Sci/tech

Trees rely on a range of strategies to hunt for nutrient hot spots
July 18, 2016 03:59 PM - Penn State via EurekAlert!

On the surface, trees may look stationary, but underground their roots -- aided by their fungal allies -- are constantly on the hunt and using a surprising number of strategies to find food, according to an international team of researchers.

The precision of the nutrient-seeking strategies that help trees grow in temperate forests may be related to the thickness of the trees' roots and the type of fungi they use, according to David Eissenstat, professor of woody plant physiology, Penn State. The tree must use a variety of strategies because nutrients often collect in pockets -- or hot spots -- in the soil, he added.

"What we found is that different species get nutrients in different ways and that depends both on that species' type of root -- whether it's thin or thick -- and that species' type of mycorrhizal fungi, which is a symbiotic fungus," said Eissenstat. "What we show is that you really can't understand this process without thinking about the roots and the mycorrhizal fungi together."

Tree species with thicker roots -- for example, the tulip poplar and pine - avoid actively seeking nutrient hot spots and instead send out more permanent, longer-lasting roots. On the other hand, some trees with thinner roots search for nutrients by selectively growing roots that are more temporary, or by using their fungal allies to find hot spots.

A battery inspired by vitamins
July 18, 2016 03:12 PM - John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences via EurekAlert!

Harvard researchers have identified a whole new class of high-performing organic molecules, inspired by vitamin B2, that can safely store electricity from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power in large batteries.

The development builds on previous work in which the team developed a high-capacity flow battery that stored energy in organic molecules called quinones and a food additive called ferrocyanide. That advance was a game-changer, delivering the first high-performance, non-flammable, non-toxic, non-corrosive, and low-cost chemicals that could enable large-scale, inexpensive electricity storage.

While the versatile quinones show great promise for flow batteries, Harvard researchers continued to explore other organic molecules in pursuit of even better performance. But finding that same versatility in other organic systems has been challenging.

WSU researchers determine key improvement for fuel cells
July 18, 2016 02:15 PM - Washington State University via EurekAlert!

Washington State University researchers have determined a key step in improving solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), a promising clean energy technology that has struggled to gain wide acceptance in the marketplace.

The researchers determined a way to improve one of the primary failure points for the fuel cell, overcoming key issues that have hindered its acceptance. Their work is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

Fuel cells offer a clean and highly efficient way to convert the chemical energy in fuels directly into electrical energy. They are similar to batteries in that they have an anode, cathode and electrolyte and create electricity, but they use fuel to create a continuous flow of electricity.

Fuel cells can be about four times more efficient than a combustion engine because they are based on electrochemical reactions, but researchers continue to struggle with making them cheaply and efficiently enough to compete with traditional power generation sources.

Mobile app for rain forecasts raises farmers' yields
July 14, 2016 07:12 AM - Baraka Rateng, SciDevNet

A mobile phone-based innovation that can predict rain is helping farmers in six Sub-Saharan Africa countries sow, fertilise and harvest crops at the optimum time.

The innovation is being used in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal to improve crop yields and optimise food production through information and communication technology (ICT) weather forecasting model that produces Global Positioning System (GPS)-specific forecasts.

Electricity generated with water, salt and a 3-atoms-thick membrane
July 13, 2016 02:16 PM - Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne via EurekAlert!

EPFL researchers have developed a system that generates electricity from osmosis with unparalleled efficiency. Their work, featured in Nature, uses seawater, fresh water, and a new type of membrane just 3 atoms thick

Proponents of clean energy will soon have a new source to add to their existing array of solar, wind, and hydropower: osmotic power. Or more specifically, energy generated by a natural phenomenon occurring when fresh water comes into contact with seawater through a membrane.

Researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology have developed an osmotic power generation system that delivers never-before-seen yields. Their innovation lies in a three atoms thick membrane used to separate the two fluids. The results of their research have been published in Nature.

NASA eyes first-ever carbon-nanotube mirrors for CubeSat telescope
July 12, 2016 03:38 PM - Nasa/Goddard Space Flight Center via EurekAlert!

A lightweight telescope that a team of NASA scientists and engineers is developing specifically for CubeSat scientific investigations could become the first to carry a mirror made of carbon nanotubes in an epoxy resin.

Led by Theodor Kostiuk, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the technology-development effort is aimed at giving the scientific community a compact, reproducible, and relatively inexpensive telescope that would fit easily inside a CubeSat. Individual CubeSats measure four inches on a side.

Small satellites, including CubeSats, are playing an increasingly larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research and educational investigations at NASA. These miniature satellites provide a low-cost platform for NASA missions, including planetary space exploration; Earth observations; fundamental Earth and space science; and developing precursor science instruments like cutting-edge laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement capabilities. They also allow an inexpensive means to engage students in all phases of satellite development, operation and exploitation through real-world, hands-on research and development experience on NASA-funded rideshare launch opportunities.

NASA camera catches moon 'photobombing' Earth
July 11, 2016 04:27 PM - Nasa/Goddard Space Flight Center via EurekAlert!

For only the second time in a year, a NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a view of the moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth.

"For the second time in the life of DSCOVR, the moon moved between the spacecraft and Earth," said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The project recorded this event on July 5 with the same cadence and spatial resolution as the first 'lunar photobomb' of last year."

The images were captured by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four-megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Monkeys in Brazil have used stone tools for hundreds of years at least
July 11, 2016 01:10 PM - University of Oxford

New archaeological evidence suggests that Brazilian capuchins have been using stone tools to crack open cashew nuts for at least 700 years, and the new research paper asks whether human behaviour was influenced through watching the monkeys. 


Researchers say, to date, they have found the earliest archaeological examples of monkey tool use outside of Africa. In their paper, published in Current Biology, they suggest it raises questions about the origins and spread of tool use in New World monkeys and, controversially perhaps, prompts us to look at whether early human behaviour was influenced by their observations of monkeys using stones as tools. The research was led by Dr Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford, who in previous papers presents archaeological evidence showing that wild macaques in coastal Thailand used stone tools for decades at least to open shellfish and nuts.

The Antarctic Ozone Hole May Be Closing
July 7, 2016 07:21 AM - s.e. smith

There’s good news from Antarctica, where researchers with tools like ozonesondes — pictured above — have been following the infamous ozone hole as it waxes and wanes over the seasons. The ozone hole has shrunk by 1.5 million square miles – around 4 million square kilometers — and this “healing” trend appears to be continuing.

A major ecological catastrophe has been averted, and we can cite human intervention as the reason. When the globe swept into action with 1987′s Montreal Protocol, which banned a number of substances known to contribute to ozone depletion, it apparently worked.

When scientists first began to observe a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, it was a cause for grave concern. Though ozone levels actually fluctuate throughout the year, they perform an important function by blocking the sun’s harmful UV radiation.

The Future of Cities is Bright
July 4, 2016 10:46 AM - Tim Fleming, Triple Pundit

What does the “city of the future” look like?

In an era of rapid technological advancement and increasing urbanization, it’s a fair question. Eighty percent of the U.S. population already lives in large cities* – each with a smartphone, wearable or other device in hand.

As such, city officials are beginning to piece together how those bits of technology can connect with assets like energy meters, garbage cans, street lights, traffic lights, water pipes and more. But, how do we make it all work together? By building a truly smart city.

A truly smart city is one with seamless connectivity that solves local problems and provides its inhabitants with safety, cleanliness and the most efficient ways to get from Point A to Point B. It’s a city that optimizes how we use valuable resources to help improve quality of life, positively impact our planet and open new economic opportunities. A truly smart city provides tremendous opportunities for its citizens and beyond.

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