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Wed, 18 Oct 2017
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Science & Technology


New material developed that efficiently extracts hydrogen fuel from seawater

© Pixabay
Previously, it has been cost-intensive, inefficient, and harmful to the environment to create hydrogen fuel. But a new technique developed at the University of Central Florida efficiently creates hydrogen fuel from seawater.


There exists a wide range of renewable energy sources support our increasingly energy-intensive lives as fossil fuels are ultimately phased out. One of these new potential sources of energy is as promising as it is strange. University of Central Florida (UCF) researcher and assistant professor Yang Yang has developed a breakthrough hybrid nanomaterial that uses the power of an existing green energy source, solar energy, to turn seawater into hydrogen fuel.

A faculty member of both the NanoScience Technology Center and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UCF, Yang's breakthrough has been 10 years in the making. Current materials being used to create hydrogen fuel are fairly costly and not all that efficient - a sharp contrast to Yang's new method.

The success is exciting: solar hydrogen splitting is something that many researchers, including Yang, have been working tirelessly towards for years. "We've opened a new window to splitting real water, not just purified water in a lab," Yang said. "This really works well in seawater."

Wedding Rings

Genetics may explain intergenerational divorce rates

© Getty Images
Children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced when compared to those who grew up in two-parent families - and genetic factors are the primary explanation, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

"Genetics, the Rearing Environment, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce: A Swedish National Adoption Study," which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, analyzed Swedish population registries and found that people who were adopted resembled their biological - but not adoptive - parents and siblings in their histories of divorce.

"We were trying to answer the basic question: Why does divorce run in families?" said the study's first author, Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU. "Across a series of designs using Swedish national registry data, we found consistent evidence that genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce."

Comment: The four things that kill a relationship stone dead


Hidden 'megathrust' could cause massive earthquake in New Zealand

© David Hallett/Stuff
The 'megathrust' could have 2000 times more energy than the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
An 8.4 magnitude quake off the East Coast of New Zealand could release 2000 times more energy than the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, experts say.

It could cause a "megathrust" earthquake, and the dangers it poses are being discussed at a summit in Napier this week - with local councils, Kiwi and civil defence involved.

The potential risk comes from the Hikurangi subduction zone, a massive fault line running from Marlborough and right past the East Coast where the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates collide.

It is potentially the largest source of earthquake and tsunami hazard in New Zealand, but scientists say there is still much to learn about it.


Scientists find water on Mars where they thought none could exist

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

It's long been known that Mars had large bodies of water some millions of years ago. Traces of these ancient Martian lakes and oceans have been found in recent years, thanks to information provided by probes and landers, like NASA's Curiosity rover and the Odyssey spacecraft that currently orbits the red planet. Now, a team of astronomers from the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of Johns Hopkins University found large deposits of what could be permafrost ice in the most unlikeliest of places on the Martian surface.

The ice was discovered in an area on the Martian equator called the Medusae Fossae, which spans several hundred kilometers across. Scientists had assumed the equator would be too warm for ice to stay intact near the surface for so long.

Permafrost ice has been spotted on Mars using data provided by the Odyssey spacecraft's neutron spectrometer, particularly at the red planet's polar regions, which was confirmed in 2008 by NASA's Phoenix lander when it uncovered chunks of pure ice just a few centimeters below the surface. The specialized spectrometer picks up neutron radiation coming from the Martian surface when high-energy cosmic rays pour down from space.

"These interact with the top meter of the soil and kick out particles, neutrons included," Johns Hopkins' APL planetary astronomer Jack Wilson told Cosmos. Analyzing those particles can identify what substances the cosmic rays are interacting with. Recently, Wilson and his colleagues gave the Odyssey data a second look, because the earlier studies had a very low resolution at just around 520 kilometers. They managed to reconstruct the image to a resolution of 290 kilometers.


German officials detect spike in airborne radioactivity in Europe, calculations indicate source in Eastern Europe

German officials say that a spike in radioactivity has been detected in the air in Western and Central Europe but there's no threat to human health.

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection said Thursday that elevated levels of the isotope Ruthenium-106 have been reported in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France since Sept. 29.

Spokesman Jan Henrik Lauer told The Associated Press the source of the Ruthenium-106 isn't known but calculations indicate it may have been released in eastern Europe.

Ruthenium-106 is used for radiation therapy to treat eye tumors, and sometimes as a source of energy to power satellites.


Physicists send particles of light into the past, prove time travel is possible

© unknown
Scientists from the University of Queensland, Australia, have used single particles of light (photons) to simulate quantum particles travelling through time. They showed that one photon can pass through a wormhole and then interact with its older self. Their findings were published in Nature Communications.

