Archive for August, 2011

Hydrogen fuel gaining respect

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August 31, 2011   View Article

Hydrogen is once again starting to look like a promising green fuel of the future thanks to breakthroughs that permit the fuel to be stored and released from a chemical “tank” that is easily recharged.

The problem with hydrogen, which is easily converted to electricity in a fuel cell and is carbon free, is that it’s a gas that is typically stored in high pressure or cryogenic tanks.

Strong, light blades a boost for wind energy?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August, 30, 2011   View Article

Bigger is better … when it’s also lighter and stronger, goes the thinking of engineers and materials scientists designing the next generation of blades to wring energy from the wind.

Bigger blades can get more energy from the wind, but this advantage is lost if the blade is also heavier, since more wind is needed to turn the rotor. In addition, the more the blade flexes in the wind, the more potential energy is lost.

Software taps human brains

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August 29, 2011   View Article

Computers may eventually outsmart human intelligence, but for now they’re just finally getting smart enough to ask humans for help.

That’s the basic idea behind MobileWorks, a startup that is weaving crowdsourcing capability into computer software. Crowdsourcing is the concept of putting out a question to your social network to help solve a problem.

Bug turns newspaper into fuel

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August 25, 2011   View Article

The Internet is delivering a slow death to newspapers, but many of us still have piles of the stuff around the house that a microbe called TU-103 will convert to butanol, a biofuel that is nearly as energy dense as unleaded gasoline.

“This is a bacterium that we isolated straight out of nature,” David Mullin, a cell and molecular biologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, told me today.

In fact, it was isolated from a truckload of feces he and colleagues collected from grass-eating animals at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, figuring their intestinal tracts likely harbored a naturally occurring microbe that had the qualities they sought.

Dino-era Mammal the “Jurassic Mother” of Us All?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: August 24, 2011   View Article

A tiny, shrew-like creature of the dinosaur era might have been, in a sense, the mother of us all.

Named the “Jurassic mother from China” (Juramaia sinensis), the newfound fossil species is the earliest known ancestor of placental mammals—animals, such as humans, that give birth to relatively mature, live young—according to a new study.

The 160-million-year-old specimen pushes back fossil evidence for the evolutionary split between the placental and marsupial lineages by 35 million years. Although it’s unclear if the creature is a direct ancestor of modern placentals, it’s “either a great grand-aunt or a great grandmother,” the study authors say.

Shoes redefine ‘power walking’

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August 24, 2011   View Article

Going on a power walk could soon do more than blow off steam; it could recharge your cell phone and other portable electronics, according to engineers working on a new way to harvest the mechanical energy in the human gait.

The concept is called reverse electrowetting. It uses a micro-fluidic device consisting of thousands of micro-droplets that move past a novel nanotechnology-based thin film. This motion of the droplets is converted into an electrical current.

“The normal way of using the harvester would be couple it with a tiny, rechargeable battery not unlike the ones which we have in cell phones,” Tom Krupenkin, an engineering researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained to me on Tuesday.

Beer mystery solved! Yeast ID’d

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August 22, 2011   View Article

Ice cold beer: In these dog days of summer, few things are better. So, let’s raise a glass and toast Saccharomyces eubayanus, newly discovered yeast that helped make cold-fermented lager a runaway success.

The yeast, in the wild, thrives in ball-shaped lumps of sugar that form on beech trees in Patagonia of South America. Its discovery appears to solve the mystery of how lager yeast formed. Until now, scientists only knew about the origins of ale yeast, which makes up just half of the lager yeast genome.

Yeasts are microscopic fungi that feast on sugar, converting it to carbon dioxide and alcohol via the process of fermentation. Ale yeast, S. cerevisiae, has been doing this throughout the history of beer, which stretches back to at least 6,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization.

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