July 31, 2015

Butterflies heat up the field of solar research

(July 31, 2015) The humble butterfly could hold the key to unlocking new techniques to make solar energy cheaper and more efficient, pioneering new research has shown.

A team of experts from the University of Exeter has examined new techniques for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy – or ways in which to convert light into power.

They showed that by mimicking the v-shaped posture adopted by Cabbage White butterflies to heat up their flight muscles before take-off, the amount of power produced by solar panels can increase by almost 50 per cent.

Crucially, by replicating this ‘wing-like’ structure, the power-to-weight ratio of the overall solar energy structure is increased 17-fold, making it vastly more efficient.

The research by the team from both the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) and the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, is published in the leading scientific journal, Scientific Reports.

Professor Tapas Mallick, lead author of the research said: “Biomimicry in engineering is not new. However, this truly multidisciplinary research shows pathways to develop low cost solar power that have not been done before.”

The Cabbage White butterflies are known to take flight before other butterflies on cloudy days – which limit how quickly the insects can use the energy from the sun to heat their flight muscles.

This ability is thought to be due to the v-shaped posturing, known as reflectance basking, they adopt on such days to maximise the concentration of solar energy onto their thorax, which allows for flight.

Furthermore, specific sub-structures of the butterflies’ wings allow the light from the sun to be reflected most efficiently, ensuring that the flight muscles are warmed to an optimal temperature as quickly as possible.

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Transparent, electrically conductive network of encapsulated silver nanowires – a novel electrode for optoelectronics

(July 31, 2015)  A team headed by Prof. Silke Christiansen has developed a transparent electrode with high electrical conductivity for solar cells and other optoelectronic components – that uses minimal amounts of material. It consists of a random network of silver nanowires that is coated with aluminium-doped zinc oxide. The novel electrode requires about 70 times less silver than conventional silver grid electrodes, but possesses comparable electrical conductivity.

The electrodes for connections on the “sunny side” of a solar cell need to be not just electrically conductive, but transparent as well. As a result, electrodes are currently made either by using thin strips of silver in the form of a coarse-meshed grid squeegeed onto a surface, or by applying a transparent layer of electrically conductive indium tin oxide (ITO) compound. Neither of these are ideal solutions, however. This is because silver is a precious metal and relatively expensive, and silver particles with nanoscale dimensions oxidise particularly rapidly; meanwhile, indium is one of the rarest elements on earth crust and probably will only continue to be available for a few more years.

Mesh of silver nanowires

Manuela Göbelt on the team of Prof. Silke Christiansen has now developed an elegant new solution using only a fraction of the silver and entirely devoid of indium to produce a technologically intriguing electrode. The doctoral student initially made a suspension of silver nanowires in ethanol using wet-chemistry techniques. She then transferred this suspension with a pipette onto a substrate, in this case a silicon solar cell. As the solvent is evaporated, the silver nanowires organise themselves into a loose mesh that remains transparent, yet dense enough to form uninterrupted current paths.

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Self-assembling, biomimetic membranes may aid water filtration

(July 31, 2015)  A synthetic membrane that self assembles and is easily produced may lead to better gas separation, water purification, drug delivery and DNA recognition, according to an international team of researchers.

This biomimetic membrane is composed of lipids -- fat molecules -- and protein-appended molecules that form water channels that transfer water at the rate of natural membranes, and self-assembles into 2-dimensional structures with parallel channels.

"Nature does things very efficiently and transport proteins are amazing machines present in biological membranes," said Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Penn State. "They have functions that are hard to replicate in synthetic systems."

The researchers developed a second-generation synthetic water channel that improves on earlier attempts to mimic aquaporins – natural water channel proteins -- by being more stable and easier to manufacture. The peptide-appended pillar[5]arenes (PAP) are also more easily produced and aligned than carbon nanotubes, another material under investigation for membrane separation. Kumar and co-authors report their development in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"We were surprised to see transport rates approaching the 'holy grail' number of a billion water molecules per channel per second," said Kumar. "We also found that these artificial channels like to associate with each other in a membrane to make 2-dimentional arrays with a very high pore density."

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Robotic insect mimics Nature's extreme moves

An international team of Seoul National University and Harvard researchers looked to water strider insects to develop robots that jump off water’s surface

(July 31, 2015)  The concept of walking on water might sound supernatural, but in fact it is a quite natural phenomenon. Many small living creatures leverage water's surface tension to maneuver themselves around. One of the most complex maneuvers, jumping on water, is achieved by a species of semi-aquatic insects called water striders that not only skim along water's surface but also generate enough upward thrust with their legs to launch themselves airborne from it.

Now, emulating this natural form of water-based locomotion, an international team of scientists from Seoul National University, Korea (SNU), Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has unveiled a novel robotic insect that can jump off of water's surface. In doing so, they have revealed new insights into the natural mechanics that allow water striders to jump from rigid ground or fluid water with the same amount of power and height. The work is reported in the July 31 issue of Science.

"Water's surface needs to be pressed at the right speed for an adequate amount of time, up to a certain depth, in order to achieve jumping," said the study's co–senior author Kyu Jin Cho, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Biorobotics Laboratory at Seoul National University. "The water strider is capable of doing all these things flawlessly."

The water strider, whose legs have slightly curved tips, employs a rotational leg movement to aid it its takeoff from the water’s surface, discovered co–senior author Ho–Young Kim who is Professor in SNU's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of SNU's Micro Fluid Mechanics Lab. Kim, a former Wyss Institute Visiting Scholar, worked with the study’s co–first author Eunjin Yang, a graduate researcher at SNU's Micro Fluid Mechanics lab, to collect water striders and take extensive videos of their movements to analyze the mechanics that enable the insects to skim on and jump off water's surface.

July 30, 2015

Siesta Trio Chair

(July 28, 2015)  To celebrate Siesta’s 50th anniversary (1965-2015) we have launched Siesta Trio. Siesta Trio applauds the classic icon’s great correlation between design and function, but at the same time emphasizes Siesta’s ability to stay unaffected by time.

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Medj Studio - Steak

(July 28, 2015)  Although it has been a long time, many of us still remember well the scene of a cartoon Tom and Jerry where the protagonists – mouse, cat and dog sitting at the dinner table are amicably splitting a large steak as a main course dinner. With transferring this animated piece of bloody meat bounded by white adipose membrane and bone inside to reality, an unique  piece of dining – wooden cutting board for tasty piece of meat was created.  The internal cavity of the bone serves as a stand for  table napkin. This object could be used as a cutting board at non – conservative steakhouse.

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Lichenwood "Just Grow It !"

(July 28, 2015)  Christophe Guinet was born in Paris and grew up between town and country, always keeping in touch with nature. As a teenager, he developed a passion for plants, especially the cultivation of orchids: attracted by their exacting needs and rewarded by the beauty and delicacy of their flowers. Later tastes evolve to urban cultures: skate, art and especially street art, fashion … Eager to get more involved in creation, he gathered a team of creative talents to set up the «SEIZE» project. Graphic design, art, marketing & communication were now part of his daily life.

His craft allowed him to realise what kind of world we are living in : worried by industrialisation, manipulation and how human thought was changing,he becomes more careful when collecting raw natural materials.Contemplative and passionate aesthete of the plant world, he uses his findings related to places and seasons, to create works of art with care and a concentration close to the meditative state. The artistic process is thus an integral part of the final work of art.As ephemeral and fragile as a bouquet of flowers, Christophe’s compositions show us the beauty of nature through everyday and cult objects.His care to minimise the harmful impact on the environment is in contrast to the escalation of consumerism and the race to keep producing objects which are ever newer, more technical ,more ‘hype’ Through his compositions, Christophe also expresses the idea that plants do not think ;they live from day to day, in a haphazard way.It is in this spirit of the moment that he creates ,with meticulous detail and patience,his unique plant compositions.

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(July 28, 2015)   Orb is a golden shinning planet which trajectory once a lifetime cuts that yours! The object provides you with the option to split the sphere into two halves, which are being held together by concealed magnets.‪‬ Then these two serve as balanced candleholders for perfect moments at your favoritte place.
Material: turned brass

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Sol-gel Capacitor Dielectric Offers Record-high Energy Storage

(July 30, 2015)  Using a hybrid silica sol-gel material and self-assembled monolayers of a common fatty acid, researchers have developed a new capacitor dielectric material that provides an electrical energy storage capacity rivaling certain batteries, with both a high energy density and high power density.

If the material can be scaled up from laboratory samples, devices made from it could surpass traditional electrolytic capacitors for applications in electromagnetic propulsion, electric vehicles and defibrillators. Capacitors often complement batteries in these applications because they can provide large amounts of current quickly.

The new material is composed of a silica sol-gel thin film containing polar groups linked to the silicon atoms and a nanoscale self-assembled monolayer of an octylphosphonic acid, which provides insulating properties. The bilayer structure blocks the injection of electrons into the sol-gel material, providing low leakage current, high breakdown strength and high energy extraction efficiency.

“Sol-gels with organic groups are well known and fatty acids such as phosphonic acids are well known,” noted Joseph Perry, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “But to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time these two types of materials have been combined into high-density energy storage devices.”

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This could replace your silicon computer chips

A new semiconductor material made from black phosphorus may be a candidate to replace silicon in future tech

(July 30, 2015) Silicon Valley in Northern California got its nickname from the multitude of computer chip manufacturers that sprung up in the surrounding area in the 1980’s.  Despite its ubiquity as a chip building material, silicon may be facing some competition from a new version of an old substance.

Researchers working at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) Center for Integrated Nanostructure Physics at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) in South Korea, led in part by Director Young Hee Lee, have created a high performance transistor using black phosphorus (BP) which has revealed some fascinating results.

Transistors are made up of materials with semiconducting properties, which come in two varieties: n-type (excess electrons) and p-type (excess holes). With the BP crystal, researchers have discovered that they can change its thickness and/or the contact metals and that will determine if it is high performance n-type, p-type, or ambipolar (function as both n- or p-type) material.

What does this mean?

Silicon has to be extrinsically doped (inserting another element into its crystal structure) to make it n-type or p-type in order for it to work in a semiconductor chip.   The BP crystals can operate as both n-type and p-type or something in between, but don’t require extrinsic doping.  This means that instead of having to fabricate a silicon-arsenic crystal sandwiched between silicon-boron crystals, a transistor can have a single, lightweight, pure black phosphorus logic chip -- no doping required.
Additionally, changing the metals used to connect the chip to the circuit has an influence on whether BP will be n- or p-type.  Instead of doping to make an n- and p-type material, both n- and p-type BP can be put all together on one chip just by changing its thickness and the contact metal used.

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Treating ships’ ballast water: filtration preferable to disinfection

(July 30, 2015) Untreated ballast water discharge from ships can spread living organisms and even pathogens across the world thereby introducing non-native or invasive species into the local environment. Scientists at Helmholtz Zentrum München therefore recommend using physical treatment processes such as filtration rather than electrochemical disinfection, which creates countless potentially toxic compounds. These are the findings of a recent study published in the journal ‘Environmental Science and Technology’.

In order to prevent the transfer of harmful organisms, ships’ ballast water is often subjected to electrochemical disinfection.* “However, our analyses show that electrochemical disinfection creates numerous so-called disinfection by-products (DBPs),” explains Prof. Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin, who led the study. He and his team at the Analytical BioGeoChemistry (BGC) research unit at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, working in close collaboration with colleagues in the US, compared samples of treated and untreated ballast water. Using high-resolution mass spectrometry, they discovered that treatment led to the formation of 450 new, diverse compounds, some of which had not previously been described as disinfection products or been structurally categorized.

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Playing 'tag' with pollution lets scientists see who's It

Source of soot that is warming Tibetan Plateau ID'd

(July 30, 2015)  Using a climate model that can tag sources of soot from different global regions and can track where it lands on the Tibetan Plateau, researchers have determined which areas around the plateau contribute the most soot — and where. The model can also suggest the most effective way to reduce soot on the plateau, easing the amount of warming the region undergoes.

The work, which appeared in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in June, shows that soot pollution on and above the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau area warms the region enough to contribute to earlier snowmelt and shrinking glaciers. A major source of water, such changes could affect the people living there. The study might help policy makers target pollution reduction efforts by pinpointing the sources that make the biggest difference when cut.

"If we really want to address the issue of soot on the Tibetan Plateau," said Yun Qian, a study co-author at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, "we need to know where we should start."

Overall, the work shows that, of worldwide sources, India's wildfires, cooking fuel and fossil fuel burning contribute the most soot to the mountain range and plateau region, followed by fossil fuel burning in China and other East Asian countries.

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Meet the High-Performance Single-Molecule Diode

Major Milestone in Molecular Electronics Scored by Berkeley Lab and Columbia University Team

A team of researchers from Berkeley Lab and Columbia University has passed a major milestone in molecular electronics with the creation of the world’s highest-performance single-molecule diode. Working at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility, the team used a combination of gold electrodes and an ionic solution to create a single-molecule diode that outperforms the best of its predecessors by a factor of 50.

“Using a single symmetric molecule, an ionic solution and two gold electrodes of dramatically different exposed surface areas, we were able to create a diode that resulted in a rectification ratio, the ratio of forward to reverse current at fixed voltage, in excess of 200, which is a record for single-molecule devices,” says Jeff Neaton, Director of the Molecular Foundry, a senior faculty scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the Department of Physics at the University of California Berkeley, and a member of the Kavli Energy Nanoscience Institute at Berkeley (Kavli ENSI).

“The asymmetry necessary for diode behavior originates with the different exposed electrode areas and the ionic solution,” he says. “This leads to different electrostatic environments surrounding the two electrodes and superlative single-molecule device behavior.”

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Designer Ribosome Works In Live Cells

Synthetic Biology: Researchers engineer entire protein-making complex for first time

(July 30, 2015)  Researchers have artificially engineered a complete ribosome—the cell-based machine that translates mRNA into proteins—in the laboratory.

The ability to engineer the ribosome not only could help scientists understand how the protein-maker works, but it also could endow the ribosome with new functions. For drug discovery and basic research, engineered ribosomes could create nonnatural proteins or even nonprotein polymers that would be difficult or impossible for native ribosomes to make.

Alexander Mankin of the University of Illinois, Chicago; Michael C. Jewett of Northwestern University; and colleagues designed, engineered, and characterized the artificial ribosome, which they call Ribo-T (Nature 2015, DOI: 10.1038/nature14862).

“It’s an impressive body of work that will enable the directed or random evolution of ribosomes with modifications that allow synthetic amino acids to be more efficiently incorporated, or even to expand the genetic code,” comments ribosome assembly specialist Katrin Karbstein of Scripps Research Institute Florida.

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July 29, 2015

When cars and wildlife collide: Virtual reality could prevent real-life road accidents

(July 29, 2015)  Roadside Animal Detection Systems (RADS), which use sensors to detect large animals on the road and to alert drivers by activating flashing lights on warning signs, could be the answer for preventing numerous wildlife casualties.

Such systems have been tested with varying degrees of success since the 1990s. Researchers from the University of Central Florida have now implemented a novel simulation approach to evaluate their efficiency. The study can be found in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

The researchers stress that road accidents involving wild animals are posing a real threat to their populations.

Working with the UCF Institute for Simulation and Training, the researchers created a virtual road for test subjects to drive along in a realistic driving simulator. Some subjects were tested with a RADS, while some were not. The researchers evaluated their responses to an animal darting out into the road during the simulated drive.

In addition, the researchers tested whether simple, picture-based warning signs yielded better results than text-based ones. Using a simulator had additional benefits: "We were able to study responses that would be extremely difficult to measure using field observations, such as the precise moment a subject started braking," said Dr. Daniel Smith, a Principal Investigator on the study.

Although picture-based warning signs outperformed word-based warning signs, both RADS versions were better than nothing at all, causing drivers to reduce their speed and brake earlier in response to an animal than drivers who had no warning system.

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Shoring up Tor

Researchers mount successful attacks against popular anonymity network — and show how to prevent them.

(July 29, 2015)  With 2.5 million daily users, the Tor network is the world’s most popular system for protecting Internet users’ anonymity. For more than a decade, people living under repressive regimes have used Tor to conceal their Web-browsing habits from electronic surveillance, and websites hosting content that’s been deemed subversive have used it to hide the locations of their servers.

Researchers at MIT and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) have now demonstrated a vulnerability in Tor’s design. At the Usenix Security Symposium this summer, they will show that an adversary could infer a hidden server’s location, or the source of the information reaching a given Tor user, by analyzing the traffic patterns of encrypted data passing through a single computer in the all-volunteer Tor network.

Fortunately, the same paper also proposes defenses, which representatives of the Tor project say they are evaluating for possible inclusion in future versions of the Tor software.

“Anonymity is considered a big part of freedom of speech now,” says Albert Kwon, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and one of the paper’s first authors. “The Internet Engineering Task Force is trying to develop a human-rights standard for the Internet, and as part of their definition of freedom of expression, they include anonymity. If you’re fully anonymous, you can say what you want about an authoritarian government without facing persecution.”

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Tiny grains of rice hold big promise for greenhouse gas reductions, bioenergy

Discovery delivers high starch content, virtually no methane emissions

(July 29, 2015)  Rice serves as the staple food for more than half of the world's population, but it's also the one of the largest manmade sources of atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now, with the addition of a single gene, rice can be cultivated to emit virtually no methane from its paddies during growth. It also packs much more of the plant's desired properties, such as starch for a richer food source and biomass for energy production, according to a study in Nature.

With their warm, waterlogged soils, rice paddies contribute up to 17 percent of global methane emissions, the equivalent of about 100 million tons each year. While this represents a much smaller percentage of overall greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, methane is about 20 times more effective at trapping heat. SUSIBA2 rice, as the new strain is dubbed, is the first high-starch, low-methane rice that could offer a significant and sustainable solution.

Researchers created SUSIBA2 rice by introducing a single gene from barley into common rice, resulting in a plant that can better feed its grains, stems and leaves while starving off methane-producing microbes in the soil.

The results, which appear in the July 30 print edition of Nature and online, represent a culmination of more than a decade of work by researchers in three countries, including Christer Jansson, director of plant sciences at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and EMSL, DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory. Jansson and colleagues hypothesized the concept while at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and carried out ongoing studies at the university and with colleagues at China's Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Hunan Agricultural University.

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The Trick of Finding Contamination

(July 29, 2015)  In Tanaka’s laboratory, a method is being studied in which strong magnetism is applied to food to magnetize the metal fragments inside, so that these metals can then be detected by sensing their magnetic fields using a high-sensitivity sensor, or SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device)1. A functional system of detecting contaminants with this method has already been completed, and has shown excellent metal detection ability in food factories. The researchers in Tanaka’s laboratory are currently working to improve the performance of this system so that even small metal fragments can be detected.

The key to improving performance is to more effectively differentiate between actual signals and noise. Metal fragments are not the only sources of magnetic fields, rather space is filled with many magnetic fields generated from different sources. For example, the Earth is a giant magnet, and it emits geomagnetism. In addition, if electricity is flowing nearby, a magnetic field is generated. The aforementioned high-sensitivity sensor device requires a strong magnet to be placed close to the sensor in order to magnetize the metal fragments.

Magnetic fields that originate from sources other than the metal fragments are called noise. The fields of large metal fragments can be identified over such noise, but those of smaller fragments are masked by the noise and are thus difficult to detect. Even strongly magnetized metal fragments will have small magnetic fields if the fragments are small in size.

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Rogue wave theory to save ships

(July 29, 2015)  Physicists have found an explanation for rogue waves in the ocean and hope their theory will lead to devices to warn ships and save lives.

"A device on the mast of a ship analysing the surface of the sea could perhaps give a minute's warning that a rogue wave is developing," said Professor Nail Akhmediev, leader of the research at the Research School of Physics and Engineering.

"Even seconds could be enough to save lives."

Rogue ocean waves develop apparently out of nowhere over the course of about a minute and grow to as much as 40 metres in height before disappearing as quickly as they appeared.

Ships unlucky enough to be where rogue waves appear can capsize or be seriously damaged, as happened in the Mediterranean Sea to the Cypriot ship Louis Majesty, which was struck by a rogue wave in 2010 that left two passengers dead and fourteen injured.

The research by Professor Akhmediev and the team at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, Dr Adrian Ankiewich and PhD student Amdad Chowdury, is published in Proceedings of Royal Society A.

Professor Akhmediev said that there are about 10 rogue waves in the world's oceans at any moment.

"Data from buoys and satellites around the world is already being collected and analysed. Combined with observations of the surrounding ocean from the ship this would give enough information to predict rogue waves," said Professor Akhmediev.

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Boxfish shell inspires new materials for body armor and flexible electronics

(July 29, 2015)   The boxfish’s unique armor draws its strength from hexagon-shaped scales and the connections between them, engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have found.
They describe their findings and the carapace of the boxfish (Lactoria cornuta) in the July 27 issue of the journal Acta Materialia. Engineers also describe how the structure of the boxfish could serve as inspiration for body armor, robots and even flexible electronics.

“The boxfish is small and yet it survives in the ocean where it is surrounded by bigger, aggressive fish, at a depth of 50 to 100 meters,” said Wen Yang, a UC San Diego alumna now working at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in Switzerland and the paper’s first author. “After I touched it, I realized why it can survive - it is so strong but at the same time so flexible.”

The boxfish’s hard frame and flexible body make it an ideal animal to study for inspiration for armor materials. The hexagon-shaped scales are called scutes. They are connected by sutures, similar to the connections in a baby’s skull, which grow and fuse together as the baby grows.

