SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Laptop explosion
Dr S.S. Verma

The demand for consumer products in general and laptops and mobiles in particular is increasing as their prices are going down with time. The problem with laptops is that they have the same basic design they did 10 years ago when they were a few pounds heavier, had fewer features, and were based on slower processors.

Trends

  • “Modern” living

  • Rare marine species

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL

Ozone layer alone has the power to block the ultraviolet rays from sun. What is the reason?
Let me try to explain the drama of formation of the ozone layer and its role. Ozone is a molecule of oxygen with three atoms. These molecules are heavier than those of ordinary oxygen or nitrogen. Therefore one would expect that such a gas would be found closer to the ground and not at very high altitude!
 

 


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Laptop explosion
Dr S.S. Verma

The demand for consumer products in general and laptops and mobiles in particular is increasing as their prices are going down with time.

The problem with laptops is that they have the same basic design they did 10 years ago when they were a few pounds heavier, had fewer features, and were based on slower processors. Now, computers are doing more with faster processors on a chassis that has fewer allowances for heat dissipation. As a result, there have been many incidents of overheating as well as increased battery recalls over the past years.

As computers get smaller, so do the lithium ion batteries and the batteries are getting over-packed with power and overheating, thus making it a serious safety hazard if not tackled properly. The vast influx of these devices into the home (e.g. laptop in beds), into the office and into airplanes and trains during journey etc. creates the opportunity for a very large problem.

A boy was playing on his Apple iBook laptop, like most children, he got distracted and luckly he left the room. His parents were in the other room, when they heard a popping noise, they came out and saw that the room was filled with smoke. Heat from the laptop, which was lying on the floor, had started melting the carpet. The family quickly carried it outside. Just in minutes, the computer burst into flames. Had they not been in the room or may be sleeping, the house would have started on fire. This could happen again to someone else.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a fire that burned a two-storey apartment complex in Mississippi (USA) in November 2005 was caused by a laptop fire. In 2004, the commission received a report of a laptop fire in a kindergarten room in Houston. The same year, a laptop fire severely burned a woman in her dorm in New York.

Reports show a hotel bed ignited and caused a room to catch fire in Warren, Michigan (USA) in November 2005. In March, a laptop in a laboratory caught fire and burned the desk where it was located in Ames, Iowa (USA). These incidents are among the reported incidents in the last two years in the US. Many such incidents might be taking place in other countries also but without reporting or without identifying the cause of fire.

The term “laptop explosion” doesn’t just apply to increasing use/sales — it’s also a warning that computers should be redesigned to make them safe for users. Fire incidents show that computer overheating is a regular problem.

Some makers seem to address the overheating issue. Apple’s latest laptops, now based on Intel chips, have been said to heat up less than they used to. But the new notebooks haven't been around long enough to determine their thermal performance. Ultimately, governments need to pass legislation to force computer makers to ensure their machines don't reach dangerous temperatures.

Experts believe the problem of laptop explosion definitely originates in the batteries. The battery might have an internal short defect, which could cause the battery to explode under any number of circumstances.

It may also be possible that when the battery warms up, conductors and plates on the battery housing buckle because they have no room to expand. If manufacturer use a thermometer that would automatically shut down the computer when the battery gets too hot, this could be avoided.

* Hewlett-Packard issued a voluntary recall of some of its notebook computer batteries due to fire hazard.

* Apple has recalled 1.8 million batteries used in its notebook computers.

* DELL would recall 4.1 million laptop computer batteries

The companies are warning customers to stop using the recalled batteries immediately, following injuries and some minor property damage caused by faulty units.

Precautions:

* Lithium ion batteries do have a lot of energy and can potentially cause injury.

* Every user who believes they may be affected should log on or contact the respective company and follow the precise directions for using/replacing/ receiving a new battery.

* Users are advised not to use third-party batteries, which are often much less expensive than the actual battery. By using a third-party item you are dramatically increasing your chances of a problem. Moreover, it may harm the computer and data may get knocked off.

* As per the suggestions of company experts, consumers can continue to use the notebook computers safely by turning the system off, ejecting the battery, and using the AC adapter and power cord to power the system until the replacement battery is received.

