One Step Closer to Laser Weaponry and Power Transport

For years scientists, writers, and politicians have spoken of the weapon of the future, lasers that could knock a plane out of the sky, transport power long distance or work as remote detection sensors. And yet, this technology is not within our grasp – but it is however one significant step closer. New research published in the journal American Physical Society shows how a series of short laser pulses could lead to medium to high power laser bursts over kilometres of distance.

Classical waveguides (ie. optical fibres) are typically relied upon to ensure beam transportation, but suffer from two limitations: they can be damaged by high-energy or high-power pulses and can tolerate no more than 1 joule per square centimetre in short 100 femtosecond pulses. A convenient and fascinating solution was found to this issue; it was shown through simulation and then experiment that in air, a beam (filament) will ionize the air immediately around it which gives rise to a self-generated self-focusing effect which keeps the filament in focus over long distances. However, there were still a few issues to sort out. The filaments could travel a distance of up to 1 kilometre but carry no more than approximately one watt – much less energy than most proposed technologies would call for. Computer simulations have shown that if four filaments are created in a square pattern (see above) with femtosecond pulses that the sound waves created by the thermal energy of each filament would create an area of high-density air which lasts up to a millisecond and is ideal for acting as a waveguide. Using this method it was shown in the laboratory that a 110millijoule pulse of green light can be transported efficiently through 70cm of air. It is thought that if longer laser pulses could carry the same energy without disrupting the thermal column then the pulse could carry 10s of joules of energy - many factors above the 1milijoule carried by each filament in previous experiments.

At this stage the technology has the immediate application of effectively carrying power of a distance of a few meters, however for such things as cavity-free lasing and atmospheric laser communication will require more work on keeping the filaments parallel, stable and uniform over long distances. It is also speculated that in the future, this technology could be put to use in implementing filament-based lightning protection, an idea which was proposed more than 15 years ago but never came to bear fruit.

[Images & Sources]

GravityLight - Light For Developing Countries

Brain child of two designers from the UK, this innovative light source aims to bring free easy to use light sources to developing countries. Approximately 1.5 billion people are without access to mains electricity and as such they will rely on biomass fuels such as hydrocarbons to light their homes after dark and as we know all too well: hydrocarbons environmentally damaging and not infinite in their supply. The designers sought to avoid these problems by finding a new way to power lights and they came up with an ingenious solution: gravity. The light can be suspending from most anything you can tie a rope to and in order to turn it you all that is required is for you to lift up a bag of dirt or stones. The bag hangs on a cord which is pulled through a weight drive similar to a cuckoo clock as gravity works its magic on the sack. Their current design can provide light for up to 30 minutes from just the three seconds required to lift the bag of dirt.
It is hoped once their campaign takes off they will be able to mass produce the lights for a cost of $5 per unit which is a tiny one off amount compared to the high ongoing cost that is required for biomass fuel lamps.. These lights also hold an advantage over solar lights in that they do not require any expensive, limited use batteries and can be used in period of overcast weather or at night for long periods of time.
You can check out a video about the device here, their IndieGoGo Campaign here and keep updated on their progress on their website over here.
[Citations]

GravityLight - Light For Developing Countries

Brain child of two designers from the UK, this innovative light source aims to bring free easy to use light sources to developing countries. Approximately 1.5 billion people are without access to mains electricity and as such they will rely on biomass fuels such as hydrocarbons to light their homes after dark and as we know all too well: hydrocarbons environmentally damaging and not infinite in their supply. The designers sought to avoid these problems by finding a new way to power lights and they came up with an ingenious solution: gravity. The light can be suspending from most anything you can tie a rope to and in order to turn it you all that is required is for you to lift up a bag of dirt or stones. The bag hangs on a cord which is pulled through a weight drive similar to a cuckoo clock as gravity works its magic on the sack. Their current design can provide light for up to 30 minutes from just the three seconds required to lift the bag of dirt.

It is hoped once their campaign takes off they will be able to mass produce the lights for a cost of $5 per unit which is a tiny one off amount compared to the high ongoing cost that is required for biomass fuel lamps.. These lights also hold an advantage over solar lights in that they do not require any expensive, limited use batteries and can be used in period of overcast weather or at night for long periods of time.

You can check out a video about the device here, their IndieGoGo Campaign here and keep updated on their progress on their website over here.

