David Kirkpatrick

August 30, 2010

Flying robots with hands …

pretty cool tech, actually.

From the link:

A robotic hand attached to a small helicopter can successfully and autonomously grip objects while the helicopter is hovering, as demonstrated by a group at Yale University led by Aaron Dollar, one of this year’s TR35s.

The helicopter hand, dubbed the Yale Aerial Manipulator, could be used in spots that are difficult for ground robots to get to, such as high or roughly terrained places. It could also be used to pick up bombs or packages, or even as a form of delivery, moving packages in urban environments where trucks would have a hard time, suggests Paul Pounds, first author of the work.

Hit the link for video of the Yale Aerial Manipulator in action.

August 28, 2010

Congress may pass emergency bill to restart stem cell research

And it can’t happen a day too soon. Allowing theocrats to hijack scientific and medical research only puts the United States that much more under the gun of losing dominance  in fields that will — will, not might — have a major influence on human life and the global marketplace in the very near future.

The release:

Congressman, CSHL president urge quick action to reverse judicial embryonic stem cell research ban

A federal judge’s decision ‘sets back’ vital work and handcuffs American science

Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Against a backdrop of some of the world’s most sophisticated biological research labs, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) this morning issued a challenge to his colleagues in Congress: immediately upon their return from summer recess, he urged, they should pass legislation that would reverse a recent Federal court decision that has brought embryonic stem cell research in the U.S. to a screeching halt.

Rep. Israel was seconded in his plea by Dr. Bruce Stillman, a renowned cancer researcher and President of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which hosted the Congressman’s announcement to the press this morning. Also lending vocal support was Brooke Ellison, a stem cell research advocate and instructor at Stony Brook University, who, since a car accident in 1990, has been a quadriplegic.

Rep. Israel said the Aug. 23 decision by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, “sets back research, sets back patients, and sets back jobs,” on Long Island and across the nation. The decision, which prevents federally funded research from being conducted on any embryonic stem cells derived from human embryos, “has not only rolled back the Obama policy on stem cells, but has actually rolled back the Bush policy,” Israel noted.

The Congressman said he regards the legal appeals process too slow, given the gravity of the matter. “I don’t think we should wait for an appeal,” he said. “We’ve got to act, and act fast.” Congress has twice in the past decade passed bills giving the go-ahead for embryonic stem cell research. “The Judge said Congress created the policy, and only Congress can revisit it. Well, I want to take him up on that. When we return to Washington on Sept. 14, the House, as one of its first priorities, should re-pass the very legislation that it has passed twice before.” If passed by the Senate, such a bill would be almost certain to receive a presidential signature, thus ending any ambiguity about the will of Congress, Israel said.

President Stillman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory praised Rep. Israel for taking a strong position on the issue and calling for an immediate remedy. “To the scientific community,” Dr. Stillman said, “this judicial decision was an absolute shock. Embryonic stem cells have been studied since the 1980s, and now the work has been forced to a complete stop. The judge’s decision reverses the policies of two presidents, goes far beyond the debate that we’ve seen in this country, and sets a standard that is unique in the world. This is now the only country in the world where you cannot do embryonic stem cell research.”

Dr. Stillman said he believed that bringing the matter before Congress once more “will not only clarify the situation,” but will provide Congress with a golden opportunity “to make a strong statement to the people of this country and to patients like Brooke Ellison, who are counting on steady progress in stem cell research.” The prior passage by Congress of two bills enabling research with embryonic stem cells is evidence of the strong public support that exists for this type of research, Stillman said.

Brooke Ellison, who spoke from her wheelchair, said that “stem cell research has been used as a political see-saw,” subject to the uncertainties of the political process. “But this is not a political, judicial or ideological issue,” she said. “It’s a human issue. One that speaks to the very core of what it means to show basic human compassion.”

Dr. Stillman said that while most work involving stem cells at CSHL was not embryonic stem cell research, any labs in which embryonic cells are used will now be subject to the National Institutes of Health’s recent interpretation of Judge Lamberth’s ruling. He said there was still some ambiguity about whether the interpretation will hold up under inevitable challenge. But the point, Dr. Stillman emphasized, is that science cannot properly proceed and the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells cannot be discovered — by researchers working in America — unless research is permitted to proceed in unfettered fashion.

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution at the forefront of efforts in molecular biology and genetics to generate knowledge that will yield better diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurological diseases and other major causes of human suffering. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu.

Cool space image — Orcus Patera

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:58 pm

Orcus Patera is a crater on Mars with an unusual elongated shape:

From the link:

Orcus Patera is an enigmatic elliptical depression near Mars’s equator, in the eastern hemisphere of the planet. Located between the volcanoes of Elysium Mons and Olympus Mons, its formation remains a mystery.

Often overlooked, this well-defined depression extends approximately 380 km by 140 km in a NNE–SSW direction. It has a rim that rises up to 1800 m above the surrounding plains, while the floor of the depression lies 400–600 m below the surroundings.

Hit this link for a much larger version of the image.

August 27, 2010

Oil spill news

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:18 pm

Came across two interesting news items on oil spills. One is on a technology developed by MIT researchers on cleaning up surface oil after a spill and the second involves the BP Deepwater Horizon spill and how microbes may be cleaning at least the oil in deep water plumes.

From the second link:

Microbes may become the heroes of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by gobbling up oil more rapidly than anyone expected. Now some experts suggest we ought to artificially stimulate such microbes in stricken marshland areas to aid their cleanup.

Evidence published this week shows that deep-water microbes in the Gulf may be rapidly chewing up BP’s spilled crude. This could sway federal authorities to use petroleum-digesting microbes or fertilizer additives that can stimulate naturally occurring bacteria for future spills. Such measures were originally rejected for the BP spill.

