Friday, April 30, 2010

Japanese Scientists Invent 'Elastic Water' [Science]


Japanese Scientists Invent 'Elastic Water'This is "elastic water," a substance researchers have created in Japan that's 95% water yet retains a jelly-like texture that's perfect for sticking tissues together.

The stuff is made by adding two grams of clay and "a small quantity of some organic matter" to regular old water. And if they're able to figure out how to increase its density, it could produce eco-friendly plastic materials. Also, I bet it feels real weird when you squeeze it. [Japan Science and Technology Agency via Akihabara News]


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stanford researchers harvest electricity from algae, unkempt pools become gold mines


While we've seen plenty of stabs at viable green energy, from underwater turbines to the Bloom Box, we're always up for another. Running along the same lines as Uppsala University's algae-based batteries, researchers at Stanford are generating electrical current by tapping into the electron activity of individual algae cells. The team designed a gold electrode that can be pushed through a cell membrane, which then seals around it. The cell, still alive, does what it does best (photosynthesis), at which point scientists harvest chemical energy in the form of electrons. According to Stanford University News, this results in "electricity production that doesn't release carbon into the atmosphere. The only byproducts of photosynthesis are protons and oxygen." Of course, the team has a long way to go before this is economically feasible, but who knows? Maybe there's an algae-powered OPhone in your future...

Stanford researchers harvest electricity from algae, unkempt pools become gold mines originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 15 Apr 2010 12:49:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

GE's LED light bulbs look cool, last forever, cost a lot


GE's LED light bulbs look cool, last forever, cost a lot
Citizens of the Earth, you're looking at the lightbulb of the future. In the coming years and decades our lives won't be illuminated by simple spheres or coils of white. Oh no; future bulbs will have cool fins and flares that make them look almost worth the $40 to $50 we'll pay for the things. That's what GE plans to ask for its Energy Smart LED bulb when it ships sometime in the next 12 months, and while that is a lot compared to the exiting options, look at the benefits: GE's bulbs will last a whopping 17 years when used four hours a day, and they give off light in all directions -- not focused in one spot like previous designs. But, most importantly, they're very efficient, using nine watts to give off the equivalent amount of light of a 40 watt incandescent bulb. That's 10 percent less than a 40 watt equivalent CFL, and there's no mercury or other toxic goop involved here either. It's the future, folks. Start saving.

GE's LED light bulbs look cool, last forever, cost a lot originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 13 Apr 2010 09:27:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Virus Helps Researchers Split Water into Hydrogen and Oxygen


Viruses generally get a bad rap, but they can also be very helpful little machines. For instance, bacteriophages have been engineered to clear up infections that seemed otherwise untreatable, and genetic material from viruses has been used to ease biofuel production. Now a team at MIT is using a modified virus to assemble the biological nano-scaffolding necessary to split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Of course, other means to split water into hydrogen and oxygen exist, but none of them are as efficient or simple as the method plants use to oxidize water through photosynthesis, requiring energy from outside the system to carry the process to fruition. Meanwhile, efforts to extract the photosynthesizing components from plants for use in harnessing solar power have been largely unsuccessful.

So the MIT team decided to engineer a virus to imitate plants' oxidizing machinery by artificial means. Using a zinc porphyrin pigment and iridium oxide catalyst, the team was already able to mimic nature's own photosynthesizers, which are very efficient at flipping solar power into fuel for water-splitting reactions within plants. But for efficient water-splitting, those catalysts and pigments must be arranged in a very particular way.

Therein lies the team's innovation: an engineered bacterial virus known as M13 that serves as a sort of self-assembling biological scaffold, spacing the porphyrins and iridium such that oxygen production increases fourfold. The pigments capture sunlight and transfer that energy down the length of the virus the way a wire transfers electricity from one end to the other. That energy in turn powers the iridium reaction that splits the oxygen from the water.

The process still lacks a critical step: once the splitting is complete, the oxygen has been siphoned from the water but the hydrogen is left split into its component electrons and protons. The team is currently exploring other biomimicking systems that might reassemble those building blocks into usable, storable hydrogen atoms. An actual commercial process that produces hydrogen from water as efficiently as plants do is likely years away, but the MIT team hopes to have a working, self-sustaining device that can perform the entire water-splitting process in the lab within two years.

[MIT News]


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mission Blue: filling in the blanks...


Last year, we launched Ocean in Google Earth, expanding the scope of Earth to include 3D maps of the world's oceans and videos, photos and narrative from the world's leading scientists and media sources to bring them to life. We worked with more than 100 partners to begin to fill in the "blue" part of the planet, adding hundreds of placemarks in more than 20 ocean layers. Since then, we've added hundreds of new posts to the Ocean layer with the help of Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue Foundation and dozens of committed individuals around the world. The posts come from a diverse range of partners including National Geographic, independent videographers and dive enthusiasts, government organizations like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and international organizations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Today, the layer will become part of the default set of annotations seen by all Earth users. Although a humble step given the dearth of information available about these vast expanses of geography, we are happy to take one more step to make the oceans a first-class part of Google Earth and to give them at least a starter portion of the thick soup of photos and places that describe the land part of the planet. One of the greatest things about Earth is that it allows everyone to see and experience the fullness of their planet, from revisiting places they know well to venturing out to formerly unknown mountain peaks, desert vistas, and increasingly, the blue heart of life on Earth. As Sylvia has said of the Ocean on many occasions, "With knowing comes caring, and with caring there's hope."

Soon after last year's launch, Sylvia asked attendees at the TED conference to ! help her realize a wish: to create a series of marine protected areas she calls Hope Spots. Sylvia and a group of influential thinkers are now on a Mission Blue Voyage to the Galapagos Islands to brainstorm how they might best achieve better ocean protection. You can follow them on their journey by visiting the the Mission Blue Foundation website and on Twitter at @MissionBlue. There you can learn more about the launch of their Hope Spots initiative and visit all 18 of these spots using the Google Earth plugin.

We've also created a narrated tour featured in the Ocean Showcase to introduce you to eight of the regions proposed for protection: the Eastern Pacific Seascape including the Galapagos Islands, the Gulf of California, the Mesoamerican Reef in the Caribbean including Belize, the Sargasso Sea in the mid-Atlantic, the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the Coral Triangle, the Ross Sea in the Antarctic and Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic.

We'd also like to take a moment to thank the partners who have helped us improve our 3D canvas of the world's oceans in the past year: NOAA (global coverage), MBARI (Monterey Bay! Canyon) , The California State University at Monterey Bay (California Coast), The Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping - Joint Hydrographic Center at the University of New Hampshire (Arctic) and The Living Oceans Society (British Columbia and Canada).

As Earth Day approaches, we hope you'll take a little time to explore the planet, including the blue part.

Posted by John Hanke, Vice President of Product Management, Google Geo


Animals That Can Live Without Oxygen Discovered, Aliens Basically Guaranteed to Exist Now [Science]


Animals That Can Live Without Oxygen Discovered, Aliens Basically Guaranteed to Exist NowScientists have just discovered the first multicellular animals that can survive entirely without oxygen. They live in the L'Atalante Basin in the Mediterranean Ocean, a place with salt brine so thick it doesn't mix with oxygen-containing waters above.

This is pretty crazy stuff. Previously, it was thought that only single-celled life could exist in such inhospitable places, but this proves otherwise.

The animals took up radioactively tagged leucine (an amino acid), and a fluorescent probe that labels living cells, evidence that they were alive when they were collected. The researchers also found examples of individuals that contained eggs and evidence of apparent molting, which led them to conclude that the animals spend their whole lives in the harsh sediments. The creature's cells apparently lack mitochondria, the organelles that use oxygen to power a cell. Instead they are rich in what seem to be hydrogenosomes, organelles that can do a similar job in anaerobic (or oxygen free) environments.

This is interesting not only for the study of our oceans, but for life off our planet as well. After all, if life can exist where there's no oxygen, what's to say life can't exist in some of the harsher atmospheres that exist on other planets and moons? And at this point, why the hell haven't they contacted us yet? Are we not ready? Just tell us what to do, space friends! Come on! [Science Mag via Slashdot]


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Texas Town Installs a Monster Battery for Backup Power


The sodium sulfur battery is the largest of its type

An aging transmission line built in 1948 is the only link between the U.S. power grid and the little city of Presidio in West Texas. So Presidio has invested in a single huge battery that can power the entire town and serve as emergency backup for the frequent outages caused by the line going down, NPR reports.

The huge battery began charging up this week and can store up to four megawatts of power for up to eight hours. It represents the first NaS battery in Texas and the biggest in the U.S., and has already earned the local nickname of BOB (big-old battery).

Before BOB's arrival, the Texas town had an agreement with the Mexican government that allowed it to transfer the town's electrical load over to Mexico -- but that took time and left people without power for a certain period.

Similar room-sized sodium sulfur (NaS) batteries have already found growing use among U.S. utility companies that want to put off expensive upgrades for the power grid or building new transmission lines. USA Today notes that the batteries, built by NGK Insulators of Japan, store energy and can help ease blackouts for cities.

Electric Transmission Texas helped put the battery project together for around $25 million. But the utility has also agreed to build a second 60-mile transmission line to Presidio for about $44 million by 2012.

Such a battery could also serve as a test bed for utility companies to see how the devices can help with energy storage regarding renewable energy, such as wind power or solar power. That sounds good to us, as long as utility companies don't simply lean on the batteries as a technological crutch to avoid giving the power grid its much-needed makeover.

[via NPR]


Friday, April 2, 2010

Think to start selling City electric vehicle in New York, other locales this year


Talk about a revival story. Recently saved from the brink of disaster, Think Electric is back in a big way. Fittingly announced around the New York Auto Show, the company has revealed that it will begin selling its Think City -- one of the planet's first highway-capable electric vehicles, it'll have you know! -- in New York and "other select cities" later on in 2010. Think's currently working in conjunction with the US Department of Energy's local Clean Cities chapters to make it happen in the Big Apple, but exact details (you know, like an on sale date and MSRPs) are nowhere to be found. Considering this company's position just six months ago, though, we'll take whatever progress we can get.

Think to start selling City electric vehicle in New York, other locales this year originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 01 Apr 2010 22:01:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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