Most fish have overlapping scales, said Steven Naleway a materials science and engineering Ph.D. student and co-author on the paper. “That means that there are no weak points, should a bite from a predator land exactly in between scales,” he said. “We are currently investigating what mechanical advantage scutes and sutures might provide. We know that the boxfish has survived for 35 million years with this armor, so the design has proved very successful in nature.”

Each hexagonal scale, or scute, has a raised, star-like structure in the center that distributes stress across the entire surface. Under the scutes, the team found an inner layer that forms a complex structure in which collagen fibers interlock. This structure creates a flexible inner layer in the armor, which is difficult to penetrate due to the interlocking collagen fibers. Together, the outer and inner layers of the boxfish armor provide the fish with protection unique in the natural world.

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Microscopic organism to make green fuels in new project

(July 29, 2015)  A project to develop clean fuels using microscopic organisms called cyanobacteria has been given the green light.

Cyanobacteria, so called because of their cyan or blue-green colour, get their energy from sunlight through photosynthesis. They excrete oxygen as a by-product. Billions of years ago they are thought to have dramatically changed the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, stimulating a flourishing of different forms of life and leading to the near-extinction of organisms that were intolerant of oxygen.

Now, researchers are seeking to re-engineer cyanobacteria to produce low-carbon liquid fuel as well as oxygen, in a project called PhotoFuel. The team believe this project could provide another important alternative in the energy mix, which could help to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from transport.

Imperial College London researchers are part of the €6 million PhotoFuel consortium, which is led by the car manufacturer Volkswagen, and includes five other academic partners and a further six industrial collaborators. The consortium team aim to develop a prototype system using a bioreactor to house the re-engineered cyanobacteria. The idea is that the bioreactor will feed sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to the cyanobacteria, which will convert it into clean alkane and alcohol fuels.

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First Detection of Lithium from an Exploding Star


(July 29, 2015)  The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain the mystery of why many young stars seem to have more of this chemical element than expected. This new finding fills in a long-missing piece in the puzzle representing our galaxy’s chemical evolution, and is a big step forward for astronomers trying to understand the amounts of different chemical elements in stars in the Milky Way.

The light chemical element lithium is one of the few elements that is predicted to have been created by the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. But understanding the amounts of lithium observed in stars around us today in the Universe has given astronomers headaches. Older stars have less lithium than expected [1], and some younger ones up to ten times more [2].

Since the 1970s, astronomers have speculated that much of the extra lithium found in young stars may have come from novae — stellar explosions that expel material into the space between the stars, where it contributes to the material that builds the next stellar generation. But careful study of several novae has yielded no clear result up to now.

A team led by Luca Izzo (Sapienza University of Rome, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy) has now used the FEROS instrument on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, as well the PUCHEROS spectrograph on the ESO 0.5-metre telescope at the Observatory of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santa Martina near Santiago, to study the nova Nova Centauri 2013 (V1369 Centauri). This star exploded in the southern skies close to the bright star Beta Centauri in December 2013 and was the brightest nova so far this century — easily visible to the naked eye [3].

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Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

(July 29,  2015)  University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

Published today in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology reported how plants respond to their environment with a similar combination of chemical and electrical responses to animals, but through machinery that is specific to plants.

“We’ve known for a long-time that the animal neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is produced by plants under stress, for example when they encounter drought, salinity, viruses, acidic soils or extreme temperatures,” says senior author Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham, ARC Future Fellow in the University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

“But it was not known whether GABA was a signal in plants. We’ve discovered that plants bind GABA in a similar way to animals, resulting in electrical signals that ultimately regulate plant growth when a plant is exposed to a stressful environment.”

By identifying how plants respond to GABA the researchers are optimistic that they have opened up many new possibilities for modifying how plants respond to stress.

“The major stresses agricultural crops face like pathogens and poor environmental conditions account for most yield losses around the planet – and consequently food shortages,” says co-lead author Professor Stephen Tyerman.

“By identifying how plants use GABA as a stress signal we have a new tool to help in the global effort to breed more stress resilient crops to fight food insecurity.”

