Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nobel-Winning Quasicrystals Appear to Have Come From Space

Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-01/quasicrystals-already-very-interesting-crystals-are-likely-also-space-crystals

Quasicrystals Within this chunk of mineral unearthed in Russia's Koryak mountains are crystalline structures that likely originated in space and were delivered to Earth via meteorite, a new study claims. Paul Steinhardt, Princeton University
Rare crystals found in Russia were likely deposited there by meteorites

First they were thought to be impossible on Earth, then when they were grown in the lab they were thought to be so novel that they earned their discoverer a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Now, it turns out the quasicrystals--unusually structured crystals that break several rules of crystalline symmetry and exhibit strange physical properties--unearthed in Russia's Koryak mountains a couple of years ago are probably from outer space.

Quasicrystals were first introduced to the chemical conversation by Israeli researcher Daniel Schechtman back in the 1980s, and they immediately were met with a good deal of skepticism by researchers who thought such structures impossible. Schechtman won that round, eventually receiving the Nobel for his efforts. But up until two years ago, quasicrystals were still thought to be impossible in nature--up to that point they had only been created under laboratory conditions.

Then in 2009 a team of Italian researchers found quasicrystals in mineral samples found in the mountains of eastern Russia. This mineral provided proof that quasicrystals could form naturally, but exactly how they formed remained a mystery.

Now, with tests on the quasicrystals completed, researchers are saying that the evidence suggests these crystals are not of Earthly origin, but rather were deposited in Russia via meteorite. Firstly, mass spectrometry shows a pattern of oxygen isotopes in the quasicrystal that is unlike that in any mineral known to originate on Earth (but it did resemble a pattern found in a certain type of meteorite). It also contained the tell-tale signs of a high-pressure past in certain silicas that only form under extreme conditions, like those inside the Earth's mantle or in a high-speed impact like the kind that occurs when meteors slam into a planetary body.

[BBC]

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Amazonian Mushroom Eats Indestructible Plastics [Science]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5880768/amazonian-mushroom-eats-indestructible-plastics

Amazonian Mushroom Eats Indestructible PlasticsWe use polyurethane to make just about everything—garden hoses, furniture, the entirety of my local 99-cent store. It's easy to produce, durable, and dirt cheap. What it isn't is recyclable—there isn't a single natural process that breaks it down. That is until a newly-discovered Amazonian fungus takes a bite.

Pestalotiopsis microspora (not shown) is a resident of the Ecuadorian rainforest and was discovered by a group of student researchers led by molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel as part of Yale's annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory. It's the first fungus species to be able to survive exclusively on polyurethane and, more importantly, able to do so in anaerobic conditions—the same conditions found in the bottom of landfills. This makes the fungus a prime candidate for bioremediation projects that could finally provide an alternative to just burying the plastic and hoping for the best. [Fastcoexist]

Image via manzrussali / Shutterstock

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It Takes 24 Million Generations For a Mouse To Evolve Into an Elephant [Science]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5880826/it-takes-24-million-generations-for-a-mouse-to-evolve-into-an-elephant

It Takes 24 Million Generations For a Mouse To Evolve Into an ElephantIf you've ever wondered how quickly evolution works, well, now you have an answer: slowly. Very. Slowly. In fact it takes at least 24 million generations for a mouse-sized animal to evolve to the size of an elephant.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the timescales involved in species growth and shrinking due to evolution. Turns out, it's much speedier to get small. The study suggests it takes just 100,000 generations for very large decreases, such as those that lead to dwarfism.

But how the hell do you work out how long it takes for a mouse to turn into an elephant? Largely through comparison and extrapolation. The researchers, from Monash University, looked at 28 different groups of mammals, including elephants, primates, and whales, over the past 70 million years. They tracked the changes in size by generation in order to make the results comparable across the data set. Amusingly, mammals that live in water grow quickest, because its "easier to be big in the water," according to Dr Erich Fitzgerald, one of the researchers.

