Hack a virus, win a prize: Scientist recognized for ‘useful’ germ modding

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 4, 2013   View Article

The inventor of a viral technology behind tomorrow’s electric car batteries, flexible touchscreen computers, and non-invasive cancer screening was awarded a $500,000 prize Tuesday.

Angela Belcher, a materials chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, alters the genetic code of viruses to build things that are useful to humans. The technique is already being harnessed to produce touchscreen gadgets and convert methane gas to gasoline, jet fuel, and plastics.

She received the 2013 Lemelson-MIT Prize, which honors mid-career inventors who are dedicated to making the world a better place through technology.

Photosynthesis interrupted: Plant parts used to generate electricity

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 13, 2013   View Article

A decade from now, a recorder powered by plant parts and stashed in the woods may answer the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That’s one potential application for an energy conversion technology inspired by photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert sunlight into food.

Global greening, the other ‘greenhouse effect’, is underway

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 1, 2013   View Article

Large stretches of arid land have become greener since the 1980s due to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide, which fertilizes plant growth, a new study shows.

While this greening has long been noted in satellite imagery, its direct link to carbon dioxide (CO2) has been difficult to prove, explained study leader Randall Donohue, an environmental scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

“There are so many processes occurring simultaneously that affect plant behavior, it is very difficult to determine which process is responsible for any given change,” he told NBC News in an email. Teasing out a CO2 fertilization effect amongst the other processes “hasn’t been done before,” he added.

Bank of 1,440 lithium-ion batteries to make power grid smarter

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 31, 2013   View Article

A bank of lithium-ion batteries big enough to supply about 500 U.S. homes with electricity during a power outage went online today to demonstrate the future of smart grid technologies.

The 5-megawatt battery is a piece of a larger, government-backed $178 million research project in the Pacific Northwest to make the electric grid more efficient and friendly to additional loads of renewable energy such as wind and solar, which fluctuate depending on the weather and time of day.

60 years after first Everest ascent, anyone can climb (online)

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 29, 2013   View Article

Sixty years ago, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay struggled to make the first ascent of Mt. Everest — but today, anyone with an Internet connection can easily trek to basecamp, take a virtual flight over the region’s glaciers, and see how the mountain has changed over the years.

“What we’ve heard from the scientists that study these specific glaciers is that the melt rate is increasing dramatically,” David Breashears, a famed mountaineer and filmmaker, told NBC News.

“One then says, well if we continue to put more carbon into the air … what will the glaciers look like and what will the consequences be?”

‘Driven’ teen makes a working, one-person submarine

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 29, 2013   View Article

An 18-year-old high school student has built a submarine that he can dive in out of parts he found lying around his parents’ New Jersey summer home and ordered off the Internet.


“It is just generally what I do,” Justin Beckerman, who starts his senior year next fall at West Morris Mendham High School in New Jersey, told NBC News. His list of previous accomplishments is equally impressive, ranging from homemade remote-controlled vehicles to artsy mixed-media sculptures.

Satellite’s failure on eve of hurricane season ruffles meteorologist

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 23, 2013   View Article

For the second time in less than a year, the main satellite that keeps an eye on severe weather systems in the eastern half of the United States has malfunctioned, according to government officials. The failure is indicative of the overall aging of the nation’s weather satellite network that could lead to gaps in coverage as the fleet is replaced, an expert said.

Although a backup satellite began operating Thursday, the failure of GOES-East, also known as GOES-13, is “really bad timing because of the upcoming hurricane season, and also we are smack dab in the middle of severe weather season,” Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, told NBC News.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach