been released. The report examines the science of 15 year olds from 57 countries in math, science and reading. The main focus of PISA 2009 was reading. The survey also updated performance assessments in mathematics and science.

The Asian countries continue to do very well for several reason including tutoring; they have even turned tutors into rock stars earning millions of dollars. The results show that the focus on student achievement in sciences has had an impact in Asia.

The emphasis is on mastering processes, understanding concepts and functioning in various contexts within each assessment area. the PISA 2012 survey will return to mathematics as the major assessment area, PISA 2015 will focus on science.

Results for the Science portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Finland – 554
  • 2 – Hong Kong – 549
  • 3 – Japan – 539
  • 4 – Korea – 538
  • 5 – New Zealand – 532
  • 6 – Canada – 529
  • 7 – Estonia – 528
  • 8 – Australia – 527
  • 9 – Netherlands – 522
  • 10 – Taiwan – 520
  • 11 – Germany – 520
  • 14 – United Kingdom – 514
  • 21 – USA – 502 (up from 489 and 29th place in 2006)
  • OECD average – 501
  • 25 – France – 498
  • 46 – Mexico – 416
  • 49 – Brazil – 405

Results for the math portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):
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Global Installed Wind Power Now Over 1.5% of Global Electricity Demand

graph of global installed wind power capacityChart showing global installed wind energy capacity by Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog, Creative Commons Attribution. Data from World Wind Energy Association, for installed Mega Watts of global wind power capacity.

_________________________

Globally 27,339 MW of capacity were added in 2008, bringing the total to 121,188 MW, a 29% increase. The graph shows the top 10 producers (with the exceptions of Denmark and Portugal) and includes Japan (which is 13th).

In 2007, Europe had for 61% of installed capacity and the USA 18%. At the end of 2008 Europe had 55% of installed capacity, North America 23%, Asia 20%, Australia 1.5%, Latin America .6% and Africa .5%. Country shares of global capacity at the end of 2008: USA 21%, Germany 20%, Spain 14%, China 10%, India 8% (those 5 countries account for 73% of global capacity).

USA capacity grew 50% in 2008, moving it into the global lead for the first time in a decade. China grew 107%, the 3rd year in a row it more than doubled capacity.

Related: Wind Power Provided Over 1% of Global Electricity in 2007USA Wind Power Installed Capacity 1981 to 2005Wind Power has the Potential to Produce 20% of Electricity by 2030Top 12 Manufacturing Countries in 2007

USA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USA

The USA continues to lose ground, in retaining the relative science and engineering strength it has retained for the last 50 plus years. As I have said before this trend is nearly inevitable – the challenge for the USA is to reduce the speed of their decline in relative position.

A new open access report, Losing the World’s Best and Brightest, explores the minds of current foreign science and engineering students that are studying in the USA. This is another in the list of reports on similar topics by Vivek Wadhwa and Richard Freeman. And again they point out the long term economic losses the USA is setting up by failing to retain the talent trained at our universities. It is a problem for the USA and a great benefit for countries like India and China.

“Foreign students receive nearly 60% of all engineering doctorates and more than half of all mathematics, computer sciences, physics and economics doctorates awarded in the United States. These foreign nationals end up making jobs, not taking jobs,” said Wadhwa. “They bring insights into growing global markets and fresh ideas. Research has shown that they even end up boosting innovation by U.S. inventors. Losing them is an economic tragedy.”

According to the study’s findings, very few foreign students would like to stay in the United States permanently—only 6% of Indian, 10 percent of Chinese and 15% of Europeans. And fewer foreign students than the historical norm expressed interest in staying in the United States after they graduate. Only 58% of Indian, 54% of Chinese and 40% of European students wish to stay for several years after graduation. Previous National Science Foundation research has shown 68% of foreigners who received science and engineering doctorates stayed for extended periods of time, including 73% of those who studied computer science. The five-year minimum stay rate was 92% for Chinese students and 85% for Indian students.

The vast majority of foreign student and 85% of Indians and Chinese and 72% of Europeans are concerned about obtaining work visas. 74% of Indians, 76% of Chinese, and 58% of Europeans are also worried about obtaining jobs in their fields. Students appear to be less concerned about getting permanent-resident visas than they are about short-term jobs. Only 38% of Indian students, 55% of Chinese, and 53% of Europeans expressed concerns about obtaining permanent residency in the USA.

On the tonight show yesterday, President Obama said

we need young people, instead of — a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, they want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher.

And if we’re rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and making people’s lives better, that’s going to put our economy on solid footing. We won’t have this kind of bubble-and-bust economy that we’ve gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, recently expressed his frustration with the policies discouraging science and engineering graduates staying in the USA after they complete their education.

That is a brilliant [actually not brilliant at all] strategy take the best people hire them in American universities and then kick them out” It happens. “Its shocking.” It happens. “I know we are fighting against it.” “We America remain, by far the place of choice for education, particularly higher education.”

Related: Invest in Science for a Strong EconomyScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyUSA Under-counting Engineering GraduatesLosing scientists and engineers will reduce economic performance of the USADiplomacy and Science Research

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