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14 Nov 10:47

‘Something very big is coming: our most important technology project yet,’ hints Stephen Wolfram


(Credit: Stephen Wolfram)

In a blog post Wednesday, Stephen Wolfram said that “recently something amazing has happened” that is “profoundly important in the technological world, and beyond.”

He said he and his team have figured out how to take all the things they have been working on in the context of Wolfram|Alpha, Mathematica, CDF and so on — computational knowledge, symbolic programming, algorithm automation, dynamic interactivity, natural language, computable documents, the cloud, connected devices, symbolic ontology, algorithm discovery —  and all the technology they’ve built, to create something at a whole different level.

The “Wolfram Language”

A crucial building block of all this is what they are calling the Wolfram Language — a general-purpose knowledge-based language that covers all forms of computing, in a new way, he says.

“In the Wolfram Language, built right into the language, are capabilities for laying out graphs or doing image processing or creating user interfaces or whatever. Inside there’s a giant web of algorithms — by far the largest ever assembled, and many invented by us. And there are then thousands of carefully designed functions set up to use these algorithms to perform operations as automatically as possible … and including all the knowledge and data and algorithms that are built into Wolfram|Alpha.

“But now there’s even more. Because we’re also integrating right into the language So in a sense inside the Wolfram Language we have a whole computable model of the world. And it becomes trivial to write a program that makes use of the latest stock price, computes the next high tide, generates a street map, shows an image of a type of airplane, or a zillion other things.

“We’re also getting the free-form natural language of Wolfram|Alpha. So when we want to specify a date, or a place, or a song, we can do it just using natural language. And we can even start to build up programs with nothing more than natural language. …”


(Credit: Stephen Wolfram)

“But there’s something else too. There’s a fundamental idea that’s at the foundation of the Wolfram Language: the idea of symbolic programming, and the idea of representing everything as a symbolic expression. It’s been an embarrassingly gradual process over the course of decades for me to understand just how powerful this idea is. That there’s a completely general and uniform way to represent things, and that at every level that representation is immediately and fluidly accessible to computation. …

“In most languages there’s a sharp distinction between programs, and data, and the output of programs. Not so in the Wolfram Language. It’s all completely fluid. Data becomes algorithmic. Algorithms become data. There’s no distinction needed between code and data. And everything becomes both intrinsically scriptable, and intrinsically interactive. And there’s both a new level of interoperability, and a new level of modularity. …”

Universal platform

“Between the Wolfram Language — with all its built-in computation and knowledge, and ways to represent things — and our Universal Deployment System, we have a new kind of universal platform of incredible power. And part of the challenge now is to find the best ways to harness it.”

Wolfram says they will be releasing a series of products that support particular ways of using the Wolfram Engine and the Universal Platform:

  • Wolfram Programming Cloud, that allows one to create Wolfram Language programs, then instantly deploy them in the cloud through an instant API, or a form-based app, or whatever.
  • Wolfram Data Science Platform, that allows one to connect to all sorts of data sources, then use the kind of automation seen in Wolfram|Alpha Pro, then pick out and modify Wolfram Language programs to do data science — and then use CDF to set up reports to generate automatically, on a schedule, through an API, or whatever.
  • Wolfram Publishing Platform that lets you create documents, then insert interactive elements using the Wolfram Language and its free-form linguistics — and then deploy the documents, on the web using technologies like CloudCDF, that instantly support interactivity in any web browser, or on mobile using the Wolfram Cloud App.
  • Mathematica Online, in which a whole Mathematica session runs on the cloud through a web browser.

“If we’re forming a kind of global brain with all our interconnected computers and devices, then the Wolfram Language is the natural language for it.”

Sound intriguing … we’ll be watching for it! — Editor

24 Oct 07:30

Real-life toy town!

by Richard Wiseman

Danny MacAskill has created this amazing BMX video in which he re-creates toy town for real! Enjoy! (via gilad d)

26 Oct 02:48

ALMA Warms Up the View of the Coldest Place In the Universe

by Tammy Plotner


Where is the coldest place in the Universe? Right now, astronomers consider the “Boomerang Nebula” to have the honors. Located about 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, this pre-planetary nebula carries a temperature of about one degree Kelvin – or a brisk, minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes it even colder than the natural background temperature of space! What makes it more frigid than the elusive afterglow of the Big Bang? Astronomers are employing the powers of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope to tell us more about its chilly properties and unusual shape. (...)
Read the rest of ALMA Warms Up the View of the Coldest Place In the Universe (632 words)

© tammy for Universe Today, 2013. | Permalink | 4 comments |
Post tags: Atcama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), Boomerang Nebula, Coldest Place in the Universe, cosmic microwave background radiation, Planetary Nebula

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14 Oct 13:32

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy

by Christopher Jobson

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

Man Spends 40 Years Building Giant Kinetic Carnival Rides to Advertise Family Restaurant in Italy kinetic Italy documentary carnival advertising
Courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià

On June 15, 1969 in Battaglia, Italy a man named Bruno bought a few jugs of wine, some sausages and a few other items and set up a tiny food stand underneath a tree to see if anyone would show up. By the end of the day he had sold almost everything and the family restaurant, Ai Pioppi, was born. The next month he had a chance encounter with a blacksmith who didn’t have time to make a few hooks for some chains. Bruno decided he would learn to weld himself and enjoyed it so much he began to dream up small rides he could build to entice new customers to Ai Pioppi. It turned out to be brilliantly successful.

Now forty years later, the forest around the restaurant is packed with swings, multi-story slides, seesaws, gyroscopes, tilt-a-whirls, and bizarre kinetic roller-coasters for adults and children. In this artfully filmed 10-minute documentary by a team over at Fabrica, we get the chance to meet Bruno, see many of his rides in action, and learn a bit about his philosophy on existence and death.

For this post I also included a few photos courtesy Oriol Ferrer Mesià who visited Ai Pioppi in 2011 with several friends. You can see many more shots here and here.

The next time I’m in Italy I think this is at the top of my list.

16 Oct 19:42

Ancient "Mega-Clawed" Creature Had Brain Like a Spider's

The discovery of a fossilized brain in the preserved remains of an extinct "mega-clawed" creature has revealed an ancient nervous system that is remarkably similar to that of modern-day spiders and scorpions, according to a new study.

14 Oct 08:46

How exercise boosts brain health

Exercise stimulates increased BDNF gene expression. BDNF is the master regulator of nerve-cell survival, differentiation, and plasticity in the brain. This will lead to improved cognitive function, learning, and memory. (Credit: Christiane D. Wrann et al., Cell Metabolism)

Research has shown that exercise is good for the brain. Now investigators have identified a molecule called irisin that is produced in the brain during endurance exercise and has neuroprotective effects.

Researchers were able to artificially increase the levels of irisin in the blood to activate genes involved in learning and memory. The findings may be useful for designing drugs that use this exercise-induced molecule to guard against neurodegenerative diseases and improve cognition in the aging population.

While it’s known that exercise can boost cognitive function and lessen symptoms of neurological diseases like depression, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, the mechanisms underlying these effects have been unclear. One important player is thought to be a growth factor named brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

Through experiments conducted in mice, investigators led by Dr. Bruce Spiegelman of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School found that a molecule called FNDC5 and its cleavage product, irisin, are elevated by endurance exercise in the brain and increase BDNF expression. On the other hand, mice genetically altered to have low irisin levels in the brain had reduced levels of BDNF.

The team also found that raising levels of irisin in the circulation caused the molecule to cross the blood brain barrier, where it increased expression of BDNF and activated genes involved in cognition.