From the first link, the story on MIT’s oil spill clean-up tech comes from KurzweilAI.net:

MIT researchers unveil autonomous oil-absorbing robot

August 27, 2010 by Editor

Researchers at MIT have created a robotic prototype that could autonomously navigate the surface of the ocean to collect surface oil and process it on site.

The system, called Seaswarm, is a fleet of vehicles that may make cleaning up future oil spills both less expensive and more efficient than current skimming methods.

The Seaswarm robot uses a conveyor belt covered with a thin nanowire mesh to absorb oil. The fabric, previously featured in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.

The Seaswarm robot, which is 16 feet long and seven feet wide, uses two square meters of solar panels for self-propulsion. With just 100 watts, the equivalent of one household light bulb, it could potentially clean continuously for weeks.

Using swarm behavior, the units will use wireless communication and GPS and manage their coordinates and ensure an even distribution over a spill site. By detecting the edge of a spill and moving inward, a single vehicle could clean an entire site autonomously or engage other vehicles for faster cleaning.

MIT researchers estimate that a fleet of 5,000 Seaswarm robots would be able to clean a spill the size of the gulf in one month. The team has future plans to enter their design into the X-Prize’s $1 million oil-cleanup competition. The award is given to the team that can most efficiently collect surface oil with the highest recovery rate.

By autonomously navigating the water’s surface, Seaswarm proposes a new system for ocean-skimming and oil removal. Video: Senseable City Lab

More info: MIT news

August 26, 2010

Dry water

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 8:47 am

You know, all you have to do is just add water. Oh, wait …

Seriously, here’s the release:

‘Dry water’ could make a big splash commercially

This release is also available in Chinese on EurekAlert! Chinese.

IMAGE: Powdered material called “dry water ” could provide a new way to store carbon dioxide in an effort to fight global warming.

Click here for more information.

BOSTON, Aug. 25, 2010 — An unusual substance known as “dry water,” which resembles powdered sugar, could provide a new way to absorb and store carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, scientists reported here today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The powder shows bright promise for a number of other uses, they said. It may, for instance, be a greener, more energy-efficient way of jumpstarting the chemical reactions used to make hundreds of consumer products. Dry water also could provide a safer way to store and transport potentially harmful industrial materials.

“There’s nothing else quite like it,” said Ben Carter, Ph.D., researcher for study leader Professor Andrew Cooper. “Hopefully, we may see ‘dry water’ making waves in the future.”

Carter explained that the substance became known as “dry water” because it consists of 95 percent water and yet is a dry powder. Each powder particle contains a water droplet surrounded by modified silica, the stuff that makes up ordinary beach sand. The silica coating prevents the water droplets from combining and turning back into a liquid. The result is a fine powder that can slurp up gases, which chemically combine with the water molecules to form what chemists term a hydrate.

Dry water was discovered in 1968 and got attention for its potential use in cosmetics. Scientists at the University of Hull, U.K. rediscovered it in 2006 in order to study its structure, and Cooper’s group at the University of Liverpool has since expanded its range of potential applications.

One of the most recent involves using dry water as a storage material for gases, including carbon dioxide. In laboratory-scale research, Cooper and co-workers found that dry water absorbed over three times as much carbon dioxide as ordinary, uncombined water and silica in the same space of time. This ability to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide gas as a hydrate could make it useful in helping to reduce global warming, the scientists suggested.

Cooper and colleagues demonstrated in previous studies that dry water is also useful for storing methane, a component of natural gas, and may help expand its use as a future energy source. In particular, they hope that engineers can use the powder to collect and transport stranded deposits of natural gas. This also exists on the ocean floor in the form of gas hydrates, a form of frozen methane also known as the “ice that burns.” The powder could also provide a safer, more convenient way to store methane fuel for use in vehicles powered by natural gas. “A great deal of work remains to be done before we could reach that stage,” Carter added.

In another potential new application, the scientists also showed that dry water is a promising means to speed up catalyzed reactions between hydrogen gas and maleic acid to produce succinic acid, a feedstock or raw material widely used to make drugs, food ingredients, and other consumer products. Manufacturers usually have to stir these substances together to get them to react. By developing dry water particles that contain maleic acid, Cooper and colleagues showed that they could speed up the acid’s reaction with hydrogen without any stirring, resulting in a greener, more energy-efficient process.

“If you can remove the need to stir your reactions, then potentially you’re making considerable energy savings,” Carter said.

Prof. Cooper’s team describes an additional new application in which dry water technology shows promise for storing liquids, particularly emulsions. Emulsions are mixtures of two or more unblendable liquids, such as the oil and water mixture in mayonnaise. The scientists showed that they could transform a simple emulsion into a dry powder that is similar to dry water. The resulting powder could make it safer and easier for manufacturers to store and transport potentially harmful liquids.

Carter noted that he and his colleagues are seeking commercial or academic collaboration to further develop the dry water technology. The U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Center for Materials Discovery provided funding and technical support for this study.

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The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Cool nanotech image — microneedles

Cool to look, even more cool when put into practice. Microneedles can deliver quantum dots into skin and should lead to new diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions such as skin cancer.

And now, the image:

Hollow microneedles open the door to new techniques for diagnosing and treating a variety of medical conditions, including skin cancer. Image reproduced by permission of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

For more on microneedles, here’s the full release.

August 25, 2010

Quantum entanglement and free will

A little more closely related than you might think.

From the link:

In practical terms, this means that there can be no shared information between the random number generators that determine the parameters of the experiments to be made, and the particles to be measured.

But the same also holds true for the experimenters themselves. It means there can be no information shared between them and the particles to be measured either. In other words, they must have completely free will.

In fact, if an experimenter lacks even a single bit of free will then quantum mechanics can be explained in terms of hidden variables. Conversely, if we accept the veracity of quantum mechanics, then we are able to place a bound on the nature of free will.

That’s an interesting way of stating the problem of entanglement and suggests a number of promising, related conundrums: what of systems that are partially entangled and others in which more than two particle become entangled.

