Archive for Science
According to a joint World Health Organization/UNICEF report issued this week, an estimated 768 million people relied on unimproved drinking-water sources in 2011, with 185 million of these relying on surface water to meet their daily drinking-water needs. WHO and UNICEF have set a 2030 target for everyone to have access to a safe drinking-water supply and new water-purifying “nanoscavengers” developed by researchers at Stanford University could help achieve this goal.
There have been years of controversy about whether the superconducting quantum annealing computers manufactured by D-Wave are a) quantum computers; and b) fast enough for a) to matter. Now a test of the 512-qubit Vesuvius chip establishes at least that computing based on quantum annealing is, in the words of a computer science professor at Amherst College, “in some cases, really, really fast.”
SheerWind, a wind power company from Minnesota, USA, has announced the results of tests it has carried out with its new Invelox wind power generation technology. The company says that during tests its turbine could generate six times more energy than the amount produced by traditional turbines mounted on towers. Besides, the costs of producing wind energy with Invelox are lower, delivering electricity with prices that can compete with natural gas and hydropower.
Invelox takes a novel approach to wind power generation as it doesn’t rely on high wind speeds. Instead, it captures wind at any speed, even a breeze, from a portal located above ground. The wind captured is then funneled through a duct where it will pick up speed. The resulting kinetic energy will drive the generator on the ground level. By bringing the airflow from the top of the tower, it’s possible to generate more power with smaller turbine blades, SheerWind says.
As to the sixfold output claim, as with many new technologies promising a performance breakthrough, it needs to be viewed with caution. SheerWind makes the claim based on its own comparative tests, the precise methodology of which is not entirely clear.
“We used the same turbine-generator (with a given load bank) and mounted it on a tower as is the case for traditional wind mills,” SheerWind told Gizmag. “We measured wind speed and power output. Then we placed the same turbine-generator system (subjected to the same load), again we measured free stream wind speed, wind speed inside the INVELOX, and power. Then we used the power-speed relationship over 5 to 15 days (depending on the test), and calculated energy in kWh. Six hundred percent more energy was for one of the days. [...] The improvements in energy production ranged from 81 percent to 660 percent, with an average of about 314 percent more energy.”
All else being equal, it would seem to be the latter category that is the most useful indicator.
Besides power performance and the fact it can operate at wind speeds as low as 1 mph, SheerWind says Invelox costs less than US$750 per kilowatt to install. It is also claimed that operating costs are significantly reduced compared to traditional turbine technology. Due to its reduced size, the system is supposedly safer for birds and other wildlife, concerns that also informed the designers of the Ewicon bladeless turbine. Finally, the system also makes it possible for multiple towers to network, that is, to get power from the same generator.
Utility-scale availability of Invelox is slated for 2014.
Almost since the beginning of their existence, robots have taken inspiration from one of nature’s wonders: insects. Technological limitations typically prevents robots from matching the size of their many-legged muses, resulting in larger-than-life examples like Festo’s BionicOpter dragonfly. In stark contrast is Harvard’s RoboBee, which is the first in the world to demonstrate controlled flight by an insect-sized winged robot.
When we looked at the RoboBee last year, it was only able to fly for a few seconds before crashing. Now, the robot can hover and move along a preset flight path. “This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years,” says Robert J. Wood, Professor at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and team leader on the RoboBee project.
In a nutshell, it has taken more than a decade because “size matters.” The robot’s body measures just 2 centimeters (0.8 inch) in length and weighs 80 milligrams, so even minor changes in air flow can knock the robot off balance.
Additionally, manufacturing dozens of prototypes at this scale was only made possible through a novel technique developed by Wood’s team at SEAS. Flat layers of laser-cut carbon fiber, hinged together with embedded plastic, are folded into three-dimensional frames rather than piecing it together by hand. In practice it works much like the pages of a pop-up book, reducing the complexity and time required in the build process.
Motorization presented another problem. With a wingspan of 3 cm, typical motors were simply too cumbersome. “Large robots can run on electromagnetic motors, but at this small scale you have to come up with an alternative, and there wasn’t one,” says co-lead author Kevin Y. Ma, a graduate student at SEAS.
The team adopted piezoelectric actuators (thin strips of ceramic that expand and contract under an electric field) to serve as the wing muscles, which beat independently 120 times per second. This allowed the team to control the robot’s rotation mid-flight. “Now that we’ve got this unique platform, there are dozens of tests that we’re starting to do, including more aggressive control maneuvers and landing,” says Wood.
Watch the flight of the RoboBee:
Earlier this week we reported on a neurological implant that has been found to accurately predict the onset of epileptic seizures. But a discovery by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) could one day render such a device obsolete. By transplanting a specific type of cell into the brain, the researchers have been able to cure epilepsy in adult mice, with hopes a similar treatment could work in humans.
