Harvard researchers just developed self-healing rubber

August 22, 2017 by  
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You’ve heard of self-healing concrete and even the potential of a self-healing starship , but what about rubber that repairs itself? The invention now exists, thanks to researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). In a new study published in Advanced Materials , the research team reveals how they developed a hybrid rubber with both covalent and reversible bonds that is capable of repairing itself. While self-healing materials aren’t new (researchers at SEAS created self-healing hydrogens which rely on water to incorporate reversible bonds that promote self-healing), this is the first time engineers have created a self-healing rubber. The task was difficult, as rubber is made of polymers often connected by permanent, covalent bonds. Because the bonds are strong, they never reconnect once broken. The researchers overcame this by making the bonds connecting the polymers reversible, so the material could break and reform. Related: This rubber-jointed LED table lamp can bend in any direction like Gumby To mix covalent and reversible bonds, the researchers developed a molecular rope (called randomly branched polymers) which tied the two types of bonds together. This rope allowed two previously unmixable bonds (“like oil and water,” according to Li-Heng Cai, a corresponding author) to be mixed homogeneously on a molecular scale. It was this step that produced the self-healing rubber. Unlike typical rubber, the self-healing variety redistributes stress so there is no localized point of trauma that results in cracking. When the stress is released, the material “snaps back” to its original form and the cracks repair themselves. Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has already filed a patent for the technology and is seeking commercialization opportunities. This means that in the very near future, objects that utilize rubber are likely to become more durable. Cai, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS, Jinrong Wu, a visiting professor from Sichuan University, China , and author David A. Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, developed the hybrid rubber as a team. Their research was supported by the National Science Foundation, Harvard Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) and the National Institute of Health/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “There is still a lot more to do. For materials science , it is not fully understood why this hybrid rubber exhibits crazes when stretched,” Weitz said. “For engineering, the applications of the hybrid rubber that take advantage of its exceptional combination of optical transparency, toughness , and self-healing ability remain to be explored. Moreover, the concept of using molecular design to mix covalent and reversible bonds to create a homogenous hybrid elastomer is quite general and should enable development of tough, self-healing polymers of practical usage.” + Advanced Materials Via GreenCarCongress Images via Pixabay ,  Peter and Ryan Allen/Harvard SEAS

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Harvard researchers just developed self-healing rubber

Trump administration disbands climate change advisory panel

August 22, 2017 by  
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Donald Trump’s administration appears determined to sweep away federal efforts to address climate change . The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the administration would disband the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment , a group comprised of academics, officials, and representatives from corporations. Committee chair Richard Moss said the risky move could hurt the economic prospects of the next generation. The charter for the 15-person advisory panel, established in 2015 for the National Climate Assessment , expired over the weekend on Sunday. On Friday, acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ben Friedman told the committee chair they wouldn’t be renewing the panel. Related: Trump’s USDA staff told to use ‘weather extremes’ instead of ‘climate change’ The National Climate Assessment is supposed to come out every four years in accordance with a 1990 law calling for the assessment, but has only come out three times since. The next assessment is scheduled for 2018. The Washington Post reported the Trump administration has been going over the Climate Science Special Report, which is crucial to the next National Climate Assessment. Scientists from 13 federal agencies said in the special report that human activity likely led to a global temperature increase from 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit between 1951 and 2010. NOAA communications director Julie Roberts told The Washington Post in an email that the move to disband the panel “does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.” But the advisory panel’s job was to help translate National Climate Assessment findings into guidance for officials in both the public and private sectors, so the decision could leave state officials with little guidance on how to consider climate change in infrastructure . Seattle mayor Ed Murray said the move is “…an example of the president not leading, and the president stepping away from reality.” Via The Washington Post Images via Gage Skidmore on Flickr and Derek Liang on Unsplash

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Oldest ice core ever dated reveals hidden clues to ancient Earth’s atmosphere

