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8-9-18 Organic solar cells set 'remarkable' energy record
Chinese researchers have taken what they say is a major step forward for the development of a new generation of solar cells. Manufacturers have long used silicon to make solar panels because the material was the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. But organic photovoltaics, made from carbon and plastic, promise a cheaper way of generating electricity. This new study shows that organics can now be just as efficient as silicon. The term organic relates to the fact that carbon-based materials are at the heart of these devices, rather than silicon. The square or rectangular solid solar panels that most of us are familiar with, require fixed installation points usually on roofs or in flat fields. Organic photovoltaics (OPV) can be made of compounds that are dissolved in ink so they can be printed on thin rolls of plastic, they can bend or curve around structures or even be incorporated into clothing. Commercial solar photovoltaics usually covert 15-22% of sunlight, with a world record for a silicon cell of 27.3% reached in this summer in the UK. Organics have long lingered at around half this rate, but this year has seen some major leaps forward. In April researchers were able to reach 15% in tests. Now this new study pushes that beyond 17% with the authors saying that up to 25% is possible. This is important because according to estimates, with a 15% efficiency and a 20 year lifetime, organic solar cells could produce electricity at a cost of less than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2017, the average cost of electricity in the US was 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
7-18-18 Move over, Hubble. This sharp pic of Neptune was taken from Earth
Cancelling out blur from Earth’s atmosphere lets astronomers focus like never before. A telescope on Earth has snapped pictures of Neptune at least as clear as those from the Hubble Space Telescope. The trick? Taking the twinkle out of stars. Released by the European Southern Observatory on July 18, the images come from a new observing system on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. The instrument uses four lasers to cancel out blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere — the same effect that makes it look like stars are twinkling — at different altitudes. The system is an updated version of adaptive optics (SN: 6/14/03, p. 373), a technique astronomers have long used to focus telescopes. Lasers create artificial “stars” whose size and brightness are precisely known. That gives scientists a way to measure how the atmosphere is distorting their view of real, faraway stars at any given moment. Small motors then change the shape of the telescope’s mirror in real time to correct for that distortion and see the sky as it really is. The resulting images from the Chilean telescope are as sharp and clear as those taken from space. That’s good news, as Hubble won’t last forever, and planned future space telescopes won’t take images in the visible part of the light spectrum (SN: 3/17/18, p. 4). With adaptive optics, telescopes on the ground can pick up where Hubble leaves off. (Webmaster's comment: Neptune is 4 times the size of Earth and this is the best we can do.)
5-21-18 China launched a satellite to help explore the moon’s far side
A satellite launched on 21 May will allow China's upcoming moon lander – the first to visit the far side – to receive commands and send data back to Earth. China is getting ready for a trip to the far side of the moon. On 21 May, the China National Space Administration launched a satellite that will relay information between Earth and a planned moon lander and rover, both set to launch in late 2018. The satellite – called Queqiao, which means Magpie Bridge – launched from southwest China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 4C rocket. Chang’e 4, the moon lander, will be the first spacecraft ever to land on the far side of the moon, if all goes to plan. Because the far side always faces away from Earth, the lander will not be able to communicate directly with its operators – any commands sent to it, or data sent back, would be blocked by the moon itself. To solve that problem, a satellite that sits in the line of sight both of the lander and Earth’s surface is needed to relay information back and forth. There is a special spot in space that’s ideal for that, called L2, which is about 64,000 kilometres past the moon. At that spot, the combined gravity of the sun and Earth counteract the forces that could tug an object out of orbit. It’s a perfect spot to park a spacecraft, because it can sit there without constantly firing its thrusters. It’s also a place particularly well-suited for Queqiao. From L2, the satellite will have a view of the entire far side when the moon passes in front of Earth. Queqiao will be placed into a “halo” orbit that circles L2, so that it will still have a line of sight to Earth even when is the moon blocks out part of the planet.
