Tag Archives: electricity

electricity bill

UK funds new cutting-edge science facilities, but forgets it needs to pay the electricity bill

electricity bill

(c) The Guardian

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee  has recently issued a report that laments the embarrassing lack of efficient planning and strategy of science funding in the UK. Namely, the report speaks primarily of the seemingly lack of communication between the people who write the funding projects for infrastructure and those who write the funding for operation costs.

For instance, the report cites the ISIS site in Oxfordshire – a cutting edge scientific facility where beams of neutrons and muons are used to probe material properties. It’s rather clear that ISIS is an extremely important facility, but nevertheless it has recently been operational only 120 days a year, down from the typical 180 days a year. We’re in a tough economy, sure, but when you look at the the savings from truncating the hours one realizes that these are only marginal.

Another hilarious example is the case of the  high performance computers at the Hartree Centre near Manchester, for which some  £37.5 million of government funding were allocated in 2012 to upgrade systems. That’s a nifty sum of money, but apparently the government didn’t accurately take into account the potential electricity bill a supercomputing facility gobbles up each year. In consequence, a part of the facility is shut down because they can’t afford to supply electricity.

Obviously, one would think that operational costs would be taken into account with the initial, new infrastructure plans, however it seems UK politicians like to go ahead of themselves. When inquired about these infrastructure vs operational costs discrepancies  and mismanagement,  John Womersley, chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council which oversees much of the UK’s government-owned science infrastructure, said:

“It has been difficult to invest in the routine maintenance and upkeep of existing facilities, because [government] ministers very naturally are interested in new initiatives and transformative change in entirely new projects.”

via Nature Blog

(c) Sgt. Mike MacLeod/U.S. Army

Stunning light circles over military helicopters in Afghanistan [PICS]

Your first impression after seeing one or more of the photos featured in this piece might be that these are ‘shopped, painted or feature an astronomical event of some kind. Your assumptions couldn’t be farther from the truth, and believe it or not these beautiful dancing lights over the helicopters’ rotor blades were captured in real time by photographers.

This strange effect, dubbed by pilots the Kopp-Etchells effect in honor of two American and British, respectively, service men who passed away in the line of duty, has been experienced ever since military operations in Afghanistan first touched sand. As helicopters prep their assent, once they touch the sand, dust is lifted by the rotation of the blades and these beautiful arcs of light are formed in the process. What’s peculiar, though, is that this doesn’t always happen – quite seldom actually.

“The halos usually disappear as the rotors change pitch,” wrote war photographer Michael Yon. “On some nights, on this very same landing zone, no halos form.” How come?

Now there’s no military secret to what causes these flickering light circles. The rotor blades of the choppers are covered by a titanium-nickle alloy, which when rotating at high speeds through the air-dust medium causes static electricity. This can be seen on the ground side as well, and it actually causes a lot of headaches. When fueling tanks, be them from helicopters or other vehicles,  technicians have to ground these in order to prevent static electricity caused by the pumping to discharge and cause explosions.

This is a theory popular with pilots, which hasn’t actually been proved since no one actually bothered researching this in depth. Kyle Hill wrote a blog post on Nautilus where he proposes a more plausible explanation. Static discharge shouldn’t cause this shower of sparks we’re so fascinated by. Instead, it’s more likely that these actually caused by the millions of tiny metal particles sandblasted by the blades that come into contact with dust particles at high velocity. Earlier I mentioned about how helicopter rotors are covered in a titanium-nickle abrasion strip  that prevents the leading edge of the blade from being worn down too quickly by the various particulate hazards of the atmosphere. Sand is harder than the strip, however, so when these two meet, metal particles are sent flying through the air and sometimes these ignite.

Think of a car whose tire explodes and is still moving. The rim that used to be covered by the flat tire is now in contact with abrasive road causing millions of tiny metal particles being dispersed into the air which spontaneously ignite in the air. Also, think of starting a fire by hitting two flits together or better yet a classic cigarette lighter.

Whatever the case may be, we’re glad to see and hear that amid all this misery, pain and suffering caused by war, sometimes “magic” can still sparkle.