A good wool shirt is awesome, but would you wear one for 100 days straight without washing it? Kickstarter startup Wool & Prince claims that you can do exactly that with its buttondown shirts, which it handed out to 15 “wear testers” who wore them while engaging in such activities as backpacking in the Andes and dancing in “Tropical” NYC clubs. According to the makers, the shirts not only proved durable, but still looked – and smelled – fresh after over three months of straight wear.
Microparticles Deliver Oxygen
Red blood cellsWikimedia Commons, MDougM
Scientists have crafted an injectable foam containing oxygen-carrying microparticles that could potentially be used to resuscitate patients undergoing severe oxygen deprivation. The team of researchers, most of whom work at Children’s Hospital Boston, demonstrated that the microparticle solution could rapidly oxygenate the blood of rabbits struggling to breath in low oxygen conditions. They report their findings in the latest issue of Science Translational Medicine.
“This is a potential breakthrough,” Peter Laussen, cardiac intensive care doctor at Children’s Hospital Boston who was not involved in the work, told ScienceNOW. “You can apply this across healthcare, from the battlefield to the emergency room, intensive care unit, or operating room.”
A body deprived of oxygen is a body in trouble. When major organs like the brain and heart don’t receive an adequate supply of oxygen they falter and fail, sometimes in minutes. Traditionally, physicians used therapies such as CPR and tracheal intubation, where a breathing tube ventilates the lungs after being inserted into a patient’s windpipe, to deliver fresh oxygen to the bloodstream of a person in the midst of a medical emergency.
The microparticles, which consist of spherical shells of lipids surrounding a small bubble of oxygen gas, deliver oxygen almost immediately to red blood cells in a way that is safer and more rapid than currently used methods. The research team, led by Children’s Hospital Boston cardiologist John Kheir, found that the solution could completely saturate red blood cells in oxygen-deprived rabbits within seconds of injection, and they kept rabbits with totally blocked airways alive for 15 minutes using the oxygen-infused microparticles. “Essentially as soon as we started injecting it, clinically we started to see an effect,” Kheir told ScienceNOW.
Researchers are now testing the microparticle solution on large animals, and if those and later human clinical trials are successful, the therapy could make its way into the clinic or other emergency situations. “This is still in its infancy,” Laussen added, “but this idea of a new and novel way to effectively deliver oxygen is, I think, very exciting.”
AFP - Scientists said Wednesday they had found a brain region that controls physical ageing, and could target it to manipulate the lifespan of lab mice.
The findings may be a step towards finding the holy grail of slowing human ageing, but have yet to be tested in human subjects.
The research, published in the journal Nature, implicates the hypothalamus — a brain region that regulates growth, reproduction and metabolism, in the gradual and coordinated bodily deterioration we call ageing.
Though the brain has long been suspected of orchestrating the process, this is the first evidence to that effect.
The team said they could speed up or slow down ageing in mice by activating or inhibiting the brain signalling molecule NF-kB in the hypothalamus, which in turn affects levels of a hormone called GnRH that plays a role in the generation of neurons — the data processing cells of the brain.
By stimulating NF-kB, they caused a decline in GnRH which led to impaired neurogenesis and ageing symptoms like muscle weakening, skin atrophy, bone loss and memory impairment.
NF-kB is generally responsible for regulating the body’s response to inflammation, the New York-based team wrote.
The researchers could also slow ageing in mice by giving them the GnRH hormone.
“Our study provided interventional strategies to slow down ageing through targeting the hypothalamus,” the study’s senior author Dongsheng Cai, professor of molecular pharmacology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told AFP by email.
“It can help to slow down ageing, which is already a big breakthrough, as it can counteract against many ageing-related diseases,” he said, while stipulating: “I don’t think ageing could be completely stopped.”
Cai said he believed the mouse results would translate into humans, “though it will need future efforts to develop safe and applicable approaches to humans.”
Commenting on the research, Harvard Medical School experts Dana Gabuzda and Bruce Yankner said the results, if validated, may have important implications for treatment of age-related diseases — particularly those linked to inflammation.
“The idea also raises the intriguing possibility that hypothalamic regulation could be therapeutically manipulated to have broad effects on the ageing process,” they wrote in Nature.
While it still remains to be seen exactly how many people will be willing to get about town with a wearable computer strapped to their heads, the market looks set to be a competitive one. Google got the ball rolling with the announcement of Google Glass, then reports surfaced that Chinese search company Baidu and Microsoft were getting in on the act with their own devices. Now Japanese designer and self-described augmented reality entrepreneur Takahito Iguchi is throwing his hat into the ring with Telepathy One.