Scientists Have Discovered a Genuine Room-Temperature Superconductor

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Superconductor stock image

By Joel Hruska

The search for a truly room-temperature superconducting material has been one of the great Holy Grails in engineering and physics. The ability to move electricity from Point A to B with zero resistance and hence no losses would be a game-changer for human civilization.

Unfortunately, until today, every known superconductor still required very cold temperatures. Today, scientists announced they’ve achieved superconducting at 59 degrees Fahrenheit/15 Celsius. While this is still a bit chilly, you can hit 59F in a well air-conditioned building. This is a genuine breakthrough, but it doesn’t immediately clear the path towards easy deployment of the technology.

At extremely low temperatures, the behavior of electrons through a material changes. At temperatures approaching absolute zero, electrons passing through a material form what are known as Cooper pairs. Normally, single electrons essentially ping-pong through the ionic lattice of the material they are passing through. Each time an electron collides with an ion in the lattice, it loses a tiny amount of energy. This loss is what we call resistance. When cooled to a low enough temperature, electrons behave dramatically differently. Cooper pairs behave like a superfluid, meaning they can flow through material without any underlying energy loss. Tests have demonstrated that current stored inside a superconductor will remain there for as long as the material remains in a superconductive state with zero loss of energy.

There are two problems yet standing between us and a more effective exploitation of this discovery. First, we aren’t sure exactly why this combination of elements works in the first place. The research team used sulfur and carbon, then added hydrogen, forming hydrogen sulfide(H2S) and methane (CH4). These chemicals were placed on a diamond anvil and compressed, then exposed to a green laser for several hours to break sulfur-sulfur bonds. This much is known. Unfortunately, determining the exact composition of the material has proven impossible thus far. The diamond anvil prevents the use of X-rays, and existing technologies that can work around that problem aren’t capable of locating hydrogen atoms in a lattice. The team’s efforts to characterize and understand its own discovery are still ongoing.

Continue to ExtremeTech to read the full article.

Astronomers discover largest known spinning structures in the universe
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An artist's impression of a spinning cosmic filament that astronomers found

By , Space.com

Tendrils of galaxies up to hundreds of millions of light-years long may be the largest spinning objects in the universe, a new study finds. Celestial bodies often spin, from planets to stars to galaxies. However, giant clusters of galaxies often spin very slowly, if at all, and so many researchers thought that is where spinning might end on cosmic scales, study co-author Noam Libeskind, a cosmologist at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam in Germany, told Space.com.

But in the new research, Libeskind and his colleagues found that cosmic filaments, or gigantic tubes made of galaxies, apparently spin. “There are structures so vast that entire galaxies are just specks of dust,” Libeskind said. “These huge filaments are much, much bigger than clusters.”

Previous research suggested that after the universe was born in the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago, much of the gas that makes up most of the known matter of the cosmos collapsed to form colossal sheets. These sheets then broke apart to form the filaments of a vast cosmic web.

Using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the scientists examined more than 17,000 filaments, analyzing the velocity at which the galaxies making up these giant tubes moved within each tendril. The researchers found that the way in which these galaxies moved suggested they were rotating around the central axis of each filament.

The fastest the researchers saw galaxies whirl around the hollow centers of these tendrils was about 223,700 mph (360,000 kph). The scientists noted they do not suggest that every single filament in the universe spins, but that spinning filaments do seem to exist.

The big question is, “Why do they spin?” Libeskind said. The Big Bang would not have endowed the universe with any primordial spin. As such, whatever caused these filaments to spin must have originated later in history as the structures formed, he said.

Click here to read the full article on Space.com.

This is what it’s like to walk in space
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Astronaut Ed White during the first American spacewalk.

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

When astronauts venture outside of the International Space Station to go on spacewalks, the most important thing they have to do is focus. This may sound simple, but imagine trying to focus on a memorized set of tasks while stepping out of an airlock and wearing a 300-pound spacesuit — with the glow of planet Earth and the sun and the dark void of the universe all around you. A tether connects you to the space station, and the absence of gravity keeps you from falling.

