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  1. Free-floating planets are not bound to any star, having been dumped from their original home systems. New research describes the smallest rogue planet discovered to date, in an astronomical achievement that took an Einstein-inspired technique to new extremes. Artist’s conception of a rogue planet. Rogue planets, also known as free-floating planets, aren’t gravitationally tethered to any star, which means they’re literally careening through interstellar space. That these things exist is kind of creepy, but rogue planets could be exceptionally common, with research from earlier this year claiming there could be trillions of them in the Milky Way. Free-floating planets begin their wayward journeys after getting tossed out from their birthplace by powerful gravitational perturbations. And in fact, our very own Solar System may have lost such a planet, when Jupiter flung a newly formed planet into the depths of space some 4 billion years ago. The majority of rogue planets aren’t expected to be particularly big, with planet formation theories suggesting weights between 0.3 and 1 Earth masses, though they can include exoplanets the size of Jupiter. In new research published last week in The Astrophysical Journal, a Polish-led team of astronomers report on the smallest rogue planet ever discovered. Their work jibes well with the idea that most rogue planets are relatively small. As the new study shows, the mass of the newly detected rogue planet is somewhere between 0.3 Earth masses and 2.0 Earth masses (by comparison, Mars is just over 0.1 Earth masses). But data gathered by the Gaia Collaboration suggests it’s closer to the smaller figure, so it’s probably a “sub-Earth-mass object,” as the researchers describe it. Free-floating planets may be abundant, but they’re notoriously difficult to detect. Normally, exoplanets are spotted when they pass in front of a host star from our perspective, causing a temporary drop in luminosity (this is known as the transit method of detection). Should it happen again a few days, months, or years later, scientists know they’re dealing with an exoplanet that’s bound to its host star. This doesn’t apply to rogue planets, requiring scientists to rely on another method—one predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It’s called gravitational lensing, and, like the transit method, it involves the conjunction of two stellar objects from our perspective. But instead of a dimming star, the conjunction bends light, forming a temporary ring around the foreground object. Animation showing the gravitational lensing effect, and how bending light creates the appearance of a ring. “If a massive object (a star or a planet) passes between an Earth-based observer and a distant source star, its gravity may deflect and focus light from the source,” Przemek Mroz, the lead author of the new study and a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology, explained in a University of Warsaw statement. “Chances of observing microlensing are extremely slim because three objects—source, lens, and observer—must be nearly perfectly aligned. If we observed only one source star, we would have to wait almost a million years to see the source being microlensed.” Mroz and his colleagues are members of OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment), and they used the 4.4-foot (1.3-meter) Warsaw Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile to make the discovery. The OGLE team is proficient at using this technique, having detected many rogue planets before. To increase the odds of a detection, the team pointed their telescope to the star-dense galactic bulge of the Milky Way, which resulted in the detection of the microlensing event, named OGLE-2016-BLG-1928. In addition to the gravitational light ring, the astronomers considered another important factor: the duration of the lensing event. Really massive objects can create microlensing events that last for days, while some rogue planets can produce events lasting for a few hours. These measurements are important because duration can be used to estimate the mass of the lensing object. Because OGLE-2016-BLG-1928 lasted a mere 42 minutes, it likely means we’re dealing with relatively low-mass object. The estimated size of the object is somewhere between that of Mars and Earth, with the authors saying it’s most likely around three times the size of Mars. At 42 minutes, it’s the “most extreme short-timescale microlens discovered to date,” according to the study, with the researchers adding: “The properties of OGLE-2016-BLG-1928 place it at the edge of current limits of detecting short-timescale microlensing events and highlight the challenges that will be faced by future surveys for extremely short timescale events.” It’s possible that this exoplanet actually does orbit a star, but the scientists couldn’t find it. Or least, they couldn’t find a star within 8 AU of the object, with 1 AU being the average distance from Earth to the Sun. Andrzej Udalski, the principal investigator of the OGLE project, said the new paper shows that “low-mass free-floating planets can be detected and characterized using ground-based telescopes.” Sadly, this is all we know about this little lost planet. Other information, such as its chemical composition or temperature, cannot be known at this time owing to astronomical limitations. Hopefully we’ll be able to learn those details in the future, as we continue to investigate these fascinating objects. Source