Free will never looked so fascinating.

Making nano-brushes even smaller

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:52 am

Now this is a nanotech development that can lead to real-world applications.

From the link:

In their latest series of experiments, Duke University engineers have developed a novel approach to synthesize these nano-brushes, which could improve their versatility in the future. These polymer brushes are currently being used in biologic sensors and microscopic devices, such as microcantilevers, and they will play an important role in the future drive to miniaturization, the researchers said.

Nano-brushes are typically made of  grown on flat surfaces with strands of the molecules growing up and out from a surface, much like hairs on a brush. Polymers are large man-made molecules ubiquitous in the manufacture of everyday products.

An atomic force microscopy topographic image of the nano-brushes. The relative heights of the brushes can be tailored by changing the substrate and initiators. Credit: Stefan Zauscher, Pratt School of Engineering

The downside of all those digital devices

Via KurzweilAI.net — They eat into our downtime.

From the link:

Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime

August 25, 2010

Source: New York Times, Aug 24, 2010

When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience.

The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn.

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

Read original article

August 23, 2010

200x fuel cell efficiency boost

The idea of a personalized energy system is very attractive. Talk about being able to go off the grid …

The release:

200-fold boost in fuel cell efficiency advances ‘personalized energy systems’

IMAGE: A new catalyst could help speed development of inexpensive home-brewed solar energy systems for powering homes and plug-in cars during the day (left) and for producing electricity from a fuel…

Click here for more information.

BOSTON, Aug. 23, 2010 — The era of personalized energy systems — in which individual homes and small businesses produce their own energy for heating, cooling and powering cars — took another step toward reality today as scientists reported discovery of a powerful new catalyst that is a key element in such a system. They described the advance, which could help free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company and the corner gasoline station, at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, being held here this week.

“Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” said study leader Daniel Nocera, Ph.D. “We’re working toward development of ‘personalized’ energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively. There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system.”

Such a system would consist of rooftop solar energy panels to produce electricity for heating, cooking, lighting, and to charge the batteries on the homeowners’ electric cars. Surplus electricity would go to an “electrolyzer,” a device that breaks down ordinary water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. Both would be stored in tanks. In the dark of night, when the solar panels cease production, the system would shift gears, feeding the stored hydrogen and oxygen into a fuel cell that produces electricity (and clean drinking water as a byproduct). Such a system would produce clean electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week — even when the sun isn’t shining.

Nocera’s report focused on the electrolyzer, which needs catalysts — materials that jumpstart chemical reactions like the ones that break water up into hydrogen and oxygen. He is with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Good catalysts already are available for the part of the electrolyzer that produces hydrogen. Lacking, however, have been inexpensive, long-lasting catalysts for the production of oxygen. The new catalyst fills that gap and boosts oxygen production by 200-fold. It eliminates the need for expensive platinum catalysts and potentially toxic chemicals used in making them.

The new catalyst has been licensed to Sun Catalytix, which envisions developing safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, within two years.

The National Science Foundation and the Chesonis Family Foundation provided funding for this study. Nocera did the research with post-doctoral researcher Mircea Dinca and doctoral candidate Yogesh Surendranath. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency has recently awarded the team with a grant, which it plans to use to search for related compounds that can further increase the efficiency of its electrolyzer technology. The team hopes that nickel-borate belongs to a family of compounds that can be optimized for super-efficient, long-term energy storage technologies.

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The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Update 9/2/10 — Someone really likes this story because here’s a follow-up release from yesterday.

Making graphene electronics friendly

Electronics is a very attractive application for both carbon nanotubes and graphene, but graphene is proving fairly stubborn to working out in real world deployment. This news out of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory sounds very promising.

From the link:

Structural loops that sometimes form during a graphene cleaning process can render the material unsuitable for electronic applications. Overcoming these types of problems is of great interest to the electronics industry.

“Graphene is a rising star in the materials world, given its potential for use in precise electronic components like transistors or other semiconductors,” said Bobby Sumpter, a staff scientist at ORNL.

The team used quantum  to simulate an experimental graphene cleaning process, as discussed in a paper published in . Calculations performed on ORNL supercomputers pointed the researchers to an overlooked intermediate step during processing.

Imaging with a transmission electron microscope, or TEM, subjected the graphene to electron irradiation, which ultimately prevented loop formation. The ORNL simulations showed that by injecting  to collect an image, the electrons were simultaneously changing the material’s structure.

Scientists help explain graphene mystery

ORNL simulations demonstrate how loops (seen above in blue) between graphene layers can be minimized using electron irradiation (bottom).

A tip for seekers of ET life — look for AI

Via KurzweilAI.net — I think is very sound advice. Of course even though I wholeheartedly support the efforts of SETI and other science-based searches for extraterrestrial life, I’m pretty skeptical we are going to come across any ET intelligence, biological or artificial.

Alien hunters ’should look for artificial intelligence’

August 23, 2010

Source: BBC News — Aug 22, 2010

The odds favor detecting alien AI rather than biological life because the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence  would be short, says SETI Institute senior astronomer Seth Shostak.

He also says that artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy — the only things he says would be of interest to the machines — would be in plentiful supply. That means the SETI hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centers of galaxies.

Photo of Allen Telescope Array: SETI Institute

Update 8/25/10: Here’s more on this story from PhysOrg.

Beautiful space image — the Earth from the moon

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:48 am

Well, really this one isn’t very beautiful at all aesthetically, but as a human achievement it is utterly amazing. This is the first image of the Earth taken from the moon’s distance by United States Lunar Orbiter I on this day (August 23) in 1966.

