Category: Science

Graphene light bulb set to be 1st commercial consumer application

In two claimed firsts, researchers at the University of Manchester have produced both the first commercial application of graphene and the world’s first graphene light-bulb. It is expected that this new device will have lower energy emissions, cheaper manufacturing costs, and a longer running life than even LED lights. And this isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky prototype, either. The team who developed it believes that the graphene light-bulb will be available for retail sale within months.

To that end, the University of Manchester has partnered with the UK company Graphene Lighting PLC to produce the new bulb and share in the profits of its sales. This will also make certain that the University is directly advantaged by commercial products being developed out of their National Graphene Institute (NGI)…

The University of Manchester told us that the light bulb comprises a traditional LED coated in graphene which transfers heat away from the LED, prolonging life and minimizing energy usage.

Known as “the home of graphene,” the University of Manchester is where this unique form of carbon was first isolated in 2004. This feat earned Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov the Nobel prize for Physics in 2010. Today, with more than 200 researchers in a myriad 2D material projects, the University is at the forefront of graphene know-how.

The sort of consumer advancement that birdbrains like Michelle Bachmann and other Tea Party types sought to halt. They oppose funding of research in US universities of energy-saving means and practices. Efforts to retire incandescent light bulbs are considered a socialist plot.

Mail me a penny postcard when the Koch Bros. and their flunkies announce they’ll pay my electricity bill.

This past winter set a global heat record

This map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows vast areas around the world where temperatures from December through February were above average this winter. Only the Northeast U.S. was in a big chill…

Last week, the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service reported that La Plata County’s average temperature for the meteorological winter – from December through February – was 5 degrees above average…

But Southwest Colorado was just part of a bigger global trend.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, with data from NASA, announced this week that this winter and the first two months of 2015 were the hottest on record globally, with the chilly Northeast U.S. sticking out like a cold thumb in a toastier world.

At nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, last month was the second-warmest February on record globally, slightly behind 1998.

But the combined January and February temperature beat the old record for the first two months set in 2002.

December through February broke the meteorological winter record set in 2007.

NOAA records go back 135 years to 1880. But, that’s OK. You probably can find a guy who trained as a weatherman for some local radio station, or a conservative investor who made money in the “weather business” – to dispute the sum of global scientific record-keeping and analysis.

And with slightly over 6% of the land area of planet Earth, you know the opinion of Americans about the weather is the only one that counts.

Dark matter is darker than we thought


Click to enlarge

This panel of images represents a study of 72 colliding galaxy clusters conducted by a team of astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope. The research sets new limits on how dark matter – the mysterious substance that makes up most of the matter in the Universe – interacts with itself…

RTFA – more research in progress. I wonder if we’ll sort out dark matter in what remains of my lifetime?

GMO may be controversial; but, not to scientists

gmo apple
Click to enlarge

Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.

The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious. Over the past decade, the controversy surrounding GMOs has sparked worldwide riots and the vandalism of crops in Oregon, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines. In May, the governor of Vermont signed a law that will likely make it the first U.S. state to require labels for genetically engineered ingredients; more than 50 nations already mandate them. Vermont State Senator David Zuckerman told Democracy Now!, “As consumers, we are guinea pigs, because we really don’t understand the ramifications.”

And the apples have been OK’d. The article is several months old – and worth revisiting.

But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends. To make Arctic apples, biologists took genes from Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, modified them to suppress the enzyme that causes browning, and reinserted them in the leaf tissue. It’s a lot more accurate than traditional methods, which involve breeders hand-pollinating blossoms in hopes of producing fruit with the desired trait…

So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.

No need to review all 10 points here. RTFA. POPSCI ain’t exactly a hotbed of politics. Just folks who work for a magazine that’s been writing about science for over 140 years.

In the U.S., farmers have been planting increasing amounts GMO crops since the seeds became commercially available in 1996. Corn, cotton, and soy—which together occupy about 40 percent of U.S. cropland—are the three crops with the highest GMO fraction by area, each more than 90 percent in 2013.

One of our late contributors discovered a bakery in his home state of Georgia – like a lot of really great bakeries – was using a genetically-designed sourdough culture. Chatting with the owners who happened to be friends of his is how he learned about it. And they swore him to a secret he took to the grave – because they know damned well that folks who love the wonderful flavor of their sourdough bread would crap their non-GMO cotton drawers if they knew. And they’d probably be out of business at least in their fashionable Atlanta suburb even though a side-by-side blind test with any other great sourdough would be impossible to tell apart. Except for the consistent results they get from their baking.

Nope. I’ll stick with science, I know enough about peer-reviewed testing to be 99.999% confident – even if “common wisdom” says all studies are funded and owned by Monsanto. Differentiate between the creeps using scientific studies to bad ends – and the science itself. Learn how many rules you have to abide just to get your article published – which is why the most recent bought-and-paid-for creep who violated those standards had to lie.

And if you’re truly concerned – read the science, not opinions from other folks who aren’t reading the science either. Draw your own conclusions. Personally, I find well-written science fun to read. And I love learning about science – whether it be astrophysics or asafoetida. I also realize there are only so many hours in the day; so we rely on folks our experience says are usually right. That can be a problem when those folks try to find facts to back up their beliefs instead of the other way round.

When I became involved in climate science discussions at the millenium, I spent two years reading and studying before I became convinced one way or the other. The delight was discovering regular online publication of a broad range of research from the Max Planck Institute in Germany – in several languages including English. A great find. I hope you can be as fortunate.

Chewing on dietary politics

Two of Cornell’s leading nutrition experts appeared in Washington, D.C., March 18 to discuss an extensive proposed rewrite of the federal government’s official Dietary Guidelines for Americans

They appeared in the nation’s capital as part of Inside Cornell, a series of public policy roundtables. The pair spoke before an audience consisting largely of journalists who closely follow these issues. National Public Radio correspondent Allison Aubrey moderated the panel.

Tom Brenna said the most fundamental change proposed for the new dietary guidelines, which are updated every five years, “is a focus on overall healthy eating patterns, rather than individual foods…”

Brenna also lauded what he called an emerging emphasis on “nutrition above the neck,” a reference to the role diet plays in neurocognitive health. His Cornell lab, for example, conducts extensive research on nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, which are proving to be effective in treating depression.

David Just focuses on how consumers make their decisions about what foods to purchase and eat.

He said the government’s new nutritional guidance “will probably generate no response at all at the consumer level, at least initially. The primary effect will come from the millions of meals directly influenced by the government, including public school lunches, hospital food and military meals.”

Over time, however, as the new advice takes hold, it will start to be felt as “consumers make their shopping lists or decide which groceries to display prominently in their kitchens, as opposed to buried in cabinets.”

Just also stressed the positive role the food industry can play by adjusting how it markets and advertises its products. Touting the good taste and benefits of healthier foods on packaging, he noted, is far more effective than any government warning about the risks of a poor diet.

They also discussed the never-publicized lobbying over dietary guideline recommendations. The meat industry – of course – wants to water down recommendations that Americans eat less red meat, less processed meat. The last thing they want is linking an animal-based diet to environmental problems like greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.

Sugar giants don’t want nutrition labels to include added sugar. There’s a surprise!

Once Congress gets quickly past the parts about science, no doubt they will return to rules and regulations directly proportional to the influence of lobbyist/industry dollar$.

BTW, that 2nd link up top is a fine article on the details of new recommendations.

New strategy to protect a healthy gut from antibiotic-caused imbalance

Gut microbes promote human health by fighting off pathogens, but they also contribute to diseases such as diabetes and cancer. A study published March 19th by Cell Reports reveals a potential strategy for tipping the balance in favor of good bacteria by altering the composition of the microbial community.

A group of Portuguese and Spanish researchers found that a chemical signal called autoinducer-2 (AI-2), which bacteria use to communicate with each other, can promote the right balance of gut microbes in antibiotic-treated mice. The findings pave the way for therapeutic strategies that harness the chemical language of bacteria to foster a healthy community of gut microbes…

Antibiotic use and dietary factors can change the composition of gut microbes and strongly reduce bacterial diversity, posing a serious threat to human health by increasing host susceptibility to harmful pathogens such as Salmonella. In particular, shifts in the balance between Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes–the two predominant phyla in the mammalian gut–are associated with obesity, diabetes, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, and gastrointestinal cancer. The ability to drive this community from a disease state to a healthy state, by manipulating the native signals and interactions that occur between its members, offers great potential for therapeutic benefit…

“These receptors could be used as new drug targets to alter bacterial communication,” says the study’s co-first author Rita Almeida Oliveira of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. “This strategy to control bacteria may be a promising alternative to avoid the increasingly serious problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics that are used today.”

