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Rice unveils super-efficient solar-energy technology

November 21, 2012

The solar steam device developed at Rice University has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, far surpassing that of photovoltaic solar panels. It may first be used in sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Rice University scientists have unveiled a revolutionary new technology that uses silicon dioxide/gold nanoshells and N115 carbon nanoparticles to convert solar energy directly into steam. The new “solar steam” method from Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) is so effective it can even produce steam from icy cold water.

The technology has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent. Photovoltaic solar panels, by comparison, typically have… read more

The music of the silks

Researchers synthesize a new kind of silk fiber --- and find that music can help fine-tune the material’s properties
November 30, 2012

This diagram of the molecular structure of one of the artificially produced versions of spider silk depicts one that turned out to form strong, well-linked fibers. A different structure, made using a variation of the same methods, was not able to form into the long fibers needed to make it useful. Musical compositions based on the two structures helped to show how they differed. (Credit: Markus Buehler/MIT)

Research by MIT’s Markus Buehler — together with David Kaplan of Tufts University and Joyce Wong of Boston University — has synthesized new variants on silk’s natural structure, and found a method for making further improvements in the synthetic material.

The work stems from a collaboration of civil and environmental engineers, mathematicians, biomedical engineers and musical composers. The results are reported in a paper published… read more

Is faster-than-light travel possible?

July 23, 2013

Alcubierre warp drive

Engineers at NASA Johnson Space Center are designing instruments to find out, by slightly warping the trajectory of a photon and measuring the distance it travels, The New York Times reports.

Inspiration for the research came from Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, who proposed in 1994 a method of stretching space in a wave which would in theory cause the fabric of space ahead of a spacecraft to… read more

Graphene micro-supercapacitors to replace batteries for microelectonics devices

Will power biomedical implants, active RFID tags, embedded micro-sensors, and flexible electronics
February 27, 2013

Micro-supercapacitor

UCLA researchers have developed a groundbreaking technique that uses a DVD burner to fabricate miniature graphene-based supercapacitors — devices that can charge and discharge a hundred to a thousand times faster than standard batteries.

These micro-supercapacitors, made from a one-atom–thick layer of carbon, can be easily manufactured and readily integrated into small devices, such as next-generation pacemakers.

The new cost-effective fabrication method holds promise for the… read more

Billion-euro brain simulation and graphene projects win European funds

January 24, 2013

Neocortical column in Henry Markram's Blue Brain project (Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne)

The European Commission has selected the two research proposals it will fund to the tune of half-a-billion euros ($650 million U.S.) each, after a two-year, high-profile contest, Nature News reports.

The Human Brain Project, led by neuroscientist Henry Markram at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, plans to simulate the human brain in a supercomputer. (See “Brain inread more

iSpy vs. gSpy

January 7, 2013

738px-Three_Surveillance_cameras

We are all being watched, whether we like it or not.

It is a battle between you and the government — like Mad Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy comic, but it’s gSpy vs. iSpy, Andy Kessler, author of Eat People, writes in The Wall Street Journal.

There are thousands of toll booths at bridges and turnpikes across America recording your license plate. There are 4,214 red-light cameras… read more

Will the elderly ever accept care from robots?

The new movie Robot & Frank shows a machine taking care of an old man. The challenge here isn’t the technology, but the people.
August 18, 2012

ROBOT&FRANK

Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. 

What follows is an often hilarious and heartwarmingread more

Can an algorithm write a better news story than a human reporter?

April 8, 2013

narrative-science

Every 30 seconds or so, an algorithm developed by Narrative Science produces a computer-written news story, Wired reports.

The articles run on the websites of respected publishers like Forbes, as well as other Internet media powers (many of which are keeping their identities private).

Niche news services hire Narrative Science to write updates for their subscribers, be they sports fans, small-cap investors, or fast-food… read more

Internet activists on red alert ahead of United Nations conference

How the ITU could put the Internet behind closed doors
November 16, 2012

R.I.P._Internet

Internet activists are warning that next month’s meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body charged with overseeing global communications, may have significant and potentially disastrous consequences for everyday Internet users, Mashable reports.

Called the World Conference on International Telecommunications, the meeting is intended to update some of the aging international law that governs the flow of information online. The meeting is mostly closed to… read more

Future Day: a new global holiday March 1

February 29, 2012

future_day

Why are nearly all our holidays focused on celebrating the past, or the cyclical processes of nature? Why not celebrate the amazing future we are collectively creating?

That’s the concept behind a new global holiday, Future Day (March 1), conceived by AI researcher Dr. Ben Goertzel.

Future Day 2012 gatherings are scheduled in more than a dozen cities, as well as in… read more

Will cosmic rays threaten Mars One, other deep-space astronaut projects?

October 23, 2014

Artist's rendition of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at the moon. The CRaTER telescope is seen pointing out at the bottom right center of the LRO spacecraft. (Credit: Chris Meaney/NASA)

Crewed missions to Mars such as Mars One may face dangerous levels of cosmic rays (energetic particles), according to a new paper in the journal Space Weather by University of New Hampshire (UNH) scientists.

This is due to a recent highly abnormal and extended lack of solar activity, resulting in extremely low densities and magnetic field strengths in the solar wind.

This results in a serious reduction in the… read more

Drugs

September 3, 2012

Self-portrait on mushrooms (credit: Bryan Lewis Saunders)

“After experiencing drastic changes in my environment, I looked for other experiences that might profoundly affect my perception of the self. So I devised another experiment where everyday I took a different drug and drew myself under the influence.

“Within weeks I became lethargic and suffered mild brain damage. I am still conducting this experiment but over greater lapses of time.  I only take drugs that are given… read more

A nanocopter camera that follows you around, streaming video to your smartphone

February 14, 2013

MeCam

Always Innovating is developing a $49. tiny flying video camera called the MeCam, due out in 2014.

The camera streams live video to your smartphone, allowing you to stream or upload videos. A nanocopter with 4 spinning rotors houses the camera, with an ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 1GB of RAM, WiFI, and Bluetooth.

The MeCam launches from the palm of a hand and hovers instantly. It streams… read more

Are you ready for the Internet of Cops?

March 3, 2014

FirstNet-challenges

FirstNet — a state-of-the-art communications network for paramedics, firemen and law enforcement at the federal, state and local level — will give cops on the streets unprecedented technological powers, and possibly hand over even more intimate data about our lives to the higher ends of the government and its intelligence agencies, Motherboard reports.

According to a series of presentation slides from December last year, FirstNet… read more

A better brain implant: listening to single neurons

November 12, 2012

SEM image of a fully assembled, functional microthread electrode (credit: Takashi Kozai)

A thin, flexible electrode developed at the University of Michigan is 10 times smaller than the nearest competition and could make long-term measurements of neural activity practical.

This kind of technology could also be used eventually to send brain-computer-interface (BCI) signals to prosthetic limbs, overcoming inflammation caused by larger electrodes, resulting in damage to both the brain and the electrodes.

Existing electrodes are stiff and enormous… read more

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