The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A bioluminescent "green" future.

I was very heartened by some news I read yesterday. It wasn't truly new news, as a quick surf revealed, but it was new to the Daily Mail and new to me.

The development is a simple one: scientists, from Cambridge, have made a "biobrick" of genetic material that can transport the capacity for bioluminescence from one organism to another. This allows organisms that are not naturally bioluminescent - as fireflies are - to become so. They had in mind a rather appealing idea: to make trees bioluminescent, so that they would glow in the dark, then to plant them on roadsides, instead of street lamps, so that they would light up cities AT NO ELECTRICITY COST.

I thought this a brilliant and very hopeful idea. It would also be rather a beautiful idea, too. Should cities begin to glow at night, naturally, they would take on the kind of imagery not seen out of the pages of Tolkien's elven forests (as I imagined them). Cities would become otherworldy places of great nightly beauty. So, too, they would save a lot of the world's electricity. In the USA fully 34 per cent of all electricity used is consumed by lighting. The global average is 19%. Nevertheless the prospect of saving one fifth of the world's electrical power is a very appealing one. The implications for global warming are worthy of note. Not only would the trees save one fifth of global electricity consumption - thereby making it needless to make such electricity in the first place, which would reduce carbon pollution from the (mostly) fossil fuels used to produce it - but, the trees themselves would absorb carbon as they grew, acting as carbon sinks. Thus, there would be a "double whammy" for global warming were this idea implemented globally.

I can, however, foresee a few problems. Would old established trees at the sides of roads be cut down to make way for the new genetically modified ones? I hope not. For if this were so, something terrible would happen: the biodiversity of our tree stock might be reduced, as many different tree types were cut down to be replaced by this new artificial one. That peril must be avoided. I would suggest that any new bioluminescent trees should be planted IN ADDITION to existing trees, and not to replace them. There is usually plenty of space, in most cities between the trees that line roads. Those spaces could be filled with bioluminescent trees.

There are other possible problems with such trees. One would have to be careful where they were planted, because wherever they grow, so would light follow at night. This could lead to considerable light pollution, were they to spread into areas that one would naturally wish to be dark. Consideration might also have to be given to whether the trees were sterile. However, I would prefer them not to be for this reason: I would like this technology to survive any fall of civilization (which may occur in a post oil world), so that there is, at least, lighting at night, in such an unfortunate world. There should, therefore, be no impediment to breeding the trees naturally - such an impediment could be to the considerable detriment of future man.

As I understand it, bioluminescence is possible in many colours. This could lead to the creation of very beautiful gardens and parks that glow at night - and for the building of cities the like of which Man has never seen. It is a beautiful prospect and one I hope comes to fruition.

One other issue though, should be considered: as the trees grow, so would their light. It may be, that trees would grow too bright for their purpose. This, however, is simply remedied with a bit of judicious tree surgery. It seems to me, that it would be far cheaper to manage the growth of the trees, than to be perennially replacing street lamps and maintaining electrical it would, overall, be an improvement for cities, everywhere.

Another advantage is clear: communities that are "off grid" and have no electricity, could have lighting, at night, for the first time. This would be of greatest benefit to the least developed of communities and the most rural of areas.

It is exciting that this technology could soon be available, for it has the potential to solve one fifth of our power problems, as a civilization, in one single step forward. It is a simple idea, but one which has as much power to transform our lives, as the invention of the electric light bulb did in the first place. That it is also an eminently "green" solution to the lighting problem is another attractive feature.

Incidentally, the same idea could be adapted to create glowing algae which could provide lighting inside homes, at night. Thus, it may be possible, soon, to replace ALL lighting, with bioluminescent alternatives. When the technology becomes available, I would urge anyone and everyone to adopt it, so as to reduce world energy needs, and consequent carbon pollution.

Here's to a glowing future!

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 7 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:33 PM 


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