  2. Scientists Find The First-Ever Animal That Doesn't Need Oxygen to Survive Some truths about the Universe and our experience in it seem immutable. The sky is up. Gravity sucks. Nothing can travel faster than light. Multicellular life needs oxygen to live. Except we might need to rethink that last one. Scientists have just discovered that a jellyfish-like parasite doesn't have a mitochondrial genome - the first multicellular organism known to have this absence. That means it doesn't breathe; in fact, it lives its life completely free of oxygen dependency. This discovery isn't just changing our understanding of how life can work here on Earth - it could also have implications for the search for extraterrestrial life. Life started to develop the ability to metabolise oxygen - that is, respirate - sometime over 1.45 billion years ago. A larger archaeon engulfed a smaller bacterium, and somehow the bacterium's new home was beneficial to both parties, and the two stayed together. That symbiotic relationship resulted in the two organisms evolving together, and eventually those bacteria ensconced within became organelles called mitochondria. Every cell in your body except red blood cells has large numbers of mitochondria, and these are essential for the respiration process. They break down oxygen to produce a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, which multicellular organisms use to power cellular processes. We know there are adaptations that allow some organisms to thrive in low-oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions. Some single-celled organisms have evolved mitochondria-related organelles for anaerobic metabolism; but the possibility of exclusively anaerobic multicellular organisms has been the subject of some scientific debate. That is, until a team of researchers led by Dayana Yahalomi of Tel Aviv University in Israel decided to take another look at a common salmon parasite called Henneguya salminicola. It's a cnidarian, belonging to the same phylum as corals, jellyfish and anemones. Although the cysts it creates in the fish's flesh are unsightly, the parasites are not harmful, and will live with the salmon for its entire life cycle. Tucked away inside its host, the tiny cnidarian can survive quite hypoxic conditions. But exactly how it does so is difficult to know without looking at the creature's DNA - so that's what the researchers did. They used deep sequencing and fluorescence microscopy to conduct a close study of H. salminicola, and found that it has lost its mitochondrial genome. In addition, it's also lost the capacity for aerobic respiration, and almost all of the nuclear genes involved in transcribing and replicating mitochondria. Like the single-celled organisms, it had evolved mitochondria-related organelles, but these are unusual too - they have folds in the inner membrane not usually seen. The same sequencing and microscopic methods in a closely related cnidarian fish parasite, Myxobolus squamalis, was used as a control, and clearly showed a mitochondrial genome. These results show that here, at last, is a multicellular organism that doesn't need oxygen to survive. Exactly how it survives is still something of a mystery. It could be leeching adenosine triphosphate from its host, but that's yet to be determined. But the loss is pretty consistent with an overall trend in these creatures - one of genetic simplification. Over many, many years, they have basically devolved from a free-living jellyfish ancestor into the much more simple parasite we see today. They've lost most of the original jellyfish genome, but retaining - oddly - a complex structure resembling jellyfish stinging cells. They don't use these to sting, but to cling to their hosts: an evolutionary adaptation from the free-living jellyfish's needs to the parasite's. You can see them in the image above - they're the things that look like eyes. The discovery could help fisheries adapt their strategies for dealing with the parasite; although it's harmless to humans, no one wants to buy salmon riddled with tiny weird jellyfish. But it's also a heck of a discovery for helping us to understand how life works. "Our discovery confirms that adaptation to an anaerobic environment is not unique to single-celled eukaryotes, but has also evolved in a multicellular, parasitic animal," the researchers wrote in their paper. "Hence, H. salminicola provides an opportunity for understanding the evolutionary transition from an aerobic to an exclusive anaerobic metabolism." The research has been published in PNAS. Source
  3. Can science break its plastic addiction? Gloves, sample tubes, and vials—labs produce millions of tonnes of waste each year. Enlarge / There is no shortage of plastic in your average science lab. © Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Marañón at East Photographic for Mosaic Lucy Gilliam has an infectious passion for environmental action. Today, she works in Brussels on environmental transport policy. But in the early 2000s, she was a molecular microbiologist in Hertfordshire. Like many in her field, Gilliam got through a lot of disposable plastics. It had become a normal part of 21st-century science, as everyday as coffee and overtime. Gilliam was, in her words, a “super high user” of the sort of plastic, ultra-sterilized filter pipettes that could only be used once. Just as so many of us do in our domestic lives, she found she was working with what anti-pollution campaigners call a “produce, use, discard” model. The pipettes would pile up, and all that plastic waste just seemed wrong to her. Science’s environmental impact had begun to worry her. It wasn’t just a matter of plastics. She also wanted to know why there weren’t solar panels on the roof of the new lab building, for example, and why flying to conferences was seen more as a perk than a problem. “I used to bitch about it over coffee all the time,” Gilliam tells me. “How can it be that we’re researching climate science, and people are flying all over the place? We should be a beacon.” She tried to initiate recycling programmes, with some success. She invited the suppliers in to discuss the issue, and worked out ways the research teams could at least return the boxes pipettes came in for re-use, even if the pipettes themselves would still be used and discarded. It felt like a battle, though. Sensing that progress was likely to be slow, she started to ask herself where exactly she could make change happen, and moved to work in environmental policy. Scientific research is one of the more hidden users of disposable plastics, with the biomedical sciences a particularly high-volume offender. Plastic petri dishes, bottles of various shapes and sizes, several types of glove, a dizzying