“There’s a lot of things that you really need to do, one of which is just keep your focus, even though it’s amazing out there,” said NASA astronaut Mike Fincke. “It’s really truly breathtaking. The only thing between you and the rest of the universe, seeing the whole cosmos of creation, is the glass faceplate of your visor on your helmet, and it’s just awe-inspiring.”

Astronaut Mike Fincke conducted a spacewalk on August 3, 2004, while wearing the Russian Orlan spacesuit. You can see Earth behind him.

Depending on the orientation of the space station, which completes 16 orbits of the Earth each day while moving at 17,500 miles per hour, our planet can appear above or below the astronauts.

Fincke is a veteran of spaceflight. He’s spent 382 days in space, and he’s gone on nine spacewalks in Russian and American spacesuits. Fincke is training in Texas for his fourth spaceflight and will launch to the space station later this year on the first crewed experimental test flight of Boeing’s Starliner.
More than 550 people have been to space and about half of them have been on a spacewalk, Fincke said. Spacewalks are often referred to as EVAs, or extravehicular activities.

The first spacewalk by an American astronaut was conducted by NASA astronaut Ed White on June 3, 1965. He left the Gemini 4 capsule at 3:45 p.m. ET and remained outside of it for 23 minutes. (Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov completed the world’s first spacewalk on March 18 of that year.)

Gemini 4 circled the Earth 66 times in four days. During the spacewalk, White began over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and went back inside the capsule as they flew over the Gulf of Mexico.
He exited the spacecraft using a hand-held oxygen-jet gun to push himself out, attached to a 25-foot safety tether. NASA astronaut James McDivitt, on the mission with White, took photos of White in space from inside the capsule.
White later said the spacewalk was the most comfortable part of the mission, and said the order to end it was the “saddest moment” of his life, according to NASA.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

10 Women Scientists Leading the Fight Against the Climate Crisis
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Rose Mutiso speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED | Flickr/TED Conference

By Tshiamo Mobe, Global Citizen

Climate change is an issue that affects everyone on the planet but women and girls are the ones suffering its effects the most. Why? Because women and girls have less access to quality education and later, job opportunities. These structural disadvantages keep them in poverty. In fact, women make up 70% of the world’s poor. In a nutshell, climate change impacts the poor the most and the poor are mostly women.

Poverty driven by and made worse by climate change also makes girls more susceptible to child marriage, because it drives hunger and girls getting married often means one less mouth to feed for their parents. Climate change also leads to geopolitical instability which, in turn, results in greater instances of violence — which we know disproportionately impacts women and girls.

Ironically, saving the planet has been made to seem a “women’s job”. This phenomenon, dubbed the “eco gender gap”, sees the burden of climate responsibility placed squarely on women’s shoulders through “green” campaigns and products that are overwhelmingly marketed to women.

There are several hypotheses for why this is. Firstly, women are the more powerful consumers (they drive 70-80% of all purchasing decisions). Secondly, they are disproportionately responsible, still, for the domestic sphere. And finally, going green is seen as a women’s job because women’s personalities are supposedly more nurturing and socially responsible.

Women should be involved in fighting the climate crisis at every level — from the kitchen to the science lab to the boardroom. Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained it best when she said: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” However, women are underrepresented in the science field (including climate science), with just 30% of research positions held by women and fewer still holding senior positions. The Reuters Hot List of 1,000 scientists features just 122 women.

Having more women climate scientists could allow for an increased emphasis on understanding and providing solutions for some of the most far-reaching implications of climate change. Diversity in background and experiences allows for different perspectives. More perspectives allow for different research questions to arise or even a different approach to the same question.

There are, however, women all over the world in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that have made some incredible strides in the fight against the climate crisis, from fire-resistant coating to protect places prone to wildfires, to a water-storing park for a region usually overwhelmed by floods. Here are just some of the world’s incredible women scientists leading the way on tackling the climate crisis.