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Graphene supercurrents go ballistic

(July 29, 2015)  Scientists at TU Delft and Leiden University have observed supercurrents in graphene that bounce back and forth between the edges of the graphene without scattering along the way. Supercurrents are electrical currents that flow even when there is no voltage applied. They can be induced in graphene by bringing it in contact with a superconducting material. The ability to create such ballistic superconductor-graphene hybrids makes it possible to study the unique properties of supercurrents carried by relativistic particles in an unexplored regime. These results have been published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Ultra-clean graphene
The use of high-quality graphene is of vital importance for the performance of these devices. Being an atomically thin material, graphene is extremely sensitive to the ruggedness of its support structure and all dirt down to the atomic scale. In particular, during typical nanofabrication processes graphene is inevitably exposed to several polymers and chemicals, which easily stick to its surface making it dirty and thus degrading its electronic quality.

In order to circumvent this, the researchers first sandwich the graphene between two thin layers of boron nitride – an atomically flat insulator. This encasing effectively preserves the graphene in its pristine state by protecting it from the outside world. Finally, this stack is cut to the desired shape and the graphene is contacted from the side to the superconducting material.

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Majority rule: why conformity can actually be a good thing

(July 29, 2015)  Like to go your own way? Most of us actually prefer to follow the pack, according to UBC research.

That’s one of the outcomes from a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior that examines how mathematical models predict human behaviour.

The research tested theories about when people should rely on “social information” – information that we learn vicariously from others – and when we should choose to go it alone.

“People are conformist – and that’s a good thing for cultural evolution,” said Michael Muthukrishna, a Vanier and Liu Scholar and recent PhD recipient from UBC’s department of psychology. “By being conformist, we copy the things that are popular in the world. And those things are often good and useful.”

For example, most people don’t understand how germs can cause disease – but they know they should wash their hands after using the bathroom. “Our whole world is made up of things that we do that are good for us, but we don’t know why,” said Muthukrishna. “And we don’t need to know why. We just need to know that most people do those things.”

The research also found that people with higher IQs don’t follow the pack as much as others – but when they do, they do so more strategically. In other words, smarter people tend to take their own path most of the time, because they think they have the correct answer. When they’re unsure, however, they are more willing than those with average IQs to follow the majority.

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Controlling Phase Changes in solids

A recent study demonstrates the rapid control of phase-changes in resonantly bonded materials

(July 29, 2015)  Rewritable CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs owe their existence to phase-change materials, those materials that change their internal order when heated and whose structures can be switched back and forth between their crystalline and amorphous phases. Phase-change materials have even more exciting applications on the horizon, but our limited ability to precisely control their phase changes is a hurdle to the development of new technology.

One of the most popular and useful phase-change materials is GST, which consists of germanium, antimony, and tellurium. This material is particularly useful because it alternates between its crystalline and amorphous phases more quickly than any other material yet studied. These phase changes result from changes in the bonds between atoms, which also modify the electronic and optical properties of GST as well as its lattice structure. Specifically, resonant bonds, in which electrons participate in several neighboring bonds, influence the material’s electro-optical properties, while covalent bonds, in which electrons are shared between two atoms, influence its lattice structure. Most techniques that use GST simultaneously change both the electro-optical and structural properties. This is actually a considerable drawback since in the process of repeating structural transitions, such as heating and cooling the material, the lifetime of any device based on this material is drastically reduced.

In a study recently published in Nature Materials, researchers from the ICFO groups led by Prof. Simon Wall and ICREA Prof. at ICFO Valerio Pruneri, in collaboration with the Firtz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, have demonstrated how the material and electro-optical properties of GST change over fractions of a trillionth of a second as the phase of the material changes. Laser light was successfully used to alter the bonds controlling the electro-optical properties without meaningfully altering the bonds controlling the lattice. This new configuration allowed the rapid, reversible changes in the electro-optical properties that are important in device applications without reducing the lifetime of the device by changing its lattice structure. Moreover, the change in the electro-optical properties of GST measured in this study is more than ten times greater than that previously achieved by silicon materials used for the same purpose. This finding suggests that GST may be a good substitute for these commonly used silicon materials.

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Autism costs estimated to reach nearly $500 billion, potentially $1 trillion, by 2025

UC Davis researchers recommend broader access to early intervention, employment support

(July 29, 2015)  UC Davis health economists have for the first time projected the total costs of caring for all people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the U.S. for the current calendar year and in 10 years if effective interventions and preventive treatments for the condition are not identified and widely available.

Their forecasts for ASD-related medical, nonmedical and productivity losses are $268 billion for 2015 and $461 billion for 2025. The researchers noted that these estimates are conservative and, if ASD prevalence continues to increase as it has in recent years, the costs could reach $1 trillion by 2025.