array of pipettes and pipette tips, a hoard of sample tubes and vials. They have all become an everyday part of scientific research. Most of us will never even see such equipment, but we all still rely on it. Without it, we wouldn’t have the knowledge, technologies, products and medicines we all use. It is vital to 21st-century lives, but it is also extremely polluting. In 2015, researchers at the University of Exeter weighed up their bioscience department’s annual plastic waste, and extrapolated that biomedical and agricultural labs worldwide could be responsible for 5.5 million tonnes of lab plastic waste a year. To put that in context, they pointed out it’s equal to 83 per cent of the plastic recycled worldwide in 2012. The problem with plastic is that it is so durable; it won’t decompose. We throw it in the rubbish, it stays there. It is thought that there may now be more Lego people on Earth than actual people, and these minifigs will outlive us all. When plastic products like these minifigs—or pipettes, bottles or drinking straws—do eventually break down, they stick around as small, almost invisible fragments called microplastics, which also come from cosmetics and clothing fibres. A 2017 study found microplastics in 81 per cent of tap water samples globally. In the past few years, in mountain ranges in the USA and France, researchers even found microplastics in rain. They have recently been found in the Arctic, too. Modern science has grown up with disposable plastics, but times are changing. This autumn, the first wave of young people to follow the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and go on “school strike for the climate” started undergraduate degrees. Universities can expect these young people to bring fresh and sometimes challenging questions about how scientific research is conducted. At the same time, many of those from Generation Z (those born from the mid-1990s onwards) are now starting PhDs, and millennials (born from the early 1980s) are leading more and more labs. As more universities challenge themselves to eradicate disposable plastics, as well as to go zero-carbon, in the next few years or decades, scientific waste is increasingly being put under the microscope. Enlarge / Cleaning, still kinda plastic-reliant. Credit: © Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Marañón at East Photographic for Mosaic In a sign of how far things have moved on since Gilliam left her career in research, last November the University of Leeds pledged to go single-use-plastic-free by 2023. Recently, UCL has announced it will follow suit, with the only slightly less ambitious target of 2024. These new policies won’t just banish disposable coffee cups from campus, but a lot of everyday scientific equipment too. Lucy Stuart, sustainability project officer at Leeds, says that reaction among researchers has been mixed, but they are gradually making progress. “For us, as a university, we are here to inspire the next generation,” she says. “Also, we are a research-based institution that is creating groundbreaking innovation every day, so we didn’t want to say the solutions aren’t possible, because we are the people that help create those solutions.” The ambitious target has helped focus everyone’s attention, as has the clear sign that it has support all the way through the institution from the top of university management down. However, “We don’t want to implement top-down policies,” Stuart emphasizes. “We want individual researchers and employees to take ownership and look at the problem within their area, and then make a change.” Elsewhere, many scientists are already pushing ahead on their own initiative. When David Kuntin, a biomedical researcher at the University of York, was discussing plastic waste with his lab mates, he soon found he wasn’t the only one who had noticed how much they were getting through. “Using plastics on a daily basis—in science, it is kind of impossible to avoid nowadays. And someone just said, ‘Oh, we could fill a room after a week!’ and it got us discussing what we could do.” One reason lab plastics are such a sticky problem is that they can get contaminated with the biological or chemical matter being researched; you can’t simply put them in the campus recycling bins with your coffee cup. Usually, lab waste plastics are bagged and autoclaved—an energy- and water-hungry sterilisation process—before being sent to landfill. But, Kuntin says, not all plastic waste is too contaminated to recycle. Rather than simply classing everything as hazardous, straight off, he and his colleagues did an audit of the plastic they used, to see what they could decontaminate. “The contamination we deal with is probably less dangerous than a mouldy tin of beans you might have in your recycling after a few weeks,” Kuntin says. So, just as the team had learned that they had to wash their tins of beans before they put them in the council recycling bin, they learned ways to decontaminate their lab waste, too. They developed a “decontamination station” with a 24-hour soak in a high-level disinfectant, followed by a rinse for chemical decontamination. They also looked at the plastics they were buying, to pick ones that would be easier to recycle. As a result of these measures, they’ve reduced the plastic they were previously sending to landfill by about a tonne a year. “That’s 20 workers, 20 of us,” he says, sounding as if he still doesn’t quite believe that so few researchers could pile up so much waste. “We used a tonne of plastic that we can recycle.” They worked out it was enough to fill 110 bathtubs. And because they have also cut down how much equipment has to be autoclaved, they are saving energy and water, too. “I think as scientists, we need to be responsible about what we’re doing,” Kuntin tells me. Not least, he says, because it is public money they are spending. “You can’t, with a clean conscience, just be using a tonne of plastic.” More than a plastic puzzle At the University of Bristol, technicians Georgina Mortimer and Saranna Chipper-Keating have also set up schemes for sorting and recycling lab waste. “The waste in the lab