“Our results indicate that FNDC5/irisin has the ability to control a very important neuroprotective pathway in the brain,” says  Spiegelman. The researchers next plan to work on developing a stable form of the irisin protein that can be given to mice by injection and may augment the brain’s natural anti-degeneration pathways.

Abstract of Cell Metabolism paper

Exercise can improve cognitive function and has been linked to the increased expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). However, the underlying molecular mechanisms driving the elevation of this neurotrophin remain unknown. Here we show that FNDC5, a previously identified muscle protein that is induced in exercise and is cleaved and secreted as irisin, is also elevated by endurance exercise in the hippocampus of mice. Neuronal Fndc5 gene expression is regulated by PGC-1α, and Pgc1a−/− mice show reduced Fndc5 expression in the brain. Forced expression of FNDC5 in primary cortical neurons increases Bdnf expression, whereas RNAi-mediated knockdown of FNDC5 reduces Bdnf. Importantly, peripheral delivery of FNDC5 to the liver via adenoviral vectors, resulting in elevated blood irisin, induces expression of Bdnf and other neuroprotective genes in the hippocampus. Taken together, our findings link endurance exercise and the important metabolic mediators, PGC-1α and FNDC5, with BDNF expression in the brain.

11 Oct 10:40

How Thermal Transistors Could Control MEMs devices

The world’s fastest thermal transistor could lead to thermal logic gates for controlling microscopic machines, say physicists

07 Oct 21:07

How Anti-Aging Drugs Could Help Medicare

When Google recently announced that it had formed a company, Calico, to tackle the challenge of aging and associated diseases, it said little about what the new spinoff would do. But Google CEO Larry Page gave a hint when he was quoted as saying that curing cancer wouldn’t be “as big an advance as you might think,” adding that he’d learned to his amazement that it would add only about three years to life expectancy.

This is precisely the point that scientists who study aging have made in recent years to support increased spending on anti-aging research. Even if you could eliminate a major disease of aging like cancer, they note, the gain would be limited because such ills mainly afflict people in later life when they face soaring risks of many dire diseases–curing cancer would just mean that more people wind up with heart failure or Alzheimer’s disease.

07 Oct 01:31


07 Oct 04:00

Open Letter

Are you ok?  Do you need help?
07 Oct 18:14

DARPA / Pentagon-funded Atlas robot refuses to be knocked over

by (IEET)

In this video DARPA shows off the balancing acts that their new robot, Atlas, is capable of. Published by the BBC on Oct 7, 2013. The resemblance to a human keeping their balance is strikingly similar as you will in this video.

03 Oct 10:00

The secret of longevity for the world’s longest-living rodent: better protein creation

Naked mole rats are small, hairless, subterranean rodents native to eastern Africa (credit: Adam Fenster/University of Rochester)

Better-constructed proteins could explain why naked mole rats live long lives — about 30 years — and stay healthy until the very end, resisting cancer, say University of Rochester biologists Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov.

Their work focuses on naked mole rat ribosomes, which assemble amino acids into proteins. Ribosomes are composed of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) molecules and proteins.

When the ribosome connects amino acids together to create a protein, a mistake is occasionally introduced when an incorrect amino acid is inserted. But the researchers found that the proteins made by naked mole rat cells are up to 40 times less likely to contain such mistakes than the proteins made by mouse cells.

Gorbunova and Seluanov discovered a possible reason: the naked mole rat’s rRNA is unique.

Unique rRNA pattern

Naked mole rat rRNA in this NMR image shows an unusual pattern with cleaved 28S pattern: 3 bands, instead of 2 with mouse (credit: Jorge Azpurua et al./PNAS)

After applying a dye to a sample, they studied it under ultraviolet light. They found three dark bands — representing concentrations of different rRNA molecules — not the two bands that are characteristic of all other animals, suggesting that there is a “hidden break” in the naked mole rat rRNA.

