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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Everyone’s attention right now is focused on the Atlantic Ocean and rightfully so.  Hurricane Florence is no joke.  Larger than the state of North Carolina and wider than the difference from Boston to Philadelphia, this tremendously wet behemoth of a storm has a chance to be the most devastating domestic hurricane in recorded history.

But over in the Pacific Ocean looms an even larger threat.

As Smithsonian puts it:

“Halfway between Hawaii and California, an enormous mound of garbage measuring twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific, menacing the marine ecosystem and steadily accumulating man-made debris. This isle of plastic, better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGB), is made up of roughly 1.8 trillion pieces of detritus, and it shows no signs of breaking down anytime soon.”

Thankfully, there is a plan being put in place to try and counteract the GPGB.  The largest environmental endeavor in human history.

“…the Ocean Cleanup project—an ambitious $20 million campaign spearheaded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat—aims to stop the patch in its tracks by ensnaring offending debris in a 2,000-foot-long free-floating boom, or barrier. Slat and his team launched a test drive of their device on Saturday, Christina Caron reports for The New York Times, and if all goes well, they will move on to the GPGB by mid-October.”

People opposed to Slat’s plan claim this this giant floating barrier will be harmful to marine life.  But isn’t the alternative, doing nothing while garbage piles up, even worse for marine life and the entire ocean ecosystem as a whole?  I for one am in favor of Slat’s plan, or any plan for that matter, that aims to clean up the environment and make the world a better place.

Now if only we could do something about those damn hurricanes.

Is the Ocean Cleanup Project the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I’ve written in the past about an Artificial Leaf that tries to re-create the naturally occurring process of photosynthesis in order to produce renewable energy.  However, that was just the beginning.  Not entirely satisfied with that approach scientists have now turned their attention to another method, a hybrid approach that aims to combine natural and man-made processes in one fell swoop, aimed at combating Climate Change once and for all.

As Inverse puts it, “If scientists can figure out how to recreate the process wherein plants convert climate-warming CO2 into clean energy, we could develop theoretically unlimited clean energy, not only for people here on planet Earth, but also for the people who will (hopefully) one day need clean air and energy in order to explore and develop livable structures in space. It’s an ambition that at least dates back to a 1912 Science paper, but there have been hurdles, namely that it requires the use of expensive, often polluting catalysts.

Fortunately, a group of researchers at the St. John’s College at the University of Cambridge say they may have discovered a workaround by successfully splitting the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in water using a mix of natural processes and manmade technologies. It’s a process they call semi-artificial photosynthesis, and they say it could help revolutionize the development of renewable power.”

What I love the most about these findings is that instead of reinventing the wheel the researchers took advantage of a naturally occurring process.  Or at least a process that used to occur naturally.

“The Cambridge study focused on an enzyme found in algae called Hydrogenase, which used to split hydrogen and water molecules in a process that stopped occurring naturally because it’s no longer necessary for algae’s survival.”

Which begs the question: what other evolutionary shortcuts that could benefit modern science have been lost to history? And how long will it be until we re-discover them?

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Is Semi-Artificial Photosynthesis the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,370 – AT-121

Addiction to pain killers is a serious problem, one that affects millions of people.  Just ask Brett Favre. Thankfully there may soon be something we can do about it thanks to a new drug that’s just as effective as morphine.  Without the side effects.

As Fast Company puts it, “A new drug could potentially kill pain as effectively as morphine at a dose 100 times smaller–and without the risk of addiction.

In a new study, the drug, called AT-121, relieved pain in monkeys without making them dependent on it. Most pain drugs work by activating a receptor in neurons called the mu-opiate receptor. ‘Oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, heroin–they all work through the mu receptor,’ says Mei-Chuan Ko, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study. ‘This receptor provides pain relief, but at the same time, also produces euphoria.’

The new compound activates the same receptor, but also activates a second receptor that blocks dependence on opioids. When monkeys took the new drug, it treated pain, but didn’t make them high.”

This is a tremendous breakthrough, one that could save millions of lives.  Hopefully human clinical trials go smoothly and this drug can be fast tracked through the approval process.

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Is AT-121 the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,366 – BioLEC

It’s not every day that you hear about an entire new field of science being created.  Especially not one with the ability to revolutionize society by creating a whole new source of clean energy.  And yet that’s exactly what is happening thanks to researchers who are trying to recreate the process of photosynthesis in a laboratory setting.

