New study reveals plastic pollution in the Antarctic is 5x worse than expected

June 19, 2017 by  
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We know about plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean , and even in the Arctic Ocean . But scientists thought the Antarctic was relatively free of that particular type of pollution until a recent study from the University of Hull , Científica del Sur University , and the British Antarctic Survey . Researchers discovered the levels of microplastics in the area are much greater than expected. Microplastic levels in the Antarctic are five times greater than anticipated, according to the international team. Microplastics are those tiny particles less than five millimeters in diameter found in personal care items like toothpaste and shampoo, but they can also come from clothing fibers or be created as larger pieces of plastic in the ocean break down. Related: One of the world’s most remote islands is also the most polluted The researchers found the plastic around the Antarctic continent and in the Southern Ocean , which is around 8.5 million square miles large. They think plastic originating outside the area may be coming in over the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which scientists in the past considered nearly impassible. University of Hull scientist Catherine Waller, lead author on a study published this year in Science of the Total Environment , said the ecosystem of the Antarctic is very fragile, and the area was thought to be isolated. It’s populated with krill that might eat the microplastics, and in turn be consumed by larger marine mammals like whales . Co-author Claire Waluda of the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement, “We have monitored the presence of large plastic items in Antarctica for over 30 years. While we know that bigger pieces of plastic can be ingested by seabirds or cause entanglements in seals, the effects of microplastics on marine animals in the Southern Ocean are as yet unknown.” The scientists called for urgent international monitoring of the plastic in the Antarctic. Via British Antarctic Survey Images via Catherine Waller and Claire Waluda

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New study reveals plastic pollution in the Antarctic is 5x worse than expected

Ingenious hand-pumped Scorkl lets you breathe underwater for 10 minutes

June 19, 2017 by  
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Scuba  diving may seem like too much of a hassle, what with all the equipment, training and money you need to make it happen. A new product – that’s like something straight out of a James Bond movie – called  Scorkl  opens up the underwater world by combining the best of scuba diving with the ease of snorkeling. A hand pump refills the underwater breathing device that’s roughly the size of a water bottle, giving you 10 minutes of uninhibited exploration. The Scorkl is a lightweight device you put to your mouth to breath in air while underwater – no scuba diving certification necessary. The Australia -based company says their cylinder is manufactured to the same standards and specifications as a cylinder you’d use to scuba dive, but it can be refilled with a Scorkl hand pump. The device also comes with a scuba tank refill adapter so it can be refilled from a scuba tank. A pressure gauge on the Scorkl lets users know how much air they have left – they’ll be able to swim freely through the water for around 10 minutes. Related: The Easybreath Snorkel Mask Lets You Breathe Comfortably Through Your Nose Underwater Scorkl is crowdfunding on Kickstarter , and it appears there are a bunch of people out there who are drawn to the freedom offered by the device – the company set their goal at $22,765 but have already raised over $370,000. One Scorkl costs $199 – that’s 33 percent off the retail price. A Scorkl and pump are being offered at a discount price of $398. At this point you’re probably wondering about safety . The company says the Scorkl is safe and can be used by anyone, but untrained divers should be cautious when swimming with it, and shouldn’t go below 9.8 feet in depth or use it more than five times in a single day. Trained divers should be able to go further than 9.8 feet drawing on what they learned during their certification process. The device is accompanied by an information kit warning users and offering tips to avoid pulmonary damage. The company says the Scorkl is designed for shallow diving , and they recommend not using it below 32 feet, even though it technically can go to depths of around 65 feet. You can check out the campaign here . + Scorkl Images via Scorkl Facebook

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Ingenious hand-pumped Scorkl lets you breathe underwater for 10 minutes

Bio-inspired wind turbines with flexible blades 35% more efficient

June 8, 2017 by  
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Wind energy already yields four percent of Earth’s power, but five researchers at French institutions recently drew inspiration from nature to make wind turbines even better. Inspired by creatures like dragonflies, they found flexible blades on wind turbines make the machines much more efficient. Wind turbines today work best under optimal wind speeds, but the new bio-inspired design could offer a way around that fact, making wind power even more accessible. Wind speeds impact the functioning of a wind turbine. If the wind is too slow, the turbine won’t turn and generate energy; if the wind is too fast it could damage the turbine. Wind also must hit the turbines at the correct pitch angle to apply the correct amount of torque to the generator, according to Science. The new research from scientists at Sorbonne University and École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers-ParisTech fixes these issues with flexible blades much like insect wings. Related: Revolutionary flapping wind turbine mimics hummingbirds to produce clean energy The researchers constructed prototypes with regular hard turbine blades, slightly flexible turbine blades, and very flexible turbine blades. The last design turned out to be too floppy, but the slightly flexible blades outperformed the rigid ones, offering as much as 35 percent more power . They also continued to work in lower wind conditions and weren’t as susceptible to damage in high winds. The journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A published the research online in February. But the scientists’ work isn’t yet done: they now need to search for the right material that’s “flexible, but not too flexible,” according to lead author Vincent Cognet, to scale up the findings. Engineer Asfaw Beyene of San Diego State University, who was not part of this study, told Science, “The fluid mechanics and the physics make absolute sense. There’s no reason why we cannot make morphing blades that will adapt to wind conditions.” Via Science and Tech Xplore Images via Joi Ito on Flickr and Pexels

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Bio-inspired wind turbines with flexible blades 35% more efficient

Dilapidated 1800s dairy barn resurrected into a stunning home in Wyoming

June 8, 2017 by  
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Architecture firm JLF Design Build has breathed new life into a dilapidated 1800s dairy barn by transforming it into a stunning new home. “The Creamery” was built using materials salvaged from an abandoned dairy farm in Montana and reconstructed just outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. According to the architects, the ambitious project focused on retaining the same “authentic craftsmanship and rugged austerity” of the original stone building, while converting it into a contemporary living space. According to the creamery’s history, the original structure was built by anonymous Scottish stonemasons who laid two-foot-thick walls that lasted centuries. However, left empty and and unprotected for decades, the structure fell into severe disrepair. After convincing their antique-loving clients to acquire the original barn as “the ultimate antique”, the team used painstaking care to gather and transport as much of the old building’s materials as possible to Wyoming where they rebuilt a stunning new home in an idyllic setting. Related: 6 barns converted into beautiful new homes The home’s stone structure pays a beautiful homage to its original design, both on the outside as well as the inside. The interior decoration is pure rustic sophistication, with beautiful stone walls, exposed wooden trusses on the ceiling and large reclaimed wood planks as flooring. The structure is now home to a family who appreciates the timeless architecture of the design, “The relic itself inspired a sense of responsibility to its origins,” says JLF Design Build principal Paul Bertelli. “This building in its existing form, with its scale and proportion, was much purer than any contemporary architectural solution we could have applied. Ultimately doing nothing at all was the genius of the architecture in this project.” + JLF Design Build Photography by Audrey Hall

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Dilapidated 1800s dairy barn resurrected into a stunning home in Wyoming

Scientists discover plants have ‘brains’ that decide when to sprout

June 8, 2017 by  
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Researchers are quickly learning that plants are far more complex than once thought. Not only has it been determined that plants are capable of sensing and preparing for drought conditions, a team from the University of Birmingham recently learned that a cluster of cells in seeds act like a brain that decide when they should germinate. As a result of this finding, crop yields may be improved. The study, published in the journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) , explains that the researchers worked with a species called thale cress to determine whether or not plants have human-like “brains.” After locating the group of cells in the seed that are responsible for controlling decision-making processes, they discovered something interesting. Reportedly, the group of cells is made up of two competing types: one promotes germination and the other promotes dormancy. The scientists describe the relationship as a “tug of war” match, as hormones are swapped back and forth in a process that’s very similar to mechanisms in the human brain when someone decides whether or not to move. The team says the separate competing cells are key to the decision-making process in both humans and plants . The mechanism serves an important purpose in vegetation, because germinating too early may result in death due to frost. Alternatively, germinating too late will result in growing complications due to the wrong climate conditions. Said George Bassel, lead author of the study, “Our work reveals a crucial separation between the components within a plant decision-making center. In the human brain , this separation is thought to introduce a time delay, smoothing out noisy signals from the environment and increasing the accuracy with which we make decisions. The separation of these parts in the seed ‘brain’ also appears to be central to how it functions.” Related: Seed-Planting Tumbleweed Robot Draws From Nature to Fight Desertification After creating a mathematical model of how the separate cells work to control how sensitive the plant is to its environment , the researchers concluded that the more variation there is in environmental conditions, the more seeds will sprout. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the results were confirmed when the team tested it in a laboratory. “Our work has important implications for understanding how crops and weeds grow,” said Bassel. “There is now potential to apply this knowledge to commercial plants in order to enhance and synchronize germination, increasing crop yields and decreasing herbicide use.” + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Via New Atlas Images via Pixabay

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Scientists discover plants have ‘brains’ that decide when to sprout

This twisting wooden skyscraper is inspired by the shape of Baobab trees

June 8, 2017 by  
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Cameroonian architecture firm Hermann Kamte & Associates just plans for a stunning wooden skyscraper inspired by Africa’s iconic Baobab trees. The Native Skyscraper is a twisting tower built with natural and locally-sourced materials that shows how biomimicry can make the future of urban design more sustainable. According to the architects, the tower design is a smart building concept for the future; a solution for cities looking to address massive urban growth while simultaneously trying to reduce their ecological footprints. The green building materials and sustainable features would make the tower design a “marketable, serviceable, economical sustainable, environmental, ecological and social” option for the urban designs of tomorrow. Related: Anders Berensson unveils wooden Trätoppen skyscraper with a numerical facade Plans for the Native Skyscraper show a soaring tower that twists as it rises. Columns of greenery are infused throughout the wood and glass exterior. The design team chose wood as the primary building material not only for its green properties , but also for the ability to connect the tower to its surroundings, “Wood is the fingerprint of Mother Nature in our buildings, this fingerprint connects us to nature in our artificial environment. There are no two identical pieces of wood in this Earth and it is wonderful.” The interior of the tower is also heavily influenced by nature. The wooden beams and columns will be left exposed, providing a treehouse-like appearance for the common areas. An abundance of greenery, including a series of living green walls will also fuse the man-made tower with its natural surroundings as well as create a pleasant microclimate throughout the interior. + Hermann Kamte & Associates

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This twisting wooden skyscraper is inspired by the shape of Baobab trees

Made from sewage, these "popsicles" reveal the scale of Taiwan’s water pollution

June 8, 2017 by  
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We wouldn’t eat these “popsicles” if we were you. Concocted by Hung I-chen, Guo Yi-hui and Cheng Yu-ti, a group of students from National Taiwan University of the Arts , the frozen treats comprise sewage from 100 different locations across the East Asian island nation. Hung and company froze their samples—bottle caps, plastic wrappers, and all—to illustrate the scope of Taiwan’s water-pollution problem. To preserve their creations, they dipped the popsicles in a polyester resin. They even designed wrappers for each frozen non-treat based on the locations they sampled from. Unappetizing “flavors” include “Yang-tzu-chou Drainage,” “The Large Ditch in Tianwei,” and “New Huwei Creek.” Related: Residents go nearly two weeks without safe drinking water in this Texas town Hung said they chose to make the popsicles to illustrate the importance of clean water. (Popsicles are, after all, mostly H2O.) “They’re made out of sewage, so basically these things can only be seen, not eaten,” Hung told Mashable . “[Having] pure water, a clean water source is actually very important.” + Polluted Water Popsicles Via Quartz A post shared by ??? (@yongbin.zhou) on May 25, 2017 at 6:45am PDT

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Made from sewage, these "popsicles" reveal the scale of Taiwan’s water pollution

98-year-old man donates $2 million in stock for 395-acre wildlife refuge

June 8, 2017 by  
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98-year-old Russ Gremel purchased $1,000 of stock in a pharmacy chain around 70 years ago. That chain was Walgreens, and Gremel’s small investment made him rich. But instead of using that money for himself, he decided to donate all of his stock to the Illinois Audubon Society , and they’re putting it to good use in the 395-acre Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary to protect wetlands in Amboy, Illinois . Decades ago Gremel bought $1,007 of stock in Walgreens on his brother’s advice to invest in drugstores, as people would always need medicine and women would always buy makeup. Then Walgreens exploded, and Gremel could have cashed out for millions of dollars. But he didn’t want to keep the money, telling the Chicago Tribune he’s a simple man who likes to eat stew and oatmeal and last drove a 25-year-old Dodge. Related: Colorful Hawai’i Wildlife Center Protects and Rehabilitates Endangered Species on the Big Island The Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary is home to around 200 bird species, rare turtles , and over 400 plant species. The Illinois Audubon Society was able to purchase the land with money from Gremel and a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, as well as their own funds. Gremel had planned to leave his stock to the Illinois Audubon Society, but then decided to give it away while he was still living so he could see the property they’d buy with it. That property doubles the area of wetlands protected in Amboy. Gremel said in a video he wanted to use the money to do good in the world. “That’s what money is for,” he said. “If you can’t do good with it, don’t have it.” He considers nature to be incredibly important; he grew up hiking and camping and then was a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America for over 60 years. Illinois Audubon Society Executive Director Jim Herkert told the Chicago Tribune of Gremel’s donation, “It’s allowing us to protect a really valuable and important piece of property and fulfill one of Russ’ wishes that we could find a place where people could come out and experience and enjoy nature the way he did as a kid.” Via the Chicago Tribune , SaukValley.com , and EcoWatch Images via screenshot