How cells and cell fragments move in opposite directions in response to electric field

Researchers at  University of California, Davis have shown for the first time how whole cells and fragments orient and move in response to electrical stimuli like an electric field. Surprisingly enough, their results show that whole and fragments move in opposite directions, despite being governed by the same electric field. The findings help better our understanding of how the human body heals wounds and allow for more effective stem cell therapies.

cell-electric-fieldEver wondered how your tissue recovers so wonderfully after a wound, like a cut for instance? Tissue regenerates work by cell regrowth and transfer, in a process so fine and precise that it resembles an army of super-engineers hard at work mending a damaged skyscraper. How does the body know it’s wounded, though? Well, all the cells in our body follow an electric field and as such a flux of charged particles travel between layers of cells. When a wound occurs, this flux is disrupted just like a short-circuit. As the flux’s direction is changed, a new electric field is created which naturally leads cells into the wounded tissue. Why and how precisely this happens isn’t quite clear to researchers at the moment.

“We know that cells can respond to a weak electrical field, but we don’t know how they sense it,” said Min Zhao, professor of dermatology and ophthalmology and a researcher at UC Davis’ stem cell center, the Institute for Regenerative Cures. “If we can understand the process better, we can make wound healing and tissue regeneration more effective.”

For their research, the UC Davis scientists chose to work with cells that join together to form a fish scales structure, known as  keratocytes. These cells are common lab pets and are favored by scientists because they shed cell fragments, wrapped in a cell membrane but lacking a nucleus, major organelles, DNA or much else in the way of other structures. Both whole cells and fragments were exposed to an electric field.

To better understand how a cell acts when its stimulated by electricity, it’s better if you imagine it as  a blob of fluid and protein gel wrapped in a membrane. Cells move about by sliding and ratcheting protein fibers inside the cell past each other, advancing the leading edge of the cell while withdrawing the trailing edge. When the lab cells were exposed to the electric field, actin protein fibers collected and grew on the side of the cell facing the negative electrode (cathode), while a mix of contracting actin and myosin fibers formed toward the positive electrode (anode).

Basically, a tug of war is ensued between the two mechanisms, each striding to pull the cell towards a direction. In whole cells, it was observed that the actin mechanism won and propelled the cells towards the cathode. However, for cell fragments the myosin fibers mix won and pushed fragments towards the anode – opposite to the whole cells. It’s the first time that such basic cell fragments have been shown to orient and move in an electric field, according to Alex Mogilner, professor of mathematics and of neurobiology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis and co-senior author of the paper.

Their findings show that there are at least two mechanisms through which cells respond to electric fields, and one of these distinct pathways can work without a cell nucleus or any of the other organelles found in cells, beyond the cell membrane and proteins that make up the cytoskeleton. The most likely explanation, the researchers note, is that the electric field causes certain electrically charged proteins in the cell membrane to concentrate at the membrane edge, triggering a response.

The findings were reported in a paper published in the journal Current Biology.

Flowers use electrical signals to summon bees

Pollination is the game, “summon bees” is the spell, and electricity is the mana – that’s how I’d try to explain it to a gamer. A little more on the serious side, flowers advertise presence of nectar to bees using electrical signals, basically indicating if they’ve been visited by another bee or not.

bee flower

Usually, plants are negatively charged and emit weak electrical signals; on the other hand, bees zip and zap through the air, picking up a positive charge. When a bee goes close to a plant, it doesn’t exactly create sparks, but it does create a small electric field which can convey information. The flowers’ use of electric signals to communicate with potential pollinators adds another weapon to their already impressive arsenal of visual, ultraviolet, and fragrant advertising methods.

“This novel communication channel reveals how flowers can potentially inform their pollinators about the honest status of their precious nectar and pollen reserves,” says Dr Heather Whitney, a co-author of the study.

Researchers placed electrodes in the stems of petunias, showing that when a bee lands on the plant, the flower’s electrical potential changes and remains changed for several minutes. They also showed that bees can distinguish between different floral electric fields that have or haven’t previously changed, thus knowing if another bee has visited the flower recently or not.

This idea was further explored with a learning test the bees took The test showed that when electric signals were present in conjunction with colors, the bees were much faster at ‘learning’ to distinguish between the colors. However, as clear as it is that bees distinguish between different electrical fields, researchers are quite puzzled on how the insects do it.

“The discovery of such electric detection has opened up a whole new understanding of insect perception and flower communication.”, they explained.