The reason it's quicker to shrink as you evolve? It's preferable. "You need less food and can reproduce faster, which are real advantages," explains Dr Alistair Evans. Being small isn't all bad, then. [PNAS via Science Daily; Image: CrankyPK]

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Monday, January 30, 2012

A Toxic Spill Threatens Drinking Supplies Of 3.2 Million Residents In A Major Chinese City

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/a-toxic-spill-in-china-threatens-32-million-residents-of-a-major-chinese-city-2012-1


Liu River

SHANGHAI (AP) — China's environmental authorities were redoubling efforts Monday to prevent a toxic cadmium spill from further tainting water supplies of cities downstream, as seven chemical company officials were reported detained in connection with the accident.

Official reports have provided little information about the exact cause of the spill, whose impact was first seen in fish kills in mid-January. The contamination initially was blamed on a mining company, but the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Monday that seven managers of chemical companies had been detained on suspicion of responsibility for unauthorized waste discharges.

Cadmium, used to make batteries, is poisonous and can cause cancer.

The spill prompted residents of Liuzhou, a city of 3.2 million in southwestern China's Guangxi region, to stock up on bottled water, though officials said efforts to neutralize the cadmium were keeping the water within safe levels and the city could use groundwater reserves if water from local rivers and reservoirs becomes too contaminated.

Chinese rivers, lakes and coastal waters are heavily polluted due to inadequate controls on industries, runoff from farms and urban sewage. The area near Hechi, the city upstream on the Longjiang River, where the cadmium was first detected, has seen repeated spills from smelters and miners operating in the area.

Many rural areas of central and southern China are heavily dependent on mining and smelting. Polluters are often state-owned companies with strong political influence that makes enforcement of pollution controls difficult at the local level despite top-level government pledges to improve environmental protection.

The Guangxi Jinhe Mining Co. initially was reported to be the suspected main cause of the contamination because its waste disposal continually failed to meet government standards despite repeated citations, the newspaper China Business News reported.

According to industry websites, the company, a subsidiary of Guangxi Nonferrous Metals Group, makes zinc ingots and zinc oxide used as white pigment for rubber, cosmetics, medicine, ceramics and glass. Cadmium naturally occurs in zinc ore and is a toxic byproduct of smelting.

But Feng Zhennian, a regional environmental official, named only one company — Jinchengjiang Hongquan Lithopone Material Co. Ltd. in Hechi, in announcing the detention of the seven chemical company managers, Xinhua reported. Feng mentioned no other companies and did not name those detained, it said.

Lithopone is a mixture of barium sulfate and zinc sulfide that also is used as a white pigment.

The cadmium had polluted a 100 kilometer (60-mile) stretch of the Longjiang River at a level more than five times the official limit of 0.005 milligrams per liter, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday.

"It is a critical time right now as downstream drinking water safety is in jeopardy, so we will take every measure possible and optimize our strategies to bring down cadmium concentration levels," it quoted He Xinxing, Hechi's mayor, as saying.

TV reports and photos showed soldiers dumping into the river bags of bright yellow aluminum chloride, a neutralizing agent, into the river.

Seven factories and mines handling heavy metals were ordered to suspend operations as a precaution, according to reports on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Top level provincial officials cited in those reports said that chemicals dumped into the river had helped reduce the cadmium contamination to safer levels, though some communities living near the spill were relying on barrels of water trucked in by the government.

Hechi and the surrounding area have been repeatedly singled out for inadequate controls on pollution by cadmium, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. In 2006, a local "cleanup" campaign involving thousands of people, that did little more than move rocks from mine tailings around, drew national attention after some participants complained.

China has set a goal of reducing pollution by lead, mercury, chromium, cadmium and arsenic by 15 percent of 2007 levels by 2015.