Click here to read the full article on Global Citizen.

Mars Had Liquid Water On Its Surface. Here’s Why Scientists Think It Vanished
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A close-up of Mars taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. New research suggests that the red planet may be too small to have ever had large amounts of surface water.

By , NPR

All evidence points to the fact that Mars once had flowing water, but numerous flybys, orbiters, landers and rovers have confirmed one undeniable fact — any liquid water that was once on its surface is now long gone.

A study out of Washington University in St. Louis might have found the reason: Mars, which is about half the size of Earth, and just over one-tenth the mass of our own watery world, might just be too small.

One idea, the Mars Ocean Hypothesis, suggests that Mars not only had some liquid water, but a lot of it. But the new study’s co-author Kun Wang says his team’s finding, which was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pours cold water on that notion.

“Mars’ fate was decided from the beginning,” Wang, an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences, said in a statement. “There is likely a threshold on the size requirements of rocky planets to retain enough water to enable habitability and plate tectonics.”

That’s because the lower mass and gravity of Mars makes it easier for volatile elements and compounds such as water to escape from its surface into space.

Led by Zhen Tian, a graduate student in Wang’s laboratory, the researchers looked at 20 Martian meteorites ranging in age from about 200 million years old to 4 billion years, dating to a time when the solar system was still in the chaos of formation.

The researchers analyzed a somewhat volatile element — potassium — to help understand how water would have behaved on the surface of Mars.

Speaking to NPR, Wang said the team measured the ratio of two isotopes of potassium — potassium-39 and potassium-41 — in the meteorites. In lower gravity environments, such as Mars, the potassium-39 is more easily lost to space, leaving behind a higher ratio of the heavier isotope, potassium-41. Water behaves in much the same way, indicating that most of it would have been lost to space during the formation of Mars.

It’s something Wang and his colleagues saw even in the oldest meteorites, suggesting that this was an issue for Martian water right from the beginning.

The team also looked at samples from the moon and from an asteroid, both much smaller and drier than either Earth or Mars, to study the potassium isotopes in them. They found a direct correlation between mass and the volatiles — or lack thereof — in the samples.

The liquid water that did remain on the Martian surface carved out the now-desiccated canyons, riverbeds and other formations that we see there today, Wang says. But that water, too, would likely have disappeared had it not been trapped as ice at the Martian poles as the climate on the planet became colder, he notes.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

What we’ve been getting wrong about dinosaurs
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Dinosaurs survived and thrived for 165 million years -- far longer than the roughly 300,000 years modern humans have so far roamed the planet.

By Katie Hunt, CNN

Defined by their disappearance dinosaurs might appear to be evolutionary failures. Not so.

Dinosaurs survived and thrived for 165 million years — far longer than the roughly 300,000 years modern humans have so far roamed the planet.

They lived on every continent, munched on plants, snapped their jaws at insects, itched from fleas, suffered from disease, got into fights, snoozed, performed elaborate courtship rituals and looked after their young. The creatures were much more diverse — and downright bizarre — than what we might recall from childhood books.
Were it not for an asteroid strike 66 million years ago, the ancient creatures still might have dominated our world. And they still are here, in the form of birds we see around us today.

Scientists have discovered more in the past two decades than they had in the prior 200 years about how dinosaurs behaved and evolved. Here’s what’s new and different about what is known of dinosaurs.

How many dinosaurs were there?
The short answer: Lots.

Take T. Rex, the predator with banana-sized teeth that is perhaps the best studied dinosaur. Scientists believe that each T. rex generation was 20,000 individuals, and this adds up to a total of 2.5 billion during the 2.4 million years they are thought to have lived.

While it’s only an estimate and relies on lots of assumptions, it’s a good reminder that the fossil record only captures a tiny fraction of ancient life. The same team of researchers purports that for every 80 million adult T. rexs, there is only one clearly identifiable specimen in a museum.