The source of this time travel conundrum comes from what are called "closed time-like curves" (CTC). CTCs are used to simulate extremely powerful gravitational fields, like the ones produced by a spinning black hole, and could, theoretically (based on Einstein's theory of general relativity), warp the fabric of existence so that space-time bends back on itself - thus creating a CTC, almost like a path that could be used to travel back in time.

According to Scientific American, many physicists find CTCs "abhorrent, because any macroscopic object traveling through one would inevitably create paradoxes where cause and effect break down." Others disagree with this assessment, however; in 1991, physicist David Deutsch showed that these paradoxes (created by CTCs) could be avoided at the quantum scale because of the weird behavior of these fundamental particles that make up what we call matter.

Microscope 1

Scientists suggest a synthetic crystal can mimic learning and forgetting

© Dr Morley Read / Flickr
Plasmodium stage of a slime mold.
You don't need a brain to learn. Slime molds, for example, solve mazes and navigate obstacles-all without a single neuron. Information about their environment is somehow stored across their bodies. (Scientists are still a bit hazy on how this works.)

But what about something that isn't even alive? A new paper suggests that samarium nickelate oxide (SNO, for short), a synthetic crystal, can mimic learning.

SNO's ability comes from its environmental sensitivity. When it makes contact with hydrogen gas, it steals electrons from the hydrogen and its electric resistivity increases. "It basically changes the electrical resistance of the material by many orders of magnitude-and this happens even at room temperature," said Shriram Ramanathan, a professor of material science at Purdue University and co-author on the study. "It's a really remarkable effect."

Successive exposure, however, produces diminishing returns-SNO becomes "habituated" to the hydrogen and its resistivity increases more slowly. "You might take that behavior for granted," Ramanathan said. "[But] habituation is considered to be a very fundamental survival skill for organisms." For example, dogs can become habituated to loud car engines. At first, they might be threatening, so the dogs expend energy barking. But after long enough, they generally stop. (This way, the dogs conserve energy and attention for real threats, like mailmen.)

Bizarro Earth

Study reveals world's tropical forests are now carbon emission source

© AFP/Getty Images
The study measured the impact of disturbance and degradation – the thinning of tree density and the culling of biodiversity below an apparently protected canopy.
The world's tropical forests are so degraded they have become a source rather than a sink of carbon emissions, according to a new study that highlights the urgent need to protect and restore the Amazon and similar regions.

Researchers found that forest areas in South America, Africa and Asia - which have until recently played a key role in absorbing greenhouse gases - are now releasing 425 teragrams of carbon annually, which is more than all the traffic in the United States.

This is a far greater loss than previously thought and carries extra force because the data emerges from the most detailed examination of the topic ever undertaken. The authors say their findings - published in the journal Science on Thursday - should galvanise policymakers to take remedial action.

"This shows that we can't just sit back. The forest is not doing what we thought it was doing," said Alessandro Baccini, who is one of the leader authors of the research team from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University. "As always, trees are removing carbon from the atmosphere, but the volume of the forest is no longer enough to compensate for the losses. The region is not a sink any more."

Comment: Ocean cycles, not humans, are responsible for climate change

Gold Seal

Nobel prize in physics: Discovery of gravitational waves


£825,000 prize awarded to Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne for their work on Ligo experiment which was able to detect ripples in the fabric of spacetime

Three American physicists have won the Nobel prize in physics for the first observations of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago.

Rainer Weiss has been awarded one half of the 9m Swedish kronor (£825,000) prize, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Tuesday. Kip Thorne and Barry Barish will share the other half of the prize.

All three scientists have played leading roles in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or Ligo, experiment, which in 2015 made the first historic observation of gravitational waves triggered by the violent merger of two black holes a billion light years away. Prof Olga Botner, a member of the Nobel committee for physics, described this as "a discovery that shook the world".

The Ligo detections finally confirmed Einstein's century-old prediction that during cataclysmic events the fabric of spacetime itself can be stretched and squeezed, sending gravitational tremors out across the universe like ripples on a pond.

The direct detection of gravitational waves also opens a new vista on the "dark" side of the cosmos, to times and places from which no optical light escapes. This includes just fractions of a second after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, when scientists believe gravitational waves left a permanent imprint on the cosmos that may still be perceptible today.


When galaxies collide: Hard to spot supermassive black hole 'couples' found by NASA

Several pairs of supermassive black holes have been detected by NASA observatories in a rare find that scientists say could shed light on how the phenomena produce the strongest gravitational wave signals in the universe.

The 'couples' form when two galaxies collide and merge with each other, forcing their supermassive black holes close together.

Five black hole 'couples' were identified by astronomers using a combination of data from a number of telescopes, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Wide-Field Infrared Sky Explorer Survey (WISE) and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).