Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bright Idea

If you enjoyed reading the recent post on low-energy Futuristic Lightbulbs that can last up to 17 years, then this new idea should lighten your day. Given that almost 2 billion people live without electricity, entrepreneur Stephen Katsaros has invented a solar powered light bulb in hopes of bringing light to the developing world.

The 6-ounce Nokero bulb absorbs the sun's energy into a replaceable battery by way of four photovoltaic panels, which gives power to five white LEDs inside the weatherproof, plastic casing. The bulb will glow for four hours when fully charged, and a full day outside will provide enough energy for about two hours of light. Currently they are $15 each, but the price will drop for bulk orders.

Although the bulbs will likely appeal to the outdoorsy type or patio lovers, Katsaros' major focus is making them available to those in the developing world. "We are trying to reduce the cost so that the 2.8 billion people in the world who make less than two dollars a day can afford this." Nokero bulbs could provide a clean and safe alternative to the commonly used kerosene lanterns, which emit toxic fumes and start fires responsible for over 1 million deaths worldwide.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Young Zebrafish

French researcher Emmanuel Beaurepaire and colleagues have employed new microscope technology to capture the first 10 cell divisions of a zebrafish in early stages of development (Source). The technique relies on non-linear optical properties of a cell's membrane and microtubules to capture thousands of still images, which are then organized in sequence to resemble a movie.

The video above shows the process of zebrafish development from one cell to the 512-cell stage. The scale bar represents 100 micrometres. The embryo in the video is not labeled with any dyes, however soon enough fluorescent molecular markers will be combined with this approach and allow for more detailed visualization of early development.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lonesome George

Meet Lonesome George, the world's last remaining Pinta Island Tortoise, a species now listed as being 'Extinct in the Wild' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species was driven to extinction because whalers and other Galapagos settlers collected them for consumption. On top of that, feral goats were introduced and destroyed the island's vegetation. Lonesome George was found in 1971 and moved to the Charles Darwin Research Station in hopes of finding a female that could be introduced for a captive breeding program. On two occasions George successfully mated with two females of different subspecies, but none of the eggs were viable.

Recent research analyzing DNA sequences revealed that other Pinta Island Tortoises might exist on the neighboring Galapagos island of Isabela (PubMed). One male tortoise that was screened had half of its genes in common with George's subspecies, suggesting that it is likely a first generation intergrade between the subspecies. This means that a pure Pinta Island Tortoise might be living among the 2000 tortoises on Isabela. The Darwin Research Station is offering $10,000 to anyone who discovers a Pinta female.

Vertical Farming

Current demographic trends reveal that our population will jump another 3 billion people by 2050, at which point almost 80% of us will be living in urban areas. Assuming that we continue our traditional farming techniques, an area of land larger than the size of Brazil will be required to grow enough food to feed us all. The problem is that currently over 80% of the world's land suitable for growing crops is being used (Sources: NASA & FAO).

Columbia University microbiologist, Dickson Despommier believes that the solution to humanities newest predicament is the large scale introduction of vertical farming. Since mastering the art of growing food horizontally, we have sacrificed countless thriving ecosystems and replaced them with fields of crops. We protect ourselves from the elements by moving into cities and living in tall buildings, yet let our growing food fend for itself against flooding, droughts, and hurricanes. With our booming population it's high time to learn how to grow our food locally, in buildings within urban centers. Vertical farms offer the possibility of year-round crop production and the simultaneous repair of ecosystems as we gradually lose our reliance on horizontal farming. Also, let's not forget how this could decrease fossil fuel burning, which is needed to power tractors, plows, and various shipping methods.

Along with the benefit of no weather or insect related crop failures, vertical farms would eliminate agricultural runoff by recycling black water. They would also add energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals. Depending on the crop, 1 indoor acre is the equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more. Just consider that one 30 story building taking up an entire NYC block would feed 50,000 people per year. This means that 165 sky farms spread across the 5 boroughs would be enough to continuously feed all of New York. For more information visit The Vertical Farm Project.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Known Universe