August 21, 2017 by  
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Ice cores hold secrets of what our planet was like millions of years ago, in bubbles preserving greenhouse gases from that time. A Princeton University -led team just revealed the date of ice from the oldest ice core we’ve ever dated, and it’s 2.7 million years old. Breaking the previous record by around 1.7 million years, the ice core could potentially help scientists determine what set off the ice ages . The ice core could help scientists understand more about our planet’s atmosphere millions of years ago. University of California, Berkeley geochemist David Shuster, who wasn’t part of the research, told Science Magazine, “This is the only sample of ancient Earth’s atmosphere that we have access to.” And the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the planet’s atmosphere, according to research on the ice core, may surprise some: they didn’t exceed 300 parts per million. Related: Why scientists are transporting ice from a mountain in Bolivia to Antarctica There are models of our planet’s ancient climate which hinted there would need to be low levels of CO2 to trigger ice ages. But according to Science Magazine, proxies that came from the fossils of animals who dwelt in shallow oceans had hinted at higher CO2 levels. The proxies may need to be re-calibrated if the new ice core dating holds up. Researchers unearthed the ice core from what’s called blue ice in East Antarctica. Science Magazine explained that in blue ice areas, glacial flow has allowed some ancient ice to come up to the surface. As a result, scientists don’t need to drill as deep to obtain old ice core samples in blue ice. The Princeton team hopes to extract still more ice cores from there and geochemist Ed Brook of Oregon State University , who was part of the team, said they could potentially find ice that dates back five million years. Princeton University graduate student Yuzhen Yan presented the research at the Goldschmidt Conference in Paris earlier this month. Scientists from institutions in California and Maine also made contributions. Via Science Magazine Images via Yuzhen Yan, Department of Geosciences

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Oldest ice core ever dated reveals hidden clues to ancient Earth’s atmosphere

Researchers turn recycled aluminum foil into cheaper, eco-friendlier biofuels

August 1, 2017 by  
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Don’t toss your bagel wrapper in the trash just yet; scientists at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland say they have discovered a way to turn used aluminum foil into a catalyst to create cheaper, eco-friendlier biofuels . Working with engineers from the university, Ahmed Osman, an early career researcher at the school of chemistry and chemical engineering, has developed a technique that extracts 100 percent pure single crystals of aluminum salts from contaminated foil, without creating harmful emissions or waste. The salts can be used to kickstart the preparation of alumina catalyst, which can then be used to produce dimethyl ether, a nontoxic, clean-burning fuel that is typically manufactured from plant-based biomass. This process has a couple of distinct advantages, Osman said. Current methods of creating this type of alumina involves bauxite ore, the mining of which causes appreciable environmental damage in countries such as West Africa, the West Indies, and Australia. Related: Breakthrough algae strain produces twice as much biofuel There’s also the abundance of aluminum foil packaging waste. Because grease in used foil can muck up recycling equipment, nearly 20,000 tons of the stuff—enough to reach the moon and back—is either landfilled or incinerated in the United Kingdom alone. Osman plans to fine-tune his research so he can explore opportunities for commercialization, whether for biofuel production or the use of the modified alumina catalyst in the catalytic converters of natural-gas vehicles. “This breakthrough is significant as not only is the alumina more pure than its commercial counterpart, it could also reduce the amount of aluminum foil going to landfill while also sidestepping the environmental damage associated with mining bauxite,” Osman said in a statement . + Queen’s University Belfast Via New Atlas Photo by blikss/Flickr

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Researchers turn recycled aluminum foil into cheaper, eco-friendlier biofuels

Madrid’s new ‘Desert City’ is a spectacular home for over 400 species of cacti

August 1, 2017 by  
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Madrid’s dry heat may not bode well for lush flower gardens, but the hundreds of cacti in the city’s new cactus park are sure to thrive. Designed by GarciaGerman Arquitectos , the massive 54,000-square-feet Desert City is an educational, sustainable , and ecological complex aimed at educating visitors about the vibrant world of the xerophytic plants. Located on a formerly vacant lot in the Madrid suburb of San Seastián de los Reyes, the expansive complex includes a large garden space as well a massive indoor greenhouse . The park – one of Europe’s largest spaces dedicated to cacti – grows over 400 xerophytic species. The complex also includes exhibition space as well as a shop and a restaurant. Related: Cactus Park in Taiwan draws architectural inspiration from prickly succulents At the heart of the complex is an extended glazed “billboard building,” which is elevated over the ground level. It connects the greenhouse space to a cloister-like outdoor garden with a shallow water pond. Additional spaces located in the greenhouse will be used for presentations, exhibitions, workshops, etc. The architects used a number of green building strategies in the park’s construction such as prefabricated materials, photovoltaic glass, and geothermal power. The greenhouse and gardens were also installed with a high-tech water recovery system that helps the park reduce its water usage. + Desert City + GarciaGerman Arquitectos Via Curbed Images and video courtesy of Imagen Subliminal

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Madrid’s new ‘Desert City’ is a spectacular home for over 400 species of cacti

