Tag: Environment

Breakthrough In Self-Healing Materials

Marek Urban and his team wrote about how they were able to give self-healing qualities to polymers that are used in relatively inexpensive commodities, such as paints, plastics and coatings.

The next step is to go from making small amounts in a lab to producing large quantities.

It’s not available at the industrial scale, but it’s very close,” said Urban, who is the J.E. Sirrine Foundation Chair and Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson.

Researchers have been making small batches of self-healing polymers for the last two decades, but producing them on a commercial scale has so far been largely cost prohibitive.

Urban said he and his team took advantage of interactions between co-polymers that he likened to spaghetti strands with little brushes on the side.




The longer the spaghetti strands get, the more they become entangled, he said. The side groups interlock like two interlaced hands, making it harder to pull them apart, Urban said.

At the same time, they like each other,” he said. “So, when you pull them out, they come back together. It becomes self-healable at that point.

As simple as this may sound, these studies also revealed that ubiquitous and typically weak van der Waals interactions in plastics, when oriented, will result in self-healing.

“This discovery will impact the development of sustainable materials using weak bonding which becomes collectively very strong when oriented.

Plants self-repair naturally.

What’s significant about his latest breakthrough is that if a company wanted to bring the technology to market, it would no longer have to build a new factory to produce self-healing polymers, Urban said.

Urban estimated that increasing the scale to make polymers or paints by the hundreds of gallons could be done in six to 12 months.

For anybody who wants to make these types of self-healing materials, they would have to essentially design a synthetic process and scale it up,” Urban said.

The key is that the scale-up process would have to be precisely controlled. There is a huge difference between making something in the lab and scaling it up. We know the technology is available for them.”

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According To Scientists, The Antarctic Ice Shelf Is Emitting A Very Strange Noise As It Melts

Snapshots of the 2012/2013 summer on the frozen continent.

Scientists studying Antarctic’s Ross Ice Shelf found that the ice emits a strange sound as the ice begins to melt. The team of scientists stumbled on this finding, never having heard the weird noise the upper layers of ice create.

The team of scientists, who recently published their research in Geophysical Research Letters, found that both wind and melting cause the surface slabs of ice on the Ross Ice Shelf to vibrate, producing strange sounds as a result.

Extremely sensitive seismic sensors were used to monitor the sound patterns across the Ross Ice Shelf in western Antartica.

The initial intent of the research was not to measure this acoustic anomaly but to study the crust and mantle beneath Antarctica.

After 2 years of listening to the surface layers of the Ross Ice Shelf, scientists found that the ice nearly continuously “sings” in different frequencies depending on wind and melting.

The singing is produced from high-frequency wave trapped in the upper couple meters of snow. As winds blow across the ice shelf, they vibrate these upper layers, called firn.

The seismic sensors, buried within the firn layers, can measure and record these waves and their “sound” through time.




Unexpectedly, the researchers found that the pitch of the sound from the ice shelf changed when temperatures rose to above freezing and the ice began to melt.

The sound waves began to slow down and the pitch dropped as a response. This was an indication of both melting and degree of melting.

Once temperatures dipped below freezing again, the upper firn refroze but did not regain the initial pitch it had before the firn melted.

This could be an indication that once melted, the upper layers of ice shelves do not simply return back to original form.

Frost and firn after a snowstorm.

Scientists are keen to measure and understand the characteristics of melting in Antarctica and the upper firn layers as they represent a key variable in sea level rise over the coming decades.

It is estimated that if the Antarctic Ice Sheets melted in entirety sea level would rise by 60 meters (197 feet).

In the worst case scenario where all land ice has melted and drained into the oceans, scientists estimate that sea level will rise by 216 feet.

It’s important to note that even on rapid timescales this process would take thousands of years. If it did happen, however, our world would look quite different, with most coastal cities sitting squarely in the ocean.

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The World’s Fifth-Largest Economy, California, Just Committed To 100% Carbon-Free Power By 2045

California governor Jerry Brown signed what may be the world’s most ambitious carbon energy plan into law on Monday, setting a 100% clean electricity goal for the state by 2045.

At the same time that he signed the measure, SB100, Brown also issued an executive order that establishes a new carbon neutrality target for that same year.

Co-sponsored by state Senator Kevin De Leon, SB100 requires the state to get 60% of its power from renewable energy by 2030, up from the previous target of 50% for the same deadline.

California is committed to doing whatever is necessary to meet the existential threat of climate change,” Brown said during signing of SB100.

“This bill, and others I will sign this week, help us go in that direction. But have no illusions, California and the rest of the world have miles to go before we achieve zero-carbon emissions.”




The announcement comes just days ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit. Brown is co-chairing the massive environmental summit, situated midway between Paris 2015 and 2020.

