Guacamole and chips

October 10th, 2001

"These gaps are where we'll put the tequila."
- Tony's response to my question about big air pockets in our device's insulating material.

The concept for the box is simple. Generate power from natural energies. If you were talking about this in the continental U.S., you'd call it "green" power. As nothing is naturally green in Antarctica, we have to call it something else.

Question: what is there a lot of in Antarctica in the summer? Answer: sun and wind

In fact, it's sunny all day long in the Antarctic summer, which is the winter for us up here in the northern hemisphere. The sun circles around overhead, never setting. Though, it doesn't go higher than 23.5 degrees. What does that mean? Well, try this: Stand with your arm straight up over your head and your finger pointing straight up into the sky. Your finger is pointing to the zenith, with is at 90 degrees.

Look straight ahead. The horizon is right in front of you, or at least it would be if you were looking out over the ocean and not at the house across the street. That's 0 (zero) degrees. Now lower your arm so that your finger is pointing to the sky half way between straight up and the horizon. That's 45 degrees. Now half the distance between your finger and the horizon again, and that's about 22 degrees. In the summer in Antarctica the sun goes to about that high and circles around, never setting.

Tony's idea was to create a box with solar panels canted to take full advantage of a sun that was only 23.5 degrees high. A wind powered generator is also connected to the top of the module. The solar panels and the wind generator are connected through a system of controllers, batteries, and computers. Power wires come out of all that circuitry and wind up deep inside the insulated box near a set of 19" racks. So, some scientist with a piece of rack mounted electronic gear can connect his device to the power and never need any other source. The whole mess, box, panels, experiment electronics, can be helicoptered to any place in Antarctica and dropped where it can run fully autonomously.

Tony built the module housing itself. He positioned the solar panels and the windmill mount and the internal battery system. I did all the internal wiring. I built circuits to sense the current going to or coming from the panels, the windmill, the batteries, and the science experiments. I created a system that allows us to record measurements from our sensors via infrared or radio networks. Then I wrote programs for PCs and Palm Pilots that allow you to interrogate the module's computers over the wireless TCP/IP network so you can get your data without ever touching the module itself.

This year we will go to the Dry Valleys in Antarctica and deploy Tony's air pollution sensing instrument. Tony has gone to Antarctica every year for the past three years sensing air pollution at a variety of sites on the continent . His work is funded by the National Science Foundation. The idea is simple: if a science program goes to a particular spot and drops in some scientists, some human habitation and supplies, electronic equipment, and big diesel generators to make it all work, how much does Heisenberg have to say about all of this? How much does the smoke belched from a 30kw generator effect the delicate science measurements? How much does the smoke from the generators and helicopters effect the environment there?

These are the questions he's trying to answer.

Ironically, the pollution sniffer itself was a device that required a generator to work. With the power generation module, it can run off the environment.

Now then, where's the tequila and guacamole?