Science Blast: Pluto Is Fighting For Its Rights!

Pluto New Horizons

Pluto may see planethood again…
but a bunch of rabble rousing Ort Clouders
are trying to ride its coat-tails

Prepare yourself—the Pluto debate has returned, and people are not going to be able to shut up about it. Pluto might be about to regain its planethood.

It might feel like scientists are jerking you around. A decade ago they all decided that Pluto wasn’t a planet—it was actually a dwarf planet—and now all of a sudden they want to change it back? Maybe you even think that this just goes to show how meaningless it all was to begin with. Planet, dwarf planet—it’s all a made-up system determined by some esoteric group anyway.

But categories do matter, and so do the definitions we use to arrive at those categories. The fact that people (even experts like the scientists at NASA) go back and forth on what definitions we should use doesn’t make them less meaningful. It just means that we’re still learning. That’s what science is all about: we have to be able to adjust our definitions to fit our understanding. And this whole Pluto business is a perfect example.

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Science Blast! At Last, a Sense of Touch for Our Robot Brothers!

Scientists use graphene to power
‘electronic skin’ that can feel

Ravinder Dahiya of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering poses with the prosthetic hand developed by his team at Glasgow University, Scotland, Britain March 11, 2017. Photographic Unit University of Glasgow/Handout via REUTERS

Ravinder Dahiya of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering poses with the prosthetic hand developed by his team at Glasgow University, Scotland, Britain March 11, 2017. Photographic Unit University of Glasgow/Handout via REUTERS

Scientists have found a way to power an experimental kind of electronic skin using solar energy in a further step towards the development of prosthetic limbs or robots with a sense of touch.

Teams around the world are working to develop flexible versions of synthetic skin that can feel by mimicking the different kinds of sensory receptors found in human skin.

Powering such systems is a challenge, but now researchers at the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering have developed a way to use graphene, an ultra-thin form of carbon, to generate electricity via solar power.

Graphene, which is just one atom thick, is strong, highly flexible, electrically conductive and transparent, making it ideal for gathering the sun’s energy to generate power, the scientists said on Thursday.

Smart prosthetic hands, in particular, can already reproduce many mechanical properties of human limbs and giving them a skin-like sense of touch would make them even more useful for amputees.

Touch-sensitive electronic skin could also be used in robots to enhance performance and help the machines detect potential dangers when interacting with humans.

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Science Blast! Yet Another Use for Do-Everything Graphene!

Graphene membranes can make nuclear industry greener

Graphene membranes can make nuclear industry greener

Graphene could help reduce the energy cost of producing heavy water and decontamination in nuclear power plants by over one hundred times compared with current technologies, University of Manchester research indicates.

The new development could lead to the reduction of CO2 emissions associated with production by up to a million tonnes each year.

Writing in Nature Communications, a team from the University of Manchester led by Dr. Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo demonstrated fully scalable prototypes of graphene membranes capable of producing heavy water.

The research shows that graphene-based membranes could make the production of heavy water more efficient, leading to greener and cheaper nuclear power.

Producing heavy water which needed by the nuclear industry to generate clean- is an expensive process. Because of graphene’s unique material properties it has the potential to effectively separate sub-atomic particles making this process more efficient and cost-effective.

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Science Blast! And Sun Trees, too!

Last Science Blast! We looked at Wind Trees. Here are a few designs for Solar Trees that are being tried in various parts of the world:

These Beautiful ‘Solar Trees’ Can Really Spruce Up Your Property

Solar panels designed to look like trees are being pioneered today.

These Beautiful ‘Solar Trees’ Can Really Spruce Up Your Property

Would you believe that one of the most common ‘gripes’ about solar energy is that it’s not aesthetically pleasing? What’s not to love about the glimmer of sunlight catching a polycrystalline panel or a row of homes generating clean, renewable energy for their community? Clearly some folks have never seen the billowing emissions from a coal plant I suppose.

Fortunately, there are several new solar-powered structures taking root all around the world which are sure to enchant even the toughest art critics out there. Taking their inspiration from nature itself, these ‘solar trees’ are both regal and renewable.  More importantly, they’re often providing the much-needed inspiration we all need to live more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lives.

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These are also being used in India.

Other designs (See the same article)

Worlds Tallest Solar Tree

Spotlight Solar's Solar Trees

 

 

Israel's eTree

 

 

Science Blast! Wind Trees — The Beautiful Future of Energy

It is always uplifting when science is both gee-wiz-wow cool and beautiful. One such invention is the Wind Tree–a clever use of turbines and art that may make it possible for people to run their own homes off these decorative devices.

Man-made “wind trees” will finally make
it possible to power homes using turbines
New Wind's “trees” have plastic “leaves” painted green with dozens of tiny blades that gather energy from the wind. This photo was taken outside the Le Bourget conference center in Paris, France.

Picture a steady breeze blowing through the leaves of a tree. Now imagine these leaves could do more than simply churn in the current of air—what if they could capture the wind and transform it into renewable energy?

Energy from wind is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the world, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental and social research institution. This development of wind power has mostly taken place on a large scale, usually by utility companies providing power to a grid of millions of customers. That’s because wind energy is most efficient when it’s capturing very strong winds, more common in remote areas and at heights greater than 50 feet off the ground. Those turbines need to be as tall as a five-story building, and they take up a lot of horizontal room, too—several hundred feet per turbine, in many cases. They also require more maintenance than solar panels.

All of these factors make it challenging to capture wind energy in small amounts. But that hasn’t stopped companies from experimenting in the hopes of one day allowing individual homeowners to capture energy from their own backyards or balconies, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Last December, two “wind trees”—or arbres à vent—quietly churned in a plaza in Paris, as world leaders met for the historic climate talks at the Le Bourget conference center nearby. Developed by a French company called New Wind, the “trees” had plastic “leaves” painted green, with curves that held dozens of tiny blades soundlessly harnessing the wind no matter which way it blew. Unlike larger industrial turbines, which need winds of over 22 miles per hour to function, the leaves captured energy from wind speeds of less than five mph.

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Science Blast! Did Volcanoes Produce Life On Mars?

Volcanoes can produce life on Earth? Why not Mars? (Maybe that’s where Dejah Thoris came from. She is certainly hot enough!)

Olympus Mons on Mars. Credit: NASA

Volcanic Activity on Ancient Mars May
Have Produced Organic Life

Science Blast: Black Holes Explained! (almost)

Slowly the great mysteries of the universe give way to humanity’s awesome powers of science!

The Mystery of How Black Holes Collide
and Merge Is Beginning to Unravel

Colliding black holes create space-time ripples that can be seen by the Laser
Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). 
Credit: SXS/LIGO

Last year, scientists announced that they had finally observed gravitational waves, the elusive and long sought-after ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first posited by Albert Einstein. The waves came from a catastrophic event — the collision of two black holes located about 1.3 billion light years away from Earth — and the released energy undulated across the universe, much like ripples in a pond.

The detection by the upgraded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Advanced LIGO), along with two subsequent gravitational wave discoveries, confirmed a major prediction of Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and heralded a new era in physics, allowing scientists to study the universe in a new way by using gravity instead of light.

But a fundamental question remains unanswered: How and why do black holes collide and merge?

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