Scientists have definitively identified around 900 dinosaur species — although there are plenty more potential species for which paleontologists don’t quite have enough bones or the fossils aren’t well preserved enough to truly designate them as such. And there are about 50 new dinosaurs discovered each year, inspiring many scientists to think we’re experiencing a golden age of paleontology.

Many, many more species existed — one estimate suggests that there were between 50,000 and 500,000, but we might never find their fossil remains.

So many species could exist because they were highly specialized, meaning different types of dinosaurs had different sources of food and could live in the same habitats without competing. For example, with unusually large eyes and hair-trigger hearing, Shuuvia deserti, a tiny desert-dwelling dinosaur evolved to hunt at night, while Mononykus had perplexingly stunted forelimbs, each of which had only one functional finger and claw — perhaps to eat ants or termites.

It’s worth pointing out, of course, that many of the dinosaurs you might be familiar with did not live together as one community. Stegosaurus and T. rex never co-existed, separated by 80 million years of evolution. In fact, the time separating Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus is greater than the time separating T. rex and you.
What did they look like?

The first dinosaur discoveries, the earliest more than 150 years ago, focused on the sensational: The big bones and skulls we know from museum atriums.

But dinosaurs came in all shapes and sizes. In fact, some of the most exciting finds in recent years have been tiny. In 2016, a tail belonging to a sparrow-sized creature could have danced in the palm of your hand was found preserved in three dimensions in a chunk of amber.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

7 ways Einstein changed the world
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black and white photo of einstein looking at the camera

By , Live Science

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is one of the most famous scientists of all time, and his name has become almost synonymous with the word “genius.”

While his reputation owes something to his eccentric appearance and occasional pronouncements on philosophy, world politics and other non-scientific topics, his real claim to fame comes from his contributions to modern physics, which have changed our entire perception of the universe and helped shape the world we live in today.

Here’s a look at some of the world-changing concepts we owe to Einstein.

Space-time

One of Einstein’s earliest achievements, at the age of 26, was his theory of special relativity — so-called because it deals with relative motion in the special case where gravitational forces are neglected. This may sound innocuous, but it was one of the greatest scientific revolutions in history, completely changing the way physicists think about space and time. In effect, Einstein merged these into a single space-time continuum. One reason we think of space and time as being completely separate is because we measure them in different units, such as miles and seconds, respectively. But Einstein showed how they are actually interchangeable, linked to each other through the speed of light — approximately 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kilometers per second).

Perhaps the most famous consequence of special relativity is that nothing can travel faster than light. But it also means that things start to behave very oddly as the speed of light is approached. If you could see a spaceship that was traveling at 80% the speed of light, it would look 40% shorter than when it appeared at rest. And if you could see inside, everything would appear to move in slow motion, with a clock taking 100 seconds to tick through a minute, according to Georgia State University’s HyperPhysics website. This means the spaceship’s crew would actually age more slowly the faster they are traveling.

E = mc^2

An unexpected offshoot of special relativity was Einstein’s celebrated equation E = mc^2, which is likely the only mathematical formula to have reached the status of cultural icon. The equation expresses the equivalence of mass (m) and energy (E), two physical parameters previously believed to be completely separate. In traditional physics, mass measures the amount of matter contained in an object, whereas energy is a property the object has by virtue of its motion and the forces acting on it. Additionally, energy can exist in the complete absence of matter, for example in light or radio waves. However, Einstein’s equation says that mass and energy are essentially the same thing, as long as you multiply the mass by c^2 — the square of the speed of light, which is a very big number — to ensure it ends up in the same units as energy.

This means that an object gains mass as it moves faster, simply because it’s gaining energy. It also means that even an inert, stationary object has a huge amount of energy locked up inside it. Besides being a mind-blowing idea, the concept has practical applications in the world of high-energy particle physics. According to the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN), if sufficiently energetic particles are smashed together, the energy of the collision can create new matter in the form of additional particles.

