Newly discovered exoplanet may be the best place to search for extraterrestrial life

April 19, 2017 by  
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Today researchers at Harvard-Smithsonian made an exciting announcement: a newly discovered planet may be the best candidate yet for finding life outside of our solar system. Earlier this year, scientists identified seven planets orbiting a star that looked ideally-placed for hosting life, but we really don’t know enough about those planets to say with any real conviction. On the other hand, LHS 1140b is close enough that we have more data, which gives it even more potential as a site for alien life. Researchers at Harvard-Smithsonian say that LHS 1140b stands out because of its dimensions. “What really sets this planet apart from others that have been discovered is that we know the mass and the radius of the planet,” said Jason Dittmann, a researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics . The exoplanet is in the Cetus constellation, which is relatively close at just 40 light years away. Related: Astronomers Reveal the Most Livable, Earth-Like Planet Ever Discovered LHS 1140b is large enough to have the gravity it needs to have an atmosphere, and it orbits a star right within the habitable zone. It also has a circular orbit, which means it is a safer place for life to form since there are fewer collisions and extremes compared to planets with oblong orbits. The exoplanet is closer to its star than Earth, with an orbit of just 25 days, but its star is much cooler than our own. The findings were published in the journal Nature , and scientists hope to gather more info soon about the exoplanet with future studies using new James Webb telescope technology . Via Cnet

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Newly discovered exoplanet may be the best place to search for extraterrestrial life

World’s first 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip could help end animal testing

October 25, 2016 by  
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When it comes to medical breakthroughs, the most exciting advances tend to involve technology that can lead to better and earlier diagnoses of various health problems , but breakthroughs that save animals are pretty good too. A team of Harvard University researchers has done just that by developing an entirely 3D-printed “heart-on-a-chip” that may some day eliminate animal testing in medical research. The innovation, which makes it possible to monitor heart performance, is the latest in a medical technology trend of building functional, synthetic replicas of living human organs in an effort to better understand how they work, or—more to the point—how they fail. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHhMlL9flMY Each organ-on-a-chip (also known as a “microphysiological system”) is constructed from a translucent, flexible polymer. The 3D-printed organs mimic the biological environment of our internal organs, and give scientists an up-close look at how they function. The heart-on-a-chip developed at Harvard can help researchers collect reliable data for short-term and long-term studies. Because the device is 3D-printed , scientists can easily customize its design to meet the specifications of their research, and the chips can be fabricated quickly. Related: See-through microchip organs help scientists test new drugs “This new programmable approach to building organs-on-chips not only allows us to easily change and customize the design of the system by integrating sensing but also drastically simplifies data acquisition,” said Johan Ulrik Lind, lead author and postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Other Harvard research teams have developed microphysiological systems that mimic the microarchitecture and functions of lungs, hearts, tongues, and intestines. These synthetic organs could replace animal testing with a customizable and completely humane alternative that may also lead to more accurate results. Unfortunately, the cost for fabricating these organs-on-a-chip is still quite high, and the process is also time-consuming. Researchers are continuously pushing forward to improve their methods, though, in the hopes of making this a viable and cost-effective alternative toward the cruel practice of animal testing. The results of the team’s research were published this week in the journal Nature Materials. Via Gizmodo Images via Harvard University

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World’s first 3D-printed heart-on-a-chip could help end animal testing

REI announces plan to close all 149 stores on Black Friday

October 25, 2016 by  
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Feeding the frenetic consumerism beast, Black Friday takes a hefty environmental toll each year. To combat the craziness, REI decided to close all 149 branches again this year with their #OptOutside campaign. They’ll pay their 12,287 employees and encourage participants to skip the mall and spend time in nature instead. Want to join in? Share your outdoor adventures on social media with the hashtag #OptOutside. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEVXU4RDUoI With the goal of creating new traditions for the Thanksgiving holiday, REI offers a green alternative through their #OptOutside campaign. To make it even easier for people to forgo shopping and spend time in nature, REI has created an outside activity finder online so people can find state parks or trails close to where ever they are spending Thanksgiving. Explorers can search for places to go hiking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, or snowboarding. They can also filter for family- or dog-friendly activities. Related: California and Minnesota state parks are free on Black Friday CEO Jerry Stritzke said in a statement, “This year, REI will shut down on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday because fundamentally we believe that being outside makes us our best selves – healthier and happier, physically and mentally. But as a nation we’re still spending over 90 percent of our lives indoors and it’s a trend we need to tackle. I love that there is a community of people in this country who dedicate their lives to that mission, so together, we are asking America, ‘Will you go out with us?'” 275 local and national organizations will join REI to promote the #OptOutside campaign through activities or social media posts, including Subaru, Google, and Meetup. For example, Subaru will offer pet owners in New York City shuttle rides for them and their dogs out of the urban jungle to nature, and will drive shelter dogs to the outdoors to spend time outside of their cages. You can check out the full list of #OptOutside partners here . + REI #OptOutside Images via REI Facebook and REI