File:First View of Earth from Moon.jpg

The world’s first view of Earth taken by a spacecraft from the vicinity of the Moon. The photo was transmitted to Earth by the United States Lunar Orbiter I and received at the NASA tracking station at Robledo De Chavela near Madrid, Spain. This crescent of the Earth was photographed August 23, 1966 at 16:35 GMT when the spacecraft was on its 16th orbit and just about to pass behind the Moon. Reference Numbers: Center: HQ / Center Number: 67-H-218 / GRIN DataBase Number: GPN-2000-001588

August 22, 2010

Keeping solar panels clean

By using technology developed for Mars missions. The budget for NASA gets debated, scoffed at and cut, but all too often people against giving NASA money forget how many products and processes developed for space travel ended up with solidly terrestrial applications.

The release:

Self-cleaning technology from Mars can keep terrestrial solar panels dust free

IMAGE: Researchers have developed technology for large-scale solar power installations to self-clean.

Click here for more information.

BOSTON, Aug. 22, 2010 — Find dusting those tables and dressers a chore or a bore? Dread washing the windows? Imagine keeping dust and grime off objects spread out over an area of 25 to 50 football fields. That’s the problem facing companies that deploy large-scale solar power installations, and scientists today presented the development of one solution — self-dusting solar panels ― based on technology developed for space missions to Mars.

In a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), they described how a self-cleaning coating on the surface of solar cells could increase the efficiency of producing electricity from sunlight and reduce maintenance costs for large-scale solar installations.

“We think our self-cleaning panels used in areas of high dust and particulate pollutant concentrations will highly benefit the systems’ solar energy output,” study leader Malay K. Mazumder, Ph.D. said. “Our technology can be used in both small- and large-scale photovoltaic systems. To our knowledge, this is the only technology for automatic dust cleaning that doesn’t require water or mechanical movement.”

Mazumder, who is with Boston University, said the need for that technology is growing with the popularity of solar energy. Use of solar, or photovoltaic, panels increased by 50 percent from 2003 to 2008, and forecasts suggest a growth rate of at least 25 percent annually into the future. Fostering the growth, he said, is emphasis on alternative energy sources and society-wide concerns about sustainability (using resources today in ways that do not jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs).

Large-scale solar installations already exist in the United States, Spain, Germany, the Middle East, Australia, and India. These installations usually are located in sun-drenched desert areas where dry weather and winds sweep dust into the air and deposit it onto the surface of solar panel. Just like grime on a household window, that dust reduces the amount of light that can enter the business part of the solar panel, decreasing the amount of electricity produced. Clean water tends to be scarce in these areas, making it expensive to clean the solar panels.

“A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40 percent,” Mazumder explains. “In Arizona, dust is deposited each month at about 4 times that amount. Deposition rates are even higher in the Middle East, Australia, and India.”

Working with NASA, Mazumder and colleagues initially developed the self-cleaning solar panel technology for use in lunar and Mars missions. “Mars of course is a dusty and dry environment,” Mazumder said, “and solar panels powering rovers and future manned and robotic missions must not succumb to dust deposition. But neither should the solar panels here on Earth.”

The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors monitor dust levels on the surface of the panel and energize the material when dust concentration reaches a critical level. The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave cascading over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off of the screen’s edges.

Mazumder said that within two minutes, the process removes about 90 percent of the dust deposited on a solar panel and requires only a small amount of the electricity generated by the panel for cleaning operations.

The current market size for solar panels is about $24 billion, Mazumder said. “Less than 0.04 percent of global energy production is derived from solar panels, but if only four percent of the world’s deserts were dedicated to solar power harvesting, our energy needs could be completely met worldwide. This self-cleaning technology can play an important role.”

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The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

August 21, 2010

Cool tech news — solar powered toothbrush

And it uses an electron/mouth acid reaction to kill disease-causing bacteria and breakdown plaque instead of toothpaste. Very cool indeed, but I’m curious how the dental hygiene industry will react to the device?

From the link:

Dr. Kunio Komiyama, a dentistry professor emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan, designed the first model of the unconventional toothbrush 15 years ago. Today, Komiyama and his colleague Dr. Gerry Uswak are seeking recruits to test their newest model, the Soladey-J3X. The toothbrush, which is manufactured by the Shiken company of Japan, will soon be tested by 120 teenagers to see how it compares to a normal toothbrush.

The Soladey-J3X has a solar panel at its base that transmits electrons to the top of the toothbrush through a lead wire. The  react with acid in the mouth, creating a chemical reaction that breaks down  and kills . The toothbrush requires no toothpaste, and can operate with about the same amount of light as needed by a solar-powered calculator.

(And to answer a concern from the comment section on the toothbrush, the word “lead” in the second graf more than likely refers to a “leed” wire running between the solar panel and the top of the toothbrush, and not the heavy metal that’s been so excoriated.)

Viking I Mars mission 35 years later

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:23 pm

Well, thirty years and a day since I didn’t post this yesterday.

From the link:

Thrust from a Titan 3/Centaur rocket launched NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft on a 505-million-mile journey to Mars on Aug. 20, 1975. Viking 2 followed three weeks later.

This is the first photograph ever taken on the surface of the planet Mars. It was obtained by Viking 1 just minutes after the spacecraft landed successfully.
Here’s another cool image from the link:
This color image of the Martian surface in the Chryse area was taken by Viking Lander 1, looking southwest, about 15 minutes before sunset on the evening of August 21. The sun is at an elevation angle of 3 or 4 degrees above the horizon and about 50 degrees clockwise from the right edge of the frame. Local topographic features are accentuated by the low lighting angle. A depression is seen near the center of the picture, just above the Lander’s leg support structure, which was not evident in previous pictures taken at higher sun angles. Just beyond the depression are large rocks about 30 centimeters (1 foot) across. The diffuse shadows are due to the sunlight that has been scattered by the dusty Martian atmosphere as a result of the long path length from the setting sun. Toward the horizon, several bright patches of bare bedrock are revealed. Image: NASA/JPL

August 20, 2010

Is the US in danger of losing its nanotech hegemony?