___

Researcher Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hiriko: The MIT-backed, Spanish 'folding' EV that wants to make cities bigger

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/01/26/hiriko-the-mit-backed-spanish-folding-ev-that-wants-to-make/

Meet Hiriko, an EV that's the fruit of a collaboration between MIT, Basque businesses and the Spanish government. It might look like the rest of those sci-fi Jetson-style concepts, but it has a few tricks up its wheel-arches. Rather than a regular configuration, the bubble-esque ride has four independent in-wheel motors. Also, when you're ready to park this thing, the back section slides forward, "folding" the cabin up vertically -- a feat the makers claim will see it occupy only two-thirds of the space taken by a Smart ForTwo. Other neat features include a single front-opening door and joystick controls (rather than a plain old steering wheel). There's no details on range, mph and charge speed, but 20 test vehicles are being built at a reported cost of $16,253 each. There's no hint at what this will translate to in sticker price when it goes into production next year, but with the initial trials taking place imminently, it looks like Hiriko (meaning "of the city") could be a feature in your city quite soon.

Hiriko: The MIT-backed, Spanish 'folding' EV that wants to make cities bigger originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 26 Jan 2012 01:26:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Permalink Autoblog, Engadget Spanish  |  sourceThe Telegraph  | Email this | Comments

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

26 National Parks That Are No Longer National Parks [Outdoors]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5879076/26-national-parks-that-are-no-longer-national-parks

26 National Parks That Are No Longer National ParksThe US National Park Service extends from the Badlands of North Dakota to Biscayne Bay, Florida. But did you know it used to cover more?

"Six percent of all the national parks that have ever been created have been dropped," Geographer Bob Janiskee told National Geographic. "During the sixties, seventies, and eighties, there was a period of tremendous growth, but it gets lost in the shuffle that parks also get abolished or decommissioned."

Some sites, like Mackinac National Park and the Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument, were transferred from the national register to the care of their host states in cost-saving moves by the Feds. Others, like Mar-a-Lago National Historic Site or the National Visitor Center at Union Station in D.C. were either sold off to private interests or simply declared a wash.

Janiskee has assembled profiles on each of the 26 "gone and mostly forgotten" national parks at National Parks Traveler. [National Geographic]

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

drag2share: Experimental Magnetic Soap Might Clean Up Massive Oil Spills [Genius]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5878644/experimental-magnetic-soap-might-clean-up-massive-oil-spills

Experimental Magnetic Soap Might Clean Up Massive Oil SpillsIf you spill millions of gallons of oil all over, say, the Gulf of Mexico, no amount of OxiClean is going to help. You need something industrial strength, and researchers are looking at magnetic soap as a potential solution.

Soaps, also known as surfactants, can be problematic when used on a large scale because their chemical properties inherently cause them to interact with lipids and other molecules they encounter. This allows them to alter (aka clean) the intended substance, but can have a detrimental impact on other components of an environment.

In an attempt to create more targeted soap, scientists at the University of Bristol are testing the magnetic properties of water when combined with iron rich salts. Using solutions similar to fabric softener and other cleaners, the team added iron to create soap with metallic properties.

Tests showed that the new metallic substance could move through oil and against gravity to reach a magnet held at the top of a test tube. The scientists even confirmed that, as a result of its magnetic qualities, the substance was forming clumps like a traditional soap.

Potential uses for metallic soaps are huge because their chemical properties can be manipulated with magnets. Traditional cleaners depend on factors like temperature and pH that are difficult to control in a life size setting. If they can be mass produced, this new generation of soaps will radically change the negative impact of industrial cleaners on the environment. [University of Bristol via PhysOrg]

Photo: mbtphotos/Shutterstock

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Monday, January 23, 2012

drag2share: Who Needs Gas When You Can Run Your Car On Seaweed? [Science]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5878366/who-needs-gas-when-you-can-run-your-car-on-seaweed

Who Needs Gas When You Can Run Your Car On Seaweed?Some folks bang on about biofuels being the future of car fuels. In reality, though, they're expensive, and that's largely because they're a pain in the ass to make. The solution might be seaweed.

Think about it, and being able to use seaweed to make biofuel would be great: it grows underwater so wouldn't get in the way of growing crops; it grows like stink without any fertilizer or irrigation; and — here comes some science — its structure, or more accurately a lack of lignin-a complex sugars, should make the process of breaking it down fairly rapid.