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REI announces plan to close all 149 stores on Black Friday

Why we have to learn to embrace volatility and change

October 19, 2016 by  
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Leith Sharp of Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health provides an insightful new framework for carrying out effective change.

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Can upscale chocolate uproot deforestation in Haiti?

October 19, 2016 by  
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Dandelion, Raaka Chocolate and Valrhona are among the chocolate makers eyeing ways to combat poverty and renew the land.

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Everything we thought we knew about the moon’s origins is probably wrong

September 20, 2016 by  
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Everything we thought we knew about the moon’s origins is probably wrong, according to a new study written by two Harvard scientists. The leading theory since the 1970’s suggests a Mars-sized object scratched Earth in a ” giant impact event ,” leading to the moon . But new analysis of moon rocks reveals the collision that led to the moon was likely far more violent than we thought, which could offer insight into what the solar system was like long ago. Kun Wang and Stein B. Jacobsen, who are both affiliated with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard , scrutinized ” old Apollo samples from the ’70’s ” with better technology than was available 40 or more years ago. They found elements that couldn’t fully be explained by the old theory, including ” heavy isotopes of potassium .” The process to separate out those potassium isotopes would have needed super hot temperatures. Those temperatures could have resulted after a very violent collision. Related: The Moon was created when young Earth collided with another planet, says new study Wang told Gizmodo, “We need a much, much bigger impact to form a moon according to our study. The giant impact itself should be called extremely giant impact. The amount of energy required isn’t even close.” Instead of the Mars-sized object scraping Earth, the collision would have been more akin to a “sledgehammer hitting a watermelon.” The collision was so hot and forceful that the scientists think some of Earth actually vaporized. When the vapor cooled, it condensed into our moon. Nature published their study online this week. The new information about the moon’s origins led the scientists to think long ago, the solar system could have been a lot more violent and volatile. They think the moon rocks could hold more secrets about the ” early solar system ” and plan to keep probing the samples for more thrilling hints about the past. Via Gizmodo Images via Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

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Everything we thought we knew about the moon’s origins is probably wrong

Sweden’s legendary ICEHOTEL taps solar power to stay open year-round

September 13, 2016 by  
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The sparkling, chilly beauty of northern Sweden’s ICEHOTEL brings in thousands of visitors each year, only to melt away each spring. That will all change with a new addition projected to open this December, which will stay open into the sunny summer months thanks to a rooftop solar panel addition. Guests will be able to enjoy both the fire of the midnight sun and their icy accommodations at the same time. The ICEHOTEL has been operational for 26 years, with the same routine of preparing the destination each winter and shutting down each spring. The new hotel wing will be open 365 days a year in response to customer demand for a cool place to stay after a late night hike or dogsled adventure in the sun. Related: ICEHOTEL unveils breathtaking rooms carved from solid ice During the summer months, the addition will generate power from the sun day and night via photovoltaic rooftop panels provided by partner Solkompaniet. When the seasonal sun sets, the collection of 20 suites, ice bar, and gallery will join the rest of the ICEHOTEL, which is three times its size, for the winter rush. “We’ve created many temporary ice experiences in the past, and we’ve seen an increasing interest for visiting ICEHOTEL not just in winter,” stated founder Yngve Bergqvist. “Every summer we have international visitors who arrive in Jukkasjärvi and ask us where they can see ICEHOTEL – I look forward to being able to point it out to them!” + ICEHOTEL Via Design Curial Images via Asaf Kliger