Via KurzweilAI.net — Not just yet, but there are a number of countries putting money and other resources into nanotechnology. One place the United States could stand to see a lot of improvement is commercializing the nanotech developments going on right now.

From the link:

U.S. Risks Losing Global Leadership in Nanotech

August 20, 2010 by Editor

The U.S. dominated the rest of the world in nanotech funding and new patents last year, as U.S. government funding, corporate spending, and VC investment in nanotech collectively reached $6.4 billion in 2009. But according to a new report from Lux Research, countries such as China and Russia launched new challenges to U.S. dominance in 2009, while smaller players such as Japan, Germany and South Korea surpassed the United States in terms of commercializing nanotechnology and products.

The report, titled “Ranking the Nations on Nanotech: Hidden Havens and False Threats,” compares nanotech innovation and technology development in 19 countries in order to provide government policymakers, corporate leaders and investors a detailed map of the nanotech’s international development landscape. Overall, the report found global investment in nanotech held steady through the recent financial crisis, drawing $17.6 billion from governments, corporations and investors in 2009, a 1% increase over 2008’s $17.5 billion. Only venture capitalists dialed back their support, cutting investments by 43% relative to 2008.

“Part of what motivated our research was the emerging possibility that ambitious new government funding in Russia and China represented a threat to U.S. dominance in nanotech innovation,” said David Hwang, an Analyst at Lux Research, and the report’s lead author. “But while the field certainly gained momentum in both countries as a result of the increased funding, both countries have economic and intellectual property protection issues that prevent them from being real threats just yet.”

To uncover the most fertile environments for technology developers, buyers, and investors, Lux Research mapped the nanotech ecosystems of select nations, building on earlier reports published from 2005 through 2008. In addition to tracking fundamentals, such as the number of nanotech publications and patents issued, the report also inventoried direct and indirect spending on nanotech from government, corporate and venture sources. Among its key observations:

  • The U.S. continues to dominate in nanotech development… for now. Last year saw the U.S. lead all other countries in terms of government funding, corporate spending, VC investment, and patent issuances. But its capacity to commercialize those technologies and leverage them to grow the economy is comparatively mediocre. U.S. competitiveness in long-term innovation is also at risk, as the relative number of science and engineering graduates in its population is significantly lower than it is in other countries.
  • Other countries stand to get more bang for their nanotech buck. Japan, Germany, and South Korea continued their impressive trajectories from 2008, earning top spots in publications, patents, government funding, and corporate spending. Compared to the U.S., all three also remain more focused on nanotech and appear more adept at commercializing new technology. The relative magnitude of the technology manufacturing sectors in these three countries are the world’s highest, meaning their economies stand to benefit the most from nanotech commercialization.
  • Russian and Chinese investment in nanotech yields slow progress. While both governments launched generous nanotech investment programs last year, the technology hasn’t gained momentum in either country’s private sector, both of which have a history of skimping on R&D. The relative lack of momentum was further underscored by the abysmal number of new nanotech patents for either country last year.

“Ranking the Nations on Nanotech: Hidden Havens and False Threats,” is part of the Lux Nanomaterials Intelligence service. Clients subscribing to this service receive ongoing research on market and technology trends, continuous technology scouting reports and proprietary data points in the weekly Lux Research Nanomaterials Journal, and on-demand inquiry with Lux Research analysts.

More info: Lux Research

Ray Kurzweil on exponential growth and reverse engineering the brain

Via KurzweilAI.net — At the conclusion of a longer blog post refuting PZ Myers characterization that he “doesn’t understand the brain,” Ray Kurzweil concludes with a very salient point on exponential versus linear thinking and why many of seemingly fantastic predictions (from the coming of the Singularity on down) may not be so unreachable after all.

From the link:

Halfway through the genome project, the project’s original critics were still going strong, pointing out that we were halfway through the 15 year project and only 1 percent of the genome had been identified. The project was declared a failure by many skeptics at this point. But the project had been doubling in price-performance and capacity every year, and at one percent it was only seven doublings (at one year per doubling) away from completion. It was indeed completed seven years later. Similarly, my projection of a worldwide communication network tying together tens and ultimately hundreds of millions of people, emerging in the mid to late 1990s, was scoffed at in the 1980s, when the entire U.S. Defense Budget could only tie together a few thousand scientists with the ARPANET. But it happened as I predicted, and again this resulted from the power of exponential growth.

Linear thinking about the future is hardwired into our brains. Linear predictions of the future were quite sufficient when our brains were evolving. At that time, our most pressing problem was figuring out where that animal running after us was going to be in 20 seconds. Linear projections worked quite well thousands of years ago and became hardwired. But exponential growth is the reality of information technology.

We’ve seen smooth exponential growth in the price-performance and capacity of computing devices since the 1890 U.S. census, in the capacity of wireless data networks for over 100 years, and in biological technologies since before the genome project. There are dozens of other examples. This exponential progress applies to every aspect of the effort to reverse-engineer the brain.

Measuring worker productivity — here comes the science

Interesting research on worker productivity, particularly on the question of why workers in low-paying, low supervision jobs don’t simply complete the bare minimum of work to get by.

From the link:

One line of thinking focuses on the relationship between the workers and their employer, which can be influenced by contracts set out in writing and by personal relationships between workers and their managers.

That suggests that one way for an employer to improve productivity would be to perfect its employment contracts.

Another line of thinking is that peer pressure plays an important role. The people around you may affect the way you work. For example, good workers, leading by example, might raise the quality of everybody’s work. On the other hand, bad apples may make the good ones rotten.

But working out which of these effects wins out is hard. Peer pressure is hard to quantify and the various results in this area are somewhat contradictory, suggesting that they may depend on the environment too

But a new tool is emerging that can help, according to John Horton at Harvard University who says the recent development of online marketplaces, in which people can buy and sell services over the web, provides a fascinating laboratory in which to test these ideas.

Today he publishes the results of a set of experiments that reveal some of the ways in which peer pressure may influence productivity.