Om nom nom.

Om nom nom.

As it turns out, there’s a lesson in good advertising to be learned here. Since bees are quick learners, they’ll also learn if a plant “tricked” them – if she advertised having nectar, but doesn’t really have it . Professor Daniel Robert said:

“The last thing a flower wants is to attract a bee and then fail to provide nectar: a lesson in honest advertising since bees are good learners and would soon lose interest in such an unrewarding flower. The co-evolution between flowers and bees has a long and beneficial history, so perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that we are still discovering today how remarkably sophisticated their communication is.”

The research was published in Science Express

FIPEL plastic light bulb technology

Plastic light bulbs might replace CFLs and LEDs, causing a new lighting revolution

Lighting has gone a long way since Thomas Edison ushered in the first mass-produced light bulbs, causing not only a lighting revolution but also sparking an electricity infrastructure boom. Still, lighting isn’t as efficient as one might expect in the 21st century, currently amounting in the US alone to 30% of the energy consumption.

FIPEL plastic light bulb technologyThe product of novel research –  led by Professor David Carroll, the director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC, USA) – the field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) technology promises to plunge society into a new age of lighting. One that’s more efficient and healthy.

Plastic light bulbs: efficient and clean

Compact fluorescent bulbs, which have gained popularity in recent years, emit a  bluish, harsh tint that doesn’t match the spectral resolution of the light emitted by the sun. As such, many people report headaches and eye irritation. The new FIPEL plastic light-bulbs emit light that matches the solar spectrum perfectly.

In the past few decades, the lighting industry has concentrated on converting as much heat as possible into light. To this end, LEDs have served well, however, their extremely limited when high power and intensity is required in an application. Put too much electrical strain on a LED and it will fry.

FIPEL isn’t subjected to LEDs limitations, yet its efficiency is on par with the latter and at least twice as efficient as compact fluorescent (CFL). Also because they’re made of plastic, the new technology offers greater flexibility since it doesn’t employ glass.

The FIPEL is basically made out of three layers of polymer, each attached with a minute amount of multi-walled carbon nanotubes that glow when a charge passes through them, emitting white light similar to sunlight. Each layer is a nano-engineered polymer matrix. The new plastic bulbs can be manufactured into any shape and color from huge office or storage lighting to your regular Edison socket light bulb to power a household lamp or ceiling fixture.

A new lighting revolution

Professor David Carroll of the WFU team explained that their innovation is a way of creating light instead of just heat. “Our devices contain no mercury, they contain no caustic chemicals, and they don’t break as they are not made of glass,” he added.

Graduate student Greg Smith, who assisted Dr. Carroll on the project, said the team is currently working with a number of local companies to produce a plan to have the light to market in 2013.

“There is something very rewarding about building a device and seeing it light up for the first time using a system you helped develop,” he said. “I really enjoy working on such a revolutionary project. Professor Carroll has an uncanny ability to pursue new technologies and engage students in these projects. The ultimate reward for me would be to walk into a building and seeing a lighting panel using technology that I helped develop.”

In the video below, Dr. Carol describes the new technology and its potential for revolutionizing electrical lighting in the future.

FIPEL and its research have been described in a recent edition of the journal Organic Electronics.

The solar steam device developed at Rice University has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, far surpassing that of photovoltaic solar panels. It may first be used in sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world. (c) Jeff Fitlow

Nanoparticle-tech converts solar energy into steam with extreme efficiency

The solar steam device developed at Rice University has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, far surpassing that of photovoltaic solar panels. It may first be used in sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world. (c) Jeff Fitlow

The solar steam device developed at Rice University has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, far surpassing that of photovoltaic solar panels. It may first be used in sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world. (c) Jeff Fitlow

While current solar energy conversion technology is preoccupied with generating electricity with as much efficiency as possible, researchers at Rice University have invented a new technological set-up consisting of nanoparticles smaller than the the wavelength of light that can transform solar energy into steam almost instantly. Their findings show a registered efficiency of 24%, while current solar panel standards range at only 15%.

Since the heydays of the industrial revolution steam has been at the center of energy generation. Even today, 90% of the world’s electricity relies on steam power. Most of this steam is either generated by nuclear power plants or humongous industrial boilers, the Rice invention however is a lot more delicate in nature and has been developed for low-cost sanitation, water purification and human waste treatment for the developing world.

“This is about a lot more than electricity,” said LANP Director Naomi Halas, the lead scientist on the project. “With this technology, we are beginning to think about solar thermal power in a completely different way.”

The technology works by employing light absorbing nanoparticles submerged into water that convert solar energy into heat. Moreover  even when submerged into water stacked with ice, Neumann showed she could create steam from nearly frozen water, albeit a lens to concentrate sunlight was used. You can watch the experiment and more details about the project in the video below.

“We’re going from heating water on the macro scale to heating it at the nanoscale,” Halas said. “Our particles are very small — even smaller than a wavelength of light — which means they have an extremely small surface area to dissipate heat. This intense heating allows us to generate steam locally, right at the surface of the particle, and the idea of generating steam locally is really counterintuitive.”

Generating steam directly from solar energy

This is made possible since the nanoparticles after absorbing light instantly reach temperatures well above the boiling point of water, generating steam in the process at temperatures of 150°C (300°F) on the their surface. This is were the catch lies, as well, since the steam can only be generated over a very small surface, locally.

The technology converts about 80 percent of the energy coming from the sun into steam, which means it could generate electricity with an overall efficiency of 24 percent. The Rice researchers believe people in the developing world would be the first to benefit from this kind of technology, as there countless communities around the globe where access to grid electricity is non-existant. The scientists have already demonstrated that their technology can be used for sterilizing medical and dental instruments at clinics that lack electricity.

“Solar steam is remarkable because of its efficiency,” said Neumann, the lead co-author on the paper. “It does not require acres of mirrors or solar panels. In fact, the footprint can be very small. For example, the light window in our demonstration autoclave was just a few square centimeters.”

The findings were detailed in the journal ACS Nano.

source: Rice University

Bacteria Schematic

Newly discovered microbial lifeforms form ‘electrical cables’ on deep-sea floor

In an extremely exciting find, scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark found a  type of bacteria that creates electrical currents on the sea floor. Despite the lack of air or sun light, these tiny bacteria flourish and form vast swaths of electrically pulsating multi-cellular organisms. The researchers found that the bacteria breaks down substances in deeper sediments and releases life important compounds in the process, suggesting that it might play a crucial role in the deep sea ecosystem.

sediment bacteria electrical current

The bacteria, was first discovered in 2010 by Danish scientists in the aftermath of an investigation looking into chemical fluctuations in sediments from the bottom of Aarhus Bay. These fluctuations were too anomalous to be chemical in nature, so the oxygen levels change was attributed to an electrical signal. What could have possible cause an electrical signal spread across tens of miles on the sea floor?

Their answer came in the form of the Desulfobulbus bacterial cells, which are only a few thousandths of a millimeter long each or 100 times thinner than a human hair – so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye. These bacteria  form a multicellular filament that can transmit electrons across a distance as large as 1 centimeter as part of the filament’s respiration and ingestion processes. In just one teaspoon of mud, the researchers found a full half-mile of Desulfobulbaceae cable, while in an undisturbed area, says the team, there are tens of thousands of kilometers of cable bacteria living under a single square meter of seabed. And it’s not just a Danish phenomenon.

Lars Peter Nielsen, along with microbiologists Christian Pfeffer, Nils Risgaard-Petersen, have received numerous other samples from sea floors around the world where they found the same bacterial cells. This lead the scientists to suggest that quite possibly the sea and ocean floors of the world are buzzing with electrical current.

“Until we found the cables, we imagined something cooperative where electrons were transported through external networks between different bacteria,” said Lars Peter Nielsen of the Aarhus Department of Bioscience and a corresponding author of the paper. “It was indeed a surprise to realize that it was all going on inside a single organism.”

Bacteria SchematicThe bacteria lives in marine sediments and feeds by oxidizing hydrogen sulfide. Cells at the bottom live in a zone that is poor in oxygen but rich in hydrogen sulfide, and those at the top live in an area rich in oxygen but poor in hydrogen sulfide. To connect the two area, the bacteria developed long chains that transport individual electrons from the bottom to the top, completing the chemical reaction and generating life-sustaining energy. Water is released as a byproduct.