was very easy for people to see. They were like, ‘I do this at home,’” says Mortimer. © Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Marañón at East Photographic for Mosaic They have been trialling glove and ice pack recycling through a company that specializes in hard-to-recycle waste, including contact lenses, crisp packets and cigarette butts as well as the sorts of plastics that come out of labs. They are keen to think more about re-use and reduction, too, knowing that recycling can only take them so far. They have worked out how they can bulk buy whenever possible, to cut down on packaging waste, for example. Plastics is only part of the sustainable lab puzzle for them. “We have a lot of ULT freezers, ultra-low temperature freezers,” Mortimer says. The freezers “have thousands, thousands of samples going back more than 20 years”. And they are all stored at minus 80ºC. Or at least they used to be. Anna Lewis, sustainable science manager at Bristol, showed them some research from the University of Colorado Boulder, demonstrating that most samples can be safely stored at minus 70, saving up to a third of the energy. They have now raised the temperature of their ULT freezers. The Bristol technicians have also been thinking about what they’re storing in these freezers, how, and whether it needs to be there. “There are samples that have just been left there for years,” says Mortimer. We’ve been discovering what these actually are, if they’re still usable, consolidating the space.” This hasn’t just saved energy and money, it’s also made working with the freezers more manageable. It’s simply easier to find things. Martin Farley held the first lab sustainability post in the UK, at the University of Edinburgh back in 2013. He now specializes in ways research labs can become more sustainable, working in a similar role to Lewis at a couple of London universities. He first got into the issue because of plastics, but quickly found a whole range of issues to work on. Farley points out that these ULT freezers can use as much energy as a house. So if you’re worried about energy use in the houses in your street, you should be worried about it in the fridges in your university too. Ultimately, as the climate emergency intensifies, Farley argues, “every facet of society needs to change”. Labs might not be a “behemoth” like the oil and gas industry, he says, but they have a significant and often ignored environmental impact. In a research-intensive university, Farley reckons the labs will account for about two-thirds of the energy bill. If a university is looking to reduce its energy use, research sciences are a good place to start. “We have people recycling at home, and doing nothing in their labs. I did a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation,” he tells me, and, depending on your research area, “your impact on the environment is 100–125 times more than at home.” Enlarge / Gloves remain necessary (and remain plastic). Credit: © Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Marañón at East Photographic for Mosaic Tracing back through the history of science, it’s hard to tell exactly when disposable plastics arrived in labs. “That’s a job of work to be done, to figure out when plastic starts to get used in scientific instruments, scientific material culture, and how, and how it changes,” says Simon Werrett, a historian at UCL who specializes in the materials of science. He says that there’s plastic in a lot of historical scientific objects, but because museums don’t catalogue items in those terms, it’s hard to date it exactly. Still, he suspects science’s plastic problem followed everyone else’s. Production of the thing we call plastic started in the late 19th century. Today, we’re increasingly used to seeing plastic as a threat to wildlife, but back then, if anything synthetic products saved nature from being chewed up by human consumption. As the game of billiards became popular, manufacturers looked for a way to produce the balls from something more reliable than the trade in ivory. One firm launched a $10,000 competition to find an alternative material, which led to the patenting of celluloid (a mix of camphor and gun cotton) by American inventor John Wesley Hyatt in 1870. Hyatt formed the Celluloid Manufacturing Company with his brother Isaiah, and developed a process of “blow molding”, which allowed them to produce hollow tubes of celluloid, paving the way for mass production of cheap toys and ornaments. One of the advantages of celluloid was that it could be mixed with dyes, including mottled shades, allowing the Hyatts to produce not just artificial ivory but coral and tortoiseshell too. At the turn of the century, the ever-expanding electrical industry was running low on shellac, a resin secreted by the female lac bug which could be used as an insulating material. Spotting a market, Leo Baekeland patented an artificial alternative in 1909, which he named Bakelite. This was marketed in the 1920s as “the material of a thousand uses”, soon joined by a host of new plastics throughout the 1930s and 1940s too. Nylon, invented in 1935, offered a sort of synthetic silk, useful for parachutes and also stockings. Plexiglass was helpful in the burgeoning aviation industry. Wartime R&D put rocket boosters on plastic innovation, and just as plastic products speedily started to fill up the postwar home, a plethora of plastic goods entered the postwar lab, too. Werrett emphasizes that today’s problems are a product not just of plastics but of the emergence of cultures of disposability. We didn’t used to throw stuff away. Disposability pre-dates plastics slightly. Machines of the late industrial revolution, around the middle of the 19th century, made cloth and paper much easier to produce. At the same time, people were becoming more and more aware, and worried, about the existence of germs—for example, after John Snow identified the Broad Street water pump as the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854. Just as Joseph Lister pioneered the use of antiseptics in medicine from the 1860s onwards, disposable dressings gradually became the