Archive for March, 2009

Solar Power

In MTH 116 (Pre-Calculus) we discuss some of the applications of a three dimensional parabaloid. The typical applications we cover usually include a satellite dish receiver, a parabolic microphone and a headlight.

The shape of the parabaloid is such that any type of wave or radiation, be it radio, sound or light is concentrated by the shape of the parabaloid to a point in the center called the focus.

Over spring break I saw a television program on a type of solar power generating system that uses the parabaloid shape to store solar radiation in order to generate a steady supply of electricity. A central tower is located at the focus of a field of mirrors arrayed into the shape of a parabaloid.


Molten salt in the central tower is heated to a high temperature (565 degrees Celsius in one example) by the concentrated solar energy reflected by the mirrors.  The salt is then moved to a storage tank and on to the electrical generator which uses the extreme heat to produce steam and consequently electricity.  Once the salt has cooled (but is still molten), it is pumped back to the tower to heat up once again.

The benefit of the molten salt system is that during the day, the solar radiation can be used directly to generate electricity, and at night, the heat stored in the molten salt is used.  The hot molten salt can be stored in an insulated tank for up to a week and still be used to generate electricity independently of the solar radiation.

As these technologies are developed more fully, they can become more efficient both in terms of cost and power output.

Here are some links to information about these projects

A 10 page pdf on the Solar Tres project in Spain

The Solar Project (Wikipedia)

A power point presentation on modern solar power

An article from the National Renewable Energy Lab


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Wolfram Alpha

I don’t know much about Wolfram Alpha except that its developer Stephen Wolfram is well known in the mathematical community as a ground breaking thinker.

His business is based on the Mathematica software package and he has written a book called A New Kind of Science about a way of approaching science that is closely related to fractal analysis and artificial intelligence.

Wolfram Alpha appears to be a Google like interface that will actually answer questions!

Coming in May 2009….we’ll have to wait and see how well it works…

Article on Wolfram Alpha

Announcement from Wolfram Research website

Wolfram Alpha website

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