When its rRNA strands cleave (split) at two specific locations, instead of floating off on their own, two remaining pieces from each strand stay close to each other. They act as a scaffold on which ribosomal proteins are assembled to create a functional ribosome, preventing aberrations. “This is important because proteins with no aberrations help the body to function more efficiently,” said Seluanov.

The next step for the biologists is to split mouse rRNA in the same way to see if it would lead to improved protein creation.

The two biologists hope their work will eventually result in pharmaceutical treatments that modulate protein synthesis in humans, though any medical solution is a long way off, they say.

Abstract for PNAS paper

The naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is a subterranean eusocial rodent with a markedly long lifespan and resistance to tumorigenesis. Multiple data implicate modulation of protein translation in longevity. Here we report that 28S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) of the naked mole-rat is processed into two smaller fragments of unequal size. The two breakpoints are located in the 28S rRNA divergent region 6 and excise a fragment of 263 nt. The excised fragment is unique to the naked mole-rat rRNA and does not show homology to other genomic regions. Because this hidden break site could alter ribosome structure, we investigated whether translation rate and amino acid incorporation fidelity were altered. We report that naked mole-rat fibroblasts have significantly increased translational fidelity despite having comparable translation rates with mouse fibroblasts. Although we cannot directly test whether the unique 28S rRNA structure contributes to the increased fidelity of translation, we speculate that it may change the folding or dynamics of the large ribosomal subunit, altering the rate of GTP hydrolysis and/or interaction of the large subunit with tRNA during accommodation, thus affecting the fidelity of protein synthesis. In summary, our results show that naked mole-rat cells produce fewer aberrant proteins, supporting the hypothesis that the more stable proteome of the naked mole-rat contributes to its longevity.

04 Oct 08:52

Mozilla bug 923590: Pledge never to implement HTML5 DRM

02 Oct 08:08

Extending MRI to nanoscale resolution

Illustration of the experimental setup shows the two unique components of the team’s novel MRI technique that was successful in producing a 2D MRI image with spatial resolution on the nanoscale (credit: Budakian et al./University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University researchers have devised a novel nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that delivers about 10­ nanometers spatial resolution.

This represents a significant advance in MRI sensitivity. Current MRI techniques commonly used in medical imaging yield spatial resolutions on the millimeter length scale, with the highest-resolution experimental instruments giving spatial resolution of a few micrometers.

“Our approach brings MRI one step closer in its eventual progress toward atomic-scale imaging,” said U. of I. physicist Raffi Budakian, who led the research effort.

The new breakthrough technique introduces two unique components to overcome obstacles to applying classic pulsed magnetic resonance techniques in nanoscale systems:

  • A novel protocol for spin manipulation applies periodic radio-frequency magnetic field pulses to encode temporal correlations in the statistical polarization of nuclear spins in the sample.
  • A nanoscale metal constriction focuses current, generating intense magnetic-field pulses.

In their proof-of-principle demonstration, the team used an ultrasensitive magnetic resonance sensor based on a silicon nanowire oscillator to reconstruct a two-dimensional projection image of the proton density in a polystyrene sample at nanoscale spatial resolution.

“We expect this new technique to become a paradigm for nanoscale magnetic-resonance imaging and spectroscopy into the future,” added Budakian. “It is compatible with and can be incorporated into existing conventional MRI technologies.”

Exclusive KurzweilAI interview with Prof. Budakian

What are the major applications of your research and when can we expect to see operational devices?

Specifically, we are focused on imaging biological systems between 1–100 nm. These include proteins and viruses. MRI is a powerful tool for studying biological systems because it offers a host of unique modalities for imaging. It is nondestructive, fully three-dimensional, and chemically specific. Extending these capabilities to the nanometer scale would, among other things, transform our understanding of protein structure, which would enable more effective drug development. Our approach would permit the application of established techniques in clinical MRI to the nanometer scale.