Computers are not the only devices that use lithium ion batteries. Several other small portable devices, such as cell phones, also use the technology. They too may be prone to such fire hazards hence, improvements are needed.

Computer companies are not actively covering up the issues and publicising the problem due to speculated loss of business. Once people realise what’s safe and what isn’t, they’ll come to demand heat-proofing technology in their computers — much like what happened in the auto industry over the past 10 years with anti-lock brakes, side airbags, and other safety features.

While the companies investigate what is causing some of its machines to spontaneously combust it is for the users to take care by avoiding the excessive use of computers which may cause overheating as well as to remove the batteries while not in use.

The writer is from the Department of Physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal

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Trends
“Modern” living

In one of the earliest hints of "modern" living, humans 164,000 years ago put on primitive makeup and hit the seashore for steaming mussels, new archaeological finds show.

Call it a beach party for early man. But it's a beach party thrown by people who weren't supposed to be advanced enough for this type of behavior. What was found in a cave in South Africa may change how scientists believe Homo sapiens marched into modernity. — AP

Rare marine species

Scientists exploring a deep ocean basin in search of species isolated for millions of years found marine life believed to be previously undiscovered, including a tentacled orange worm and an unusual black jellyfish.

Project leader Dr. Larry Madin said Tuesday that U.S. and Philippine scientists collected about 100 different specimens in a search in the Celebes Sea south of the Philippines. — AP

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THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL

Ozone layer alone has the power to block the ultraviolet rays from sun. What is the reason?

Let me try to explain the drama of formation of the ozone layer and its role. Ozone is a molecule of oxygen with three atoms. These molecules are heavier than those of ordinary oxygen or nitrogen. Therefore one would expect that such a gas would be found closer to the ground and not at very high altitude!

The reason for this anomalous phenomenon is that ozone is formed in the rare upper atmosphere and it is easily destroyed in collisions with other molecules and absorption of ultraviolet from the sun. It does not have enough time to diffuse down to the ground level. But how is it formed and why does it provide the essential shield against that part of the ultraviolet that would otherwise reach down to where we live? The answer to both these questions has to be understood together.

In order to make a molecule of ozone we need a free atom of oxygen that can come close to a molecule of ordinary oxygen and stick with it. Ultraviolet rays whose energy is high enough to break oxygen molecules into atoms produce these free atoms of oxygen. In the process such ultraviolet rays are themselves screened out — there is enough oxygen and other material in the atmosphere. Part of the ultraviolet that does not have sufficient energy to split oxygen atoms does not get shielded in this way. It can just scatter without harming the atoms on the way without being absorbed.

This is precisely what would happen if there were no ozone. In ozone the oxygen atoms are not as strongly bound as in ordinary oxygen with three atoms to a molecule. Lower energy ultraviolet can peel off one of these atoms and in the process itself die. Thus we have a drama in which the ozone is created with the help of the high-energy ultraviolet and then becomes instrumental in shielding us from the low energy part of the ultraviolet spectrum of the sun! It is estimated that a molecule of ozone has a life of about three minutes. It is born high up in the atmosphere and in a short while dies while protecting us — a real martyr.

Solid bodies have their molecules tightly packed; it is different in liquids. But when water is changed to solid ice, it takes more volume. Why?

In solid state molecules are not all running around. They form friendships with their neighbours. They catch hold of their neighbours. Depending on their properties more than two can form a structure, whose shape and architecture depend on the form, number and strength of their bonds. These structures are called crystals. A crystal is a congregation with a specific architecture, very much like a building. Like any building, its volume can be greater than the total volume of the constituents, the bricks of which they are made. Some space between the bricks is mandatory if we have to call their gathering a building. Water ice is also crystalline. That is the reason for ice being lighter than water.

How do some birds fly for one month without any rest?

It is true that some birds fly long distances for their yearly migration. I am sure they prepare for this by storing enough food in the form of fat and protein. They also exercise to strengthen their pectoral muscles, very much like athletes preparing for a big tournament. They also plan and economise to reduce energy consumption, by choosing favourable winds and drafts and appropriate stopover points for rest, recuperation and stocking up. For doing much of this they make use of their admirable system of navigation, using stars and the sun besides landmarks on the ground.

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