As Futurism explains, “That field of science is called Bioinspired Light-Escalated Chemistry (BioLEC). Its goal: figure out how to use the energy of two photons, the tiniest quantifiable units of light, to power chemical reactions.

It sounds simple on paper — in fact, plants do it all the time as part of photosynthesis. But BioLEC is a lot more complicated than shining a flashlight on a test tube. Scientists have been working on it for a long time, but thus far, recreating this sort of chemistry in a lab has proven impossible. Now, though, researchers have a special instrument that might give them the power to do the kinds of reactions that comes naturally to plants, but in the controlled setting of the lab.”

So, what exactly is this special instrument and what can it do?!?!

As Futurism describes:

“Scholes and his team, though, have a secret weapon: the Laser Electron Accelerator Facility (LEAF). Located at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is partnering with Princeton, LEAF is one of two facilities in the country capable of a technique called pulse radiolysis that might just break those carbon bonds — and that new field of chemistry — wide open.

Pulse radiolysis is basically using a magnifying lens to concentrate sunlight and burn ants. Except instead of sunlight, it’s an extremely powerful beam of electrons, and instead of ants, it’s molecules too small to see with the naked eye. LEAF sends powerful, extremely short-lived bursts of electrons through the molecules being studied. These electron beams collide with and energize the molecules, which triggers chemical reactions that break and form new, powerful bonds between the atoms in that molecule.”

This research could truly be transformative and it couldn’t come at a better time, on the heel of news that the Trump Administration is rolling back Obama era coal emission standards, a decision that will further ruin the planet, if it’s not already damaged beyond repair.  Which is why this research is so important.  We’ve entered the stretch drive now.  It’s the fourth quarter with less than two minutes to go.  The seconds are slowly ticking away on humanity.  It’s Hail Mary time.  The time to pull out all the stops.  To try everything, no matter how difficult it may be.  No matter how seemingly impossible.  Creating photosynthesis in a lab and a whole new branch of science fits the bill for sure.  Now the only question is whether or not it will work.  For our sake let’s hope so.

 

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Is BioLEC the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Donating blood is very important as hospitals aim to keep enough of each blood type on hand in case it’s needed during an emergency.  Logistically the blood transfusion process would be a whole lot easier though if doctors didn’t have to worry about blood types.  If universal blood was all that they had to deal with.  Thankfully, that may be exactly what the future has in store for us thanks to the discovery of a new enzyme that could convert Type A and Type B blood into Type O in a quick and easy way.

As Futurism explains, “Blood types are different because of the sugars on the surface of the red blood cells the body creates. Type A has one type of sugar and Type B has another; Type AB has both sugars. Type O doesn’t have any sugars.

If a person receives a blood transfusion of a blood type that’s not their own, their immune system will attack and kill the donated blood cells. For example, a person with Type A blood could never receive a Type B donation because their system would simply reject the new blood because the sugars aren’t quite right.

Because Type O blood doesn’t carry any sugars, anyone can receive it — it’s the universally accepted blood type and, therefore, highly desirable.”

The problem is having enough of it on hand to meet every need.  If you could somehow convert any blood type into Type O though you wouldn’t have to worry about that problem.  You’d always have enough useful blood to work with.  And thanks to the discovery of a useful enzyme that was residing in our guts this whole time that may now be possible.

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Is an enzyme that converts A and B blood types into Type 0 the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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Here’s a quick look at everything that caught my eye this past week:

Smart Streets

I’ve long clamored for smart streets.  For street lights that change color to let you pass when there’s no one else around, instead of slaving away blindly on a set-timer.  For smart parking spots that you let you know when they are free.  For smart addresses that call out to you when you are lost.  And now, thanks to Google and the city of Toronto, I may have finally got my wish.  That’s because Google’s Sidewalk Labs is working on developing technology that could lay the foundation for the city of the future thanks to modular sidewalks, capable of re-arranging their configuration to best suit the latest needs of the city’s inhabitants.

As Wired puts it, “Contrary to today’s concrete-based, fixed way of doing things, the idea here is that these chunks of public space can be reconfigured or lit up differently at different times, thereby reordering the streets with a firm nudge or a flick of a light switch. What is during the morning rush hour a bus-only corridor might transform into a kids’ play space during the day. Monday’s commuter-carrying cycling lane might be Sunday’s farmer’s market. Streets should be ever-changing, flexible spaces, goes the argument—not the permanent province of fast-moving, sometimes inconsiderate, often dangerous cars.”