norm. “So you have things like cotton buds, and condoms and tampons, and sticking plasters,” Werrett explains, as well as paper napkins and paper cups. As mass production advanced, it soon became cheaper and easier to throw things away than to clean and re-use them—or pay someone else to. Cloth- and paper-based disposable products arrived over a relatively short period, but the new throwaway culture they instigated paved the ground for the plastic problem we have today. Paper cups and straws soon became plastic ones, and the idea of “produce, use, discard” became normal. Still, the introduction of disposable plastics in postwar science and medicine wasn’t necessarily simple. Looking at medical journals from the 1950s and 1960s, Werrett has found a few complaints. © Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Marañón at East Photographic for Mosaic “There’s a tradition that surgeons have a pair of gloves, and they use that for their whole career,” he explains. These gloves would have been rubber—first introduced by William Stewart Halsted at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland in the 1890s—but designed to last, boiled for sterilisation and repaired rather than disposed of in favor of a new pair. “By the end of their career, they’ve got repairs and stains,” Werrett says, “and that’s a sign or mark of your experience as a surgeon.” Then disposable gloves came in, and not everyone was happy to leave these marks of experience behind. Nurses had to be taught to throw things away, rather than keep them, he notes. “It wasn’t self-evident that disposability was a valuable thing. If anything, the default is to re-use things. You have to train people to see disposability as a valuable practice.” Glassware is cool again For those looking for a plastic-free future for science, a technological fix could well be found in the history. Back in Bristol, Georgina Mortimer has been eyeing up the old glass cabinets. “We’re trying to get back into glassware, trying to make it cool again within our department,” she says, smiling. In Brussels, Lucy Gilliam tells me about her grandmother, who worked in a hospital lab, and all the dishwashing assistance she had to support their use of glassware. “And now we do it all by ourselves. We’re like little research islands. And you know, plastic—and single-use disposable things—is filling the gap of people. “There was a time when we were doing really advanced science without using plastics. And it’s not to say that all of the science that we do now can be done without plastics. But there is science that we were doing back then, and that we’re still doing now, that could be done without plastics.” Plastic has become apparently indispensable for modern science. It can keep materials protected, even when we transport them. It keeps us out of them (for materials we don’t want to contaminate) and them out of us (for hazardous materials that might hurt us). It can be moulded into a range of shapes. Some areas of science—not least DNA research—have grown up in an era of disposable plastics. Re-using glass has its own logistical additions, like repeat washing and sterilization. © Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Marañón at East Photographic for Mosaic In some cases, though, a return to glass might be the answer. “Use glassware—it’s there, it’s available, it’s sterilized,” Mortimer enthuses. “All the universities will have a glass room just full to the ceilings of stuff that we can be using rather than plastics.” Along with Saranna Chipper-Keating, she has been tasked with producing a whole-life costing exercise on glass versus plastics. In theory, it should be cheaper to re-use glass than to buy plastics again and again, especially as there are often costs associated with dumping these plastics. But re-using glass means it must be washed and sterilized, and that takes resources, too. This is a concern for Lucy Stuart in Leeds; they don’t want their plastic-free pledge to simply replace one environmental problem with another. In York, David Kuntin is also concerned about the knock-on effects of switching back to glass. “Every day, we use reagents like cell culture media, a nutrient broth that cells thrive in,” he tells me. These broths have been developed for decades, and since most cells are grown on plastic, that’s what the reagents have been optimized for. On top of this, researchers like Kuntin are interested in the finest details of cell behavior—and what they’re grown on could have an influence. “We know that cells are very responsive to their environment, and they can sense things like the roughness or stiffness of the surface they grow on,” he explains. Unexpected changes in behavior could be misinterpreted as a consequence of an experiment, when really it’s just that the cells are behaving differently on glass. Another problem is how much time re-using glass could take. Disposable pipette tips are just quicker. And time, along with water and heat, could cost the lab money. Ultimately, though, they don’t know until they do a full analysis. “We could do a whole-life costing exercise, and it may well be that plastics are so much cheaper,” Anna Lewis says. “In which case, we would need subsidies.” Lewis argues that any real change will require a change in how science is funded, with universities ideally needing to demonstrate some level of sustainability before they could apply for certain grant schemes. There is only so far they can go working with the goodwill and interest of a few enthusiasts. She sees scope to address this, if not in the next Research Excellence Framework (for assessing the quality of research in the UK) in 2021, then in the one after that. Whether the ecological crisis can wait for us to slowly negotiate yet another decade of science policy is another matter. "I want to do more" Martin Farley certainly sees a stronger appetite for change from the scientific community, compared to when he first started greening labs, back in 2013. “Five or six years ago, when I told my lab mates I was doing this, people laughed. There was a little bit of interest, like ‘Sure, I’ll recycle more’, and some