5-20-18 China is set to launch a satellite to support a future lunar rover
The rover will be the first to visit the farside of the moon. The Chinese space program is set to launch a satellite aimed at supporting future communications from a planned mission to the farside of the moon. The Chang’e-4 mission, which will include a rover and a lander, would be the first to visit the moon’s farside. In the first of a two-launch plan to get all the pieces in place, the supporting relay satellite, named Queqiao, is scheduled to lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on May 21, Chinese media report. The three-day launch window opens at 5 a.m. Beijing time (5 p.m. EDT on May 20), according to the Chinese online news site GB Times. Queqiao will go to an orbit beyond the moon that will allow it to communicate simultaneously with points on both the moon and Earth. It will also carry a Dutch-built radio telescope, which will be switched on in 2019 to search for long-wavelength signals from the universe’s first stars. The Chang’e-4 rover and lander were originally built as backups for the Chang’e-3 mission, which landed two spacecraft on the moon in 2013. Another 2019 mission, Chang’e-5, aims to bring back the first rocks from the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.
4-27-18 Toughest ever heat shields made of springy sponge-like stuff
Chinese scientists have developed a compressible aerogel that has shown in early heat shield tests to be 5 times more resilient than previous materials. The first highly compressible yet heat-resistant material for spacecraft heat shields has been developed – and in early tests, it is proving five times more resilient to vibration and shock damage than any previous material. Heat shield tiles like those used on NASA’s space shuttle, which prevented it from being incinerated on re-entry, were often found to be heavily damaged when the spacecraft landed. This made reuse of the shuttle a slow and expensive business. The damage was due to the fragile nature of the ultralight, ceramic aerogel that the tiles were made of. This material has such low density it is known as ‘frozen smoke’ – its filigree-like structure of silicon dioxide nanoparticles means it weighs only as much as three times the same volume of air. But they are utterly miraculous heat insulators: it’s possible to hold a piece in one hand while blow torching the other side of it, with no ill effects. Still, their fragility has always been their downfall. Until now, that is. A team of chemists led by Bin Ding and Yang Si at Donghua University in China, have engineered a compressible aerogel that can cope with severe vibration without shattering. A traditional ceramic aerogel, says Si, is comprised of silicon dioxide nanoparticles strung together like discrete beads on a necklace, which is inherently brittle. Their new aerogel, called a ceramic nanofibrous aerogel, is made from continuous, flexible ceramic nanofibres which are much less prone to snapping. (Webmaster's comment: Another cutting-edge invention by the Chinese.)
4-26-18 Robot port in China to unload shipping containers without humans
Driverless vehicles will make the global shipping network cheaper and more efficient – and cost jobs. On an overcast spring morning in the port of Caofeidian in northeastern China, a vast ship-to-shore crane whisks a fully-laden shipping container through the air and onto an idling truck. Though there’s a human sitting inside, a careful observer would spot that the truck is calling all the shots. That’s because the vehicle is one of a fleet of five autonomous trucks that a Chinese startup called TuSimple is using to ferry containers around the terminal. A few other ports use trucks that follow paths marked by magnets or sensors embedded in the ground but Caofeidaian is the first to use vehicles that can navigate a port by themselves. It’s like moving from trams to cars. The goal of the pilot project is to demonstrate the ability of autonomous vehicles to perform the role of a so-called “terminal tractor,” bearing containers from the shore to the cargo yard. “At this stage, we want to achieve high-level reliability and consistency of autonomous terminal tractors rather than moving lots of containers,” says TuSimple’s Bruce Ouyang. By the end of the year Ouyang wants to replace all the human-piloted terminal trucks deployed at Caofeidian with 20 self-driving models. The cranes loading the containers will be autonomous too, with a central system coordinating the movements of both the cranes and trucks. In total, they will have to process 300,000 standard-sized containers per year to match the current throughput of the port.
4-18-18 Will China beat the world to nuclear fusion and clean energy?