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Sweden’s legendary ICEHOTEL taps solar power to stay open year-round

The octobot is the worlds first autonomous soft-bodied robot

August 26, 2016 by  
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A silicone robot completely free of electronic parts may sound futuristic, but that’s exactly what researchers at Harvard University have created. Based on the shape and motion of the octopus, the “octobot” is the world’s first completely soft robot , and its motion is completely autonomous. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vkQ3SBwuU4 To create the octobot, Harvard researchers used a combination of 3D printing , soft lithography, and molding to shape the robot’s body from silicone. Rather than a traditional battery or electronic components, the small robot is pneumatic-based, meaning it’s powered by gas under pressure. The robot uses a small amount of hydrogen peroxide as fuel. A chemical reaction to platinum within the bot creates gas which inflates the octobot’s tentacles like balloons. A microfluidic logic circuit controls the flow of fuel in the octobot’s limbs, inflating four at a time to propel the device forward. Related: Tiny robot caterpillar can push objects ten times its size At present, the octobot can’t do much – scientists are not yet able to steer it in any particular direction as it moves, and the liquid fuel only lasts between four and eight minutes. However, future models will include sensors that allow the robot to detect nearby objects and steer toward or away from them. It’s a fascinating proof of concept: the robots of the future may look like nothing like what we’ve envisioned. Via Slashdot Images via Harvard University

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The world’s ‘Third Pole’ is melting because of climate-warming black carbon

August 26, 2016 by  
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Global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels is heating up the North Pole and South Pole, causing the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to melt. The rapidly retreating glaciers could have far-reaching consequences for the planet, as they threaten to raise sea levels, change global ocean circulation patterns and alter global atmospheric circulation patterns. But there is another worrisome trend related to climate change that is found in the so-called “Third Pole” located in Central Asia. The snow-covered Himalaya-Hindu-Kush mountains and the Tibetan Plateau contain the largest ice mass on the planet outside of the polar regions and they are also experiencing dramatic melt, threatening the water supply for more than a billion people.

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The world’s ‘Third Pole’ is melting because of climate-warming black carbon

Harvard chemist engineers a superbug that converts inhaled CO2 into fuel

May 30, 2016 by  
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Over the past few years, the number of headlines relating to the increasing levels of carbon dioxide emissions have skyrocketed, and it’s pretty much all bad news. However, one scientist has been looking for ways to turn our collective frowns upside down, and now he thinks he’s found it. Harvard Professor of Energy Daniel G. Nocera says he’s engineered a bacterium that inhales CO2 and excess hydrogen and then turns them into alcohol fuel . Nocera, known as the man who invented the artificial leaf  five years ago, has been working in his research lab at Harvard to develop bacteria that could perform as well as plants, which convert carbon dioxide into fuel at a rate of about five percent. Skeptics said he would have a difficult time matching that rate, and many were stunned when the chemist announced that his engineered superbug converts sunlight 10 times more efficiently than plants. The bacteria, called Ralston eutropha , consumes hydrogen and CO2, and converts them into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Nocera and his team drew from earlier research by Anthony Sinskey, a professor of microbiology at MIT, and inserted genes that cause the bacteria to convert the ATP to alcohol fuel and excrete it. Related: Liquid energy: scientists unveil microbes that turn sun and CO2 into fuel The practical applications of a CO2-breathing superbug are virtually unlimited, in part because the resulting alcohol fuels require no additional processing before being used. “Right now we’re making isopropanol, isobutanol, isopentanol,” he said in a lecture to the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago. “These are all alcohols you can burn directly. And it’s coming from hydrogen from split water, and it’s breathing in CO2. That’s what this bug’s doing.” During his announcement in Chicago on May 18, Nocera joked that the news of this development was “hot off the press.” His study results haven’t even been published yet, but they will be soon in an upcoming issue of the journal Science. From there, he expects a lot of people to get really excited about potential applications. Although, he warns that his superbug isn’t the solution to excess CO2 in our atmosphere . Rather, it could help keep fossil fuels in the ground. “This isn’t solving your CO2 problem,” he said. ”I’m taking CO2 out of the air, you burn it and you put the CO2 back. So it’s carbon neutral.” Via Forbes Images via University of Chicago  and Wikipedia

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