We are in the beginning stages of this new technology. We need several more years of technique development before we can apply this technique to answer biologically relevant questions. Of course, the speed of progress depends a great deal on the funding situation. The application of this technique will not be in a clinical setting. I have not approached any commercial companies with this idea. It’s still very new.

What is the highest resolution available in current MRI devices and how do they compare with your work?

The highest resolution inductively-coupled MRI measurements that I am aware of is 3.7 x 3.3 x 3.3 micrometers [2]. There  is a number of people in the force-detected MRI community working on developing nanoscale MRI.. There is also a growing community of people trying to apply nitrogen vacancy centers to nanoscale MRI [3,4].

The first work that demonstrated nanoscale MRI imaging was by Degan et al.[5]. Like the previous work, our approach uses force-detected magnetic resonance imaging. Our approach differs in several important aspects to that work. One of the most significant differences is the use of time-dependent magnetic field gradients for spin detection and imaging. The ability to control the time dependence of the magnetic fields permits the use of all other pulsed magnetic resonance techniques for nanoscale imaging and spectroscopy.

What are your plans for future development?

The goal of our work is to extend the capabilities of MRI to the nanometer scale. In this initial proof-of-concept work, we demonstrated 10-nm spatial resolution imaging of proton spins in polystyrene. In the next 2–3 years, our goal is to demonstrate proton spin imaging in biological systems with 1–3 nm spatial resolution.

Abstract of Physical Review X paper [1]

We report a method for nanometer-scale pulsed nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy. Periodic radio-frequency pulses are used to create temporal correlations in the statistical polarization of a solid organic sample. The spin density is spatially encoded by applying a series of intense magnetic field gradient pulses generated by focusing electric current through a nanometer-scale metal constriction. We demonstrate this technique using a silicon nanowire mechanical oscillator as a magnetic resonance sensor to image 1H spins in a polystyrene sample. We obtain a two-dimensional projection of the sample proton density with approximately 10-nm resolution.

09 Aug 22:41

New Sainsaire $199 Sous Vide circulator on Kickstarter

There's a new SV circulator on Kickstarter by Scott Heimendinger, creator of the original Seattle Food Geek DIY sous vide many of us used as a reference and more recently appointed Director of Applied Research at Modernist Cuisine.

It's called Sainsaire - i.e. without air, a play on "Sous Vide".

The design and specs look good - 1KW heater, circulator, good clip to hold it to most containers - especially for the price: $199. With their permission I've attached some images to this post showing the general blueprint and prototype design.

On the last update they've also confirmed they would do a 240V version if pledges reach $250K, which looks very likely as it's already at $214K after only two days.

Kickstarter link:
Main website:

Good review with action photos over at Serious Eats:

I'm looking to replace my complex and slightly unsafe DIY unit but didn't pledge for the Nomiku as I thought it was expensive and risky. This one however seems to hit the spot and comes from a well known SV expert.


Any thoughts?

Attached Images

  • blueprints.jpg
  • in water with steak.jpg
  • hero left.jpg
24 Sep 21:26

Foot Cream Kills HIV by Tricking Cells to Commit Suicide

Ciclopirox is currently approved by the FDA as a topical antifungal cream.



A common drug that dermatologists turn to treat nail fungus appears to come with a not-so-tiny side effect: eradicating HIV .

In a study performed at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, not only does the drug Ciclopirox completely eradicate infectious HIV from cell cultures, but unlike today's most cutting-edge antiviral treatments, the virus doesn't bounce back when the drug is withheld. [More]

11 Sep 23:00

Stem Cells Created in Living Mice

Researchers have reprogrammed adult mouse cells to behave like embryonic stem cells, without the need for a stay in a Petri dish.

10 Sep 11:20

Synthetic life promises ‘magical future’

by (IEET)

Say goodbye to global warming, toxic waste, and dependency on fossil fuels, and get ready to enjoy perfect health with exotic drugs that could one day cure most diseases and extend lifespan indefinitely.