Lasers

Lasers are an essential component of modern technology and are used in everything from barcode readers and laser pointers to holograms and fiber-optic communication. Although lasers are not commonly associated with Einstein, it was ultimately his work that made them possible. The word laser, coined in 1959, stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” — and stimulated emission is a concept Einstein developed more than 40 years earlier, according to the American Physical Society. In 1917, Einstein wrote a paper on the quantum theory of radiation that described, among other things, how a photon of light passing through a substance could stimulate the emission of further photons.

Einstein realized that the new photons travel in the same direction, and with the same frequency and phase, as the original photon. This results in a cascade effect as more and more virtually identical photons are produced. As a theoretician, Einstein didn’t take the idea any further, while other scientists were slow to recognize the enormous practical potential of stimulated emission. But the world got there in the end, and people are still finding new applications for lasers today, from anti-drone weapons to super-fast computers.

Black holes and wormholes

Einstein’s theory of special relativity showed that space-time can do some pretty weird things even in the absence of gravitational fields. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as Einstein discovered when he finally succeeded in adding gravity into the mix, in his theory of general relativity. He found that massive objects like planets and stars actually distort the fabric of space-time, and it’s this distortion that produces the effects we perceive as gravity.

Einstein explained general relativity through a complex set of equations, which have an enormous range of applications. Perhaps the most famous solution to Einstein’s equations came from Karl Schwarzschild’s solution in 1916 — a black hole. Even weirder is a solution that Einstein himself developed in 1935 in collaboration with Nathan Rosen, describing the possibility of shortcuts from one point in space-time to another. Originally dubbed Einstein-Rosen bridges, these are now known to all fans of science fiction by the more familiar name of wormholes.

The expanding universe

One of the first things Einstein did with his equations of general relativity, back in 1915, was to apply them to the universe as a whole. But the answer that came out looked wrong to him. It implied that the fabric of space itself was in a state of continuous expansion, pulling galaxies along with it so the distances between them were constantly growing. Common sense told Einstein that this couldn’t be true, so he added something called the cosmological constant to his equations to produce a well-behaved, static universe.

But in 1929, Edwin Hubble’s observations of other galaxies showed that the universe really is expanding, apparently in just the way that Einstein’s original equations predicted. It looked like the end of the line for the cosmological constant, which Einstein later described as his biggest blunder. That wasn’t the end of the story, however. Based on more refined measurements of the expansion of the universe, we now know that it’s speeding up, rather than slowing down as it ought to in the absence of a cosmological constant. So it looks as though Einstein’s “blunder” wasn’t such an error after all.

Click here to read the full article on Live Science.

Taking on Diversity in Tech with Daleele Alison
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Daleele Allison headshot

Daleele Alison likes to help others stop wasting time doing tasks that don’t provide direct value to their clients. He is a technology professional, entrepreneur and the CEO and co-founder of RooksDM, a technology consulting group that helps alleviate pain points for small to midsize companies by using the right technology. Alison has worked as a consultant, business analyst and project manager for Fortune 500 companies to SMBs.

Diversity in STEAM Magazine (DISM) spoke with Alison about his company, the role diversity plays in tech and more on his participation in NMSDC’s Emerging Young Entrepreneurs cohort.

DISM: What have you seen businesses struggle with the most when it comes to their technology? How does RooksDM help them? 

Daleele Alison: From our perspective, businesses are excited about adopting new technology. However, when businesses rapidly implement new technology to fix a singular problem, this often becomes a band-aid solution and can lead to a different set of challenges. Many businesses end up with a large number of tech tools that become overwhelming to manage and lead to low user adoption. It’s important for businesses to take a step back and be strategic. At RooksDM, we ask the right questions about technology and processes and dig deep into the core pain points. Rather than simply throwing technology at a problem, we take a holistic approach. Our goal is to implement technology that works together and sets a foundation for scalable growth.

DISM: Do you feel there is diversity within the IT/tech sectors? Why or why not? 