In a world with an ever-increasing demand for electricity and a deteriorating environment, Chinese scientists are leading the charge to develop what some see as the holy grail of energy. Imagine limitless energy with virtually no waste at all: this is the lofty promise of nuclear fusion. On Science Island in Eastern China's Anhui Province, there is a large gleaming metal doughnut encased in an enormous shiny, round box about as big as a two-storey apartment. This is the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (or EAST). Inside, hydrogen atoms fuse and become helium which can generate heat at several times the temperature of the sun's core. Powerful magnets then control the reaction, which could one day produce vast amounts of electricity if maintained. Around the globe, they are trying to master nuclear fusion - in the United States, Japan, Korea, Brazil and European Union - but none can hold it steady for as long as the team in Anhui. Right now that's 100 seconds and it gets longer every year. Here they're already talking about goals which are 10 times as long, at temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius. But there's a reason why fusion has eluded scientists and engineers since the early advances in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It is really difficult. (Webmaster's comment: Notice it was the Soviet Union that led the way. My money is on the Chinese, the new leaders of high tech!)
10-25-17 How science transformed the world in 100 years
How science transformed the world in 100 years
In an essay for the BBC, Nobel Prize-winner and Royal Society President Sir Venki Ramakrishnan contemplates the nature of scientific discovery - how it has transformed our worldview in a short space of time, and why we need to be just as watchful today about the uses of research as we've ever been. If we could miraculously transport even the smartest people from around 1900 to today's world, they would be simply astonished at how we now understand things that had puzzled humans for centuries. Just over a hundred years ago, people had no idea how we inherit and pass on traits or how a single cell could grow into an organism. They didn't know that atoms themselves had structure - the word itself means indivisible. They didn't know that matter has very strange properties that defy common sense. Or why there is gravity. And they had no idea how things began, whether it was life on earth or the universe itself. These days because of fundamental discoveries we can answer or at least begin to answer those mysteries. That has transformed the way we see the world and often our everyday lives. Much of what we take for granted today is a result of an interplay of fundamental science and technology, with each driving the other forward. Almost every modern invention has one or often many fundamental discoveries that make it possible. Sometimes, these fundamental discoveries were hundreds of years old. Neither jet engines nor rockets would be possible without a knowledge of Newton's laws of motion. There are big moments in science, like the discovery of the structure of DNA that shift our perspectives. But even that discovery was a milestone that built on work by Darwin and Mendel and presaged today's biotechnology where the entire DNA of a human being - the human genome - has been sequenced. That in turn has given us the ability to figure out how things go wrong in genetic diseases and potentially how to fix them. Scientists were recently able to modify the genes of a young girl to cure her cancer. We are no longer a complete black box, although our complexity is such that we are only just beginning to understand how our genes regulate the body and how they interact with our environment.
8-13-17 White supremacy: We are not the home of the free. We are a land of hatred for all non-whites and non-Christians, and denying all others their rights as human beings is the objective of the white supremacy groups. They would establish a White Male Dictatorship and establish death camps just like the Nazis did for all others; Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, Immigrants, LGBTs, any non-white or non-Christian! They would re-establish salvery and lynchings, and women would become totally subservient to men! We cannot claim to be the land of freedom as long as these groups continue to exist in America. In Europe they are outlawed and imprisioned. Just being a racist there will put you in prison. The Europeons know full well from the Nazis what kind of evil these groups represent. As long as these terrorist groups are tolerated America can not claim any moral superiority over other nations. WE ARE the immoral nation of the 21st century!
8-8-17 Americans already feeling effects of climate change, says report
Americans already feeling effects of climate change, says report
A leaked report says evidence that humans are responsible for climate change is strong – but it remains to be seen how the Trump White House will react. Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change, according to a leaked US report. Since 1980, the average temperature in the US has risen significantly, with the past few decades the warmest for 1500 years. The report, written by scientists from 13 federal agencies, is still awaiting approval from the Trump administration before it can be officially published, but a draft copy was obtained by The New York Times. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” say the authors in the draft report, with thousands of studies contributing to an irrefutable body of evidence. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they say. The report points out that the ability to attribute some extreme weather events to climate change is improving. It says there is relatively strong evidence that humans contributed to the European heatwave in 2003 and the record temperatures in Australia in 2013. Globally, it is extremely likely that humans are responsible for over half the mean temperature increase since 1951, the authors say. The leak comes as it was reported by The Guardian yesterday that senior officials at the US Department of Agriculture are now instructing staff to speak about “weather extremes” instead of climate change. “It is disturbing that scientists had to leak a draft of a new government report warning of dire climate change impacts because they fear the Trump administration will try to suppress it,” says Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. “Orwell’s Ministry of Truth has arrived.” (Webmaster's comment: The fix is in!)