Hit the link up in the intro graf for the results of his study. One interesting aspect is Horton used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service as his “laboratory.”

August 19, 2010

Graphene and DNA sequencing

News on potential applications of graphene is always interesting, but I’ll have to admit I’d like see more actual market-ready solutions. This news is both intriguing and promising, but the nut graf contains those dreaded words, “could help (insert the gist of any story here).” It’ll be a pretty exciting day when I blog about something that will help, instead of could help with graphene as the key helping element.

From the second link:

Layers of graphene that are only as thick as an atom could help make human DNA sequencing faster and cheaper. Harvard University and MIT researchers have shown that sheets of graphene could be a big improvement over membranes that are currently used for nanopore sequencing–a technique that promises to speed up and simplify the sequencing of long strands of DNA.

And:

The researchers create their membrane by placing a graphene flake over a 200-nanometer-wide opening in the middle of a silicon-nitride surface. Then they drill a few pores, just nanometers wide, in the graphene with an electron beam. The membrane is finally immersed in a salt solution that’s in contact with silver electrodes. The researchers observed dips in the current when a DNA strand passed through the pore, showing that the method could eventually be used to identify DNA bases.

August 18, 2010

Ratcheting up data storage density

Via KurzweilAI.net —  ratcheting data density up a lot!

World record data density for ferroelectric recordin

August 18, 2010 by Editor

Scientists at Tohoku University in Japan have recorded data at a density of 4 trillion bits per square inch,  a world record for the experimental ferroelectric data storage method, and about eight times the density of today’s most advanced magnetic hard-disk drives.

The data-recording device uses a tiny cantilever tip that rides in contact with the surface of a ferroelectric material. To write data, an electric pulse is sent through the tip, changing the electric polarization and nonlinear dielectric constant of a tiny circular spot in the substrate beneath. To read data, the same tip detects the variations in nonlinear dielectric constant in the altered regions.

“We expect this ferroelectric data storage system to be a candidate to succeed magnetic hard disk drives or flash memory, at least in applications for which extremely high data density and small physical volume is required,” said Tohoku University scientist Dr. Yasuo Cho.

Existing data storage technologies also continue to improve. Disk drive maker Seagate, for example, has said it can envision achieving a density of 50 trillion bits per square inch.

“Actual Information Storage with a Recording Density of 4 Tbit/inch^2 in a ferroelectric recording medium” by Kenkou Tanaka and Yasuo Cho will appear in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

More info: American Institute of Physics news

August 17, 2010

Trawling for space junk

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:21 pm

You have to admit, it’s a pretty cool idea for cleaning up low Earth orbit.

From the link:

A dozen space vehicles, equipped with 200 nets each, could scoop up the space debris floating in low Earth orbit, clearing the way for a future space elevator. That’s the idea described last Friday at the annual Space Elevator conference by Star Inc., a company that is receiving funding for the project from DARPA.

The white dots represent space debris that is currently being tracked by NASA. The dots are not scaled to Earth. Credit: NASA

Nanotech and solar efficiency

Nanotechnology and solar energy get a lot of virtual ink around here, and I always enjoy getting the chance to blog about both topics in the same post. This study finds that incorporating quantum dots in photovoltaic solar cells through nanoscience should both increase the efficiency of the cells and reduce their cost. A win-win all the way around.

From the link:

As the fastest growing energy technology in the world, solar energy continues to account for more and more of the world’s energy supply. Currently, most commercial photovoltaic power comes from bulk semiconductor materials. But in the past few years, scientists have been investigating how semiconductor nanostructures can increase the efficiency of solar cells and the newer field of solar fuels.

Although there has been some controversy about just how much nanoscience can improve solar cells, a recent overview of this research by Arthur Nozik, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and professor at the University of Colorado, shows that semiconductor nanostructures have significant potential for converting solar energy into electricity


August 13, 2010

100 year-old Scotch recovered in Antarctica

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 9:54 pm

I’ll drink to that

From the link:

In this Feb. 5, 2010 file photo released by Antarctic Heritage Trust on Feb. 8, 2010, one of crates of Scotch whisky and brandy is pictured after they have been recovered by a team restoring an Antarctic hut used more than 100 years ago by famed polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. One of the crates of the Scotch whisky that was trapped in Antarctic ice for a century was finally opened Friday, Aug. 13, 2010 but the heritage dram won’t be tasted by whisky lovers because it’s being preserved for its historic significance. (AP Photo/Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Smart windows on the cheap

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:27 pm

If lower cost smart windows go into wide production — and more importantly, use — homeowners and businesses stand to save a lot of money on energy costs, and by extension use a lot less energy. Effective smart windows do make that much of a difference. Soladigm’s CEO, Rao Mulpuri, says the average savings in commercial buildings is 25 percent of HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning)  usage. This is one energy conservation development to keep an eye on.

From the link:

Windows that absorb or reflect light and heat at the flick of a switch could help cut heating and cooling bills. A company called Soladigm has developed methods for making these “electrochromic” windows cheaply, making them more viable for homes and office buildings.

Existing electrochromic window designs cost around $100 per square foot. Soladigm has not disclosed how much its windows will cost, but some experts say the method could reduce the cost to around $20 per square foot.

The Milpitas, CA-based company uses a thin-film deposition process that creates conducting layers between two panes of glass for controlling the amount of sunlight and heat that can pass through. A homeowner or office dweller could control how much light or heat a window lets in or absorbs and reflects.

August 11, 2010

Better understanding graphene

Yes, graphene is something of a miracle material (hit this link for my extensive graphene blogging), and yes it’s proving to be very vexing material as well. There’s a whole lot of promise, but not so much practice because graphene is proving to be a very fickle material. Research like this from the Georgia Institute of Technology is particularly important because unlocking the secret life of graphene will allow for increasing practical applications. Better understanding will lead to better utilization.

