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Rain Power

There are lots of places to get power (including the power to fight a war-- NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show), besides greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels: wind turbines, solar panels, ethanol. How about out of the thin air? And a group of researchers thinks that if economists and investors really want to end the recession, they might find it useful to take a cue from meteorologists.

Imagine devices that capture electricity from the air, much like solar cells capture sunlight, and using them to light a house or recharge an electric car. Imagine using similar panels on the rooftops of buildings to prevent lightning before it forms. Strange as it may sound, scientists already are in the early stages of developing such devices.

The idea of harnessing the power of electricity formed naturally has tantalized scientists for centuries. Inventor Nikola Tesla was among those who dreamed of capturing and using electricity from the air. But until now, scientists lacked adequate knowledge about the processes involved in formation and release of electricity from water in the atmosphere.

Scientists once believed that water droplets in the atmosphere were electrically neutral, and remained so even after coming into contact with the electrical charges on dust particles and droplets of other liquids. But new evidence suggested that water in the atmosphere really does pick up an electrical charge. High humidity means high levels of water vapor in the air: the vapor that condenses and becomes visible as "fog" on windows of air-conditioned cars and buildings on steamy summer days.

In the future, it may be possible to develop collectors, similar to the solar cells that collect the sunlight to produce electricity, to capture hygroelectricity and route it to homes and businesses. Just as solar cells work best in sunny areas of the world, hygroelectrical panels would work more efficiently in areas with high humidity, such as the northeastern and southeastern United States and the humid tropics.

Researcher Fernando Galembeck says, "Our research could pave the way for turning electricity from the atmosphere into an alternative energy source for the future. Just as solar energy could free some households from paying electric bills, this promising new energy source could have a similar effect. If we know how electricity builds up and spreads in the atmosphere, we can also prevent death and damage caused by lightning strikes."

Meanwhile, a group of economics and finance professors are looking at a new way of using economic and financial models to more accurately predict stock returns. In the post mortem of the Crash of 2008, economists were reminded that economic models are fallible when it comes to predicting the future. Economist Ashish Tiwari says, "At a subconscious level, it seems obvious that you should not rely on any one model to make financial decisions, but people tend to get carried away with the elegance of a model. The crisis reinforced the well-known fact that all models are only approximations of reality." So they are looking at how to make models more useful in practice.

They have focused on the concept of using a pool of models to devise an economic forecast that is not unlike how a weather forecast is put together, said. Meteorologists typically don

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