Scientists discover tiny solar panels that create themselves

Scientists discover tiny solar panels that create themselves | DVICE.

The Recent Future / September 8, 2010 / Nature, Tech / 0 Comments

Electricity collected from the air could become the newest alternative energy source

Imagine devices that capture electricity from the air ― much like solar cells capture sunlight ― and using them to light a house or recharge an electric car. Imagine using similar panels on the rooftops of buildings to prevent lightning before it forms. Strange as it may sound, scientists already are in the early stages of developing such devices, according to a report presented today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“Our research could pave the way for turning electricity from the atmosphere into an alternative energy source for the future,” said study leader Fernando Galembeck, Ph.D. His research may help explain a 200-year-old scientific riddle about how electricity is produced and discharged in the atmosphere. “Just as solar energy could free some households from paying electric bills, this promising new energy source could have a similar effect,” he maintained.

“If we know how electricity builds up and spreads in the atmosphere, we can also prevent death and damage caused by lightning strikes,” Galembeck said, noting that lightning causes thousands of deaths and injuries worldwide and millions of dollars in property damage.

The notion of harnessing the power of electricity formed naturally has tantalized scientists for centuries. They noticed that sparks of static electricity formed as steam escaped from boilers. Workers who touched the steam even got painful electrical shocks. Famed inventor Nikola Tesla, for example, was among those who dreamed of capturing and using electricity from the air. It’s the electricity formed, for instance, when water vapor collects on microscopic particles of dust and other material in the air. But until now, scientists lacked adequate knowledge about the processes involved in formation and release of electricity from water in the atmosphere, Galembeck said. He is with the University of Campinas in Campinas, SP, Brazil.

via Electricity collected from the air could become the newest alternative energy source.

The Recent Future / August 27, 2010 / Nature, SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Ultra-tiny frogs discovered living like faeries inside pitcher plants

One of the world’s tiniest frogs has been discovered in Borneo. At 10-12 mm long, Microhyla nepenthicola may be micro, but its croak is loud. That’s how researchers found them, swimming in tiny puddles of water captured by pitcher plants.

A group of zoologists with Conservation International say they found the frogs by the side of the road in Borneo, near a national park. They were very hard to locate because of their small size, but the scientists followed the frog’s loud calls (you can listen to some here) and discovered them living among pitcher plants. They lay their eggs on the inside of the pitchers, and tadpoles grow up swimming in the tiny pools of rainwater that collect in the bottom of these plants. While most species of pitcher plant are carnivorous, the ones preferred by these tiny frogs only eat leaves – in fact, the frogs most likely help break down the leaf material and aid in the plant’s digestion.

via Ultra-tiny frogs discovered living like faeries inside pitcher plants.

The Recent Future / August 25, 2010 / Nature / 0 Comments

‘Auspicious Buddhist flower’ blooms in China after 3000 yrs

A Chinese nun has found an Udumbara flower, which Buddhist legend holds blossoms every 3,000 years, growing under her washing machine.

The flower was found in the home of a Chinese nun in Lushan Mountain in Jiangxi province.

The Udumbara – apparently Sanskrit for an auspicious flower from heaven’ – measures just 1 mm in diameter and is said to find mentions in Buddhist mythology on account of its supposed rarity.

The newspaper said Miao Wei, 50, discovered the white flower under her washing machine.

Auspicious Buddhist flower’ blooms in China after 3000 yrs.

The Recent Future / March 8, 2010 / Nature / 0 Comments

Water Freezes When Heated

Usually water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures below that. But now scientists – reporting today in the journal Science — have found a way to keep water in a liquid form at -40 degrees F. What’s more, the scientists have found another way to make the water freeze when it’s heated. It’s a curious phenomenon to say the least, but the results could have implications for computer climate modeling. Igor Lubomirsky and his colleagues from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science achieved this unusual feat using dust-free water on materials called pyroelectric amorphous solids, which change their electrical charge depending on their temperature.

One of the materials the scientists looked at was lithium tantalate. At 12 degrees F, the material has a negative charge. But raise the temperature to 17.6 degrees F, and it has a positive charge.

When the scientists put dust-free water on the material, the freezing point no longer was the normal 32 degrees. In fact, the freezing point depended on the charge. The scientists were able to supercool the water down -40 F without it freezing.

A negative charge did the opposite. So when they applied a negative charge to the surface, thereby raising the temperature to 17, the “heated” water froze.

via Water Freezes When Heated : Discovery News.

The Recent Future / February 5, 2010 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

Green Sea Slug Is Part Animal, Part Plant

Green Sea SlugIt’s easy being green for a sea slug that has stolen enough genes to become the first animal shown to make chlorophyll like a plant.

Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The slugs can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that captures energy from sunlight, Pierce reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Pierce used a radioactive tracer to show that the slugs were making the pigment, called chlorophyll a, themselves and not simply relying on chlorophyll reserves stolen from the algae the slugs dine on.

“This could be a fusion of a plant and an animal — that’s just cool,” said invertebrate zoologist John Zardus of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.

Microbes swap genes readily, but Zardus said he couldn’t think of another natural example of genes flowing between multicellular kingdoms.

Pierce emphasized that this green slug goes far beyond animals such as corals that host live-in microbes that share the bounties of their photosynthesis. Most of those hosts tuck in the partner cells whole in crevices or pockets among host cells. Pierce’s slug, however, takes just parts of cells, the little green photosynthetic organelles called chloroplasts, from the algae it eats. The slug’s highly branched gut network engulfs these stolen bits and holds them inside slug cells.

Some related slugs also engulf chloroplasts but E. chlorotica alone preserves the organelles in working order for a whole slug lifetime of nearly a year. The slug readily sucks the innards out of algal filaments whenever they’re available, but in good light, multiple meals aren’t essential. Scientists have shown that once a young slug has slurped its first chloroplast meal from one of its few favored species of Vaucheria algae, the slug does not have to eat again for the rest of its life. All it has to do is sunbathe.

But the chloroplasts need a continuous supply of chlorophyll and other compounds that get used up during photosynthesis. Back in their native algal cells, chloroplasts depended on algal cell nuclei for the fresh supplies. To function so long in exile, “chloroplasts might have taken a go-cup with them when they left the algae,” Pierce said.

There have been previous hints, however, that the chloroplasts in the slug don’t run on stored-up supplies alone. Starting in 2007, Pierce and his colleagues, as well as another team, found several photosynthesis-related genes in the slugs apparently lifted directly from the algae. Even unhatched sea slugs, which have never encountered algae, carry “algal” photosynthetic genes.

via Green Sea Slug Is Part Animal, Part Plant | Wired Science |

The Recent Future / January 11, 2010 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

Soviet Scientist Turns Foxes Into Puppies

Aww, aren’t those puppies cute?

Those aren’t dogs. They’re foxes, believe it or not.

In the 1950s, Soviet scientist Dmitri Belyaev set out to breed a tamer fox that would be easier for their handlers in the Russian fur industry to work with. The foxes included in his breeding experiment were determined by their temperament. To select candidates to breed, Belyaev would stick out his hand in front of foxes, and rank them based on how they reacted. The foxes that snapped or bit at his hand would be disqualified from the experiment, and the foxes that cowered or exhibited curiosity without attacking his hand would be mated together. The best behaved of the selected foxes offspring would be mated again, etc.

The scientists expected a long and tedious experiment with little immediate effects. Much to the their shock, however, noticeable changes in the foxes behavior emerged after just about 10 generations. Not only were the new foxes better behaved, they were also playful, smaller in size, and even had white patches of fur on on large swaths of their bodies. Many wagged their tails like dogs, and some even had blue eyes.

Shocked with the results, Belyaev and his team began to investigate. Testing a hypothesis, they discovered that the new ‘Silver’ foxes, had a significantly lower level of adrenaline than their original counterparts. Adrenaline directly affected the behavior of the foxes, the size the foxes grew, and somehow, the color of the foxes. Through some more testing, the scientists discovered that the level of melanin (a chemical responsible for pigmentation) in the foxes was lower as well, explaining how the foxes emerged with colors never before heard of from their breed.