Bravo. It would be great if research might latch onto a single class of communications which could aid maintaining a healthy balance of critters in your gut when it really is necessary to invoke the aid of antibiotics to fight an illness or disease.

One step closer to artificial photosynthesis

Caltech scientists, inspired by a chemical process found in leaves, have developed an electrically conductive film that could help pave the way for devices capable of harnessing sunlight to split water into hydrogen fuel.

When applied to semiconducting materials such as silicon, the nickel oxide film prevents rust buildup and facilitates an important chemical process in the solar-driven production of fuels such as methane or hydrogen…

The development could help lead to safe, efficient artificial photosynthetic systems — also called solar-fuel generators or “artificial leaves” — that replicate the natural process of photosynthesis that plants use to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel in the form of carbohydrates, or sugars…

The team has shown that its nickel oxide film is compatible with many different kinds of semiconductor materials, including silicon, indium phosphide, and cadmium telluride. When applied to photoanodes, the nickel oxide film far exceeded the performance of other similar films—including one that Lewis’s group created just last year. That film was more complicated…

Lewis cautions that scientists are still a long way off from developing a commercial product that can convert sunlight into fuel. Other components of the system, such as the photocathode, will also need to be perfected.

Still, it’s a helluva big step. There is no more economical power source than the sun available to this planet and populations – once we figure out how to transform it more and more affordably into electricity.

Today is Pi Day – and you just missed the Pi Instant!

Today is the most magical day of the year: Pi Day.

It’s also the most magical year of the century: Pi Year.

That is, today’s date is 3/14/15 (at least in the US and a few other countries that write dates the same way), which matches up nicely with the first five digits of pi, the ratio of every circle’s circumference to its diameter: 3.1415.

What’s more, at precisely 9:26:53 am, we’ll have Pi Second: an even more magical time at which the date and time match up with the first 10 digits of pi, 3.141592653.

But it doesn’t stop there. As University of Toronto statistician Jeffrey S. Rosenthal has pointed out, at an infinitesimally brief moment just after 9:26:53.58979 am but slightly before 9:26:53.5898 am, we’ll have Pi Instant.

At this impossibly short moment, our particular civilization’s way of marking the amount of time elapsed since an arbitrary date in history will match perfectly with every single digit of pi, an irrational number that literally never ends (when expressed in a base 10 numbering system, or any system that uses a natural number as its base).

Pi will ring throughout the land. It will extend to infinity. For the briefest of moments, pi will fill the gap in your soul.

Savor this moment. Appreciate it. Think of circles…It won’t happen again until 2115, when you’ll probably be dead.

And you just missed it.

Abundant water on Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede – underground


Click to enlargeNASA/JPL

Astronomers have found the most conclusive evidence yet that a large watery ocean lies beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede…With the discovery, Ganymede joins Enceladus and Europa as another moon in the solar system with a confirmed subterranean ocean.

“The solar system is now looking like a pretty soggy place,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA. “The more we look at individual moons, the more we see that water is really in enormous abundance.”

And where there’s water, there’s a chance of life.

Scientists have suspected for decades that a subterranean ocean might slosh between the rocky mantle and icy crust of Ganymede, the largest moon in our solar system, but they had not been able to prove it definitively until now.

Using the Hubble Telescope, a team of researchers has detected slight fluctuations in two bands of glowing aurorae in Ganymede’s atmosphere that they say could occur only if the moon contained a salty body of water…

Saur figured that…regular shifts in Jupiter’s magnetic field would affect the position of the aurorae in Ganymede’s atmosphere differently depending on whether or not the moon has a subsurface ocean.

Computer models show that if Ganymede did not have a subsurface ocean, the changes in Jupiter’s magnetic field should cause the bands of hot, electrically charged gas to rock six degrees over a 10-hour period. However, if the moon contained a salty ocean, it would reduce the rocking of the auroras to just two degrees.

The reason for the difference is that a saltwater ocean is electrically conductive and creates a secondary magnetic field that would suppress the effects of Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Saur looked at measurements taken by the Hubble Telescope in 2010 and 2011 of auroras over both the north and south poles of Ganymede and saw that the auroras only moved two degrees over a seven-hour period…

As astronomers continue their search for life elsewhere, this technique could help them to identify what other bodies might harbor water and, perhaps, life forms beyond Earth.

Interesting stuff. Yes, I’d love to be in on the trip to Ganymede for a walkabout. See if we can find some subsurface beachfront property.