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98-year-old man donates $2 million in stock for 395-acre wildlife refuge

New NASA probe will get closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history

June 1, 2017 by  
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Humanity has never before touched the sun , but that’s about to change. NASA is sending the Parker Solar Probe to the sun in 2018, and will get closer to the star’s surface than any other spacecraft in history. They say the landmark mission “will revolutionize our understanding of the sun.” The Parker Solar Probe mission – which NASA describes as humanity’s first visit to a star – will take us closer to the sun than ever before. The probe will need to endure extreme radiation and heat as it ventures into the outer part of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. NASA says the Parker Solar Probe will gather information on the corona and on the evolution and origin of solar wind . Related: Teen creates world’s lightest satellite and NASA is sending it to space A 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield will protect the instruments inside the spacecraft from crazy temperatures of around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The various instruments will be able to image solar wind, and study plasma and energetic particles and magnetic fields. Even though we’re around 93 million miles away from the sun on average, solar wind disturbances can affect us here on Earth. They impact what NASA calls space weather, which can interfere with our satellites . NASA says much like the seafarers of old had to learn about the ocean, now we must learn more about the space environment. The mission holds claim to another first: the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person. Once called the Solar Probe Plus, NASA this week renamed the probe for astrophysicist Eugene Parker, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. His work decades ago provided a foundation for much of our knowledge about stars’ interaction with worlds orbiting them. Parker, who will turn 90 this month, said in a statement, “The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before. It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are.” Via NASA ( 1 , 2 ) Images via John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and JHU/APL

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New NASA probe will get closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history

Bio-friendly energy storage device draws electrical power from the human body

May 23, 2017 by  
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Humans are constantly on the go, so doesn’t it make sense to harness some of that kinetic energy ? Scientists from UCLA and the University of Connecticut asked themselves that question, which eventually led to them developing an energy-storing device that can draw electrical power from the human body. The biological supercapacitor is a protein-based battery-like device capable of extracting energy from the human body. A supercapacitor is a term used to describe a high-performance electrochemical capacitor (ECs), which is similar to batteries but has a much higher power density. Supercapacitors have faster char-discharge rates, lower internal resistance, higher power density and better cycling ability than batteries. Once energy is obtained by the newly-developed energy storage device, it is then released inside an electrical circuit which looks similar to an implantable medical device. According to the paper Ultrathin Graphene – Protein Supercapacitors for Miniaturized Bioelectronics , which was published earlier this month, the supercapacitor utilizes a “harvester” that operates by using the body’s heat and movements to capture electrical charges from ions, which are found in human body fluids including blood and urine. Bleeping Computer reports , “As electrodes, the harvester uses a carbon nanomaterial called graphene, layered with modified human proteins. The electrodes collect energy from the human body , relay it to the harvester, which then stores it for later use.” Graphene sheets can be drawn as thin as a few atoms, which means the incredibly thin supercapacitors could potentially serve as alternatives to batteries. Related: Researchers close in on world’s first 100% self-charging lithium-ion battery Most importantly, the supercapacitors are bio-friendly , as they are made with natural materials. Graphene is composed of carbon, whereas current implantable medical devices are powered by classic batteries that contain toxic materials. Because the new device is thinner than a human hair, it is more flexible than traditional batteries, as well. This technology could have far-reaching implications for the medical industry. Researchers believe that an implantable medical device using a supercapacitor could last a lifetime. In result, patients wouldn’t need to go through operations at regular intervals to replace batteries – one of the main complications with implantable medical devices. In addition to being used with pacemakers, the new energy device could be paired with devices that stimulate other organs, such as the brain, stomach and/or bladder. + UCLA Via Bleeping Computer Images via Islam Mosa/University of Connecticut and Maher El-Kady/UCLA , Pixabay

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Bio-friendly energy storage device draws electrical power from the human body

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