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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The creation of plastic in 1907 was a revolutionary breakthrough that changed society in the decades to come.  To appreciate just how big this impact was just think about how many things there are in our daily lives from silverware to toys that are made from plastic.  Modern airplanes include plastic.  About half of your car is made from plastic as well.  Tennis rackets include it.  So too do stents given to heart attack patients.  They even make up most pairs of eye glasses.  Suffice it to say plastics are everywhere.

This may not seem like a big deal on the surface.  A versatile material that can be used in a variety of ways would typically be seen as a good thing.  But there is an environmental impact to our excessive plastic consumption habit.  Especially when you consider that it takes 400 years for a piece of plastic to degrade and that a whopping 91% of plastic isn’t even recycled! That according to a recent scientific study that National Geographic reported on.  A statistic so mind-boggling that Great Britain’s Royal Statistical Society named it as their statistic of the year in 2018.

As the New York Post puts it:

“We’re surrounded by plastics for much of our lives. Plastics are cheap and easy to make, they’re often incredibly durable and they last just about forever. Unfortunately, those upsides are also terrible news for the environment, as plastic waste continues to pile up despite recycling efforts and public awareness campaigns.

One of the biggest problems with the popular material is that even recyclable plastics aren’t always able to be broken down and used again. In fact, less than one-third of recyclable plastic is repurposed after the recycling process, with the rest being tossed along with other non-recyclable waste…”

Thankfully, there is some good news on the way.  A new kind of plastic that may be 100% recyclable and reusable in a variety of ways.

According to ABC News, “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have designed a plastic that can be recycled over and over again, and turned into new materials of any color, shape, or form. They are calling it polydiketoenamine or PDK, and this new plastic can be disassembled all the way down to the molecular level.”

This is a potential game-changing technology that could revolutionize society (once again) and help us to clean up an environment that has been ravished by human activity, in particular our penchant for plastics.  PDK may even find a home in the future as a filament for 3D printing, giving that fledgling technology the boost that it needs to finally go mainstream.

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Is PDK Plastic the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We all learned in school that there are three phase of water: solid, liquid, and gas.  However, that may not be entirely true.  As it turns out there be another, more exotic, phase of water and it may be extremely abundant throughout the Universe.

As Wired reports, “The findings, published this week in Nature, confirm the existence of “superionic ice,” a new phase of water with bizarre properties. Unlike the familiar ice found in your freezer or at the north pole, superionic ice is black and hot. A cube of it would weigh four times as much as a normal one. It was first theoretically predicted more than 30 years ago, and although it has never been seen until now, scientists think it might be among the most abundant forms of water in the universe.”

But what if there’s more to it than that? What if superionic ice isn’t a new phase of water at all?

“Depending on whom you ask, superionic ice is either another addition to water’s already cluttered array of avatars or something even stranger. Because its water molecules break apart, said the physicist Livia Bove of France’s National Center for Scientific Research and Pierre and Marie Curie University, it’s not quite a new phase of water. ‘It’s really a new state of matter,’ she said, ‘which is rather spectacular.’”

A new phase of matter? As astonishing as that would be, it’s not the first time that a new state of matter has been discovered.  About a month ago National Geographic reported on another new type of matter.

“Now, a team has used a type of artificial intelligence to confirm the existence of a bizarre new state of matter, one in which potassium atoms exhibit properties of both a solid and a liquid at the same time. If you were somehow able to pull out a chunk of such material, it would probably look like a solid block leaking molten potassium that eventually all dissolved away.”

And these discoveries are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  As our instruments and the tools at our disposal continue to improve we may discover even more exotic forms of matter.  Meaning it won’t be long before we have to rewrite the textbooks once again.

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Is Superionic Ice the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’ve always maintained that one of the reasons why we don’t know what Dark Matter and Dark Energy are is because we’re looking for a simple answer.  A particular particle.  Or a mathematical equation that describes their behavior in the same way that E=MCdescribes the relationship between mass and energy.  The elusive search for a Theory of Everything that combines Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics hints at this basic human desire to make sense of the world around us in a neat, easy to understand package.

But the quantum world isn’t so cut and dry.  The answer is likely far more complicated than we can imagine. Instead of a particle exerting its influence perhaps a fluid is at play.  Instead of a three dimensional Universe perhaps one with eleven dimensions as predicted by String Theory is the true nature of reality.  Which is why the latest discovery as to the true nature of consciousness makes perfect sense.  Consciousness isn’t located in just one place.  It’s not a singular cluster of neurons.  Nor is there a biological on/off switch.  It was naïve of us to ever think things would be that black and white.  Instead the truth is a Universal one: that which can’t be explained easily can be explained complicatedly.

According to Futurism, “An international team of neuroscientists from universities and hospitals spanning the Americas and Europe say that they’ve determined the neurological signature for consciousness. Rather than a specific chunk of the brain that’s responsible for consciousness, the researchers say they’ve located a brain-wide pattern of activity that’s only present when people are awake and responsive.”

In fact, they were able to locate four distinct patterns of activity.

“The first pattern, and most complex, showed high-level, efficient coordination across wide swaths of the brain. This pattern was more prevalent in participants who were awake and healthy but less so in participants with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome as well as those were in a minimally conscious state, according to the research.