jokes. Now, I get emails on almost a weekly basis. People out of the blue that are saying, ‘How can I do something? I want to do more.’” The University of Leeds is keen to link with other organisations, too. They’ve created a network around Leeds, including other universities, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the city council, and Yorkshire Water. They are also in discussions with one of the national research councils. Stuart says these sorts of collaborations are essential if they want to address disposable plastics on campus, because everything that comes in is part of the broader local economy. But it’s also part of the whole point of the project, seeing themselves as “a civic university”, ensuring that their research and innovation is used in a way that benefits the local area. For researchers wanting to dive into the problem of plastic waste on their own, though, Gilliam has some simple advice: “First of all, see if you can get some buddies. Send out a note and convene a little meeting. Say, ‘I've seen these things, I’m concerned about it, does anybody have any ideas?’” In the event that no one will engage with you, she suggests you just start segregating some of your plastic anyway, putting it in a box and sending it back, sharing a photo on social media as you go. You might well find comrades in other labs if not your own. “Start by doing something different, even if it feels like it’s really small and really pointless. Even small actions like that can have a ripple effect.” This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. Thanks to UCL and the Francis Crick Institute for their help with this story. All items photographed are laboratory waste, so no plastic was harmed in this shoot. Source: Can science break its plastic addiction? (Ars Technica)
  4. [1] "Quantum Physics for Beginners" by Carl J. Pratt [ E X P I R E D ] Award-winner scientist, Carl J. Pratt, presents the most exhaustive and clear introduction to the topic. “Quantum Physics for Beginners” peels away layers of mystery to reveal what is behind most modern technological innovations. In this book you will find: What quantum physics is, the history and most famous experiments and achievements in quantum mechanics. Wave-particle duality dilemma. How particles can be in multiple places at once. Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Schrodinger’s equation. Quantum entanglement Quantum fields theory. Introduction to string theory. Quantum gravity. Real-world applications: Quantum computing, Quantum key distribution, ultra-precise clocks... And much more! DOWNLOAD: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08YXNC9BT/ [ E X P I R E D ] ⚠️ [2] "The Benevolent Dictator" by Tom Trott Ben longs to be Prime Minister one day. But with no political connections, he is about to crash out of a Masters degree with no future ahead. So when by chance he becomes fast friends with a young Arab prince, and is offered a job in his government, he jumps at the chance to get on the political ladder. Amal dreads the throne. And with Ben’s help he wants to reform his country, steering it onto a path towards democracy. But with the king’s health failing, revolutionaries in the street, and terrorism threatening everyone, the country is ready to tear itself apart. Alone in a hostile land, Ben must help Amal weigh what is best against what is right, making decisions that will risk his country, his family, and his life. DOWNLOAD: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07BZQHTDB [3] "Arsène Lupin: The Collection" by Maurice Leblanc The collection, brings together the works that inspired the original NETFLIX series, directed by Louis Leterrier as well as the Hero, Assane Diop, performed by OMAR SY. Slender, elegant, refined, seductive, Arsène Lupine, gentleman-burglar by trade, is the model of the "Belle Epoque" dandy. His intelligence, his culture, his talents as an illusionist between Fregoli and Robert-Houdin are at the service of an astonishing nerve. But this accomplished man of the world is also an anarchist at heart who plays with social conventions with marvelous insolence. Content : Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar Arsène Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes The Hollow Needle 813 The Arsène Lupin The Crystal Stopper The Confessions Of Arsène Lupin The Teeth Of The Tiger The Woman Of Mystery The Golden Triangle The Secret Of Sarek Eight Strokes Of The Clock The Secret Tomb DOWNLOAD: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08X4HWF2J [4] "Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" by Arthur Conan Doyle Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, first published late in 1893. It was the second collection featuring the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, following The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The twelve stories were originally published in The Strand Magazine from December 1892 to December 1893 as The Adventures number 13 to 24. Contains: Silver Blaze The Adventure of the Cardboard Box The Adventure of the Yellow Face The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk The Adventure of the "Gloria Scott" The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual The Adventure of the Reigate Squires The Adventure of the Crooked Man The Adventure of the Resident Patient The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter The Adventure of the Navel Treaty The Final Problem DOWNLOAD: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B092MPTKC7/