The release:

Study of electron orbits in multilayer graphene finds unexpected energy gaps

Electron transport

IMAGE: Stacking of graphene sheets creates regions where the moiré alignment is of type AA (all atoms have neighbors in the layer below), AB (only A atoms have neighbors) or BA…

Click here for more information.

Researchers have taken one more step toward understanding the unique and often unexpected properties of graphene, a two-dimensional carbon material that has attracted interest because of its potential applications in future generations of electronic devices.

In the Aug. 8 advance online edition of the journal Nature Physics, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) describe for the first time how the orbits of electrons are distributed spatially by magnetic fields applied to layers of epitaxial graphene.

The research team also found that these electron orbits can interact with the substrate on which the graphene is grown, creating energy gaps that affect how electron waves move through the multilayer material. These energy gaps could have implications for the designers of certain graphene-based electronic devices.

“The regular pattern of energy gaps in the graphene surface creates regions where electron transport is not allowed,” said Phillip N. First, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Physics and one of the paper’s co-authors. “Electron waves would have to go around these regions, requiring new patterns of electron wave interference. Understanding such interference will be important for bi-layer graphene devices that have been proposed, and may be important for other lattice-matched substrates used to support graphene and graphene devices.”

In a magnetic field, an electron moves in a circular trajectory – known as a cyclotron orbit – whose radius depends on the size of the magnetic field and the energy of electron. For a constant magnetic field, that’s a little like rolling a marble around in a large bowl, First said.

“At high energy, the marble orbits high in the bowl, while for lower energies, the orbit size is smaller and lower in the bowl,” he explained. “The cyclotron orbits in graphene also depend on the electron energy and the local electron potential – corresponding to the bowl – but until now, the orbits hadn’t been imaged directly.”

Placed in a magnetic field, these orbits normally drift along lines of nearly constant electric potential. But when a graphene sample has small fluctuations in the potential, these “drift states” can become trapped at a hill or valley in the material that has closed constant potential contours. Such trapping of charge carriers is important for the quantum Hall effect, in which precisely quantized resistance results from charge conduction solely through the orbits that skip along the edges of the material.

IMAGE: This graphic shows electrons that move along an equipotential, while those that follow closed equipotentials (as in a potential-energy valley) become localized (right). The arrows denote the magnetic field,…

Click here for more information.

The study focused on one particular electron orbit: a zero-energy orbit that is unique to graphene. Because electrons are matter waves, interference within a material affects how their energy relates to the velocity of the wave – and reflected waves added to an incoming wave can combine to produce a slower composite wave. Electrons moving through the unique “chicken-wire” arrangement of carbon-carbon bonds in the graphene interfere in a way that leaves the wave velocity the same for all energy levels.

In addition to finding that energy states follow contours of constant electric potential, the researchers discovered specific areas on the graphene surface where the orbital energy of the electrons changes from one atom to the next. That creates an energy gap within isolated patches on the surface.

“By examining their distribution over the surface for different magnetic fields, we determined that the energy gap is due to a subtle interaction with the substrate, which consists of multilayer graphene grown on a silicon carbide wafer,” First explained.

In multilayer epitaxial graphene, each layer’s symmetrical sublattice is rotated slightly with respect to the next. In prior studies, researchers found that the rotations served to decouple the electronic properties of each graphene layer.

“Our findings hold the first indications of a small position-dependent interaction between the layers,” said David L. Miller, the paper’s first author and a graduate student in First’s laboratory. “This interaction occurs only when the size of a cyclotron orbit – which shrinks as the magnetic field is increased – becomes smaller than the size of the observed patches.”

The origin of the position dependent interaction is believed to be the “moiré pattern” of atomic alignments between two adjacent layers of graphene. In some regions, atoms of one layer lie atop atoms of the layer below, while in other regions, none of the atoms align with the atoms in the layer below. In still other regions, half of the atoms have neighbors in the underlayer, an instance in which the symmetry of the carbon atoms is broken and the Landau level – discrete energy level of the electrons – splits into two different energies.

Experimentally, the researchers examined a sample of epitaxial graphene grown at Georgia Tech in the laboratory of Professor Walt de Heer, using techniques developed by his research team over the past several years.

They used the tip of a custom-built scanning-tunneling microscope (STM) to probe the atomic-scale electronic structure of the graphene in a technique known as scanning tunneling spectroscopy. The tip was moved across the surface of a 100-square nanometer section of graphene, and spectroscopic data was acquired every 0.4 nanometers.

The measurements were done at 4.3 degrees Kelvin to take advantage of the fact that energy resolution is proportional to the temperature. The scanning-tunneling microscope, designed and built by Joseph Stroscio at NIST’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, used a superconducting magnet to provide the magnetic fields needed to study the orbits.

According to First, the study raises a number of questions for future research, including how the energy gaps will affect electron transport properties, how the observed effects may impact proposed bi-layer graphene coherent devices – and whether the new phenomenon can be controlled.

“This study is really a stepping stone in long path to understanding the subtleties of graphene’s interesting properties,” he said. “This material is different from anything we have worked with before in electronics.”

###

In addition to those already mentioned, the study also included Walt de Heer, Kevin D. Kubista, Ming Ruan, and Markus Kinderman from Georgia Tech and Gregory M. Rutter from NIST. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Semiconductor Research Corporation and the W.M. Keck Foundation. Additional assistance was provided by Georgia Tech’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC)

Advancing substrate-independent minds

Filed under: et.al., Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:24 am

Via KurzweilAI.net — if you are into futurism at all this blog post at KurzweilAI is worth the time for a full read.

Here’s a taste from the link:

What might brains and minds look like in the future? It can be difficult to manage and organize ideas from many highly specialized fields of expertise that must necessarily converge to answer this intriguing question. Not only must one consider the areas of brain imaging, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, but also artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, computational hardware architectures, and philosophy.