In contrast, a separate pattern emerged in unresponsive people’s brains that was less complex and more linked to specific brain regions, suggesting a lower level of coordination within the brain. The other two patterns, the researchers suggest, exist as transition states between the two other patterns.”

Obviously, further research will need to occur before we can truly understand everything there is to know about consciousness.  But this is an important first step.  Albeit, an obvious one at that.

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Have we finally figured out the true nature of consciousness?

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In Avengers: Infinity War Dr. Strange claims to have seen 14,000,605 possible futures with their only being one future in which our heroes prevail.  It’s this information that Strange presumably uses to his advantage to set events in motion that will result in the Avengers emerging victorious in End Game. But what if instead of only seeing 14,000,605 possible futures he could have seen millions more?  What if he could have literally seen every possible future? Would that extra information give him even more of an advantage against Thanos?

This isn’t merely an interesting thought experiment.  It’s now reality thanks to the creation of a new quantum device allegedly capable of seeing every possible future.  Well, that’s the hope at least.

According to Futurism, “For now, [with] the quantum computer built by Griffith University and Nanyang Technological University scientists can hold two superpositions of 16 different possibilities, according to the research. It also uses less memory than a classical computer would, suggesting it could outperform classical systems at certain tasks.”

Since quantum computing is such a nascent technology it’s really difficult to imagine exactly how things will play out.  Especially since we don’t have a time stone at our disposal.  But if the early indications and researcher’s enthusiasm are to be believed then we could be on the verge of something very special happening.

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Is seeing every possible future the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Despite everything that’s going on and the very real fear that our planet is becoming increasingly uninhabitable I would still want to live forever if I could.  And as crazy as it sounds this concept is no longer merely relegated to the realm of science fiction.  Instead it’s becoming a very real possibility thanks to the development of a new quantum material that could one day let us download our brains.

According to Futurism, “The new quantum material, described in research published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, is a ‘nickelate lattice’ that the scientists say could directly translate the brain’s electrochemical signals into electrical activity that could be interpreted by a computer.”

Such technology, once fully developed, could then be used to detect neurological diseases or even retrieve memories.  Obviously we’re still years away from turning this theoretical concept into a viable product but the latest research does go to show that we’re making significant progress on achieving something that would have been unimaginable only a few short years ago.

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Is downloading your brain the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,480 – Borophene

The discovery of the wonder material graphene offered tremendous promise as a potential world-changing technology, one that would usher in a new age of computing, manufacturing, and transportation.  A new age that would change pretty much everything.  Mass producing graphene has proven difficult though, leaving the door open for other 2D materials to steal its thunder. Which is exactly what may be happening.

As Technology Review puts it, “This brave new graphene-based world has yet to materialize. But it has triggered an interest in other two-dimensional materials. And the most exciting of all is borophene: a single layer of boron atoms that form various crystalline structures.

The reason for the excitement is the extraordinary range of applications that borophene looks good for. Electrochemists think borophene could become the anode material in a new generation of more powerful lithium-ion batteries. Chemists are entranced by its catalytic capabilities. And physicists are testing its abilities as a sensor to detect numerous kinds of atoms and molecules.”

As promising as all that sounds I remain skeptical that Graphene’s days are numbered.  The original wonder material can still hold its own, especially when you consider a recent report that indicated that it may soon be possible to mass produce graphene thanks a new device from a University of Cambridge spinoff company known as Paragraf.

According to Futurism, “While the press release doesn’t specify what Paragraf’s first device will be, the applications for graphene are nearly endless — the material is 200 times stronger than steel and 10 times better at conducting heat than copper, the conductor used in most electronics.

Graphene is also 250 times better at conducting electricity than silicon, and Cambridge anticipates that if we replaced the silicon chips in today’s transistors with graphene-based chips, we could increase the speed of electronic devices ten-fold. The university also estimates that graphene could make chemical and electrical sensors 30 times more accurate.”

Whether graphene or borophene ultimately wins out doesn’t really matter.  There is probably room in the market for innovations stemming from both materials.  The only thing that matters is that the importance of 2D materials has now been firmly established.

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Is borophene the Greatest Idea Ever?

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One of the holy grails of science is to create a room temperature superconductor, a breakthrough that could have far-reaching implications.

As Futurism explains, “Plenty of materials conduct electricity — copper, steel, water — but each introduces some level of resistance, meaning you lose a bit of the energy as it moves from point A to point B.  [However] some materials can become ‘superconductors,’ meaning they don’t lose any energy during the transmission process, but only if cooled to very low temperatures. The ‘warmest’ superconductor still can’t work above -70 degrees Celsius (-95 degrees Fahrenheit), and that’s not very useful for practical applications.”

Practical applications such as transporting solar energy from the desert to an urban city, creating Maglev trains, or designing longer lasting batteries.  But thanks to a new design from Navy scientist Salvatore Cezar Pais all that may soon be possible.

So how does this amazing theoretical technology work?!

According to Futurism, “Pais’ application describes a wire consisting of a metal coating over an insulator core. An electromagnetic coil surrounds the wire, and when activated by a pulsed current, this coil causes a vibration that allows the wire to act as a superconductor at room temperature, according to the application.”

Now this isn’t the first time that a design for a room temperature superconductor has been put forth but it is still existing nonetheless.  Because if it works out, it could change everything.

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Is a room temperature superconductor the Greatest Idea Ever?

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