Heroes

Meet the giant air-sucking wall that might help combat climate change.

Think of it as a giant, high-tech, Earth-saving Lego wall.

Meet the giant air-sucking wall that might help combat climate change.

Do me a favor and stare at the air in front of you.

Yep — right in front of you. I know you can't see it, but you're staring at a lot of carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide naturally cycles between living things and the environment. Think back to your second grade photosynthesis lessons: photosynthesis happens when plants take carbon dioxide out of the air and convert it into oxygen. Then humans and animals breathe in that oxygen, breathing out carbon dioxide ... and on and on the cycle goes.


What's new to this equation, though, is the carbon dioxide we've artificially added to that natural cycle.

Carbon dioxide emissions increased by 7% between 1990 and 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Carbon that would have previously been stored underground and released slowly (or not at all) is now being released rapidly, mostly because of industry and electricity. Traffic emissions alone — the carbon dioxide released by vehicles — account for almost 60% of those extra fumes.

Industry and factories have drastically increased carbon dioxide emissions, which can lead to global warming. Photo via Carbon Engineering.

But here's the issue: while carbon emissions have increased, our planet still absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide, meaning that there's more in the environment than ever before (cue: global warming).

That's why a group of Canadian engineers are constructing a wall that sucks carbon dioxide right out of the air.

Yep, you read that right. Rather than letting that extra carbon dioxide hang out, these carbon engineers want to reduce the threat of climate change by absorbing CO2 molecules and creating carbon-neutral fuels.

This carbon-dioxide-sucking wall (which doesn't exist yet) will do the carbon sucking work of millions of trees. Photo via Carbon Engineering.

These engineers built a prototype of the technology in Squamish, Canada, an hour's drive north of Vancouver.

Basically, the wall will be made up of a stack of cubes, each of which will function in the same way. This means that you could make a wall whatever size you choose in whatever location you choose, simply by adding more "cubes" (think of it as a giant version of a high-tech Lego wall).

How does the prototype work? First, a fan in the "air contactor" sucks in air molecules (only 1 in every 2,500 of which is CO2), which pass through the air contactor and come into contact with carbon-absorbent surfaces. Then the carbon molecules react, becoming a liquid that is eventually hardened into solid carbonate pellets (think: tiny white pebbles made of carbon). And, finally, high temperatures melt those pellets to release pure carbon dioxide, components of which can be used as fuel.

The most useful result of this technology will be carbon-neutral fuels.

Right now, scientists have built only one prototype unit, which functions in three steps. Photo via Carbon Engineering.

Right now, Carbon Engineering CEO Adrian Corless says that the carbon produced by this technology represents a negative emission. "You've taken it out of the atmosphere," he told Upworthy, "and that's cool because it could restore balance from a climate point of view."

And, eventually, you might be able to use the carbon-neutral fuel (produced by the wall) in your vehicle, reducing carbon emissions while keeping the carbon cycle balanced, too.

For now, this is a very cool idea still in its infancy, Corless says.

They have a prototype, but the next step will be to build a pilot plant that produces fuel (one unit can produce 40 million liters of fuel per year!). Corless says that, eventually, he'd like to see a wall of these prototype units erected in Squamish, too.

In the long term, these walls could also be installed anywhere folks have space — in extra fields or even in city parking lots — solving both the carbon problem and the fuel problem for our country.

Are you sold? Check out a video from the engineers themselves to learn more about the prototype and their plans for the future of carbon emissions:

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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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.

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