  5. CNN) -- Hurtling across the Milky Way like an eternal explorer -- the Voyager 1 spacecraft continues to nonchalantly reveal the mysteries of the solar system to a captivated Earthbound audience. Active volcanoes, methane rain, icy geysers and intricate details about Saturn's rings -- the list of revelations attributed to the mission reads like fantastical sci-fi novel but it has revolutionized planetary astronomy. Thirty-seven years after it launched, Voyager 1 is still out in the vast expanse of space, periodically relaying new data back home. But in 2013, NASA made the groundbreaking announcement that Voyager 1 had left the heliosphere -- a magnetic boundary "bubble," if you will, which scientists use to explain the separation of our solar system from the rest of the galaxy. "That means Voyager has traveled outside the bubble of our sun," explains Voyager project manager Suzy Dodd. "The data Voyager 1 sends us now is data from other stars and from super nova eruptions and the remnant of stars that have exploded over the course of history." It's an incredible achievement for a probe built for an initial five-year mission. But now, not for the first time since the extraordinary statement, doubts have been cast on whether the craft has actually made the historic crossing. While measurements allowed NASA to feel confident enough to confirm Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space, two University of Michigan scientists who have worked on the Voyager missions remain skeptical. Reliving the moon landing Solar flares caught on camera Zero gravity training with NASA Maneuvering NASA's Curiosity rover "This controversy will continue until it is resolved by measurements," said George Gloeckler, a University of Michigan professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, and lead author of a new study, in an American Geophysical Union press release. SEE: Moon maps through the ages To that end, Gloeckler and fellow University of Michigan professor and study co-author Len Fisk, predict that when Voyager does cross the threshold into interstellar space, the probe will identify a reversal in the magnetic field, which will be relayed back to scientists on Earth, conclusively determining the spacecraft's location. They expect this magnetic field shift to occur in the next two years, and if it doesn't, this would confirm that Voyager 1 has already left the heliosphere. But while we may not know the exact location of Voyager 1, we do know that it's one of the most successful spacecraft of all time. 'The little spacecraft that could' Launched individually in the summer of 1977, Voyager was a twin-spacecraft primary mission developed by NASA to explore Jupiter and Saturn and their larger moons. Following successful completion of the Voyager mission's primary objectives, a rare planetary alignment offered up remarkable opportunities for the two craft to continue space exploration. "Voyager took advantage of alignment of the outer planets, which are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, to be able to go by all four of those planets in a 12-year period. That alignment of planets only happens every 176 years," says Dodd -- who has described Voyager 1 as "the little spacecraft that could." "The data Voyager 1 sends us now is data from other stars ... that have exploded over the course of history. Voyager project manager Suzy Dodd So in 1980 the Voyager mission was officially extended and renamed the Interstellar mission. The probes were now participating in an exploratory odyssey to the farthest reaches of the heliosphere ... and beyond. Through remote-control reprogramming -- a technological advancement unavailable at launch -- using Saturn's gravitational field, the Voyager 1 probe was fired like a slingshot on a trajectory that would take it onwards into interstellar space. Meanwhile Voyager 2 was redirected onto a new flight path, taking in the sights of Neptune and Uranus, before it will eventually follow its counterpart out of the heliosphere. To this day, it remains the only man-made object to have visited Neptune and Uranus. Not bad for vintage technology that has just 70 kilobytes of memory on board; a 16 gigabyte iPhone 5 has more than 240,000 times that amount. Voyager 1 is now so far from Earth that commands take more than 17 hours to reach it. But it will be a little while before the spacecraft will encounter any more planets. "It is going to take us 40,000 years to come within three light years of the next nearest sun or the next nearest star," says Dodd. "And that is a long, long time." original article: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/01/tech/innovation/voyager-1-little-spacecraft-that-could/index.html
  6. NASA is working to make science fiction a reality as it chose 12 advanced technologies to study, including a deep space submarine and the tech to capture a passing asteroid. The proposals, selected as part of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program, will receive about $100,000 in funding under Phase 1 of the project for a 9-month study. If the studies go well, the scientists behind them can apply for Phase II awards, which could offer as much as $500,000 for another two years of research. The projects, submitted by scientists, engineers, and citizen inventors across the country, include concepts ranging from building a submarine to explore the methane lakes of Saturn's largest moon Titan, to a way to safely capture an asteroid or large space debris. The proposals also include advanced life support, space robotic systems and space-based observatory systems. Other proposals focus on space propulsion, human habitation and scientific instruments. "The latest ... selections include a number of exciting concepts for planetary exploration," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement. "We are working with innovators around the nation to transform the future of aerospace, while also focusing our investments on concepts to address challenges of current interests both in space and here on Earth." NASA has said that it's looking to expand exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, into deep space and to Mars. The Phase 1 winners were chosen based on their potential to enable either entirely new space missions or to drive breakthroughs in aerospace technology that could accelerate NASA's goals. NASA's proposed $17.5 billion proposed fiscal 2015 budget, released in March, sets aside money to send humans to Mars by the 2030s, to study near-Earth asteroids and to send astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA has been looking to launch a plan to capture a near-Earth asteroid and engineers expect it could happen as early as 2021. At this point, the mission would seek an asteroid that is 7-10 meters in diameter and weighs about 500 tons. The plan got extra attention last year because of an asteroid that entered Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 15, 2013, creating a fireball that streaked across the sky and showering an area around Chelyabinsk. Source