“I’m a physicist, so when I look at remarkable phenomena like this, I like to put it into a quantifiable process,” said El-Naggar, who was recently chosen as one of the Popular Science Brilliant 10 young scientists for his work in biological physics.

“This world is so fertile right now,” he said. “It’s just exploding.”

The findings were detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature.


A novel way to generate electricity

In the evergrowing search for new energy sources, scientists have started searching for more simple solutions, and what they found was that heat can be an incredible ally.

“In the search for new sources of energy, thermopower – the ability to convert temperature differences directly into electricity without wasteful intervening steps – is tremendously promising,” says Junqiao Wu of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division (MSD), who led the research team. Wu is also a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. “But the new effect we’ve discovered has been overlooked by the thermopower community, and can greatly affect the efficiency of thermopower and other devices.”

What they found was that temperature gradients (differences in temperature) in semiconductors, when one end is hotter than the other end, can produce whirlpools of electric currents, and also, at the same time, they can create magnetic fields at right angles to both the plane of the swirling electric currents and the direction of the heat gradient.

Wu says, “There are four well-known effects that relate thermal, electric, and magnetic fields” – for example, the familiar Hall effect, which describes the voltage difference across an electric conductor in a perpendicular magnetic field – “but in all these effects the magnetic field is an input, not an outcome. We asked, ‘Why not use the electric field and the heat gradient as inputs and try to generate a magnetic field?'”

These remarkable results, Wu explains, can also be duplicated by other kinds of inhomogeneous excitation – for example, by the way light falls on a solar cell.

“Different intensities or different wavelengths falling in different areas of a photovoltaic device will produce the same kinds of electronic vortices and could affect solar cell efficiency. Understanding this effect may be a good path to better efficiency in electronics, thermal power, and solar energy as well.”

Here is the published study.

Dolphin’s sixth sense helps them detect electric fields

Dolphins are absolutely amazing creatures, smarter beyond whatever you might think, and with a heart of gold. But now, researchers have shown that aside from these qualities, the common Guiana dolphins have yet another remarkable ability: the power to sense electric fields.

The dolphin carries its baby just as any other placental mammal does, and this unusual sense probably comes in handy when preying in the murky coastal water where it lives.

“Most of the animals which do this do this to find prey,” said study researcher Wolf Hanke, of Rostock University in Rostock, Germany. “All of the dolphins’ prey items, like crayfish, all of them generate electric fields to some degree.”

Researchers analyzed a Guiana dolphin that had died of natural causes at the Dolphinariumin Münster, Germany. They focused on specialized pores called vibrissal crypts, which are basically the house of the whiskers. But since the dolphins evolved out of their whiskers, now they only have the remaining pores. They found that the 2-10 pores are surrounded by numerous nerve endings, and they are also filled with a special matrix of proteins and cells.

In order to see if an electrical current could be detected in any way by the dolphins, scientists tested these pores, and the results were successful, concluding that even 5 microvolts per centimeter could be detected; basically, they are sensitive enough to detect the electrical signature of a fish.

No other mammal has developed this truly extraordinary ability aside for an order that lays eggs, named monotremes, that include the platypus. It is possible however that there are other animals out there with this skill.

“I think it’s possible, it’s likely, because there are some dolphins, like the bottlenose, that have little pits on its snout, too. They are smaller, but it’s not unlikely that this one or other ones would develop it too,” Hanke said.

However, unlike most mammals, dolphins had a very good reason to evolve this way; in the murky waters where they live, visibility is often drastically reduced, so being able to electrically sense other animals could make all the difference.

Geophysics shows plume of Yellowstone volcano is much larger than previously believed

Yellowstone is without a doubt one of the most fascinating places on the face of the planet. But it doesn’t only attract families or people who want to relax, but it attracts scientists as well, and among them, geologists and geophysicists hold a top spot. University of Utah researchers made the first large-scale picture of the electrical conductivity of the enormous underground plume of hot and partially molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone volcano. The image suggests that it is much bigger than previously thought before, when it was also investigated with geophysical methods, but in the form of seismic waves.

“It’s like comparing ultrasound and MRI in the human body; they are different imaging technologies,” says geophysics Professor Michael Zhdanov, principal author of the new study and an expert on measuring electric and magnetic fields, with the purpose of investigating underground objectives.