At the end of 2009 The American Museum of Natural History released this video entitled 'The Known Universe' as part of their Visions of the Cosmos exhibition. There are many similar "zoom out from the earth" videos, including the Morgan Freeman narrated IMAX film 'Cosmic Voyage', but this is by far the most impressive and accurate. It starts with the Himalayas and zooms out through our atmosphere and into the depths of the dark space beyond. Every star, planet, and quasar seen is carefully plotted based on the 4D Digital Universe Atlas maintained by astrophysicists at the AMNH. To enjoy the full experience, watch it in full screen HD quality.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thailand's Artificial Reefs

Fishermen in Thailand have recently encountered the problem of diminishing local fish populations due to overfishing. Hoping to remedy the situation, they petitioned to their Thai Queen for support. She responded by authorizing the dumping of 25 decommissioned army tanks, 273 old train cars, and 198 garbage trucks in the ocean to create artificial reefs.

A test was initially done and it was observed that fish began forming communities within the old scrap metal containers within one year. It has been projected that the abandoned vehicles will create a total of 72 artificial reefs, which should increase local fish stocks. In this Al Jazeera video, reporters interview local fishermen and scientists about the idea:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mine Therapy

Historical records indicate an improvement in breathing of miners from Roman and medieval times. In 1843, Dr. Feliks Boczkowski, a Polish physician stationed at a salt mine, noticed that miners there did not suffer from lung diseases. During WWII, Dr. Karl Hermann Spannagel noticed an improvement in his patients after they hid in salt caves to escape heavy bombing. Most recently, in the 1950s it was documented that Polish mine workers rarely suffered from tuberculosis.

Research suggests that salt-permeated air helps dissolve phlegm in the bronchial tubes and kills micro-organisms that cause infections. This greatly helps patients undertaking asthma treatment and so mine therapy is currently being practiced in Slovakia, Poland, and Ukraine.

The photos above (Credit:Kirill Kuletski) shows tunnels, which are 300 meters underground, in the clinic at the Ukranian Solotvyno salt mine. Between three and five thousand people are treated here yearly, and many more have been wait-listed. On average patients spend 24 days at the facility and use a lift to travel down for afternoon or overnight sessions. But salt isn't the only option...

Here we can see four adults enjoying some radon therapy at a mine in Boulder, Montana. The use of radon is also quite an old therapeutic process. In Europe, bathing in hot springs with high radon content goes back over 6000 years. The Japanese have been benefiting from radioactive hot springs for over 800 years in Misasa and Tamagawa. In today's society, more than 75,000 patients looking for a natural arthritis cure pay a visit to radon therapy clinics and underground caverns for radon inhalation and/or bathing. The Free Enterprise Radon Health Mine in Montana offers full therapy for $225, including a 10-day stay at Mine Motel, or just a 60 minute session for $7. They don't discriminate against other species either, according to a testimonial from Irving the Cat, who overcame his thyroid problem after a visit in 2000.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How Do Ya Like Them Apples?

It might look like an ordinary apple from the outside, but it's far from it if you ask Swiss fruit grower Markus Kobert. The Redlove Apple is the product of 20 long years of cross-pollinating different apple varieties, including one that was pink fleshed and tasteless. The trees were grown in tunnels to avoid unwanted bee pollination. This natural breeding process involved no genetic modifications.

Needless to say, the cross-breeding experiment has already become quite a lucrative venture. Seed and sapling company Suttons purchased exclusive rights to sell the fruit trees in Britain, and saplings are being scattered all over European orchards to start mass production.

Tom Sharples, spokesman for Suttons, said 'This is the very first red-fleshed, fine-tasting apple in the world. It has a delicious sweet and tangy taste with a hint of berries to it if eaten raw and is also ideal for cooking.'

The apple of your eye doesn't just look pretty either; its antioxidant-rich flesh make it healthier to eat than the average apple. The trees, which let out a mesmerizing deep pink blossom in the spring, can be yours for £24.95 per sapling from Suttons.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

SlingShot Water Purifier

Today more than 1 billion people face the daily crisis trying of trying to find clean drinking water. Environmentalists predict that water as a commodity will become very valuable and increasingly expensive in years to come. In fact, some believe that in 30 years a gallon of clean water will cost more than a gallon of oil. Considering that only 3% of the world's water is fresh water, this idea might not be so far fetched.

