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Next round in Diesel scandal

15 October 2016 - Defeat devices

RWD.PNGIn 2015 it was found that Volkswagen diesels were rigged to defeat NOx emissions tests. It resulted in a big scandal and Volkswagen will have to pay out a lot of money in damages. But is Volkswagen the only car brand with defeat devices that was ever caught? This week the Dutch government body responsible for authorizing motorized vehicles called RWD published an interesting report. The RWD has tested 30 cars with a especially designed mobile NOx emission detector. This detector allowed the researchers to measure emissions in real-road conditions instead of the usual laboratory test bench. Here is a basic summary of the test results.

The first test car was the Volkswagen Caddy, a car known to have a defeat device. Sure enough emissions were found at two specific levels, low (205 mg/km) in the official RWD tests and high 800 mg/km when the test was performed outside official RWD test specifications, notably the starting test temperature of between 20 and 30 degrees. If a test was run in reverse, from a high temperature to a low one, the emissions remained at a high level. Clearly some cheating is taking place. Then a number of other cars were subjected to tests inside the official test specs and outside. Half the tested cars are now suspected of having a defeat device. Not only the start temperature is relevant but also the test duration: after 20 minutes (the official test duration) the NOx values shoot up. Offenders are the Chevrolet AVEO, the Opel Mokka and the Opel XC90.

Cleverly the RWD asked the manufactures beforehand to solemnly swear their cars were honest which they all did. Now that they appear to be caught red-handed the RWD has one ultimate penalty if they choose to: they have the power to revoke the authorization.

Congratulations to Ben

07 October 2016 - Nobelz

feringa 2016.PNGCongratulations to Ben Feringa! Of course Sauvage and Stoddart won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry as well but Ben is a fellow Dutchman. It makes him the fourth Dutchman to get the prize after Crutzen in 1995, Peter Debye in 1939 and 't Hoff in 1901 in on average 40 year intervals. It is also a true organic chemistry prize after the coupling trio off 2010. So what had the Dutch media to say about all of this? NOS news has some issues with scientific reporting (example here). Not just on the accuracy front but on the Nobel front as well. For the last couple of years they did not bother to report on the chemistry prizes at all.

This year the national news of course opened with the Feringa prize and Feringa himself in an interview. Keeping in mind the prize is about "molecular machines" the interviewer insisted to ask what material the machines were made off. Politely, Feringa summed up the usual elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Next day on my way to work Feringa was interviewed on national radio as well! It was up to DJ Giel Beelen to ask the hard questions. Curiously he asked how Feringa felt about collaborating with the other two nominees, Again Feringa politely, aswered that no, he did not collaborate with Sauvage and Stoddard as a rule but that he ran into them on conferences and that they shared information.

In Feringa's third encounter with the Dutch media he was invited to the number one Dutch talk show De Wereld Draait Door hosted by Matthijs van Nieuwkerk, also on thursday. So what happened, more media screw ups? None of it! A delightful show! It had invited not only Feringa but also 20 of his students making up the F-side in the audience. And not a single stupid question. The students were interviewed as well and here are some insights: Feringa teaches class using old-fashioned chalk and blackboard and and his secretary handles all emails (and probably everything else to do with IT).

Feringa studied and now works at the University of Groningen. Less obvious from this Wikipedia bio he has a distinct northern accent. Where does he go next? Are Nobel winners still head-hunted by the really rich universities out there?