Archive for March, 2011

Making Fuel from Water Using Sunlight

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

“Nearly all the energy we use on this planet starts out as sunlight that plants use to knit chemical bonds. Now, for the first time, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge have created a potentially cheap, practical artificial leaf that does much the same thing—providing a potentially limitless source of energy that’s easy to tap.

The new device is a silicon wafer about the shape and size of a playing card coated on either side with two different catalysts. The silicon absorbs sunlight and passes that energy to the catalysts to split water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is a fuel that can be either burned or used in a fuel cell to create electricity, reforming water in either case. This means that in theory, anyone with access to water can use it to create a cheap, clean, and available source of fuel.

“It’s spectacular,” says Robert Grubbs, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who saw the presentation here yesterday at the biannual meeting of the American Chemical Society. “There’s still obviously a long way to go” to make the new device into a rugged, real-world technology, Grubbs says. But the approach is important because its potential low cost could make it widely available. It “has a chance of being scalable,” Grubbs says.”


Is Japan Fighting a Losing Battle?

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Highly radioactive water is now being detected outside the containment area at Fukushima, experts have warned. Photograph: Tepco/AFP/Getty Images

“The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.

The warning follows an analysis by a leading US expert of radiation levels at the plant. Readings from reactor two at the site have been made public by the Japanese authorities and Tepco, the utility that operates it.

Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have “lost the race” to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.”

A Bird? No, it’s a Robot!

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

“There are some developments that are too beautiful to miss, even if you are not interested in the hardware and so it is with Festo’s collection of biologically inspired robots. To a programmer a robot is  “just another platform”,  but to take control of a machine that literally flies like a bird is inspiring.

It makes you think of new things that you could do. First watch the video and just be impressed that at long last we can mimic the flight of birds. Then watch it again more carefully and try to compare it to everyone’s favourite flying robot platform – the quadrarotor or the hexarotor. They are noisy and suck power but they can lift loads and they can hover and position.

Now look at the way the robot SmartBird flies. It has a gentle mastery of the air that allows it to semi-hover and to almost stall in mid turn. This is a type of flight that might not be able to lift heavy loads but its silence and maneuverability suggests many other applications. With the right software it could be made to be much more controllable and sophisticated.”

Can your IP Address Legally Identify you?

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

“Identifying individuals using nothing more than their IP address has become a key part of anti-piracy and criminal investigations. But just how reliable is such IP address evidence?

British courts have recently begun to cast doubt over its validity. The use of IP addresses to tie individuals to illegal downloads was a tactic employed by ACS Law, which sent letters demanding up to £500 compensation on behalf of copyright holders whose intellectual property was said to have been stolen.

At a hearing where 27 of these cases came to court, Judge Birss QC suggested that ACS Law had “materially overstated the untested merits” of using IP addresses in this way, and questioned if the process of simply identifying an IP address could establish a copyright infringement by anyone related to it. “Even if it is proof of infringement by somebody,” Judge Birss said, “the fact that someone may have infringed does not mean the particular named defendant has done so.””

12 Year Old Autistic Develops a New Theory of Relativity

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

“A 12-year-old child prodigy has astounded university professors after grappling with some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.

Jacob Barnett has an IQ of 170 – higher than Albert Einstein – and is now so far advanced in his Indiana university studies that professors are lining him up for a PHD research role.

The boy wonder, who taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry and trigonometry in a week, is now tutoring fellow college classmates after hours.

And now Jake has embarked on his most ambitious project yet – his own ‘expanded version of Einstein’s theory of relativity’.

His mother, not sure if her child was talking nonsense or genius, sent a video of his theory to the renowned Institute for Advanced Study near Princeton University.

People with this disorder can have a range of abilities, from being severely disabled to gifted. It is estimated one in every 150 child has the condition.

According to the Indiana Star, Institute astrophysics professor Scott Tremaine  -himself a world renowned expert – confirmed the authenticity of Jake’s theory.”

Kinect AI Explained

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

“Microsoft Research has recently published a scientific paper and a video showing how the Kinect body tracking algorithm works – it’s almost as amazing as some of the uses the Kinect has been put to!

There are a number of different components that make Kinect a breakthrough. Its hardware is well designed and does the job at an affordable price.

However once you have stopped being amazed by the fast depth measuring hardware your attention then has to fall on the way that it does body tracking.

In this case the hero is a fairly classical pattern recognition technique but implemented with style.”

A Fourth Domain of Life?

March 26, 2011 Leave a comment

“LIFE, like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided into three parts. The Linnaean system of classification, with its prescriptive hierarchy of species, genus, family, order, class, phylum and kingdom, ultimately lumps everything alive into one of three giant groups known as domains.

The most familiar domain, though arguably not the most important to the Earth’s overall biosphere, is the eukaryotes. These are the animals, the plants, the fungi and also a host of single-celled creatures, all of which have complex cell nuclei divided into linear chromosomes. Then there are the bacteria—familiar as agents of disease, but actually ecologically crucial. Some feed on dead organic matter. Some oxidise minerals. And some photosynthesise, providing a significant fraction (around a quarter) of the world’s oxygen. Bacteria, rather than having complex nuclei, carry their genes on simple rings of DNA which float around inside their cells.

The third great domain of life, the archaea, look, under a microscope, like bacteria. For that reason, their distinctiveness was recognised only in the 1970s. Their biochemistry, however, is very different from that of bacteria (they are, for example, the only organisms that give off methane as a waste product), and their separate history seems to stretch back billions of years.

But is that it? Or are there other biological domains hiding in the shadows—missed, like the archaea were for so long, because biologists have been using the wrong tools to look? That is the question asked recently by Jonathan Eisen of the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues. They suspect there are, and in a paper just published in the Public Library of Science, they present an analysis which suggests there might indeed be at least one other, previously hidden, domain of life.”