Groundbreaking new material for longer-lasting batteries inspired by leaf veins

April 11, 2017 by  
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Biology may hold the clues to better batteries . An international team of scientists designed a porous material inspired by the vascular structure of leaves that could make energy transfers more efficient. Similar to the way leaf veins efficiently transport nutrients, this material could help rechargeable batteries perform better and last longer. A team of researchers led by Xianfeng Zheng of China’s Wuhan University of Technology and Australia’s University of Queensland scrutinized the way leaf veins optimize the flow of nutrients, with minimum energy consumption, “by branching out to smaller scales” according to the University of Cambridge , and then applied that to their groundbreaking porous material. The nature-inspired material could help relieve stresses in battery electrodes that currently limit their lifespan. The material could also enhance the charge and discharge process. Related: American fern inspires groundbreaking new solar storage solution The team calls their product Murray material after Murray’s Law. Cambridge said according to the rule the whole network of pores in biological systems is connected in a manner “to facilitate the transfer of liquids and minimize resistance throughout the network.” Scientist Bao-Lian Su of Cambridge, Wuhan University of Technology, and University of Namur in Belgium said they applied that biological law to chemistry , saying, “The introduction of the concept of Murray’s Law to industrial processes could revolutionize the design of reactors with highly enhanced efficiency, minimum energy, time, and raw material consumption for a sustainable future.” The scientists applied Murray material to gas sensing and photocatalysis as well. Su is a co-author on a paper published online by Nature Communications late last week. There are seven other co-authors on the paper from institutions in China, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Another co-author, Tawfique Hasan of Cambridge University, said it could be possible to manufacture the porous material on a large scale. Via the University of Cambridge Images via Christoph Rupprecht on Flickr and Pixabay

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Groundbreaking new material for longer-lasting batteries inspired by leaf veins

The original Brexit: ancient Britain’s geological split from Europe

April 5, 2017 by  
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Brexit – or Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – remains controversial even as Prime Minister Theresa May begins the process of leaving. But it turns out this process may not have been the first Brexit ever. Research led by Imperial College London scientists found evidence of an ancient geological Brexit – “the Brexit nobody voted for” – in the Dover Strait. According to their research a land bridge once existed between England and France . Ancient Britain, regardless of the lack of cities and people, might have been almost unrecognizable according to geophysical and seafloor data. In this Britain, which could have existed 450,000 years ago during an ice age, the whole English Channel would have been a frozen tundra crossed only by small rivers. Britain may have been physically connected to Europe by a chalk rock ridge spanning the Dover Strait that held back a proglacial lake , or lake in front of an ice sheet according to Imperial College London, in what is today the North Sea. Giant waterfalls from the lake could have contributed to erosion that breached the ridge. Related: UK’s Brexit vote could reverse environmental protections and contribute to climate change The data shows a valley system and huge holes on the seafloor. In France, there are around seven of these holes, or plunge pools, around 328 feet deep in a solid rock line between Dover and Calais. The straight line backs up the idea the holes were created by waterfalls cascading over a ridge about 328 feet high and around 20 miles long – the land bridge – to hit the ground below and erode rock. Catastrophic flooding is thought to have finished the ancient Brexit. The researchers found evidence of megaflood processes, which could have carved the valleys. Imperial College London professor Sanjeev Gupta, co-author on a paper published online yesterday in Nature Communications , said in a statement, “The breaching of this land bridge between Dover and Calais was undeniably one of the most important events in British history, helping to shape our island nation’s identity even today. When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, flooding the valley floor for good, Britain lost its physical connection to the mainland. Without this dramatic breaching Britain would still be part of Europe. This is Brexit 1.0 – the Brexit nobody voted for.” Via Imperial College London Images courtesy Imperial College London and Wikimedia Commons

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The original Brexit: ancient Britain’s geological split from Europe

Harvard scientists claim they’ve made Earth’s first metallic hydrogen

January 27, 2017 by  
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For 80 long years, scientists have attempted in vain to produce a metal from hydrogen . A super substance thought to be present on other planets , metallic hydrogen could generate a rocket propellant around four times more powerful than what we possess now, allowing us to make advanced technologies like super-fast computers. Now two scientists at Harvard University say they have achieved the near miraculous. But other scientists are skeptical – the sensational discovery may just be too good to be true. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qitm5fteL0 Ranga Dias and Isaac Silvera of Harvard University say they’ve been able to create metallic hydrogen in the laboratory by squeezing hydrogen between diamonds inside a cryostat, at a pressure even greater than that at the Earth’s center. The journal Science published their astonishing findings this week. In a Harvard press release, Silvera said, “This is the Holy Grail of high-pressure physics . It’s the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at something that’s never existed before.” Related: MIT’s new carbon-free supercapacitor could revolutionize the way we store power But other scientists aren’t so sure. A string of failed tries, from scientists around the world, precede the Harvard news. One physicist from France’s Atomic Energy Commission even said, “I don’t think the paper is convincing at all.” The Harvard scientists maintain they were able to polish the diamonds better, to remove any potentially damaging irregularities, and were able to crush the hydrogen gas at pressures greater than others have. Silvera said they produced a “lustry, reflective sample, which you can only believe is a metal .” But that shiny substance could be nothing more than alumina (aluminium oxide), according to geophysicist Alexander Goncharov from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. That material coats the diamonds’ tips, and could act differently under the pressure. Silvera said they wanted to break the news before starting confirmation tests, which could ruin their sample. Now that their paper is out, they plan to perform more experiments. Stay tuned. Via Scientific American and The Independent Images via screenshot and Isaac Silvera/Harvard University

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Harvard scientists claim they’ve made Earth’s first metallic hydrogen

Scientists blend photosynthesis and quantum physics to improve solar cells

December 2, 2016 by  
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Four physicists at the University of California, Riverside decided to blend photosynthesis and quantum physics to work towards greener solar cells . Plants effectively regulate energy flow from the sun, but since current affordable man-made solar cells hover around just 20 percent efficiency, the scientists decided to take cues from vegetation. Current solar cells require feedback controllers and voltage converters to manage fluctuations in the amount of energy streaming from the sun, and end up wasting loads of energy. Their lack of efficiency is one hurdle standing in the way of mass adoption. But plants don’t need such hindering mechanisms. The UC Riverside team decided to reevaluate solar energy conversion in light of both photosynthesis’ efficiency and quantum physics principles. Related: Newly discovered form of spiralized light breaks everything quantum physics says about photons The physicists created what UC Riverside calls a novel kind of quantum heat engine photocell, a device that assists in the sunshine-to- electricity conversion process. Their new photocell draws on two quantum mechanical photocell systems that absorb either one or two colors of light, allowing the photocell to alternate between absorbing light at high and low power. According to UC Riverside, this innovation could allow a photocell to “convert varying levels of solar power into a steady-state output.” For UC Riverside assistant professor Nathan Gabor, who took part in the research, the journey to a better solar cell started in 2010 with the simple question, “Why are plants green?” He found out no one truly understands why, and decided to search for an answer. His quest, drawing on his physics background melded with deeper study into biology, may unlock the secrets to a more effective solar cell. The journal Nano Letters published the physicists’ research online in November. Via University of California, Riverside Images via Nathaniel Gabor and Tamar Melen and Pixabay

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Scientists blend photosynthesis and quantum physics to improve solar cells

There may be water far deeper in our planet than previously thought

November 23, 2016 by  
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Researchers are surprised to learn that there may be water deeper within the Earth than previously thought. Two scientists from The University of Edinburgh and Florida State University (FSU) discovered a high-pressure phase of a mineral that may be able to store water 400 to 600 kilometers, or almost 250 miles to 372 miles, down in Earth’s mantle. Researcher Mainak Mookherjee said the find “opens up a Pandora’s Box for us.” The mineral, brucite, was not thought to be stable so far down in the Earth. But the discovery of what FSU describes as a high-pressure polymorph of brucite has exciting implications for our knowledge of Earth’s interior. Mookherjee said, “We didn’t think water could be stored by hydrous minerals such as brucite. But now that we know it’s there, we need to figure out how much water could be effectively stored inside it…It really is remarkable that such a well-studied mineral as brucite has something so surprising to offer.” Related: Everything we know about the Earth’s mantle is completely wrong Scientists used to think brucite would decompose in deep Earth, and volcanic activity would send the water it once held up to the planet’s surface. But a high-pressure phase of the mineral might not decompose, so brucite may be able to hold water deep down there after all. Mookherjee said what he describes as deep Earth water is just as important as water on Earth’s surface for the planet’s processes. He said, “If the planet becomes dry on the inside, the planet dies because geodynamic activity within the planet ceases.” The scientists will continue to research brucite and will conduct more simulations to determine how its physical properties differ so deep in the Earth. Mookherjee’s ultimate goal is to figure out just how much deep Earth water there is. The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently published the study online. Via Phys.org Images via Florida State University and Wikimedia Commons

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There may be water far deeper in our planet than previously thought

Former subterranean crypt in France transformed into a soothing spa

November 23, 2016 by  
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Italian designer Alberto Apostoli was eager to take on the challenge of converting the basement space into a stylish spa setting. The upper level, where one can receive hair, hand, and face spa treatments, is conventional but chic. Once you descend the staircase to the lower level, you are greeted by a soft, soothing atmosphere, thanks to indirect LED strip lighting. All unsightly elements needed to run the facility are strategically hidden away behind a curtain. Related: 8 abandoned buildings transformed into absolute dream spaces The underground spa’s 270 square meters fit a Finnish sauna , steam bath made almost entirely out of glass, and a space for a hydro massage. Two single rooms and a double room downstairs each feature custom Italian furniture. Throughout the rooms, a black and white color palette is used to accompany the natural stone walls, with a few splashes of gold. “What is especially satisfying in the result is the mix of pre-existing stone and contemporary materials, managed through a thoughtful creative process,” said Apostoli. “The owners trusted us entirely in our thinking and this led to a major achievement from the point of view of consistency in both style and technology.” The spa is near Saint Pierre’s Church and is thought to have served as a crypt hundreds of years ago. With the current transformation, one would never know. + Alberto Apostoli + Atrium Spa & Beauté Images via Alberto Apostoli

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Former subterranean crypt in France transformed into a soothing spa

New photovoltaic solar technology boosts efficiency to 50%

November 23, 2016 by  
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Researchers at Technion Israel Institute of Technology recently made a breakthrough in solar cell technology that could boost efficiency of existing photovoltaics by 70 percent or more. The amount of sunlight solar cells can convert into usable energy is typically limited to around 30 percent, with many existing solar panels falling short of that due to less than optimal conditions. The Technion team developed new thermodynamic tools that work to capture energy currently lost, and convert it to electricity, thereby increasing a solar cell’s efficiency to as much as 50 percent . The university research team , based in Haifa, Israel, has been working to improve solar cell efficiency as a means to increase the benefits of clean, renewable sources of energy. They created a photoluminescence material that absorbs radiation from the sun, and converts the heat and light from the sun into an “ideal” radiation. That illuminates the photovoltaic cell and enables a higher conversion efficiency. The net result is a big boost: a conventional solar cell’s 30 percent efficiency rate is increased to 50 percent. Related: Masdar/MIT solar cell makes a grab for world record with 35% efficiency and lower cost “Solar radiation, on its way to the photovoltaic cells, hits a dedicated material that we developed for this purpose, the material is heated by the unused part of the spectrum,” said graduate student Assaf Manor, who led the study as part of his PhD work. “In addition, the solar radiation in the optimal spectrum is absorbed and re-emitted at a blue-shifted spectrum. This radiation is then harvested by the solar cell. This way both the heat and the light are converted to electricity.” The team continues to work on their innovation, and is targeting a commercial product release within the next five years. The results of the study were recently published in the journal Nature Communications. Via 3tags Images via Technion and Shutterstock

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New photovoltaic solar technology boosts efficiency to 50%

Scientists say Trump’s presidency could lead to a "game over" scenario for the planet

November 11, 2016 by  
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A new study from five scientists at United States and German institutions found that global temperatures could actually raise by around 7 degrees Celsius, which would wreak havoc on our planet. In light of the new study, renowned climatologist Michael Mann said a Donald Trump presidency – should he follow up on promises to jerk the United States out of the Paris agreement – could mean “game over for the climate.” The new scientific study, published the day after the United States election by the journal Science Advances , says as the Earth warms, it responds even more to greenhouse gas emissions , further raising temperatures. So instead of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s estimate that by 2100 temperatures will rise between 2.6 and 4.8 degrees Celsius, should we continue to burn fossil fuels as we have, the scientists paint a far more drastic picture in the new study. They say by 2100 temperatures could rise by 4.78 and 7.36 degrees Celsius. Related: The window for averting disastrous climate change has probably closed Prominent climatologist Michael Mann told The Independent the study seemed “sound and the conclusions quite defensible.” He said the new paper could back up the idea that a Trump presidency might mean “game over for the climate,” saying, “By ‘game over for the climate,’ I mean game over for stabilizing warming below dangerous (i.e. greater than 2C) levels. If Trump makes good on his promises, and the U.S. pulls out of the Paris [climate] treaty, it is difficult to see a path forward to keeping warming below those levels.” Lead author on the paper Tobias Friedrich of the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa told The Independent, “The only way out is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.” Via The Independent Images via glasseyes view on Flickr and Tobias Friedrich, Alex Timmermann, Michelle Tigchelaar, Oliver Elison Timm, and Audrey Ganopolski

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Scientists say Trump’s presidency could lead to a "game over" scenario for the planet

Linear Cabin is an elegant hideaway in the woods of Wisconsin

November 11, 2016 by  
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Located in St. Germain atop a steep bluff overlooking Alma Lake, the 900-square-foot Linear Cabin is accessed via a winding narrow gravel road that leads to a small clearing. The cabin sits at the threshold between the wooded plateau and the lake bluff. Blackened pine planks clad the exterior, while a strip of varnished cedar separates the black cladding from the thin roof plane. All of the timber used was sourced from Wisconsin’s northern forests. Related: Beautiful green-roofed home is nestled deep inside Wisconsin’s forests “With its simple plan, restrained use of materials, and precise detailing, the Linear Cabin continues Wisconsin’s rich legacy of cabin architecture – an unapologetically contemporary building that echoes the elegant clarity and rustic warmth of its typological predecessors but carefully avoids bucolic sentimentality,” write the architects. The cabin interior is separated into three identically sized boxes connected with glazed living areas that frame full-height views of the outdoors. The box-like areas include: a storage area for canoes, tools, and logging equipment; the service box that houses the cabin infrastructure such as entry, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and boiler room; and the sleeping box with two bunk rooms. Knotty pine clads the walls and ceilings, and is complemented by a polished dark-grey concrete floor. + Johnsen Schmaling Architects Via ArchDaily Images via Johnsen Schmaling Architects

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Linear Cabin is an elegant hideaway in the woods of Wisconsin

Earth’s oxygen levels are declining – and scientists aren’t sure why

September 30, 2016 by  
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Scientists led by Daniel Stolper at Princeton University studied samples of ancient air trapped in ice in Antarctica and Greenland and made a startling discovery – for the past 800,000 years, the Earth’s oxygen levels have steadily decreased. So far no one knows exactly why oxygen levels are declining, but there are a few prominent hypotheses. The ancient ice-trapped air reveals oxygen levels in Earth’s atmosphere have gone down by 0.7 percent over 800,000 years, which fortunately isn’t dire. That decrease is about the amount of decrease experienced when someone moves from sea level up to 100 meters, or around 328 feet, higher than sea level. But oxygen levels are still going down – and scientists aren’t sure why. Related: The world will run out of breathable air unless carbon emissions are cut One hypothesis is that erosion rates have increased globally, and rocks that are being weathered pull oxygen out of the atmosphere, much like iron binds to oxygen as it rusts. Carbon and pyrite are two substances that may be behind oxygen levels declining. Scientists think that fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature could lead to retreating and growing ice, spurring increased rates of global erosion. A second hypothesis is that over the last 56 million years, Earth has generally experienced global cooling, which has cooled the oceans. Colder oceans can hold more dissolved gases, including dissolved oxygen. Writing for Forbes, geologist Trevor Nace compared the phenomenon to the amount of carbonation in a soda. When soda goes flat it gets warmer, as dissolved carbon dioxide escapes. Colder soda contains that carbon dioxide, and perhaps the cool oceans are now holding more dissolved oxygen in a similar manner. It’s difficult for scientists to know just which hypothesis is correct, since oxygen levels are connected to other processes such as volcanic activity and even the biodiversity present on Earth. The study was published this month in the journal Science . + Science Via Forbes Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Earth’s oxygen levels are declining – and scientists aren’t sure why

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