07 Sep 09:53

Do you Like Living? Why not try Medical Time Travel? :) (Cryopreservation)

by (IEET)

In this video Max More talks about the will to live and his personal journey through life and death. He also explains the philosophy, science, and desire behind cryonics.

An internationally recognized advocate of the effective and ethical use of technology for life extension and cryopreservation, Dr. More brings experience in running non-profit organizations, many years of analyzing and writing about business organizations, and a long commitment to Alcor’s mission. More joined Alcor in 1986 as its 67th member, founded Alcor-UK (originally Mizar Limited) in the same year, and has participated in several cryopreservations. Dr. More co-founded and until 2007 acted as Chairman of Extropy Institute, an educational non-profit organization that created the modern “transhumanist” movement, whose goals centrally include extending healthy human life span.

More has a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from St. Anne’s College, Oxford University (1984-87). He was awarded a Dean’s Fellowship in Philosophy in 1987 by the University of Southern California. He studied and taught philosophy at USC with an emphasis on philosophy of mind, ethics, and personal identity, completing his Ph.D. in 1995, with a dissertation that examined issues including the nature of death, and what it is about each individual that continues despite great change over time.

Marvin Minsky, “the father of artificial intelligence”, said of Dr. More: “We have a dreadful shortage of people who know so much, can both think so boldly and clearly, and can express themselves so articulately.”


09 Sep 10:55

Prion-like proteins drive several diseases of aging, say leading neurology researchers


Prion-like protein aggregates drive the progression of several neurodegenerative diseases. a. Amyloid-beta plaques in Alzheimers. b. Neurofibrillary tangles (tau) in Alzheimer’s. c. Lewy bodies (alpha-synuclein) in Parkinson’s. d. TDP-43 inclusions in motor neurons in ALS. (Credit: Emory University/Nature)

Many of the brain diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are caused by specific proteins that misfold and aggregate into harmful seeds — similar to what happens with prions.

That’s a new hypothesis that two leading neurology researchers — Mathias Jucker and Lary Walker — have proposed.

These seeds behave very much like the pathogenic agents known as prions, which cause mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease in deer, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, the researchers say.

The hypothesis could unify scientists’ thinking about several neurodegenerative diseases and suggest therapeutic strategies to combat them.

Walker is research professor at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University. Jucker is head of the Department of Cellular Neurology at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research at the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Unlike prion diseases, which can be infectious, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases cannot be passed from person to person under normal circumstances. Once all of these diseases take hold in the brain, however, it is increasingly apparent that the clumps of misfolded proteins spread throughout the nervous system and disrupt its function, the researchers suggest.

The two authors of the recent Nature paper where this hypothesis has been proposed were previously the first to show that amyloid-beta, a protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease, forms prion-like seeds that stimulate the aggregation of other amyloid-beta molecules in senile plaques and in brain blood vessels. Since then, a growing number of laboratories worldwide have discovered that proteins linked to other neurodegenerative disorders also share key features with prions.

Age-related neurodegenerative disorders remain stubbornly resistant to the discovery of effective treatments. But Jucker and Walker propose that the concept of pathogenic protein seeding could focus research strategies for these seemingly unrelated diseases.

They also say the concept suggests that therapeutic approaches designed to thwart prion-like seeds early in the disease process could eventually delay or even prevent the diseases.

09 Sep 16:30

Meteorite that fell last year contains surprising molecules

by (Science News)
Compounds in space rocks like the one that broke up over California may have helped seed life on Earth
04 Sep 18:10

Rats induced into hibernation-like state

by (Science News)
Injection of compound causes animals to slow heartbeat, lower body temperature
16 Aug 15:00

Waste CO2 Could Be Source of Extra Power

LONDON – Power-generating stations worldwide release 12 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year as they burn coal, oil or natural gas; home and commercial heating plants release another 11 billion tons. A team of Dutch scientists has a use for it.