Shown above, famous inventor Dean Kaman's goal was to create a small portable machine that could be placed anywhere and at point-of-use create clean, reliable drinking water from any source. His device, named SlingShot, can make distilled drinking water from anything wet, whether it be ocean water, sludge, or sewage. Liquid goes into the SlingShot where it is boiled until it becomes steam. Once the steam is re-condensed the result is pure distilled water. If the liquid coming in contains metals or other inorganic toxins, they will not vaporize.

Until now nobody has been able to create this effect in a portable machine, because of the energy intensive distillation process. The secret of the SlingShot is that it uses a closed loop of energy. Once the first batch of water is vaporized and re-condensed, all the energy is preserved in a sealed heat exchange system. In other words, the SlingShot runs on less energy than a toaster oven and has been designed to make 1000L of water per day, which is enough for a village of 100 people.

During the summer of 2006, a pair of SlingShot devices worked successfully in a village in Honduras. Although initial devices cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Kamen hopes that increased economies of scale will allow production machines to be made available for $2000 each.

Power Walking

With skyrocketing urban populations, inventors of PowerLeap see it as an opportunity to harness human kinetic energy to generate electricity. PowerLeap is a flooring system designed to generate electricity from human foot traffic. They envision future city sidewalks covered with smart panels that capture piezoelectricity (power generated from applied mechanical pressure). By stepping on the panel, energy is channeled into a battery where it can be stored and later used to power nearby electrical gadgets.

By placing these panels in high-traffic areas, energy can be generated and used locally to power things nearby. Imagine a busy intersection where panels on the corners of the street could power the traffic lights above. It could be especially useful and efficient if placed at transportation centers like airports, railways stations, or bus terminals. According to their website, PowerLeap is not yet available to be purchased. They are in the process of finalizing the product and are currently raising capital to fund their growth initiative.

Ice Island Breaks

According to researchers from the University of Delaware, a 260 square kilometer ice island has broken away from an ice shelf in Greenland. As a frame of reference, this is roughly 4 times the size of Manhattan island. It's the most massive piece of ice to break off the Arctic icecap since 1962. This satellite image from August 5, 2010 shows the large ice island calved from Greenland's Petermann Glacier.

"The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years. It could also keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days," lead researcher Andreas Muenchow estimates.

"The newly born ice island may become land-fast, block the channel, or it may break into smaller pieces as it is propelled south by the prevailing ocean currents. From there, it will likely follow along the coasts of Baffin Island and Labrador, to reach the Atlantic within the next two years."

According to environmentalists this rapid ice melting is being caused by global warming, as Arctic temperatures in the 1990s reached their warmest level of any decade in the last 2000 years. Some predict that within decades the Arctic Ocean will become ice free in summer months. (Image: Andreas Muenchow)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Russian Wildfires

Just yesterday Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev officially declared a state of emergency for seven regions in the middle of raging wildfires. The emergency zones are in the republics of Mariy El, Mordovia, Vladimir,Voronzeh, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Ryazan. There will be a full scale involvement of Army and Interior Ministry troops to battle the fires. So far the death toll in the wildfires has risen to 40, the Interfax reported.

The incredible footage above was shot by a group of volunteers trying to evacuate the Tamboles village. For a moment they appear trapped in the midst of hell on earth. Warning: for those who understand Russian there is explicit language that might not be suitable for some readers.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Healthy Cars

With growing global awareness of the negative effects from our reliance on automobiles, Nissan has decided to focus on the health of its drivers. New models of certain vehicles will feature air conditioners that pump breathable vitamin C. The air conditioners in the cars will moisturize the skin as well as come equipped with air purifiers developed by Sharp. They also plan on installing "easy chairs" that use Nasa technology to enable better blood circulation and reduce the chances of back pain during lengthy drives. "We want drivers to feel that they are healthier staying in the car instead of on the outside," a Nissan engineer said at a test drive event outside Tokyo.

Just because they're concerned with the well being of their drivers on the car's interior, doesn't mean they've forgotten about the importance of the safety from the outside. New anti-collision technology, similar to radar systems used by ships and planes, will monitor the distance between itself and the vehicle in front. The system will warn the driver to decelerate with a beeping sound, and will actually slow the vehicle down by automatically raising the accelerator pedal and softly braking. In test scenarios they could prevent collisions at forward speeds of up to 60km/h.