It offers a forum where business executives, state and local government officials, and United Nations leaders including Michael Bloomberg and Indian billionaire entrepreneur Anand Mahindra will convene to address the most pressing climate change issues.

GCAS 2018 kicks off Wednesday, September 12 in San Francisco.

The state of California is the world’s fifth largest economy, and in many cases, it already sets some of the most ambitious environmental goals on the continent, if not the planet.

California has some of the toughest laws about super pollutants such as methane and black carbon, and the state set North America’s toughest greenhouse gas emissions targets, aiming to cut emissions at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Brown has a number of bills headed for his desk that would also set a standard for other states, including a bill that would hold retailers jointly responsible for workplace abuses against port truckers at ports including Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland; and a bill that would mandate women on the public, corporate boards of companies in California.

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Just Another Day on Aerosol Earth

Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it is nearly certain that you will inhale millions of solid particles and liquid droplets.

These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, and they can be found in the air over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice, and every ecosystem in between.

If you have ever watched smoke billowing from a wildfire, ash erupting from a volcano, or dust blowing in the wind, you have seen aerosols.

Satellites like Terra, Aqua, Aura, and Suomi NPP “see” them as well, though they offer a completely different perspective from hundreds of kilometers above Earth’s surface.

A version of a NASA model called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) offers a similarly expansive view of the mishmash of particles that dance and swirl through the atmosphere.

The visualization above highlights GEOS FP model output for aerosols on August 23, 2018.




On that day, huge plumes of smoke drifted over North America and Africa, three different tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia.

The storms are visible within giant swirls of sea salt aerosol (blue), which winds loft into the air as part of sea spray.

Black carbon particles (red) are among the particles emitted by fires; vehicle and factory emissions are another common source.

Particles the model classified as dust are shown in purple. The visualization includes a layer of night light data collected by the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP that shows the locations of towns and cities.

Note: the aerosol in the visualization is not a direct representation of satellite data.

The GEOS FP model, like all weather and climate models, used mathematical equations that represent physical processes to calculate what was happening in the atmosphere on August 23.

Measurements of physical properties, like temperature, moisture, aerosols, and winds, are routinely folded into the model to better simulate real-world conditions.

Some of the events that appear in the visualization were causing pretty serious problems on the ground.

Last August 23, Hawaiians braced for torrential rains and potentially serious floods and mudslides as Hurricane Lane approached.

Meanwhile, twin tropical cyclones—Soulik and Cimaron—were on the verge of lashing South Korea and Japan.

The smoke plume over central Africa is a seasonal occurrence and mainly the product of farmers lighting numerous small fires to maintain crop and grazing lands.

Most of the smoke over North America came from large wildfires burning in Canada and the United States.

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The Mystery Of Blue Diamonds And Where They Come From Finally Solved

They are the world’s most expensive diamonds, with some stones valued at £100 million.

But until now nobody has known how rare blue diamonds are made or where they come from.

Now scientists have discovered that they are formed 400 miles down in the Earth, around four times as deep as clear diamonds, where the element boron combines with carbon in such extreme pressure and heat that it crystallizes into the world’s most precious stone.

And because boron is mostly found on the Earth’s surface, scientists believe that it must have travelled down into the mantle when tectonic plates slipped beneath each other.

Eventually volcanic action brought the diamonds up closer to the surface.




The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests blue diamonds are even rarer than first thought.

We now know that the finest gem-quality diamonds come from the farthest down in our planet.”  said Steven Shirey, of the Carnegie Institution of Science.

Blue diamonds have always held a special intrigue. The world’s most famous jewel, the Hope Diamond, which was once owned by Louis XIV, Marie-Antoninette, and George IV was said to be cursed with many of its owners and their families coming to a sticky – and often headless – end.

The postman who delivered the Hope Diamond to its current location in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC had his leg crushed in a lorry accident shortly after and then his house burned down.

But the value and rarity of blue diamonds makes them difficult to study and researchers at the Carnegie Institution have spent two years tracking down and studying 46 blue diamonds from collections around the world.

And they were looking for the rarest of blue diamonds, those which include tiny mineral traces called inclusions which hint at their origins.

These so-called type IIb diamonds are tremendously valuable, making them hard to get access to for scientific research purposes,” said lead author Evan Smith of the Gemological Institute of America, adding,

“And it is very rare to find one that contains inclusions, which are tiny mineral crystals trapped inside the diamond.”

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These Sustainable Wool Shoes Are Casual, Comfortable And Cool

Tim Brown was vice captain of the Wellington Phoenix soccer team in New Zealand nearly a decade ago when he began thinking about a second act after his sports career.

He was interested in design, particularly footwear. And being a Kiwi he also had a particular fondness for wool (New Zealand is home to some 27 million sheep).

Why had such a renewable and biodegradable textile never been used to make footwear, Brown wondered?

The idea of wool shoes might sound strange, not to mention hot and scratchy. But Brown believed he was onto something, and his passion eventually attracted a likeminded partner, Silicon Valley engineer Joey Zwillinger.

Their vision has since turned into a formidable natural shoe brand called Allbirds that’s not only disrupting the footwear industry with its comfortable, all-natural wool shoes, but is putting sustainable fashion on the map in a big way.




Remarkable second act

The road to success wasn’t without some sharp curves. Brown retired from soccer in 2012 and enrolled in business school.

He remained intrigued by the idea of using eco-friendly wool to make shoes, impressed by its natural ability to resist water, minimize odors and regulate temperature. As he claims in the video below, “It’s the world’s most miraculous fiber.

After researching ways to make his footwear, Brown launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 to begin production.

Orders were so strong that he had to shut down the crowdfunding campaign until he could figure out how to meet the high demand.

About that time, Brown’s wife introduced him to a college friend in Northern California whose husband, Zwillinger, was struggling to market renewable algae oil as a replacement for petroleum.

Brown immediately bonded with Zwillinger over a home-cooked meal and a shared entrepreneurial interest in green products. The two decided to team up and launched Allbirds in 2016.

Washable insoles also are formed from merino wool fabric, and soles are green polyurethane made from castor bean oil. The idea was to create something not only sustainable but breathable, durable, comfortable and all-purpose.

If you were going to design one sneaker and only one, what would it look like? We focused on this idea of a singular solution,” Brown notes in this New York Times article. “The right amount of nothing.

Allbirds are made for men and women and come in several catchy colors like moss and mint. They’re also designed to be worn without socks.

The company originally offered two styles: sneaker-like Wool Runners and slipper-like Wool Loungers. All cost $95.

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The Amazing Bodies Of Dolphins

Breathing

Dolphins have a number of extraordinary features so that they can thrive in their watery world.

The most obvious thing that dolphins need is air. They glide through the water so effortlessly, surfacing every few minutes to take a breath. Dolphins can dive to 200 m (600 ft).

Marine mammals take more air with each breath than other mammals, and they exchange more of the air in their lungs with each breath.

Their red blood cells can hold more oxygen and they have a much higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than we do. During each breath they exchange 80% of the air in their lungs, while humans only exchange 17%.

Even so, given the size of their lungs, they should run out of oxygen and drown before they can get that deep! How do they do it?




When diving, they cut off blood circulation to their skin digestive system and extremities, leaving only the heart, brain and tail muscles working. However, even these measures give insufficient time to plummet to those depths.

Dolphins and other marine mammals don’t get the bends (nitrogen narcosis) when they plummet to the depths of the ocean.

In human lungs, air remains all throughout the lungs and gas exchange continues in the alvoli, allowing nitrogen to be forced into the blood.

The alvoli of doplhins collapse at 3 atm of pressure, forcing the air back into the bronchioles where gas exchange does not take place.

How do dolphins (and whales) sleep without drowning?

Marine mammals have two basic methods of sleeping: they either rest quietly in the water, or sleep while swimming slowly next to another animal.

Dolphins also enter a deeper form of sleep at night where they become like a log floating on the water. When a baby dolphin is born it does not have enough body fat to float easily.

The baby stays afloat by being towed in its mother’s slipstream or wake even when it is sleeping. This means that the mother cannot stop swimming for the first several weeks of her baby’s life!

To avoid drowning, it is crucial that cetaceans retain control of their blowhole and recognize when it is at the surface. When sleeping, dolphins shut down half of their brain and one eye.

The other half stays awake at a lower level of alertness. The semi-conscious side watches for predators, obstacles, and signals when to rise to the surface for a breath of air.

After 2 hours, things are reversed, the active side goes to sleep and the rested side looks after vital functions. Amazing!

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Bacteria-Powered Solar Cell Can Produce Electricity On Cloudy Days

A concept diagram shows the anode of the solar cell, comprised of biogenic material made of lycopene-producing bacteria (the orange orbs) that are coated with titania nanoparticles.

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have discovered a low-cost and sustainable way to build a solar cell using bacteria, that can harvest energy from light even under overcast skies.

The cell, developed by researchers from University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, generated a current stronger than any previously recorded from such a device, and worked as efficiently in dim light as in bright light.

With further development, these solar cells – called “biogenic” because they are made of living organisms – could become as efficient as the synthetic cells used in conventional solar panels.

These hybrid materials that we are developing can be manufactured economically and sustainably, and, with sufficient optimisation, could perform at comparable efficiencies as conventional solar cells,” said Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor at UBC.

Solar cells are the building blocks of solar panels. They do the work of converting light into electrical current.




Previous efforts to build biogenic solar cells have focused on extracting the natural dye that bacteria use for photosynthesis. It is a costly and complex process that involves toxic solvents and can cause the dye to degrade.

The UBC team left the dye in the bacteria. They genetically engineered E coli to produce large amounts of lycopene – a dye that gives tomatoes their red-orange colour and is particularly effective at harvesting light for conversion to energy.

The researchers coated the bacteria with a mineral that could act as a semiconductor, and applied the mixture to a glass surface.

With the coated glass acting as an anode at one end of their cell, they generated a current density of 0.686 milli amperes per square centimetre – an improvement on the 0.362 achieved by others in the field.

The micrograph shows how the cells look under a scanning electron microscope.

We recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell,” said Yadav.

The cost savings are difficult to estimate, but Yadav believes the process reduces the cost of dye production to about one-tenth of what it would be otherwise.

The holy grail would be finding a process that doesn’t kill the bacteria, so they can produce dye indefinitely, said Yadav.

There are other potential applications for these biogenic materials in mining, deep-sea exploration and other low-light environments.

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Scientists Are Farming Coral For Human Bones

It’s hard to say “coral molars” repeatedly without tripping over your tongue, but having teeth — and other bones — made from coral is becoming increasingly plausible.

It sounds crazy, but sea coral has actually been used in bone grafting for years as an alternative to using bone from cadavers or synthetic materials, which can introduce disease or infection.

Now, recent business successes and medical research suggests that coral bone grafting could become more mainstream.

First, some history: Back in 1988, Eugene White and h

Please is nephew Rodney White first noticed coral’s similarities to bones when diving in the South Pacific.

They went on to discover that sea coral naturally possesses the similar porous structure and calcium carbonate of human bones.




Over the years, researchers have developed coral as a bone grafting material by taking calcium carbonate from the exoskeleton of sea coral and converting it into a mineral called coralline hydroxyapatite.

Because the coral’s patterns matched the tissue in human bones, the coral could provide a platform for bones to grow.

But sometimes the coral didn’t biodegrade; it sort of stayed in the body, creating problems for the patient, including re-fracturing or turning into a source for bacteria growth.

Then, last year, Zhidao Xia, a lead researcher in coral bone grafting, and fellow researchers at Swansea University published a study in the journal Biomedical Materials, saying they had found a way to make coral more compatible with human bone.

Using their technique, 16 patients with bone defects healed four months after coral graft surgeries; two years later, the coral had naturally left the patients’ bodies.

Although coral bone grafting is still very much a “fringe thing,” according to Dr. Ruth Gates, a lead marine researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, coral reefs are definitely developing a reputation as 21st-century medicine cabinets.

According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, corals can be used to treat cancer, arthritis, bacterial infections and even Alzheimer’s disease.

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How Do Aliens Solve Climate Change?

The universe does many things. It makes galaxies, comets, black holes, neutron stars, and a whole mess more.

We’ve lately discovered that it makes a great deal of planets, but it’s not clear whether it regularly makes energy-hungry civilizations, nor is it clear whether such civilizations inevitably drive their planets into climate change.

There’s lots of hope riding on our talk about building a sustainable civilization on Earth. But how do we know that’s even possible? Does anyone across the cosmos ever make it?

Remarkably, science has now advanced to point where we can take a first step at answering this question.

I know this because my colleagues and I have just published a first study mapping out possible histories of alien planets, the civilizations they grow, and the climate change that follows.

Our team was made up of astronomers, an earth scientist, and an urban ecologist.




It was only half-jokingly that we thought of our study as a “theoretical archaeology of exo-civilizations.” “Exo-civilizations” are what people really mean when they talk about aliens.

Astronomers refer to the new worlds they’ve discovered as “exoplanets.”

They’re now gearing up to use the James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments to search for life by looking for signs of “exo-biospheres” on those exoplanets.

So if we have exoplanets and exo-biospheres, it’s time to switch out the snicker-inducing word “aliens” for the real focus of our concerns: exo-civilizations.

Of course, we have no direct evidence relating to any exo-civilizations or their histories. What we do have, however, are the laws of planets. Our robot emissaries have already visited most of the worlds in the solar system.

We’ve set up weather stations on Mars, watched the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus, and seen rain cascade across methane lakes on Titan.

From these worlds we learned the generic physics and chemistry that make up what’s called climate.

We can use these laws to predict the global response of any planet to something like an asteroid impact or perhaps the emergence of an energy-hungry industrial civilization.

Science fiction has given us enduring images of alien races. Not surprisingly, most of them look a lot like us but with different kinds of foreheads or ears, or a different number of fingers on their hands.

In developing our first cut at a science of exo-civilizations, my collaborators and I weren’t interested in what aliens might look like or what kind of sex they have.

To do our job we had to avoid the specifics of both their individual biology and their sociology because science provides us little to work with on those fronts. There was, however, one place where biology was up to the task.

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