28 Aug 05:52

Noodle-Armed Deep-sea Squid Mystery Solved

by Jane J. Lee
New video solves the mystery of how deep-sea squid use their wimpy limbs to lure in dinner.
28 Aug 14:34

Double Vision: Scientists Spot An Elder ‘Twin’ To the Sun

by Elizabeth Howell

The life-cycle of a Sun-like star from protostar (left side) to red giant (near the right side) to white dwarf (far right). Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

The life-cycle of a Sun-like star from protostar (left side) to red giant (near the right side) to white dwarf (far right). Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

If you want a picture of how you’ll look in 30 years, youngsters are told, look at your parents. The same principle is true of astronomy, where scientists compare similar stars in different age groups to see how they progress.

We have a special interest in learning how the Sun will look in a few billion years because, you know, it’s the main source of energy and life on Earth. Newly discovered HIP 102152 could give us some clues. The star is four billion years older than the sun, but so close in composition that researchers consider it almost like a twin.

Read the rest of Double Vision: Scientists Spot An Elder ‘Twin’ To the Sun (417 words)

© Elizabeth Howell for Universe Today, 2013. | Permalink | 3 comments |
Post tags: alien planets, European Southern Observatory, exoplanets, HIP 102152, lithium, telescope, Very Large Telescope

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22 Aug 18:30

A Supergiant Star Goes Missing, and a Supernova Mystery Is Solved

Every so often in the vast cosmos something exciting happens in one of the relatively few places that humans happen to watch closely. Like a rare bird touching down for a bath in the Trevi Fountain, such serendipitously placed exotica produces a wealth of witnesses and plenty of photographic documentation.

20 Aug 04:57

How to Save the Troubled Graphene Transistor

Unlike conventional semiconductors, graphene cannot be switched off, a problem that threatens to scupper its use in future generations of transistors. Now physicists think they’ve found a solution.

The writing is on the wall for the silicon chip. Transistors have been shrinking for the last half a century but they cannot get smaller forever. Most industry pundits think that the downscaling of silicon chip technology cannot extend much beyond 2026. The big question, of course, is what will replace it.

20 Aug 09:27

New rechargeable flow battery enables cheaper, large-scale energy storage

Elements of a flow battery (Credit: Felice Frankel)

MIT researchers have engineered a new rechargeable flow battery that doesn’t rely on expensive membranes to generate and store electricity. The device, they say, may one day enable cheaper, large-scale energy storage.

The palm-sized prototype generates three times as much power per square centimeter as other membraneless systems — a power density that is an order of magnitude higher than that of many lithium-ion batteries and other commercial and experimental energy-storage systems.

The device stores and releases energy in a device that relies on a phenomenon called laminar flow: Two liquids are pumped through a channel, undergoing electrochemical reactions between two electrodes to store or release energy. Under the right conditions, the solutions stream through in parallel, with very little mixing. The flow naturally separates the liquids, without requiring a costly membrane.

The reactants in the battery consist of a liquid bromine solution and hydrogen fuel. The group chose to work with bromine because the chemical is relatively inexpensive and available in large quantities, with more than 243,000 tons produced each year in the United States.

In addition to bromine’s low cost and abundance, the chemical reaction between hydrogen and bromine holds great potential for energy storage. But fuel-cell designs based on hydrogen and bromine have largely had mixed results: Hydrobromic acid tends to eat away at a battery’s membrane, effectively slowing the energy-storing reaction and reducing the battery’s lifetime.

To circumvent these issues, the team landed on a simple solution: Take out the membrane.

“This technology has as much promise as anything else being explored for storage, if not more,” says Cullen Buie, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “Contrary to previous opinions that membraneless systems are purely academic, this system could potentially have a large practical impact.”

“Here, we have a system where performance is just as good as previous systems, and now we don’t have to worry about issues of the membrane,” Bazant says. “This is something that can be a quantum leap in energy-storage technology.”