[Citations]

Solar System Like Ours Discovered

Hidden in the huge amount of data gathered by the Kepler Telescope was the observation of a solar system a bit like our own, it consists of seven exoplanets arranged much like our own - rocky close in to the sun and gas giants further out. The system, KOI-351, was detected in early 2013 with three direct observations of planets with orbital periods of 59, 210 and 331 days. However, their orbital periods can vary by as much as 25.7 hours, which at first glance is a little strange. As all of the planets orbit within 1 astronomical unit (the distance of the Sun from the Earth) this variation was suspected to be due to tugs of as of yet unseen inner planets.
Using computer algorithms a team of scientists was able to detect four new planets in the system, bringing the total to seven. The four planets have orbital periods of 7, 9, 92 and 125 days thus making the system very compact. It is as of yet unknown why the system formed this way, and some scientists hypothesise that the system may be young and the planets may migrate outwards over the millions of years to come. It is hoped that an upcoming mission, PLATO, will receive funding and allow the scientists to have a second more detailed look at the system.
[Citations]

Solar System Like Ours Discovered

Hidden in the huge amount of data gathered by the Kepler Telescope was the observation of a solar system a bit like our own, it consists of seven exoplanets arranged much like our own - rocky close in to the sun and gas giants further out. The system, KOI-351, was detected in early 2013 with three direct observations of planets with orbital periods of 59, 210 and 331 days. However, their orbital periods can vary by as much as 25.7 hours, which at first glance is a little strange. As all of the planets orbit within 1 astronomical unit (the distance of the Sun from the Earth) this variation was suspected to be due to tugs of as of yet unseen inner planets.

Using computer algorithms a team of scientists was able to detect four new planets in the system, bringing the total to seven. The four planets have orbital periods of 7, 9, 92 and 125 days thus making the system very compact. It is as of yet unknown why the system formed this way, and some scientists hypothesise that the system may be young and the planets may migrate outwards over the millions of years to come. It is hoped that an upcoming mission, PLATO, will receive funding and allow the scientists to have a second more detailed look at the system.

[Citations]

What Gives Summer That Distinct Smell?

As summer approaches us of the southern hemisphere we look forward to the sunny afternoons, the days at the beach and the smell of freshly mown grass - but what is that smell and why is it so relaxing?

When grass is cut, fats and phospholipids are broken down into long chain fatty acids, eg. linoelic acid, these fatty acids are then oxidised and chopped up by enzymes to form an end product that is either a six or twelve carbon chain. The six carbon chain molecule is the one responsible for the smell of grass so we shall focus on it. The molecules have a carbonyl group on the end and a double bond three carbons in from the end, and thus using some high school chemistry we can determine that the name of the organic molecule is cis-3-hexanal. Our noses are fantastic tools for discovering molecules and are particularly good at detecting this one; humans can detect cis-3-hexanal at 0.25 parts per billion. Cis-3-hexanal is very unstable and quickly mutates from a cis to trans - a molecule which is known as trans-2-hexanal. This molecule is known as the ‘leaf aldehyde’ and in part of what makes up commercial odours as ‘green odour’.

Cis-3-hexanal plays a role in many other aspects of life other than the smell of freshly mown grass - is it also important in the smell of strawberries, in the recovery of plants when they are damaged by pests and surprisingly in medicine. Studies have shown that molecules very similar to cis-3-hexanal can have a positive healing effect on the psychological damage caused by stress by activating blood flow in the primary olfactory cortex. So, maybe next time you’re having a rough day, go mow the lawn and spend some time sun bathing on your freshly trimmed grass.

[Citations]