Scientists theorize that the domestication of wolves to dogs probably began the same way. Generally thought to have developed their affectionate temperament over hundreds or thousands of generations, wolves could have become the dogs we know today quicker than anyone could have imagined.

via Overpill – Soviet Scientist Turns Foxes Into Puppies.

The Recent Future / December 26, 2009 / Nature / 0 Comments

Splitting Time from Space – New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein’s Spacetime

Was Newton right and Einstein wrong? It seems that unzipping the fabric of spacetime and harking back to 19th-century notions of time could lead to a theory of quantum gravity.

Physicists have struggled to marry quantum mechanics with gravity for decades. In contrast, the other forces of nature have obediently fallen into line. For instance, the electromagnetic force can be described quantum-mechanically by the motion of photons. Try and work out the gravitational force between two objects in terms of a quantum graviton, however, and you quickly run into trouble—the answer to every calculation is infinity. But now Petr Hořava, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks he understands the problem. It’s all, he says, a matter of time.

More specifically, the problem is the way that time is tied up with space in Einstein’s theory of gravity: general relativity. Einstein famously overturned the Newtonian notion that time is absolute—steadily ticking away in the background. Instead he argued that time is another dimension, woven together with space to form a malleable fabric that is distorted by matter. The snag is that in quantum mechanics, time retains its Newtonian aloofness, providing the stage against which matter dances but never being affected by its presence. These two conceptions of time don’t gel.

The solution, Hořava says, is to snip threads that bind time to space at very high energies, such as those found in the early universe where quantum gravity rules. “I’m going back to Newton’s idea that time and space are not equivalent,” Hořava says. At low energies, general relativity emerges from this underlying framework, and the fabric of spacetime restitches, he explains.

Hořava likens this emergence to the way some exotic substances change phase. For instance, at low temperatures liquid helium’s properties change dramatically, becoming a “superfluid” that can overcome friction. In fact, he has co-opted the mathematics of exotic phase transitions to build his theory of gravity. So far it seems to be working: the infinities that plague other theories of quantum gravity have been tamed, and the theory spits out a well-behaved graviton. It also seems to match with computer simulations of quantum gravity.

More via Splitting Time from Space—New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein’s Spacetime: Scientific American.

The Recent Future / November 25, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

Why boys are turning into girls

Here’s something rather rotten from the State of Denmark. Its government yesterday unveiled official research showing that two-year-old children are at risk from a bewildering array of gender-bending chemicals in such everyday items as waterproof clothes, rubber boots, bed linen, food, nappies, sunscreen lotion and moisturising cream.

The 326-page report, published by the environment protection agency, is the latest piece in an increasingly alarming jigsaw. A picture is emerging of ubiquitous chemical contamination driving down sperm counts and feminising male children all over the developed world. And anti-pollution measures and regulations are falling far short of getting to grips with it.

Sperm counts are falling so fast that young men are less fertile than their fathers and produce only a third as much, proportionately, as hamsters. And gender-bending chemicals are increasingly being blamed for the mystery of the “lost boys”: babies who should normally be male who have been born as girls instead.

The Danish government set out to find out how much contamination from gender-bending chemicals a two-year-old child was exposed to every day. It concluded that a child could be “at critical risk” from just a few exposures to high levels of the substances, such as from rubber clogs, and imperilled by the amount it absorbed from sources ranging from food to sunscreens.

More via Why boys are turning into girls – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / November 24, 2009 / Health, Nature / 0 Comments

NASA Discovers Large Lunar Ice Field

A team of NASA scientists announced Friday the discovery of a large amount of water on the moon’s south pole.

“Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit, we found a significant amount,” said Anthony Colaprete, a principal project investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center.Just weeks after NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission analyzed a plume of debris generated by the impact of a satellite into a crater near the moon’s south pole, scientists said the findings suggest the presence of frozen water at the site of impact.”We are ecstatic,” said Colaprete. “Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water.” Over the last decade, scientists have found some hints of underground ice on the moon’s poles, but this is the best evidence yet.

via NASA Discovers Large Lunar Ice Field – News Story – KTVU San Francisco.

The Recent Future / November 14, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments