He's been at it for 50 years, but this scientist still says tornadoes can save us.

How long would you work to create something, even if lots of people told you it couldn't be done?

Louis Michaud has been working on his project for 50 years. He believes it's possible to harness tornadoes to generate electricity.

Michaud is trained as an engineer. He's been working away (mostly in his basement and garage) for years and most of that time without any outside support. Flora Lichtman and Katherine Wells interviewed him about his invention for a series they're doing on ways people are responding to the challenge of climate change.


"We don't like to use the word tornado because it scares people," Michaud says. He calls his invention the Atmospheric Vortex Engine.

A vortex is created by heating air, which rises and pulls in more air tangentially at the base of a circular wall. The heat source can be solar energy, waste industrial heat, warm sea water, or simply warm humid air. The electrical energy would be produced by the incoming air flowing through turbogenerators located around the periphery of the station.

In 2012, Michaud won a $300,000 Breakout Labs grant (funded by Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal) that allowed him to build a prototype. He has succeeded in creating tornadoes. But they've been unpredictable. Detractors (and there are plenty of them) say things like it'll take more energy to produce the tornadoes than they'd make and that horizontal winds will prevent the tornadoes from forming.


But Michaud keeps going.

"Once you get the realization that something is possible, something that could really improve our lives, I would consider it treacherous to abandon it." — Louis Michaud

Plenty of scientists and inventors labor in obscurity for years (here's a fun list). Only a few of them accomplish major celebrated breakthroughs, and that can take decades.

Galileo's idea that Earth revolves around the sun (instead of the other way around), for example, led to the 16th century controversial astronomer being accused of heresy, and he was forced to endure house arrest for the rest of his life. Barbara McClintock published about "jumping genes" in the 1950s, but her work was not understood or accepted by other scientists for 20 years. She finally received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983 (the first woman to win that prize unshared). Swiss physicist Fritz Zwicky wrote about dark matter and neutron stars in the universe in the 1930s and 1940s, but his discoveries were considered outlandish for 40 years.

Will tornado man Louis Michaud join this group?

I certainly hope so. While harnessing tornado power might seem outlandish, Michaud's ideas are in good company. Hydro, solar, tidal, and wind energy all use the energy of nature to drive machines — and they are the best thing we've got going to help us kick our fossil fuel habit.

Three cheers for the mad scientists!

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less