In a previous 2009 study, researchers (Smith) used seismic waves from earthquakes to make an accurate image of the plume that feeds the volcano. In addition to other factors, seismic waves travel faster in cold rocks and slower in hotter rocks, so seismic velocity information can be used to make a pretty accurate 3D picture, much like X-rays are combined to make a medical CT scan.

But in this type of cases, electric measurements can be much more direct and offer much more answers, but they measure slightly different things. Seismic analysis shows which rocks are hotter and slow down waves, while electric measurements show the conductivity of the rocks, and is especially sensible to briny fluids that conduct electricity.

“It [the plume] is very conductive compared with the rock around it,” Zhdanov says. “It’s close to seawater in conductivity.”

The new study doesn’t say anything about the chances of a catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone, but it does seem to suggest than when it is going to come, it will be bigger than previously expected.

South Africa electric plan for 2020: nuclear, wind and solar for 70% total power

South Africa's only nuclear power station in Koeberg, close to the Atlantic Ocean. (c) Bjorn Rudner

You might think that this isn’t quite the best time in the world to announce a nation wide nuclear plan, with the Japan double tsunami/earthquake incident which lead to the consequent Fukushima nuclear crisis and all, but South African officials don’t seem to let nature intimate them. As such, South Africa’s cabinet ratified a controversial 20-year Integrated Resource Plan that calls for nuclear power to fuel nearly a quarter of the country’s new electricity production in the future.

“We were quite bold to do that,” Dr. Rob Adam, chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, said of the government’s decision to proceed. “The European countries panicked. I don’t think public opinion has changed.”

Besides, this bold act, what’s maybe even most remarkable in South Africa’s energy plan, dubbed IRP-2, is their intention to raise renewable energy sources like the sun and the wind output to account for 42 percent of new electricity generation. This attempt would practically turn South Africa almost 180 degrees around from its current energy situation, as the nation’s electricity grid is based 84% on coal. To meet the new mandate, half a dozen new plants will probably be built along South Africa’s coastline, the industry say.

Back to South Africa’s nuclear plan, critics are slamming the government for its decision of expanding nuclear power. Of course, the Japanese example is being thrown in at every pace protesters make, as local eco-activists strive to convince the government that non-nuclear waste producing alternatives should be looked for. Curiously enough, South Africa can be considered a fairly natural disaster free area, with little to no earthquakes. Currently, South Africa has only one nuclear power plant, located in Koeberg and functional since it’s inauguration in 1984.

Critics of nuclear power note that fault lines a few miles from the Koeberg nuclear plant gave rise to an earthquake 200 years ago that is estimated to have had roughly the same magnitude as the recent quake in Christchurch, New Zealand: 6.3. Luckily for South Africans, in any event, the Koeberg nuclear plant was built to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 7, at least according to Hilary Joffe, a spokeswoman for Eskom, the national electric company.

Environmentalists express skepticism. “Show me one that’s withstood a 7.0,” said Muna Lakhani, branch coordinator of Earthlife Africa’s Cape Town office. “I don’t think you can engineer for mother nature.”

>>RELATED: Nuclear Energy – 4.000 times safer than coal plants

Reports state that South Africa needs to double its current electrical grid capacity, at pace current consumer demand is increasing. This is due most probably because of  the countries large number of unelectrified homes which just now or soon will finally get plugged to the network. Its estimated at least 20% of the South Africa’s population doesn’t have electricity. Yeah, the real ecoactivists…

Whether or not critics will still be over it after the Japan situation slowly fades down it remains to be seen, but a nuclear power plant takes a bit to build, the first new power plant being slated for around 2020.




A Cambridge University video with superconductors and how amazingly useful they can be

Superconductivity occurs when the natural electrical resistance is exactly 0; it occurs in certain materials at very low temperatures. According to the Cambridge University youtube channel:

The first in a new range of powerful superconductors which could revolutionise the production of machines like hospital MRI scanners and protect the national grid have been developed by engineers at the University of Cambridge. Professor David Cardwell explains what superconductors are, why we need them, and how he and his team have devised techniques to make them more powerful than ever before.

