Thursday, August 30, 2007

Questions of Returns

Oak Ridge National Lab has announced an efficiency break- through in the use of phase- change materials for roof insulation. This hits one of the biggest energy issues in the US, which is the incredible waste produced by non-transportation sources like houses. This is a picture of Steve Glenn's Santa Monica house, reported to be the LEED rating system's first "platinum" house.

The predicted result of the Oak Ridge work, however, is an 8% savings in energy bills. This is either a worthy return for lots of good science, or a disappointing return in an age where venture capital and nano-style expectations look for exponential improvements, or at least a "Factor Four" kind of leap, or, rock-bottom, a doubling of performance. Should we make ourselves happier by lowering our expectations? Nice research in any case.

We often say the future belongs to brainworkers,. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't agree. They say the big growth involves working with bedpans and brooms. But what about rapidly growing economies that simultaneously emphasize high-tech growth, like China's?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting item today about China capping growth in master's programs for the next five years because even the booming Chinese labor market can't absorb them.

High-tech's employment impacts, nano included, can be overrated.

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