7-25-17 Spanish deal to tackle gender-based violence
Spanish deal to tackle gender-based violence
Spain's political parties are celebrating a "historic" €1bn (£895m; $1.2bn) five-year programme to tackle gender-based violence. The measures include providing victims of abuse with six months' unconditional unemployment benefit to give them a new start, and outlawing imprisoned abusers from being visited by their children. The agreement was reached after six months and 66 expert hearings. Reports say 870 women died from gender-based violence between 2003 and 2016. (Webmaster's comment: Over 15,000 American women have been murdered by their husbands of boyfriends between 2003 and 2016!) So far in 2017, at least 31 women have died along with six minors. (Webmaster's comment: So far over 600 American women have been murdered by husbands and boyfriends in 2017.) Sixteen minors have been orphaned. Spanish politicians have pursued successive programmes to address the issue since 1997, when 60-year-old Ana Orantes was beaten, thrown over a balcony and then burned to death by her ex-husband after repeatedly complaining to authorities about his violent behaviour. She had been forced to divide her home with her husband on the order of a divorce court. Among the 200 measures that received parliamentary endorsement late on Monday are:
- The status of victim will be extended to women who have not yet filed a criminal complaint, to allow them to access safeguards and assistance
- Mechanisms for identifying victims of gender-based violence will be established in hospital emergency rooms and primary care
- Children orphaned by gender-based violence will have priority access to state benefits including educational support. Their guardians (excluding the abuser) will receive tax benefits and priority access to housing
- Tougher sanctions for gender-based crimes committed on the internet
- School curriculums to include lessons to tackle sexism and raise awareness of the feminist movement
(Webmaster's comment: We need to do the same things in American! Over 17 times as many women die from gender-based violence in America as in Spain!)
7-25-17 China set to launch an 'unhackable' internet communication
China set to launch an 'unhackable' internet communication
As malicious hackers mount ever more sophisticated attacks, China is about to launch a new, "unhackable" communications network - at least in the sense that any attack on it would be quickly detected. The technology it has turned to is quantum cryptography, a radical break from the traditional encryption methods around. The Chinese project in the city of Jinan has been touted as a milestone by state media. The pioneering project is also part of a bigger story: China is taking the lead in a technology in which the West has long been hesitant to invest. In the Jinan network, some 200 users from the military, government, finance and electricity sectors will be able to send messages safe in the knowledge that only they are reading them. China's push in quantum communication means the country is taking huge strides developing applications that might make the increasingly vulnerable internet more secure. Applications that other countries soon might find themselves buying from China. So, what is this technology into which the country is pouring massive resources? (Webmaster's comment: Again China takes the lead. They are not cutting their investments in science, unlike Trump is cutting ours!)
5-14-17 There's no waking up from America's Trump nightmare
There's no waking up from America's Trump nightmare
The events of this week have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Oval Office is occupied by an ignorant, impulse-driven lunatic. Just how much of a lunatic is President Donald J. Trump? So much so that he fired the director of the FBI in a fit of pique despite the fact that the FBI is conducting an investigation of whether and to what extent the president's own campaign colluded with Russian intelligence services to manipulate the election that landed Trump in the White House. If self-inflicted wounds can range from a paper cut to a bullet in the brain, this is something like the accidental amputation of a leg just above the knee: The victim can still get around, but he's undeniably and irreversibly hobbled, not to mention weakened by a near-fatal loss of blood. But not even that gruesome metaphor manages to capture the extent of our president's distinctive form of self-destructive madness. There isn't a single office holder, political operative, experienced staffer, or journalist in Washington who wouldn't have grasped in an instant that firing James Comey under such circumstances would be massively harmful to the president's efforts to defend himself against the Russian allegations and could well open himself up to a credible (or perhaps more than credible) charge of obstruction of justice. Even bomb-thrower extraordinaire Stephen Bannon understood it!