Portable Hydrogen Reactors - The Future Is Here

You’re on the go and your phone just ran out of juice, maybe you have a portable charger handy but it’s not likely that you will get more than one charge out of it. But what if you had a portable power generator which could provide enough power to run your phone for a week? This is where the Brunston Hydrogen Reactor steps in; you may recognise that it bears some similarities to the Horizon Fuel-Cell MiniPak, which just so happens to be the device it was modelled on. The main changes seen between the two are the aesthetics, an increase in sturdiness in the Brunston as it is marketed towards hikers and campers, and higher capacity fuel cells.
So how does it work?The 3-inch fuel cells are full of hydrogen which is stored as a hydride and this hydrogen is split apart using a platinum catalyst as to separate the positively charged H+ ions and the negative electrons and use them to create a electrical potential gradient, or, voltage. The device then routes the electrons through some wires and a USB port to charge your device, while the H+ ions are expelled through an electrolyte membrane where they combine with oxygen to form water vapour.
As the hydrogen is stored in a hydride its stability is increased and the device has been cleared for carry-on luggage in airplanes - however you cannot carry more than two hydrogen cells with you. The cells feature a 8,500 mAh capacity at an output of 5V with a choice of either 1A or 2A which you can select using a toggle switch. Once a fuel cell is depleted they can be charged again in about an hour, but sadly this ability will have to wait until you get home as the device used to charge them isn’t portable and requires a wall socket. Brunton is working to find a way to provide free in-store charging stations as the at home hydrolyser charging device costs $250.
I for one am very excited to see this awesome tech hit the market and may make use of it for my long trips into the mountains with my camera in the future! What would you use this tech for a what improvements would you like to see in the future?
[Citations]

Portable Hydrogen Reactors - The Future Is Here

You’re on the go and your phone just ran out of juice, maybe you have a portable charger handy but it’s not likely that you will get more than one charge out of it. But what if you had a portable power generator which could provide enough power to run your phone for a week? This is where the Brunston Hydrogen Reactor steps in; you may recognise that it bears some similarities to the Horizon Fuel-Cell MiniPak, which just so happens to be the device it was modelled on. The main changes seen between the two are the aesthetics, an increase in sturdiness in the Brunston as it is marketed towards hikers and campers, and higher capacity fuel cells.

So how does it work?
The 3-inch fuel cells are full of hydrogen which is stored as a hydride and this hydrogen is split apart using a platinum catalyst as to separate the positively charged H+ ions and the negative electrons and use them to create a electrical potential gradient, or, voltage. The device then routes the electrons through some wires and a USB port to charge your device, while the H+ ions are expelled through an electrolyte membrane where they combine with oxygen to form water vapour.

As the hydrogen is stored in a hydride its stability is increased and the device has been cleared for carry-on luggage in airplanes - however you cannot carry more than two hydrogen cells with you. The cells feature a 8,500 mAh capacity at an output of 5V with a choice of either 1A or 2A which you can select using a toggle switch. Once a fuel cell is depleted they can be charged again in about an hour, but sadly this ability will have to wait until you get home as the device used to charge them isn’t portable and requires a wall socket. Brunton is working to find a way to provide free in-store charging stations as the at home hydrolyser charging device costs $250.

I for one am very excited to see this awesome tech hit the market and may make use of it for my long trips into the mountains with my camera in the future! What would you use this tech for a what improvements would you like to see in the future?

[Citations]

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft

NASA launched its New Horizons spacecraft in early 2006 with the mission to study the planet Pluto, a trip which brought it past many other cosmic wonders on the long journey. On the dark side of Io you may be able to spot a blue cloud - this is a cloud of small particles which has been thrown into the atmosphere by volcanic activity and on Jupiter in false colour you can see the giant red spot in white (YOU HAD ONE JOB, NASA).
New Horizons took this image when it passed near by Jupiter in order to perform a gravity assist maneuver. In the case of New Horizons, its flight path was chosen to bring it in close to Jupiter in order to use its gravitational attraction to accelerate it and sling it towards Pluto at a faster speed it initially had. With its greater speed, New Horizons is due to reach Pluto in 2015 and is hoped to provide much interesting data including the global geology and morphology of Pluto and Charon, a map of chemical compositions of the two and many other things. You can read more about New Horizons’ objectives here.
[Citations/Credit]

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft

NASA launched its New Horizons spacecraft in early 2006 with the mission to study the planet Pluto, a trip which brought it past many other cosmic wonders on the long journey. On the dark side of Io you may be able to spot a blue cloud - this is a cloud of small particles which has been thrown into the atmosphere by volcanic activity and on Jupiter in false colour you can see the giant red spot in white (YOU HAD ONE JOB, NASA).

New Horizons took this image when it passed near by Jupiter in order to perform a gravity assist maneuver. In the case of New Horizons, its flight path was chosen to bring it in close to Jupiter in order to use its gravitational attraction to accelerate it and sling it towards Pluto at a faster speed it initially had. With its greater speed, New Horizons is due to reach Pluto in 2015 and is hoped to provide much interesting data including the global geology and morphology of Pluto and Charon, a map of chemical compositions of the two and many other things. You can read more about New Horizons’ objectives here.

