This week’s newsletter highlights some of the summer stories that we’ll be covering in the weeks ahead. We also look at recent science reporting from the field as SWI swissinfo.ch journalists emerge from their Covid caves and get out and about. Enjoy!This content was published on July 23, 2021 - 06:00
Energy storage and forests
In Switzerland, the government plans to meet the challenge of zero-emissions energy production by relying on renewables, which include hydropower, as it phases out nuclear energy. Power from dams and rivers already accounts for around 60% of Swiss energy. To guarantee an additional “strategic energy reserve”, the government plans to invest in new large hydropower storage plants. One such facility already under construction is the Nant de Drance pumped storage power station, located at Finhaut in canton Valais.
When electricity consumption is high, water from the Vieux-Emosson dam and reservoir, situated at 2,205 metres above sea level, plunges down two 425-metre-high vertical shafts into the underground power station. Here it drives turbines and is fed into the Emosson reservoir. In reverse, when the demand for electricity is reduced, the water from the Emosson reservoir is pumped back up to the Vieux-Emosson reservoir. The Nant de Drance power station is therefore able to store the energy from the excess generation.
Our reporter Luigi Jorio will visit the site this summer to find out more about how this “natural battery” works, and the role Switzerland plays in the European energy system.
Luigi will also be exploring what Alpine forests will look like in the years ahead as they cope with climate change. The Swiss authorities and research institutions have launched a huge project across the country to create experimental tree plantations with species that adapt better to a hotter climate. He’ll be reporting back from one of these sites.
The long-term consequences of "post-Covid-19 syndrome", better-known as "long Covid", are of increasing concern for healthcare systems. The global scale of the problem is unknown. But one of the biggest surveillance studies of the coronavirus found last month that over two million people in England might have had long Covid and suffered one or more Covid-19 symptoms that lasted at least 12 weeks. SWI swissinfo.ch’s Christian Raaflaub will be digging into the story and taking a closer look at recent long Covid studies that came out in Switzerland. What are we learning about the long-term problem? Are there any unique challenges and opportunities? And could it even be a future money-spinner for Swiss mountain sanatoriums and wellness centres, as has been reported recentlyExternal link?
A new kind of chocolate
Chocolate fans and food technologists might want to check out Christian’s recent report on “lab-grown chocolate”. He visited the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) to find out how researchers there have for the first time developed a cell culture from cocoa beans. Out of this they can make any quantity of chocolate.
After several recent “firsts” on Mars, attention is now turning to Venus. Three new spacecraft will be headed there later this decade and early next — two from NASA and one from the European Space Agency ESA. They want to answer major questions about the planet’s atmosphere and geology. Did it once have oceans and was therefore habitable? And does it still have active volcanoes? One of the biggest questions about Venus is why, despite being a similar size to Earth and a similar distance from the sun, it is the hottest planet in the solar system with a poisonous atmosphere composed mostly of carbon dioxide.
Together with a Swiss planetologist, SWI swissinfo.ch’s Marc-André Miserez will take a closer look at Venus, explain Switzerland’s role in research about the planet, and what we can learn from these future missions.
SWI's 'Black Mirror' series
How about reading some science fiction this summer on swissinfo.ch? Inspired by countless conversations with scientists, tech experts and readers, we decided to create a series of science fiction stories focusing on five technologies that are transforming society: deep fakes, killer robots, e-voting, nanotechnology and facial recognition. Should we be worried or hopeful about such innovations?
Five short science fiction stories, written by different authors, will be accompanied by five articles giving analysis and expert opinion on the technologies.
Don't miss SWI’s “Black Mirror” that starts this August.
Here is an excerpt from the first story by journalist and author Kate Walker on deep fakes:
“When the doorbell rang, it didn’t pierce her reverie. But her brain registered a morse code pattern in the buzzing, S-O-S pulling her to the entry phone. The screen showed a man in sunglasses and a surgical mask, another prole whose identifying characteristics had been lost to the pandemic.”
Studies from around the world have shown that microplastics exist almost everywhere: in water, soil, fish stomachs, human waste – even near the summit of External linkMount Everest. In Switzerland, around 14,000 tonnes of plastic waste in all sizes end up in soils and waters every year, according to the Federal Office for the Environment. Research over the past ten years has identified microplastics in Swiss lakes and rivers in lowland areas, such as Lake Geneva and the River Rhine. But what about in high mountainous areas like the Upper Engadine, near St Moritz and Lake Silvaplana? Young researchers from ETH Zurich want to find out how widespread the microplastics problem really is. Travel there with me to see what their research is turning up.
What topics do you want to hear more about in our science coverage? Do you have any questions about any of the stories we have planned? Get in touch!External link
And have a great summer.