Doctor warns falling sperm counts could lead to human extinction

July 26, 2017 by  
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Will our lifestyle lead to our extinction ? New findings from an international team of eight researchers indicate sperm counts in men from North America, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe have halved in under 40 years. Lead author epidemiologist Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told the BBC, “If we will not change the ways that we are living and the environment and the chemicals that we are exposed to, I am very worried about what will happen in the future.” Sperm count studies have been controversial in the past. This recent one, published this week in the Oxford Academic journal Human Reproduction Update , is one of the biggest assessments ever undertaken, according to the BBC. Researchers pored over 185 studies between 1973 and 2011. Levine detected a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and 59.3 percent drop in total sperm count in the men from those regions of the world listed above. The rate of decline continues and may even be increasing, according to the researchers. They didn’t see the same decline in men from Africa, Asia, or South America, but said there have been fewer studies from these regions. Related: Alarming new study suggests Zika virus could cause infertility in men Levine told the BBC, “Eventually we may have a problem, and with reproduction in general, and it may be the extinction of the human species.” Skeptics say a large proportion of past studies that have pointed to sperm count drops have been flawed, such as only including men who have gone to fertility clinics, and would be likely to possess low sperm counts. But the researchers involved in the new study said they accounted for some of the flaws. Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University told the BBC, “I’ve never been particularly convinced by the many studies published so far claiming that human sperm counts have declined in the recent past. However, the study today by Dr. Levine and his colleagues deals head-on with many of the deficiencies of previous studies.” Other scientists praised the quality of the new study but said it may be too soon to come to the conclusion that humans could be on the path to extinction. Researchers at institutions in Denmark, the United States, and Spain were also part of the research. Via the BBC Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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Doctor warns falling sperm counts could lead to human extinction

BatBnB unveils line of stylish (scientifically designed) homes for our flying friends

July 26, 2017 by  
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Airbnb disrupted the human housing world, now BatBnB is doing the same for bat housing. We all pretty much know that boxes are a stellar way to attract bats, but let’s be honest, they aren’t exactly good looking. That’s why we’re loving the elegantly designed BatBnB homes, which are attractive enough to display front and center at your home. They’re also designed based on decades of research, so they’re the perfect space for our flying friends. It’s basically like a piece of art for your yard that also boosts conservation efforts. Created by Harrison Broadhurst, architectural designer at Nomi Design and director of customer success at MakeTime   Christoper Rännefors , BatBnB provides a safe place for bats to nest, sleep and stay. Unlike other bat houses, BatBnB is incredibly stylish, so instead of tucking it in some remote corner, you’ll want to display it proudly. There are three style options available in the standard size, plus a mammoth size, so you can find the right one to suit your home. It’s finally the perfect bat house for design lovers. Of course, BatBnB isn’t just snazzy on the outside. It is also thoughtfully designed to be the ultimate space for bats, with grip chambers, proper ventilation and the ideal sizing. It’s so well-designed that it is endorsed by bat experts like executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation  Rob Mies , who is basically the Beyonce of the bat world. Researchers will also team up with BatBnB owners to collect vital information that will help bats recover from devastating white nose syndrome. Related: 7 Million Bats Killed by White Nose Syndrome: How You Can Help “I’ve studied bats for more than 50 years, led worldwide conservation efforts for bats, and in fact founded the North American Bat House Research Project. With today’s improvements, properly constructed and located bat houses are achieving close to 90% success. I personally helped develop the Bat BnB product line and am delighted to endorse it for its ideal construction and attractive design,” said noted bat expert Merlin Tuttle. Bats are struggling across the US because of habitat loss and  white nose syndrome . It doesn’t help that many people fear bats for being dangerous or diseased, a reputation that is decidedly undeserved. BatBnb is hoping to change that. “We want to help people value bats rather than fear them — those ugly poorly designed models on the market just don’t spark that conversation,” said Rännefors. With climate change making winters shorter, we are seeing more mosquitos all year long, and one of the best ways to naturally control pesky bugs is with predators like bats. Bats are also instrumental in maintaining a healthy environment by helping to fertilize and pollinate plants – in addition to the thousand mosquitoes a single bat can eat every hour . Help BatBnB become a reality, and help change the conversation around bats, by funding the project on Indiegogo . + BatBnB + BatBnB on Indiegogo

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BatBnB unveils line of stylish (scientifically designed) homes for our flying friends