[Citations/Credit]

Africa’s Fairy Circles - Mystery Solved?

Quite widely discussed, this phenomenon has baffled the world for many years with many myths popping up such a magnetism and various supernatural explanations offered as a solution, but recently scientific research has been put forward which may be a step towards a final answer - but maybe not. Termites.
Specifically, Psammotermes allocerus, a sand termite was proposed as the main contributing factor to the formation of the fairy circles. This comes after many years of arguing back and forth with a professor of Botany from Pretoria ruling out termite activity, radioactive soil and plant toxins as factors in 2004.This was followed by a reply in 2008 by Angelique Joubert that a small flowering plant, Euphorbia damarana could be the cause, but no carry up on this proposition has been noted. Continuing from this in 2012 Eugene Moll suggested that two termite species, Baucaliotermes hainsei and Psammotermes allocerus  could be the creators of the circles. This was then backed up in 2013 by another scientist who found that in 80%-100% Psammotermes allocerus was active and that it had a 100% occurrence rate in newly formed circles.
Research has shown that the termites do indeed create a fairy circle by consuming vegetation, and this continues to back up the theory put forward by Eugene Moll. However while the research has garnered much interest it is not widely accepted as the case as correlation is not the same as causation and until a causal link can be shown, it could potentially just be chance that the termites are on the sites.
What do you think? Are the termites likely to be the cause, or is this just very strong correlation? What other cause would you propose?
[Citations and image credit]

Africa’s Fairy Circles - Mystery Solved?

Quite widely discussed, this phenomenon has baffled the world for many years with many myths popping up such a magnetism and various supernatural explanations offered as a solution, but recently scientific research has been put forward which may be a step towards a final answer - but maybe not. Termites.

Specifically, Psammotermes allocerus, a sand termite was proposed as the main contributing factor to the formation of the fairy circles. This comes after many years of arguing back and forth with a professor of Botany from Pretoria ruling out termite activity, radioactive soil and plant toxins as factors in 2004.This was followed by a reply in 2008 by Angelique Joubert that a small flowering plant, Euphorbia damarana could be the cause, but no carry up on this proposition has been noted. Continuing from this in 2012 Eugene Moll suggested that two termite species, Baucaliotermes hainsei and Psammotermes allocerus  could be the creators of the circles. This was then backed up in 2013 by another scientist who found that in 80%-100% Psammotermes allocerus was active and that it had a 100% occurrence rate in newly formed circles.

Research has shown that the termites do indeed create a fairy circle by consuming vegetation, and this continues to back up the theory put forward by Eugene Moll. However while the research has garnered much interest it is not widely accepted as the case as correlation is not the same as causation and until a causal link can be shown, it could potentially just be chance that the termites are on the sites.

What do you think? Are the termites likely to be the cause, or is this just very strong correlation? What other cause would you propose?

[Citations and image credit]

The Montreal Protocol and Climate Change

The ozone layer is an important part of our atmosphere, it helps filter out ultraviolet light from the sun which can cause damage to biological systems, eg. Sunburn and cancer. In the 70s and 80s when scientists realised we were destroying the ozone layer through our use of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and other such ozone-depleting substances a treaty was formed to reverse this damage. And so the Montreal Protocol was formed; it was signed in 1987 and was implemented in 1989 and aimed to reduce or remove the use of several groups of ozone-depleting chemicals, the main of which were CFCs. After the protocol went into effect a small decrease in temperature increases around the world was observed; before the treaty there was an average increase of 0.12C per decade, and after there was an average increase of 0.05C per decade. This is due to many ozone-depleting substances secondary effect as greenhouse gasses with a very powerful ability to trap heat radiated onto Earth by the sun. And as such a decrease in their emission would in turn lead to a decrease of heat trapped by the atmosphere. It is also expected that the ozone hole should see an almost full recovery somewhere between 2050 and 2100, a much anticipated occurrence for those of us who live under the hole.

These findings can be read about in the journal Nature Geoscience and they refute the recent claim of climate sceptics that humankind cannot affect the climate system as the effect has been shown to have a direct human origin.

