Low Tech/High Tech

About the author: An aspiring amateur plumber, Aaron Ferster is the science writer-editor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

A few weeks ago my wife and I met with one of Johns Hopkins’ top surgeons to discuss a second cochlear implant (CI) for our youngest daughter, who is deaf. She had CI surgery for one ear six years ago, and there are significant potential benefits in getting one for her other ear. The doctor talked about improvements to surgical techniques, new sound processing strategies, and advances to the latest generation of CIs, which truly represent the height of bio-technology.

After the appointment we drove home and I spent the afternoon on something with a decidedly lower gee-whiz factor: draining and removing the bathroom toilet so I could turn it sideways, then upside down so a small scissors that had accidently dropped in would wind its way through the traps and twists and drop out. It worked. But perhaps more importantly, it gave me something to do while waiting for the doctor’s office to call with a surgery date. All in all, not a bad day.

I had another good day thinking about the astounding diversity of technology that surrounds us while attending a session entitled “Green Building Research Needs and the Promise of New Technology” at this year’s EPA Science Forum. The session was chaired by Ken Sandler, who wrote about his efforts to establish a new EPA strategy for green buildings on Greenversations. The panel discussion included exemplary case studies of the latest research and design in lowering a building’s environmental footprint when energy savings and sustainability are priorities.

The talk was inspiring, and like anyone with energy bills to pay, I’m eager to see the advent of low-impact, carbon-neutral homes and office buildings complete with the latest real time information technology guiding energy consumption choices. But like turning the toilet upside down while waiting for the phone to ring, I’d like something I can do today while the green building revolution continues to gathers steam. Luckily, a quick web search reveals a bunch (including a few excellent ones that have already been covered on this blog), including: installing compact florescent light bulbs, greenscaping the yard, biking to work, making a rain barrel, buying energy star appliances, and planting shade trees.

Now if only someone would invent scissors that dissolve in water. Oh well.