Science ABC: the eddy currents, and the coolest video you’ll see today

Eddy currents are electrical phenomena that take place when a conductor is exposed to an oscilation of the magnetic field due to the relative motion of the field source and conductor; rewind. You have a conductor, say a copper tube, and a magnet. One moves relative to the other and you’ve got current (basically a circulating flow of electrons). These currents also generate heat as well as electromagnetism, and can be harnessed. I won’t go into additional details which you can find on wikipedia or physling, but instead, I’m gonna show you this video, which is just another example of how amazing physics really is.

Scientists create the first molecular transistor

Researchers from Yale University succeeded in what seemed to be an impossible task: they’ve created a transistor from a single molecule. In case you don’t know, a transistor is a “semiconductor device commonly used to amplify or switch electronic signals” (via wikipedia).


The team showed that using a single benzene molecule attached to gold contacts is just as good as the regular silicone transistor. Also, by modifying the voltage applied through the contacts, they were able to control the current that was going through the molecule.

“We were able to allow current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high,” says Mark Reed, Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale.

The importance of this discovery should not be underestimated; it could prove to be very useful, especially in computer circuits, because common transistors are not feasible at such small scales, and this may very well be another step towards the next generation of computers. However, researchers underlined the fact that fast molecular computers are probably decades away.

“We’re not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits,” he said. “But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors.”

Electricity from trees


Researchers have figured out a way to ‘plug’ into electrical power generated by trees.

It has been a well known fact for years that plants can conduct electricity (humans can too, take care kids), and now scientists from MIT found out just how much they can pack up: 200 millivolts of electrical power (=0.2 volts).

The lemon and potato battery experiments are already notorious, but this is something else.

“We specifically didn’t want to confuse this effect with the potato effect, so we used the same metal for both electrodes,” said Babak Parviz, a professor of electrical engineering at Washington University and co-author of the study.

They found out that a maple leaf for example can generate a steady voltage of more than a hundred milivolts. However, in order to become practical, a much higher voltage would be necessary, so researchers built a boost converter capable of picking up really little voltages and storing them and then producing a greater output.


By hooking the device to a tree using electrodes they were able to generate an output voltage of 1.1 volts, which is not really much more than a promising start, but it’s enough for low power sensors. The full study will be published in the upcoming issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Transactions on Nanotechnology. It’s not really as practical as other options, but it could prove to be quite significant especially for different types of sensors.

“Normal electronics are not going to run on the types of voltages and currents that we get out of a tree.” Parviz said. “As new generations of technology come online, I think it’s warranted to look back at what’s doable or what’s not doable in terms of a power source.”

Bacteria To Generate Electricity

bacteria electricity
Researchers are searching everyday for options which could bring an ending to the energy issue or at least delay it for an undefinite time and bacteria researching has developed a lot so it would only seem sensible to bring those two together. The point would be well to obtain a bacteria which generates electricity.

Researchers at the Biodesign Institute showed that this option is viable in a study featured in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering; lead author Andrew Kato Marcus and colleagues Cesar Torres and Bruce Rittmann have gained critical insights that may lead to commercialization of a promising microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology.

“We can use any kind of waste, such as sewage or pig manure, and the microbial fuel cell will generate electrical energy,” said Marcus, a Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate student and a member of the institute’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology. Unlike conventional fuel cells that rely on hydrogen gas as a fuel source, the microbial fuel cell can handle a variety of water-based organic fuels. “There is a lot of biomass out there that we look at simply as energy stored in the wrong place,” said Bruce Rittmann, director of the center. “We can take this waste, keeping it in its normal liquid form, but allowing the bacteria to convert the energy value to our society’s most useful form, electricity. They get food while we get electricity.”

Bacteria are so diversified and they are so adaptable that scientists can find a bacterium that can handle about any waste in their diet. By linking bacterial metabolism directly with electricity production, the MFC eliminates the extra steps necessary in other fuel cell technologies. They get a very cheap source of energy. There are numerous teams researching these but this seems to be the only team which managed to solve the very hard problem of actually getting the bacteria get the electrons to the anode of the reactor; this type of reactorsr have a pair of battery-like terminals: an anode and cathode electrode. The electrodes are connected by an external circuit and an electrolyte solution to help conduct electricity. The difference in voltage between the anode and cathode, along with the electron flow in the circuit, generate electrical power. To harvest the benefits researchers are using this model to optimize performance and power output.