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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

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

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

Watson to help find new sources of oil

World’s first cognitive-technologies collaboration for oil industry applications
October 30, 2014

IBM's Cognitive Environments Lab researchers are developing software agents called "cogs" that will help energy company Repsol make better decisions on acquiring new oil fields and optimizing its strategy for current oil production (credit: Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

Scientists at IBM and Repsol SA, Spain largest energy company, announced today (Oct. 30) the world’s first research collaboration using cognitive technologies like IBM’s Watson to jointly develop and apply new tools to make it cheaper and easier to find new oil fields.

An engineer will typically have to manually read through an enormous set of journal papers and baseline reports with models of reservoir, well, facilities, production, export,… read more

Electrical stimulation of brain pleasure center reduces chronic pain

In testing with rats, electrode implant also triggers pleasure-associated dopamine
April 6, 2016

Image is a representative slice showing the electrode tip location (green arrow) (credit: Ai‑Ling Li et al./ Experimental Brain Research)

Are you in pain, but your doc won’t increase your hydrocodone dosage (or you don’t want to overdose)?

University of Texas at Arlington researchers may have a (future) drug-free fix: electrical stimulation of a deep middle-brain structure that blocks pain signals at the spinal cord level while triggering release of pleasure-associated dopamine to reduce the associated emotional distress.

“This is the first study to use a… 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


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

‘Information sabotage’ on Wikipedia claimed

Politically controversial science topics like acid rain, evolution, and climate change are vulnerable to "edit wars" by trolls
August 17, 2015

Research has moved online, with more than 80 percent of U.S. students using Wikipedia for research papers, but how reliable is controversial science information? (credit: Pixabay)


Wikipedia entries on politically controversial scientific topics can be unreliable due to “information sabotage,” according to an open-access paper published today in the journal PLOS One.

The authors (Gene E. Likens* and Adam M. Wilson*) analyzed Wikipedia edit histories for three politically controversial scientific topics (acid rain, evolution, and global warming), and four non-controversial scientific topics (the standard… 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

A robot as cheap, easy-to-use, and safe as an iPhone

August 26, 2012


Rethink Robotics’ goal is that its [forthcoming] cheap, easy-to-use, safe robot will be to industrial robots what the personal computer was to the mainframe computer, or the iPhone was to the traditional phone, says The New York Times writer Thomas L. Friedman.

“That is, it will bring robots to the small business and even home and enable people to write apps for them the way they do with PCs… read more

Mass extinctions linked to comet and asteroid showers

October 22, 2015

Mass extinctions occurring over the past 260 million years were likely caused by comet and asteroid showers, a new study concludes. An artist's illustration of a major asteroid impact on Earth. (credit: NASA/Don Davis)

Mass extinctions occurring over the past 260 million years were likely caused by comet and asteroid showers, scientists conclude in a new study published in an open-access paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

For more than 30 years, scientists have argued about a controversial hypothesis relating to periodic mass extinctions and impact craters — caused by comet and asteroid showers — on Earth.

In… 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

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

April 8, 2013


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

IBM launches functioning brain-inspired chip

Operates at 46 billion “synaptic operations” per second per watt; 100 trillion "synapses" planned, matching the approximate number in the human brain
August 7, 2014

IBM neurosynaptic chip (credit: IBM)

IBM announced today, August 7, the first computer chip to achieve one million programmable “neurons,” 256 million programmable “synapses,” and 46 billion “synaptic operations” per second per watt — simulating the function of neurons and synapses in the brain.*

Neurosynaptic. At 5.4 billion transistors, this low-power, production-scale “neurosynaptic” (brain-inspired) chip (the size of a postage stamp), is one of the largest CMOS chips ever built, IBM says.… read more

Future Day: a new global holiday March 1

February 29, 2012


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

Future of Life Institute awards $7M to explore artificial intelligence risks

Terminator Genisys film will distract from the real issues posed by future AI, says Tegmark
July 1, 2015

Elon Musk (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Future of Life Institute (FLI) announced today (July 1) the selection of 37 research teams around the world to which it plans to award about $7 million from Elon Musk and the Open Philanthropy Project for a global research program aimed at keeping AI beneficial to humanity.

The grants were funded by part of Musk’s $10 million donation to the group in January and $1.2 million from the… read more

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