In the past, the transferal of minds into computer-based systems has been rather vaguely referred to as “uploading.” However, those hoping to advance this multidisciplinary field of research prefer to use the  term Advancing Substrate Independent Minds (ASIM), to emphasize a more scientific, and less science-fiction approach to creating emulations of human brains in non-biological substrates. The term ASIM captures the fact that there are several ways in which hardware and software may be used to run algorithms that mimic the human brain, and that there are many different approaches that can be used to realize this end goal.

Improving displays

And display improvements are increasingly important given the rapid evolution in types of consumer electronics — e-readers, smartphones, more complex touch screens, tablet/pad computers, et.al. — and the different types of high-performance displays needed to maximize these technologies.

The release:

Better displays ahead

IMAGE: This is a prototype of the vertical stack multi-color electrowetting display device is shown in the photograph. Arrays of ~1,000-2,000 pixels were constructed with pixel sizes of 200 × 600…

Click here for more information.

This release is also available in Chinese.College Park, MD (August 10, 2010) — Sleek design and ease of use are just two of the main reasons consumers are increasingly attracted to tablets and e-readers. And these devices are only going to get better — display technology improvements are on the way.

Several e-reader products on the market today use electrophoretic displays, in which each pixel consists of microscopic capsules that contain black and white particles moving in opposite directions under the influence of an electric field. A serious drawback to this technology is that the screen image is closer to black-on-gray than black-on-white. Also, the slow switching speed (~1 second) due to the limited velocity of the particles prevents integration of other highly desirable features such as touch commands, animation, and video.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati Nanoelectronics Laboratory are actively pursuing an alternative approach for low-power displays. Their assessment of the future of display technologies appears in the American Institute of Physics’ Applied Physics Letters.

“Our approach is based on the concept of vertically stacking electrowetting devices,” explains professor Andrew J. Steckl, director of the NanoLab at UC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “The electric field controls the ‘wetting’ properties on a fluoropolymer surface, which results in rapid manipulation of liquid on a micrometer scale. Electrowetting displays can operate in both reflective and transmissive modes, broadening their range of display applications. And now, improvements of the hydrophobic insulator material and the working liquids enable EW operation at fairly low driving voltages (~15V).”

Steckl and Dr. Han You, a research associate in the NanoLab, have demonstrated that the vertical stack electrowetting structure can produce multi-color e-paper devices, with the potential for higher resolution than the conventional side-by-side pixel approach. Furthermore, their device has switching speeds that enable video content displays.

What does all of this mean for the consumer? Essentially, tablets and e-readers are about to become capable of even more and look even better doing it. Compared to other technologies, electrowetting reflective display screens boast many advantages. The electrowetting displays are very thin, have a switching speed capable of video display, a wide viewing angle and, just as important, Steckl says, they aren’t power hogs.

###

The article, “Three-Color Electrowetting Display Device for Electronic Paper” by Han You and Andrew J. Steckl will appear in the journal Applied Physics Lettershttp://apl.aip.org/applab/v97/i2/p023514_s1

Image Caption: A prototype of the vertical stack multi-color electrowetting display device is shown in the photograph. Arrays of ~1,000-2,000 pixels were constructed with pixel sizes of 200 × 600 and 300 × 900 µm.

ABOUT APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS

Applied Physics Letters, published by the American Institute of Physics, features concise, up-to-date reports on significant new findings in applied physics. Emphasizing rapid dissemination of key data and new physical insights, Applied Physics Letters offers prompt publication of new experimental and theoretical papers bearing on applications of physics phenomena to all branches of science, engineering, and modern technology. Content is published online daily, collected into weekly online and printed issues (52 issues per year). See: http://apl.aip.org/

ABOUT AIP

The American Institute of Physics is a federation of 10 physical science societies representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators and is one of the world’s largest publishers of scientific information in the physical sciences. Offering partnership solutions for scientific societies and for similar organizations in science and engineering, AIP is a leader in the field of electronic publishing of scholarly journals. AIP publishes 12 journals (some of which are the most highly cited in their respective fields), two magazines, including its flagship publication Physics Today; and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Its online publishing platform Scitation hosts nearly two million articles from more than 185 scholarly journals and other publications of 28 learned society publishers.

August 10, 2010

Hawking looks to space for mankind’s future

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:16 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net

Stephen Hawking’s Warning: Abandon Earth—Or Face Extinction

August 10, 2010 by Editor

“Our only chance of long term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space,” Stephen Hawking said in an interview Friday with Big Think. “We have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space.”

It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.

“I see great dangers for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 was one of these. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully. But I’m an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe, as we spread into space.

“If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth, are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill.  But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million.  That is why I’m in favor of manned, or should I say ‘personed,’ space flight.”

Ten percent solar boost with a mere sticker

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:39 am

And these things can be applied to solar installations in the field. Talk about a simple improvement that goes a long, long way. Solar efficiency tends to go up in tiny increments unless it involves some sort of materials or process breakthrough. This news really is impressive.

From the link:

The power output of solar panels can be boosted by 10 percent just by applying a big transparent sticker to the front. Developed by a small startup called Genie Lens Technologies, the sticker is a polymer film embossed with microstructures that bend incoming sunlight. The result: the active materials in the panels absorb more light, and convert more of it into electricity.

The technology is cheap and could lower the cost per watt of solar power. Also, unlike other technologies developed to improve solar panel performance, this one can be added to panels that have already been installed.

The polymer film does three main things, says Seth Weiss, CEO and cofounder of Genie Lens, based in Englewood, CO. It prevents light from reflecting off the surface of solar panels. It traps light inside the semiconductor materials that absorb light and convert it to electricity. And it redirects incoming light so that rather than passing through the thin semiconductor material, it travels along its surface, increasing the chances it will be absorbed.

Power film: A thin plastic sheet covered with microscopic structures is applied to the front of a solar panel to increase the amount of light it absorbs.
Credit: Genie Lens Technologies

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