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Eating Radiation: A New Form of Energy?

David Ewing Duncan, Technology Review (MIT)
In a bizarre alternative to photosynthesis, some fungi “eat” radiation–with the role of chlorophyll taken by melanin, a chemical also found in human skin.
Here’s a possible solution to both the energy crisis and what to do with highly radioactive waste from nuclear reactors: use the radiation as food.

It sounds like something out of a comic book, although scientists already know that fungi will eat asbestos, jet fuel, and plastic. It has also been shown to decompose hot graphite in the ruins of the Chernobyl power plant, which melted down in 1986. The plant’s release of large amounts of radiation appears to have attracted black hordes of fungi. But how does it work?

According to Ekaterina Dadachova and her colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City, the fungi Cryptococcus neoformans and two other species use melanin, also a pigment found in human skin, to transform radiation into energy to use as food for growth. Researchers believe that melanin is present to protect fungi from stress, such as radiation, and that certain species use this molecule for metabolic reactions. Dadachova’s lab discovered that exposure to radiation caused the melanin in these species to change shape, increasing its ability to impact metabolism and growth. The results appear in Public Library of Science (PLoS).
(29 May 2007)

Fla. Man Invents Machine To Turn Water Into Fire

A Florida man may have accidentally invented a machine that could solve the gasoline and energy crisis plaguing the U.S.

Sanibel Island resident John Kanzius is a former broadcast executive from Pennsylvania who wondered if his background in physics and radio could come in handy in treating the disease from which he suffers: cancer.

Kanzius, 63, invented a machine that emits radio waves in an attempt to kill cancerous cells while leaving normal cells intact. While testing his machine, he noticed that his invention had other unexpected abilities.

Filling a test tube with salt water from a canal in his back yard, Kanzius placed the tube and a paper towel in the machine and turned it on. Suddenly, the paper towel ignited, lighting up the tube like it was a wax candle.

“Pretty neat, huh?” Kanzius asked WPBF’s Jon Shainman.

Kanzius performed the experiment without the paper towel and got the same result — the saltwater was actually burning.
(29 May 2007)
Contributor Randy White writes:
I just saw the most amazing video ever… if it is real it has my jaw open… fuel from saltwater?

UPDATE (May 31)

Reader Christopher Purcell writes:
It is well known that microwaves can disassociate water into hydrogen and oxygen, and that when ignited these gases will burn and change back to water. Patents already exist for this idea. Adding salt tunes the resonant absorption and makes the otherwise invisible flame bright yellow. This is an odd combination in the one report of both desperation and smugness – that good old Yankee ingenuity, unhampered by scientific literacy, will solve the energy crisis. Advise doing an EROEI study on this before you buy the company.

Reader SP writes:
Ill give you a clue.

A radio wave at the right frequency will induce excitation in eg water molecules. This is how a microwave oven works. The frequency chosen for a microwave is just off one of the resonant frequencies of the water molecule. This induces heat – while allowing deeper penetration into the food.

It is not clear on the video what exactly is happening. Either there is enough heat to split water which then recombines OR maybe more likely, it is just superheated water with the yellow colour contributed by some sodium being ionised in the plasma. In either case I suspect the main source of heat is the large radio emitting device and not the seawater. Note that the engine they used was a model stirling engine ie something that can run with a low temperature differential or heat input.

If it were as simple as shining a beam of radio waves at water…