Alison: We have seen progress in diversity within the tech industry. Organizations with targeted initiatives to increase diversity have definitely started to move the needle. It’s exciting to see a shift in the industry, however, there is still a long way to go. It continues to be a challenge for diverse vendors to break into large enterprise corporations. I’m hopeful that through tracking and monitoring vendor diversity, we will see even greater progress in supporting minorities in tech.

DISM: Why was it important for you to participate in NMSDC’s (National Minority Supplier Development Council) Emerging Young Entrepreneurs cohort? What have you learned thus far that is applicable to your own business? 

Alison: The NMSDC’s Emerging Young Entrepreneurs has been an important way for us to learn and network. Through this initiative, we have been able to connect with like-minded colleagues, which has led to advice and potential business growth. The sessions have been invaluable and have expanded my thoughts around marketing, finance and strategy. We are truly grateful to be a part of this community and are looking forward to more opportunities in the future.

DISM: How has being MBE certified through NMSDC leveraged your business’s success? 

Alison: Being MBE certified through NMSDC has given RooksDM access to a much larger community of like-minded businesses. We now have exposure to larger organizations to build our business. We have also built relationships with fellow minority-owned businesses. It has been so valuable to learn from each other and share stories and resources that support business growth. We are also proud to share our certification with current and prospective clients. This certification provides us with additional credibility that supports our conversations with potential clients.

DISM: What advice would you give another minority-owned entrepreneur or business owner just getting started?

Alison: My advice to fellow minority owners is to be intentional about how you spend your time. It’s easy to focus on initiatives that don’t matter or that won’t make an impact. It is critical to have the right people in your network to lean on so you can spend your time where it matters most. For us, spending time building relationships has been a game changer, not just in nurturing prospects but also in strengthening relationships within our industry. Leaning on others in the industry for support and expertise has not only led to referrals but been helpful to our overall growth.

Photo credit: Tori Soper Photography

4 Reasons to Consider a Career in Energy
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workers on rooftop solar panel

Implementing clean energy is far from just a phase, it’s a necessity. Given the growing concern with the climate crisis; scientists and innovators from across the country are working together to power our daily lives through environmentally friendly means. By joining a career in clean energy, you could not only aid in these efforts, but do so while securing a stable, growing career.

Here are five reasons why you should consider the clean energy workforce:

It’s a Growing Field in Every Way

We all know that clean energy is popular on a societal standpoint, but even economically the field is thriving. In late 2021, President Biden passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which among other things invested $65 billion in support for clean energy infrastructure, research, jobs and much more. More recently, the CHIPS and Science Act, as well as the new Inflation Reduction Act, have added billions in investments for clean energy jobs and technologies. This makes the salaries of those in Renewable energy higher than average.

Along with being incredibly well funded and well equipped for hiring, the industry also has a lot of opportunities for advancement. Since the industry is relatively new, many clean energy sectors look to promote within their current employees.

The Job Types are Endless

When we think of jobs in renewable energy, we tend to think of scientists, engineers and even construction workers. While all of these areas of expertise are looking for jobs, you don’t have to wear a lab coat or a hardhat to join the field. In fact, you can come from just about any background and find a career in energy that will work for you. For example, the Department of Energy hires for positions in an extensive list of positions including:

  • Business Administration
  • Communications
  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • IT/Cybersecurity
  • Legal Affairs
  • Marketing
  • Manufacturing
  • Operations Research
  • Physical Science
  • Public Policy
  • Safety
  • Sales

It is never too late or too difficult to join the clean energy workforce, and there are so many different ways in which you can apply your skills.

The Work Environment

As an often well-funded and new career industry, the clean energy sector tends to do a better job at keeping up with current business trends and creating a thriving work culture. This allows for many of the employees in the field to be positive and passionate about their work. Benefits of the work environment of the clean energy sector can include:

  • Fantastic diversity and inclusion initiatives in every sector
  • Health care benefits
  • Retirement plans
  • Working with passionate, like-minded coworkers
  • Opportunities to work in-office or from home
  • Opportunities for creativity, innovation and collaboration

You’re Making a Difference

There are many reasons to work toward a clean energy future. Whether it’s to protect the environment, promote energy justice, secure national energy independence, make scientific advancements or lower energy costs, there are many moral reasons you may have for wanting to join the field. In some industries, it can be difficult to see how any of the work you’re doing is making a difference in the world, but the clean energy industry does the exact opposite. In clean energy, no matter what your part is, your field is working to literally change the world every day by fighting climate change and promoting a healthier world for generations to come.