Possible boost for solar and wind energy 

Low-cost energy storage has the potential to foster widespread use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. To date, such energy sources have been unreliable: Winds can be capricious, and cloudless days are never guaranteed. With cheap energy-storage technologies, renewable energy might be stored and then distributed via the electric grid at times of peak power demand.

“Energy storage is the key enabling technology for renewables,” Buie says. “Until you can make [energy storage] reliable and affordable, it doesn’t matter how cheap and efficient you can make wind and solar, because our grid can’t handle the intermittency of those renewable technologies.”

By designing a flow battery without a membrane, Buie says the group was able to remove two large barriers to energy storage: cost and performance. Membranes are often the most costly component of a battery, and the most unreliable, as they can corrode with repeated exposure to certain reactants.

Braff built a prototype of a flow battery with a small channel between two electrodes. Through the channel, the group pumped liquid bromine over a graphite cathode and hydrobromic acid under a porous anode. At the same time, the researchers flowed hydrogen gas across the anode. The resulting reactions between hydrogen and bromine produced energy in the form of free electrons that can be discharged or released.

The researchers were also able to reverse the chemical reaction within the channel to capture electrons and store energy — a first for any membraneless design.

In experiments, Braff and his colleagues operated the flow battery at room temperature over a range of flow rates and reactant concentrations. They found that the battery produced a maximum power density of 0.795 watts of stored energy per square centimeter.

More storage, less cost

In addition to conducting experiments, the researchers drew up a mathematical model to describe the chemical reactions in a hydrogen-bromine system. Their predictions from the model agreed with their experimental results — an outcome that Bazant sees as promising for the design of future iterations.

“We have a design tool now that gives us confidence that as we try to scale up this system, we can make rational decisions about what the optimal system dimensions should be,” Bazant says. “We believe we can break records of power density with more engineering guided by the model.”

Yury Gogotsi, a professor of materials science and engineering at Drexel University, says eliminating the membrane is the next step toward scalable, inexpensive energy storage. The group’s design, he says, will help engineers better understand the physics of membraneless systems.

“You cannot have an inexpensive energy-storage system by piling up tens of thousands of individual small cells, like cellphone or computer batteries,” says Gogotsi, who did not contribute to the research. “As any new technology, the laminar flow battery will need time to prove its viability. It’s like a newborn baby — we’ll only know what the technology is good for after a few years.”

According to preliminary projections, Braff and his colleagues estimate that the membraneless flow battery may produce energy costing as little as $100 per kilowatt-hour — a goal that the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated would be economically attractive to utility companies. (“The current cost of EV batteries is about $650/kWh, which is much greater than an estimated target of $125/kWh of usable energy for widespread implementation,” according to a DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement — see Ref. 2 below.) (“kWh” here refers to usable energy, i.e., battery capacity, rather than usage.)

US Department of Energy Funding Opportunity Announcement, Energy Innovation Hub – Batteries and Energy Storage, DE-FOA-0000559, February 2012, Amendment 000001

“You can do so much to make the grid more efficient if you can get to a cost point like that,” Braff says. “Most systems are easily an order of magnitude higher, and no one’s ever built anything at that price.”

UPDATE 8/20/2013: Added explanation of “$100 per kilowatt-hour.”

20 Aug 13:22

You know what the rest of the world has figured out? The metric system. It's time the US got on board.

Thanks -

I’ve met a lot of people and learned a lot while traveling Europe the past several weeks. Of all the things I have had to explain to fellow travels as not only an American – but a Texan – by far the most frustrating thing is our stubborn refusal to embrace the metric system. I can confidently argue the finer points of how the use of y’all and the plural form all y’all are descriptive and have a place in the American lexicon. I take pleasure in explaining the intricacies of chicken fried foods.

20 Aug 21:56

Groklaw blog shuts down because of surveillance

Groklaw founder cites Lavabit's closure as main incentive for pulling the plug.