Friday, December 19, 2008

Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Fire Tornado

"This is a little dangerous,” the computer scientist said as he prepared to fling a lit match into the large pan of gasoline.

Sometimes you just don't know what's going to happen when you get to the scene of a story.

A Canadian scientist proposed using a solar-powered vortex (think tornadoes, hurricanes and dust devils) as an alternative energy source. That caught the interest of an Intel engineer. So Tom Fletcher sold some of his Intel stock and built a 50-foot octagonal black tower on his wife’s cousin’s ranch in central Utah. And started trying to make vortices inside it.

And that got my attention (thanks to station computer whiz Alan Scott who read an article about it in The Economist.)

No doubt, the idea was fascinating. But the TV story, itself, could be rather dry. Lots of science and little visual interest.

Instead, the elements of the story included steam, fire and smoke. Lots of smoke. A 50-foot high whirlwind of smoke.

Inside a strange black silo, a computer scientist and a cattle rancher, an unlikely pair, tried to demonstrate principles of atmospheric physics with a large tank of propane, a few fireworks and gasoline.

All for the sake of science.

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