The study is published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“The current costs of ASD are more than double the combined costs of stroke and hypertension and on a par with the costs of diabetes,” said study senior author Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences and researcher with the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at UC Davis. “There should be at least as much public, research and government attention to finding the causes and best treatments for ASD as there is for these other major diseases.”

Leigh hopes his findings inspire policy changes that emphasize early intervention to reduce ASD symptoms, along with employment and other programs that support the independence of adults with the disorder.

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Berkeley Lab Researchers Observe Shortest Wavelength Plasmons Ever in Single Walled Nanotubes

(July 29, 2015)  The term “plasmons” might sound like something from the soon-to-be-released new Star Wars movie, but the effects of plasmons have been known about for centuries. Plasmons are collective oscillations of conduction electrons (those loosely attached to molecules and atoms) that roll across the surfaces of metals while interacting with photons. For example, plasmons from nanoparticles of gold, silver and other metals interact with visible light photons to generate the vibrant colors displayed by stained glass, a technology that dates back more than 1,000 years. But plasmons have high-technology applications as well. In fact, there’s even an emerging technology named for them – plasmonics – that holds great promise for superfast computers and optical microscopy.

At the heart of the high-technology applications of plasmons is their unique ability to confine the energy of a photon into a spatial dimension smaller than the photon’s wavelength. Now, a team of researchers with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, working at the Advanced Light Source (ALS), has generated and detected plasmons that boast one of the strongest confinement factors ever: the plasmon wavelength is only one hundredth of the free-space photon wavelength.

By focusing infrared light onto the tip of an Atomic Force Microscope, the researchers were able to observe what are called “Luttinger-liquid” plasmons in metallic single-walled nanotubes. A Luttinger-liquid is the theory that describes the flow of electrons through one-dimensional objects, such as a single-walled nanotube (SWNT), much as the Fermi-liquid theory describes the flow of electrons through most two- and three-dimensional metals.

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July 28, 2015


(July 28, 2015)   Our simplest collection is all about efficacy and simplicity. These are pleasant shapes inspired by practical and natural design for moments of leisure and disconnect. These pieces place the spotlight on the spaces thanks to their incredible integration power. That’s because everything fits well with Easy!

Collection of armchair, tables and day beds. A range of soft furniture created from coated foam, a unique composition of foam gives our products the highest benefits in comfort and vanguard design.

Made in different densities of foam and coated with PU skin, which means it can be in any colour and used both indoors and outdoors.

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3D - Printed Fashion

How I 3D-Printed a 5-piece fashion collection at home

(July 28, 2015)    In September 2014 I started working on my graduate collection for my Fashion Design degree at Shenkar.

This year, I decided to work with 3D printing, which I barely knew anything about. I wanted to check if it'd be possible to create an entire garment using technology accessible to anyone.

So I embarked on my 3D printing journey, without really knowing what the end result would be.

My inspiration was Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People. I modified it so it would look like a 3D picture. I was inspired to work with the many triangle present in the painting's composition.

The first piece I focused on was the "LIBERTE" jacket. I modeled the jacket using a software called Blender and produced 3D files; I could now start to experiment with different materials and printers.

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Exo Series

(July 28, 2015)   Rowan Turnham and Matthew Harding in collaboration with Rakumba Lighting, have designed and manufactured a collection of lights named the Exo Series.

Rakumba has been producing custom-made feature lighting for the Australian design industry since 1968. Collaborating with designers across a wide range of sectors from commercial to residential, we take pride in our bespoke service, attention to design detailing and ability to deliver on any scale of project

Axor WaterDream bathroom visions


Designers and their new solutions for the bathroom of the future

(July 28, 2015)  Imagining the bathroom of the future: for years now Axor, the designer brand of Hansgrohe SE, has been constantly on the lookout for innovative bathroom solutions as part of its Axor WaterDreams project. The focus is also on new ways of dealing with water. The dream of creating customised mixer spouts was the catalyst for the Axor WaterDream 2015. How far can you take freedom in product design without the limitations associated with industrial manufacturing? Axor examined this question in an initial study, in conjunction with the Ecole cantonale d'art de Lausanne (ECAL).

Design students from the University of Lausanne developed their personal concepts without any design specifications, only the material and the mixer base were defined.
The Axor WaterDream 2015 is based on the innovative Axor U-Base. The universal base for the spout becomes the key to achieving the ultimate creative freedom in mixer design: custom-made spouts can simply be fitted on the base. The product design students' one-off designs, made of hand-blown glass, demonstrate ways of achieving greater customisation of mixers.

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