Finding New Life

One would think that in all of man's exploration of planet Earth, most of what's findable has been found. It would seem that the big discoveries have already been made.

Columns From: 10/1/1996 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

One would think that in all of man's exploration of planet Earth, most of what's findable has been found. It would seem that the big discoveries have already been made. What's confounding is that, comfortable as the notion there's really nothing new, it's simply wrong. Yup, it's just not so.

Recently, the scientific community was turned on its collective ear by a couple of huge discoveries that you probably heard about on the news. One involves the possibility of life having once existed on Mars. Tiny microbes were found fossilized in a meteor whose origin, scientists believe, was from the planet Mars.

The other "rock your world" discovery involves a one-cell critter that lives 8,000 feet down in the Pacific, thrives in 185°F water, needs no oxygen, no light, nor organic carbon to eat. It's called archaea (Methanococcus jannaschii). Scientists believe it to be so different that it has been classified as a distinct life form. Its addition brings the total number of distinct life forms identified on Earth to threebacteria, eucarya (everything else including us) and now archaea.

The Department of Energy is interested in archaea because it produces methane gas. DOE sees this as a potential energy source which is why it has helped fund research on the archaea. Another useful characteristic of archaeas is that it contains proteins that bind heavy metals. DOE sees a potential use for archaeas in toxic waste clean-up.

What I find interesting about all this is not so much the two discoveries themselves but the process of discovery that leads to looking inside a meteor or on the bottom of the ocean for new things. And there are similar processes occurring in our own industry. While we in metalworking manufacturing are sometimes referred to as a mature industry, which is euphemistic for "not much new here,".

Dynamic balancing on a machining center spindle, is enabling technology that can take high speed machining to new levels of practical application. High speed machining and all of its ramifications exemplifies this "mature industry's" continuing search for better ways to manufacture. Improving how we manufacture helps make life, whatever form it takes, better for all involved.

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