Environment, News, Space

Let it Go! – NASA Almost Ready to Start Mapping Frozen Soil

Image via ESA.

With spring starting to settle in, snow is likely the last thing on people’s minds – but NASA is taking snow really seriously. They want to put satellites in orbit to understand how the frozen lands in the polar areas are developing and adapting to climate change.

Environment, News, Technology

This amazing gadget is the best technology we have for trapping CO2 – and it’s almost free

Image via Bread for the Bride.

This is it – the pinnacle of technological development, the result of countless research hours; yes, it’s a tree.

Climate, News, Pollution

Unsatisfied by their government’s apathy, Canadian scientists propose their own climate policy

Image: Tavis Ford

The conservative Canadian government headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently moved the country away from sustainable practices and environmental accountability. In 2011, the government came under fire after it withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol, an international agreement which commits its parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. It also disbanded the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy in 2012, a panel tasked with reporting to the government Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the government has also taken some measures aimed at curbing emissions, these have been largely insufficient. Disappointed, 71 Canadian scientists have authored their own climate policy recommendations for the nation.

Animals, Feature Post

There’s a sanctuary for orphaned kangaroos in Australia, and it’s awesome

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In 2005 Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns set up a baby kangaroo rescue centre in central Australia’s Alice Springs. The main goal was to help orphaned baby kangaroos, whose parents had been struck by vehicles in Australia. Often Chris would find the orphans at the side of the road still in their mother’s pouch – even if she had been killed. The Kangaroo

Animals, News, Technology

Cyborg cockroaches might save human lives someday

cyborg cockroach

Half cockroach, half machine, these peculiar insects were hijacked by researchers at Texas A&M University for science. Electrodes implanted in their tiny brains send electrical signals that stir the roaches left, right or makes them halt. Effectively, the researchers are controlling their bodies. This may sound despicable – it actually is in many ways – but the benefits to humanity are far reaching. The cyborgs would be our eyes and ears in places otherwise inaccessible, like disasters sites in the wake of earthquakes or other environmental calamities. Picking the cockroach brain might also help us learn more about how our own brain works. This in turn could spur the development of brain-computer interfaces or a new generation of prostheses that faithfully mimic real limbs.

Climate, Feature Post

Republicans want NASA to stop studying the Earth

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Leading climate change denier U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has had enough of NASA studying our planet: he wants NASA to devote its attention only to space and inspiring children… somehow, without studying our own planet. He even went as far as saying that earth sciences are not “hard sciences”, which should be NASA’s main aim. An attack on science

Climate, News

Huge Antarctica Glacier might melt much faster than previously believed

Image via Antarctica.gov

Researchers from NASA, Imperial College in London and Texas University have discovered two seafloor troughs that allow warm ocean water to infiltrate and accentuate the melting of Totten Glacier, East Antarctica’s largest glacier. This could have massive implications not only for the Antarctica ice, but for global sea levels.

Materials, News, Renewable Energy

Scientists create better, cheaper perovskite crystals

Credit: Padture Lab / Brown University.

Researchers at Brown University have found a cheaper and easier way to create hybrid perovskites, enabling engineers to develop more affordable and efficient solar cells. Perovskite is a calcium titanium oxide mineral composed of calcium titanate (CaTiO3). The mineral has received much attention in recent years as artificial perovskite crystals have increasingly been used in solar cells. Perovskite films in solar cells are excellent light absorbers, but they until now, they were more expensive to fabric and only created small crystals.

News, Renewable Energy

Finally, a fully transparent solar energy harvester

transparent solar cell

University of Michigan researchers have devised what looks like the world’s first fully transparent solar cell. Think of all of those tall glass buildings; wouldn’t it be nice if all that incoming solar energy was harvested somehow? Likewise, why not let your smartphone charge up a bit while it’s taking a tan. Of course this isn’t a new idea, but previous attempts are rather unattractive because the compromise makes windows too shady or dark. After all, the purpose of a window is to let light in, not make energy. Ideally, you’d want them harness energy as well, complementary. The new system devised at UM is exciting because it offers exactly this: energy generation, with no compromise in visibility.

Animals, Biology, News

These birds evolutionary diverged on the same island – why this is very big news

An acorn-eating island scrub jay. Photo: Katie Langin

While he was only 22 years of age, Charles Darwin sailed on the ship H.M.S. Beagle to the Galapagos Island on a trip that would later inspire him to write the theory of evolution. Paramount to his evolutionary theories was his study of finches. He identified 13 different species differentiated by beak size, and correctly concluded that the different beaks were adaptations to different diets available among the islands. This was a powerful example of divergent evolution – varieties which diverge from some original species. For instance, domestic dogs from wolves. One powerful driver of divergent evolution is physical isolation. Each left to its own island, Darwin’s finches evolved specialized traits. On California’s Santa Cruz Island, however, a most peculiar finding was made. Katie Langin, a biologist at Colorado State University, discovered two varieties belonging to the same species (Aphelocoma californica or the Scrub Jay) which diverged despite the absence of a physical barrier. Isolation drives speciation, but not in this case. Granted, the two Scrub Jay populations are essentially the same species. And yet, this is still definitely very, very weird. And we’re only beginning to understand what’s happening.