  7. Have you ever wondered what all those thoughts look like as they race around in your brain? Now you can find out using a new system that peers into the storm of activity in real-time. The technology, dubbed ‘Glass Brain’, was developed by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life. It combines virtual reality, brain scanning and brain recording allowing the user to journey through their mind. The technology was recently unveiled at Austin’s South by Southwest festival where the public were given the chance to look into the mind of Mr Rosedale’s wife Yvette. Mrs Rosedale was wearing a cap covered with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes that measure differences in electric potential to record brain activity. Prior to this, scientists had mapped Mrs Rosedale’s brain structure using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The Glass Brain can’t be used to show exactly what the user is thinking, but can paint a broad picture of brain activity. A video of the brain recording was captured by the Neuroscape Lab at the University of California in San Francisco. The different colours represent the different frequencies of electrical energy in the brain, as well as the paths by which that energy moves around. The white areas are anatomical fibres. The technology could be used to help people with brain injuries make a faster recovery. ‘We’ve never been able to step inside the structures [of the brain] and see it in this way,’ Dr Gazzaley told Live Science. ‘It’s biofeedback on the next level.’ Mr Philip Rosedale told LiveScience he foresees a day when two people could interact virtually in a way that reveals their inner state. Source
  8. A breakthrough in graphene imaging technology means you might soon have a smart contact lens, or other ultra-thin device, with a built-in camera that also gives you infrared “heat vision.” By sandwiching two layers of graphene together, engineers at the University of Michigan have created an ultra-broadband graphene imaging sensor that is ultra-broadband (it can capture everything from visible light all the way up to mid-infrared) — but more importantly, unlike other devices that can see far into the infrared spectrum, it operates well at room temperature. As you probably know by now, graphene has some rather miraculous properties — including, as luck would have it, a very strong effect when it’s struck by photons (light energy). Basically, when graphene is struck by a photon, an electron absorbs that energy and becomes a hot carrier – an effect that can be measured, processed, and turned into an image. The problem, however, is that graphene is incredibly thin (just one atom thick) and transparent — and so it only absorbs around 2.3% of the light that hits it. With so little light striking it, there just aren’t enough hot carrier electrons to be reliably detected. (Yes, this is one of those rare cases where being transparent and super-thin is actually a bad thing.) Zhaohui Zhong and friends at the University of Michigan, however, have devised a solution to this problem. They still use a single layer of graphene as the primary photodetector — but then they put an insulating dielectric beneath it, and then another layer of graphene beneath that. When light strikes the top layer, the hot carrier tunnels through the dielectric to the other side, creating a charge build-up and strong change in conductance. In effect, they have created a phototransistor that amplifies the small number of absorbed photons absorbed by the top layer (gate) into a large change in the bottom layer’s conductance (channel). In numerical terms, raw graphene generally produces a few milliamps of power per watt of light energy (mA/W) — the Michigan phototransistor, however, is around 1 A/W, or around 100 times more sensitive. This is around the same sensitivity as CMOS silicon imaging sensors in commercial digital cameras. The prototype device created by Zhong and co. is already “smaller than a pinky nail” and can be easily scaled down. By far the most exciting aspect here is the ultra-broadband sensitivity — while the silicon sensor in your smartphone can only register visible light, graphene is sensitive to a much wider range of wavelengths, from ultraviolet at the bottom, all the way to far-infrared at the top. In this case, the Michigan phototransistor is sensitive to visible light and up to mid-infrared — but it’s entirely possible that a future device would cover UV and far-IR as well. There are imaging technologies that can see in the UV and IR ranges, but they generally require bulky cryogenic cooling equipment; the graphene phototransistor, on the other hand, is so sensitive that it works at room temperature. [Research paper: doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.31 - "Graphene photodetectors with ultra-broadband and high responsivity at room temperature] Now, I think we can all agree that a smartphone that can capture UV and IR would be pretty damn awesome — but because this is ultra-thin-and-light-and-efficient graphene we’re talking about, the potential, futuristic applications are far more exciting. For me, the most exciting possibility is building graphene imaging technology into smart contact lenses. At first, you might just use this data to take awesome photos of the environment, or to give you you night/thermal vision through a display built into the contact lens. In the future, though, as bionic eyes and retinal implants improve, we might use this graphene imaging tech to wire UV and IR vision directly into our brains. Imagine if you could look up at the sky, and instead of seeing the normal handful of stars, you saw this: The Milky Way, as seen by NASA’s infrared Spitzer telescope That’d be pretty sweet. Source
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