[Montreal Protocol, UV Light, Ozone Depletion, Ozone Recovery, Ozone Hole Image, Ozone Molecule]

Gut Microbes Linked to Weight?

What we often forget as humans is that we could not survive without the trillions of organisms that live around, on and inside us. They help us digest our food, protect us from illnesses, give us illnesses and even play a role in our weight. They don’t play a role in our weight by making us heavier through their mere existence, but rather through better regulating what is absorbed into our bodies. This theory is backed up by new research published in the journal Science and the article can be found here. Researchers transplanted microbes from a variety of humans into mice, and it was observed that those who received bacteria from obese individuals gained more weight than those who received bacteria from slim humans. It was noted that this effect was only observed in those mice who were on a diet of high-fiber and low saturated fat diet and that no improvement was observed in those mice that were on a junk food diet.
It is as of yet unknown how we may change our gut bacteria to better maintain a healthy body, but you might be thinking, ‘What about those fecal transplants I’ve been hearing about?’ Well, fecal transplants are reserved for a more severe issue than a large tummy, namely Clostridium difficle infection. For now we are limited to such things as probiotics which can have a minimal effect as most, but who knows what we will come up with in the future!
You can check out Scientific American’s 60-Second Science segment on this very news over here!
Image via. Huffinton Post

Gut Microbes Linked to Weight?

What we often forget as humans is that we could not survive without the trillions of organisms that live around, on and inside us. They help us digest our food, protect us from illnesses, give us illnesses and even play a role in our weight. They don’t play a role in our weight by making us heavier through their mere existence, but rather through better regulating what is absorbed into our bodies. This theory is backed up by new research published in the journal Science and the article can be found here. Researchers transplanted microbes from a variety of humans into mice, and it was observed that those who received bacteria from obese individuals gained more weight than those who received bacteria from slim humans. It was noted that this effect was only observed in those mice who were on a diet of high-fiber and low saturated fat diet and that no improvement was observed in those mice that were on a junk food diet.

It is as of yet unknown how we may change our gut bacteria to better maintain a healthy body, but you might be thinking, ‘What about those fecal transplants I’ve been hearing about?’ Well, fecal transplants are reserved for a more severe issue than a large tummy, namely Clostridium difficle infection. For now we are limited to such things as probiotics which can have a minimal effect as most, but who knows what we will come up with in the future!

You can check out Scientific American’s 60-Second Science segment on this very news over here!

Image via. Huffinton Post

One Earth-Sized Planet In Habitable Zone Per Five Stars

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences it has been announced that the primary mission of the Kepler Space Telescope has been completed. Kepler’s goal was to determine how many of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy possess potentially habitable planets and it has been statistically concluded that 20%, or 20 billion stars possess Earth-like planets in their habitable zone.
Kepler achieved its mission through analysis of 150,000 stars over a period of four years in which it reported 3,000 candidate planets. It is important to note that Earth-like does not mean habitable; determining a planet’s habitability is a bit of a wild guess at this stage as the requirements for life might be wider than we suspect, or not, we just don’t know. Determining habitability will come later when we develop much more powerful spectrographs and telescopes in order to determine things like atmosphere composition.
What does this mean for us? Not exactly a whole lot but here is something cool: when you look up at the stars at night, you can know that the nearest Earth-like planet is suspected to be less than 12 light years from Earth and to orbit a star that can be seen with the unaided eye. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. (x)

One Earth-Sized Planet In Habitable Zone Per Five Stars

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences it has been announced that the primary mission of the Kepler Space Telescope has been completed. Kepler’s goal was to determine how many of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy possess potentially habitable planets and it has been statistically concluded that 20%, or 20 billion stars possess Earth-like planets in their habitable zone.

Kepler achieved its mission through analysis of 150,000 stars over a period of four years in which it reported 3,000 candidate planets. It is important to note that Earth-like does not mean habitable; determining a planet’s habitability is a bit of a wild guess at this stage as the requirements for life might be wider than we suspect, or not, we just don’t know. Determining habitability will come later when we develop much more powerful spectrographs and telescopes in order to determine things like atmosphere composition.

What does this mean for us? Not exactly a whole lot but here is something cool: when you look up at the stars at night, you can know that the nearest Earth-like planet is suspected to be less than 12 light years from Earth and to orbit a star that can be seen with the unaided eye. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. (x)