Sources: Department of Energy, Whitehouse.gov, Michael Page

These Engineers Have Invented an Entirely New Approach to Recycling Plastic
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photo of recycling products

By DAVID NIELD, Science Alert.

Our planet and everything that lives on it is buckling under the weight of all the plastic waste we’re producing. The volume of these non-biodegradable materials discarded after use is only increasing, so we need new ways to tackle them, and fast.

A new study demonstrates the proof-of-concept of an entirely new approach to plastic recycling, inspired by the way nature naturally ‘recycles’ the components of organic polymers present in our environment.

The approach takes guidance from the fact that proteins within organic polymers are constantly broken down into parts and reassembled into different proteins, without losing the quality of the building blocks. In essence, when it comes to recycling plastic – a synthetic polymer – without degrading it, we have to think smaller.

Proteins are one of the main organic compounds that act as building blocks for everything biological. They’re long chains of molecules (or monomers) known as amino acids, and researchers think that the way these molecules can be broken up and reconfigured suggests a potential strategy for recycling synthetic polymers.

“A protein is like a string of pearls, where each pearl is an amino acid,” says materials scientist Simone Giaveri, from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.

“Each pearl has a different color, and the color sequence determines the string structure and consequently its properties. In nature, protein chains break up into the constituent amino acids, and cells put such amino acids back together to form new proteins – that is, they create new strings of pearls with a different color sequence.”

The researchers have called their approach “nature-inspired circular-economy recycling”, or NaCRe for short.

In lab tests, the team was able to divide selected proteins into amino acids, then assemble them into new proteins with different structures and uses. In one case, they turned the proteins from silk into green fluorescent protein, which is a glowing tracer used in biomedical research. Despite this deconstruction and reconstruction, the quality of the proteins remains constant.

Click here to read the full article on Science Alert.

Over a quarter of stars like our sun might eat their own planets
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A binary system made up of one sun-like star and a smaller dwarf star surrounded by stars

By , C|Net

Astronomers say they have strong evidence that up to a quarter of all sun-like stars might have a nasty habit of making massive meals out of planets in their systems.

But don’t worry. This turns out to be good news for our chances of becoming a stellar snack and could even be helpful in the search for another Earth elsewhere in the cosmos.

In recent years, as scientists have studied more binary star systems, in which two sibling stars orbit each other, they’ve found these pairings to be more different than expected. In particular, the two stars’ chemical makeups are often different from each other. This contradicts the theoretical assumption that each was formed from the same primordial stew and the duo should therefore be more or less identical in the chemical sense.

An international team of astronomers spanning four continents studied a sample of 107 binary pairs of sun-like stars. They found that 33 of the binaries were “chemically anomalous” with high levels of iron that don’t quite jibe with the current understanding of how stars evolve. The two leading potential explanations for this stellar weirdness is that twin stars can somehow be made up of different stuff from birth, or that one of the stars gobbles up a planet or three later on. The team says their work points strongly toward the latter option being more likely.

“The observations are consistent with a scenario in which stars are being polluted by Earth-like material accreted from their planetary systems,” reads a paper published In Nature Astronomy by the group, led by Lorenzo Spina from the Italian National Observatory in Padova.

Before you worry about the sun showing signs of peckishness, Spina and colleagues say this revelation is actually good news for planets in our own solar system, which has always been remarkably stable. Our sun shows little sign of chomping down on Mercury anytime soon, at least not before it becomes a red supergiant and expands to swallow most of the inner solar system, including Earth.

Click here to read the full article on C|Net.

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