Only, the sugars in seaweed are mighty tricky to convert into ethanol. "The form of the sugar inside the seaweed is very exotic," Yasuo Yoshikuni from Bio Architecture Lab told Scientific American. "There is no industrial microbe to break down alginate and convert it into fuels and chemical compounds."

But now, workling with the University of Washington in Seattle, Bio Architecture Lab has developed a microbe capable of digesting seaweed and converting into ethanol, reports Scientific American. Based on the far-from-friendly bacterium Escherichia coli, it can turn the sugars in edible seaweeds into fuel. The reaction evens happens at a relatively low 25 Celsius, meaning it doesn't need much energy input to work.

So, what about yields? Well, an analysis from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (pdf) seems to suggests that the US could produce 1 per cent of the gas it currently uses by growing seaweed in slightly less than 1 percent of its territorial waters. So, it's not going to supply all our fuel, but it might lend a helping hand. [Scientific American; Image: Foilman]

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

drag2share: New technology converts seaweed to renewable fuels and chemicals

Source: http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-01-technology-seaweed-renewable-fuels-chemicals.html

A team of scientists from Bio Architecture Lab (BAL), has developed breakthrough technology that expands the feedstocks for advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals production to include seaweed (macroalgae). The team engineered a microbe to extract the all the major sugars in seaweed and convert them into renewable fuels and chemicals, thus making seaweed a cost-effective, renewable source of biomass.

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U.S. Electricity Generation by Source (chart)

Electricity generation

Our Finite World

Figure 1. Wind energy (dark green) is barely visible in a graph of US energy consumption by source. Based on EIA data.



Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/us-wind-energy-experiences-turbulence-as-it-takes-off-2012-1?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+businessinsider+%28Business+Insider%29#ixzz1jv56SFyz

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Monday, January 16, 2012

drag2share: Want to See Every Tree in America? [Science]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5876091/want-to-see-every-tree-in-america

Want to See Every Tree in America?We may sing about purple mountains and amber grains, but one of America's most vital resources is its vast amount of carbon-catching, oxygen-spewing trees. Now, after six years of effort, NASA knows how many we've got.

Josef Kellndorfer and Wayne Walker of Woods Hole Research Center worked in conjunction with the National Geological Survey and US Forest Service to catalog a mix of data gleaned from space-based radar, satellite sensors, computer models, and old-fashioned tree counting. The map above shows the total amount of woody biomass in the USA. It's displayed at a 30 meter resolution, where every four pixels constitutes an acre and every ten represents a hectare. [NASA Earth Observatory via Business Insider via Geekosystem]

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

drag2share: New study: Cholera in Haiti tracked more rapidly by social media than traditional methods

Source: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-01-cholera-haiti-tracked-rapidly-social.html

Internet-based news and Twitter feeds were faster than traditional sources at detecting the onset and progression of the cholera epidemic in post-earthquake Haiti that has already killed more than 6500 people and sickened almost half a million, according to a new study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

drag2share: The case of the missing gas mileage

Source: http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-01-case-gas-mileage.html

Contrary to common perception, the major automakers have produced large increases in fuel efficiency through better technology in recent decades. There’s just one catch: All those advances have barely increased the mileage per gallon that autos actually achieve on the road.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

drag2share: No One Knows Why 20 Tonnes Of Dead Fish Washed Up On A Norwegian Beach

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/dead-herring-nordreisa-2012-1


herring

Norwegians have been left confused after 20 tonnes of dead herring washed up on a beach in the northern region of Nordreisa, reports the Guardian.

Locals are pondering whether a predator or perhaps a storm forced the fish to land as scientist are conducting tests to see if they can identify a cause for the mass death.

According to The Local, some Norwegian experts believe larger fish, such as cod or pollock, or even killer whales, may have chased the herring to shore.

The haul was discovered by a dog walker who told the newspaper that something similar happened in the 1980s, the Daily Mail reports, The publication also said that doomsday predictors are using this event as a sign that the world is immanently about to end.

Additionally, it's not only the fish's arrival that remains a mystery. Locals have no idea how they are going to get rid of 20 tonnes of herring, somewhat understandably.

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