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Cool New Photo Editing Tool

Researchers from MIT have invented a new photo editing tool, capable of replacing the entire background in any image.

According to The Next Web, “The editor separates the objects and background in an image into different segments, which allows for easy selection. Unlike the magnetic lasso or magic lasso tools in most photo editing software, this doesn’t rely on user input for context, you don’t have to trace around an object or zoom in and catch the fine details. The AI just works.”

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Breakthrough Corn Discovery

A newly discovered type of corn could revolutionize the food industry, significantly reducing the effort required to grow it.

As USA Today puts it, “the potential improvements in water and air quality – not to mention financial savings – are staggering. In fact, the lead researcher acknowledged he and his colleagues spent a decade studying the corn before going public this month because the conclusions were ‘almost outrageous.’

And, like so much research in its early stages, there are still a lot of ‘ifs.’

But scientists at University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California-Davis and Mars Inc. (yes, the candy maker) have determined that farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico, have been growing corn that creates its own fertilizer for centuries, if not millennia.”trand

If this strand of corn does in fact produce its own fertilizer it could change the way we grow food around the world.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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#1,358 – Week In Review

Here’s a quick look at everything that caught my eye this past week:

New App

Want to know what your baby is saying when they are crying?  Now there’s an app for that.

According to Digital Trends, “To create the Chatterbaby app, Anderson and fellow researchers started by uploading 2,000 audio samples of infant cries. They then used A.I. algorithms to try and discover (and therefore explain) the difference between pain-induced cries, hunger-induced cries, and fussiness-induced cries.

“The training was done by extracting many acoustic features from our database of pre-labeled cries,” Anderson continued. “Pain cries were taken during vaccinations and ear-piercings. We labeled other cries using the parent-nomination and a ‘mom-panel’ consisting of veteran mothers who had at least two children. Only cries that had three unanimous ratings were used to train our algorithm, which changes and improves regularly. We used the acoustic features to train a machine learning algorithm to predict the most likely cry reason. Within our sample, the algorithm was about 90 percent accurate to flag pain, and over 70 percent accurate overall.”

Now if only we could figure out how to translate a dog’s barking.

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New Shape

It’s not every day that a new shape gets discovered and yet that’s exactly what happened recently.  Best of all, this new shape was hiding in plain sight all along, within the very fabric of our skin.

As Science Alert explains:

“It kind of looks like a prism, but while one end of the prism has five edges, the other actually has six: a geometric quirk made possible by a Y-shaped split dividing one of the prism’s edges into two, creating a  mini-triangle.

This bizarre ‘twisted prism’ may sound like something M.C. Escher might have experimented with, but according to the team, the novel shape has never been previously described in scientific literature.”

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New Wonder Material

Add Iron Ore to the list of materials that suddenly take on unique properties when broken down to their thinnest possible state.

As New Atlas explains:

“The newest member of the family, hematene, comes from hematite, a naturally-occurring mineral that provides our main industrial source of iron. By subjecting the ore to a process called liquid-phase exfoliation, the team created sheets just three iron and oxygen atoms thick.

The researchers then studied the properties of the material, to see how those of its 2D form differed from the regular 3D stuff. Hematene was found to be ferromagnetic, as opposed to the antiferromagnetic nature of hematite. It was also shown to have the potential to be a good photocatalyst, able to use sunlight to speed up chemical reactions.”

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New X-Rays

A new x-ray technique could revolutionize healthcare as it will allow doctors to obtain a deeper understanding of what is happening inside our bodies.

According to Science Magazine, “Researchers in New Zealand have designed an x-ray scanner capable of capturing human bodies in full color and three dimensions, which could give doctors a clearer picture for diagnosing cancer and other diseases, minimizing the need for invasive surgeries…”

The article added that, “Whereas traditional scanners send x-rays through the body and show only two colors, white where bone tissue has absorbed the beams, and black where soft tissues have not, the new machine is sensitive enough to detect specific types of tissue (such as bone, cartilage, fat, and water) by analyzing individual light particles. The tissue data are then used to construct a full color reconstruction of the body…The scanning technology was adapted from a tool that physicists used at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, to detect particles moving through the Large Hadron Collider.”

I love this idea and what it could mean for healthcare and I especially love the fact that it was born out of the work being done at the LHC.  The synergy of advancements in one field of science being used to further developments in an entirely different field of science is a beautiful thing.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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