Google enters nuclear fusion clean-energy race

July 26, 2017 by  
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Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of sustainable energy — a potentially unlimited source of pollution-free energy that can power the world. No greenhouse gas emissions. Only helium and a neutron are produced. Now Google has jumped into the race to commercialize nuclear fusion technology, teaming up with California-based fusion company Tri Alpha Energy to develop a new computer algorithim that optimises plasma — an ionized gas that conducts electricity. “Google is always interested in solving complex engineering problems, and few are more complex than fusion,” wrote Ted Baltz, senior staff software engineer, Google Accelerated Science Team, on Google’s research blog . “Physicists have been trying since the 1950s to control the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium, which is the same process that powers the Sun. The key to harnessing this power is to confine hydrogen plasmas for long enough to get more energy out from fusion reactions than was put in. This point is called ‘breakeven.’ If it works, it would represent a technological breakthrough, and could provide an abundant source of zero-carbon energy.” Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 The research was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports . The Optometrist Algorithm achieved a 50 percent reduction in the energy loss rate and an increase in ion temperature and total plasma energy. Other private and public entities are racing to become the first to bring nuclear fusion to scale. Experimental testing includes the Iter project in France, the Wendelstein 7-X (W7X) stellarator in Germany and the Tokamak ST40 reactor in the UK. General Fusion , a Canadian company, is also working to develop nuclear fusion technology. + Tri Alpha Energy + Achievement of Sustained Net Plasma Heating in a Fusion Experiment with the Optometrist Algorithm Via The Guardian Images via Tri Alpha Energy , Google Research Blog

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Fukushima robot finds lava-like deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel

July 24, 2017 by  
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Six years after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, there’s still a lot of cleanup to be done. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) deployed an underwater robot to assess damage inside the Unit 3 reactor in Japan last week, and the robot obtained images of debris that might be melted nuclear fuel. In some areas, the debris was around three-feet-thick. The robot captured eerie footage of the damaged reactor at Fukushima, spotting what could be melted fuel. It found what the Associated Press described as solidified lava -like lumps and rocks inside the pedestal that rests beneath the core in the Primary Containment Vessel. In some places the fuel was mixed with broken reactor pieces, hinting at a difficult cleanup to come. The multiple-day exploration started last Wednesday and finished over the weekend. Related: Fukushima radiation levels at highest since 2011 disaster TEPCO spokesperson Takahiro Kimoto told the Associated Press they now have to analyze the debris seen in the robot-captured images before they can figure out how to remove it. According to The Guardian, the reactor can’t be decommissioned until all the nuclear fuel has been found and removed – a process that could still span decades. It hasn’t been easy to search for melted fuel at Fukushima due to high radiation levels and damage. TEPCO said the expedition would help them gain a clearer picture of conditions at the damaged reactors that will aid them in cleanup efforts. The International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning developed the robot, which was inserted into the Primary Containment Vessel through what TEPCO described as a pipe designed to guard against radioactive gas escaping. Thrusters on the robot enabled it to move around through the cooling water that’s accumulated inside the structure since 2011. The robot also had front and rear cameras. Via The Guardian and TEPCO Images via International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning/TEPCO

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Fukushima robot finds lava-like deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel

Scientists discover the Amazon forest sets off its own rainy season

July 21, 2017 by  
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Scientists have been stumped for years over why the southern Amazon rainforest ‘s rainy season begins two to three months earlier than they’d expect. But now an international team that includes researchers from NASA and Google has discovered the forest actually triggers its own rainy season, thanks to water vapor off plant leaves. The finding points to one disastrous consequence of deforestation in this part of the world: as trees are cut down, it appears there’s actually less rainfall. Monsoon winds and the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which NASA describes as a belt of converging trade winds that shifts depending on the seasons, control when the rainy season begins in many tropical locations, and the southern Amazon experiences both factors. But they don’t kick in until December or January, while the southern Amazon’s rainy season typically begins in the middle of October. Related: Scientists warn Amazon jungle faces “death spiral” To try and find out why, the team of scientists led by Jonathon Wright of Tsinghua University scrutinized data on water vapor from NASA’s Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer, aboard the agency’s Aura satellite , together with other satellite measurements, to discover clouds in the southern Amazon at the dry season’s close form via water rising from the rainforest. But the southern Amazon’s rainy season already begins nearly a month later than it did back in the 1970’s. Evidence indicates if the region’s dry season stretches longer than five to seven months, there won’t be enough rain for the rainforest to remain a rainforest – it could transition to grassy plains. But the dry season is already a few weeks shorter on average than that benchmark in parts of the southern Amazon. The new study, published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , bolsters the idea that deforestation is partly to blame for the delayed start of the rainy season. The rainforest’s capacity to develop clouds dwindles as trees are chopped down. And if deforestation harms the forest to the point where it can’t trigger its own rainy season, the southern Amazon’s rainy season likely wouldn’t commence until December or January. Such changes could have far-reaching impacts. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The loss of a major Amazonian forest ecosystem could increase Brazilian droughts and potentially disrupt rainfall patterns as far away as Texas.” Via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Images via Center for International Forestry Research and Jay on Flickr

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Scientists discover the Amazon forest sets off its own rainy season

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