Solar Power Breakthrough Claimed By Stanford Researchers

9:04:27 PM, Monday, March 14, 2011

“It’s the Holy Grail at clean energy research labs all over the world and something which could address long term energy issues domestically and beyond: more efficient photovoltaic solar. We’ve told you about scientists studying full-spectrum cells, using textured substrates, trying self-regenerating nanomaterials – we’ve even reported on an anti-reflective film inspired by a coating found in moth eyes. Now a Stanford team is claiming a breakthrough in making cheaper, more efficient panels by adding a single layer of organic molecules to solar cells.

The researchers studied this technique on a fairly new type of solar cell that uses tiny particles of semiconductors called quantum dots. Quantum dot solar cells are cheaper to produce than traditional silicon cells, but they haven’t caught on due to their relative inefficiency.

For Stacey Bent, a chemical engineering professor at Stanford, this represented something of a challenge. She knew that solar cells made of a single material have a maximum efficiency of about 31 percent, a limitation of the fixed energy level they can absorb, and that quantum dot solar cells didn’t share this limitation. “Quantum dots can be tuned to absorb a certain wavelength of light just by changing their size,” the Stanford report on her research says. “And they can be used to build more complex solar cells that have more than one size of quantum dot, allowing them to absorb multiple wavelengths of light.”

So Bent and her team coated a titanium dioxide semiconductor in their quantum dot solar cell with a very thin single layer of organic molecules. They found that just that single layer, less than a nanometer thick, was enough to triple the efficiency of the solar cells.

Even with this breakthrough, there’s still work to do: Bent said the cadmium sulfide quantum dots she’s been using aren’t ideal for solar cells, so her group plans to try other molecules for the organic layer, while also tinkering with the solar cell increase light absorption.

Her theory is, said Stanford, that once the sun’s energy creates an electron and a hole, the thin organic layer helps keep them apart, preventing them from recombining and being wasted. The group has yet to optimize the solar cells, and they have currently achieved an efficiency of, at most, 0.4 percent. But the group can tune several aspects of the cell, and once they do it is said, the threefold increase caused by the organic layer would be even more significant.”



Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl

1:51:57 PM, Monday, March 14, 2011

“Even while thousands of people are reported dead or missing, whole neighborhoods lie in ruins, and gas and oil fires rage out of control, press coverage of the Japanese earthquake has quickly settled on the troubles at two nuclear reactors as the center of the catastrophe.

Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), a longtime opponent of nuclear power, has warned of "another Chernobyl" and predicted "the same thing could happen here." In response, he has called for an immediate suspension of licensing procedures for the Westinghouse AP1000, a "Generation III" reactor that has been laboring through design review at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for seven years.

Before we respond with such panic, though, it would be useful to review exactly what is happening in Japan and what we have to fear from it.

The core of a nuclear reactor operates at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the temperature of a coal furnace and only slightly hotter than a kitchen oven. If anything unusual occurs, the control rods immediately drop, shutting off the nuclear reaction. You can't have a "runaway reactor," nor can a reactor explode like a nuclear bomb. A commercial reactor is to a bomb what Vaseline is to napalm. Although both are made from petroleum jelly, only one of them has potentially explosive material.

Once the reactor has shut down, there remains "decay heat" from traces of other radioactive isotopes. This can take more than a week to cool down, and the rods must be continually bathed in cooling waters to keep them from overheating.

On all Generation II reactors—the ones currently in operation—the cooling water is circulated by electric pumps. The new Generation III reactors such as the AP1000 have a simplified "passive" cooling system where the water circulates by natural convection with no pumping required.

If the pumps are knocked out in a Generation II reactor—as they were at Fukushima Daiichi by the tsunami—the water in the cooling system can overheat and evaporate. The resulting steam increases internal pressure that must be vented. There was a small release of radioactive steam at Three Mile Island in 1979, and there have also been a few releases at Fukushima Daiichi. These produce radiation at about the level of one dental X-ray in the immediate vicinity and quickly dissipate.

If the coolant continues to evaporate, the water level can fall below the level of the fuel rods, exposing them. This will cause a meltdown, meaning the fuel rods melt to the bottom of the steel pressure vessel.

Early speculation was that in a case like this the fuel might continue melting right through the steel and perhaps even through the concrete containment structure—the so-called China syndrome, where the fuel would melt all the way to China. But Three Mile Island proved this doesn't happen. The melted fuel rods simply aren't hot enough to melt steel or concrete.

The decay heat must still be absorbed, however, and as a last-ditch effort the emergency core cooling system can be activated to flood the entire containment structure with water. This will do considerable damage to the reactor but will prevent any further steam releases. The Japanese have now reportedly done this using seawater in at least two of the troubled reactors. These reactors will never be restarted…”

-- Follow link for the rest of the article, where Chernobyl power station's flaws are described.



Cost Of A Slave At Historic Low Price - 90 Dollars

4:33:19 PM, Sunday, March 13, 2011

-- Apparently modern slaves are cheaper than ever...



No Moammar, No Fly: How to Stop Gadhafi’s Planes

3:34:50 PM, Sunday, March 13, 2011

“Keep the surveillance planes flying. Fry the radar. While the sun hangs in the sky, let Libya’s pilots know they’re on borrowed time if they take off.

There’s a lot of talk about setting up a no-fly zone over Libya — especially now that Moammar Gadhafi used his planes to take the oil refinery city of Ras Lunuf back from the rebels, and especially now that the Director of National Intelligence proclaimed that Gadhafi would eventually beat back the opposition, unless there’s some serious outside support. But NATO stopped short of any such decision on Thursday. A raft of U.S. military leaders, from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Adm. Michael Mullen to Gen. James Mattis of Central Command, have warned that a no-fly zone is neither a simple or antiseptic operation.

Air Force leaders and veterans of no-fly campaigns contacted by Danger Room agree with that caution. Keeping Gadhafi’s planes and helicopters out of the sky is no cakewalk, and the objectives are anything but clear. But they sketched out the following picture of what one might look like.

Blowing up Libya’s surface-to-air defenses is the first wave of a no-fly campaign, as Secretary Gates noted. But to do that, there’s an even more preliminary step: use the AWACS surveillance and command planes that NATO is now flying 24-7 to find Libya’s radars, command and control and missile stations. “I’m absolutely certain,” says retired Gen. Pete Piotrowski, a former Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, “that the intelligence community knows the location of the surface to air missiles and the radars,” thanks to the AWACS.

High-speed anti-radiation missiles, or HARMs, can then take out the radars — which would render the Libyans’ missiles dumb without having to take out every missile station. Bombing would take care of the Libyan command and control centers, too, once AWACS identifies them. And a blind Libyan air command can’t challenge NATO aircraft. “If you take out the command and control, [the Libyans] may get lucky,” says retired Maj. Gen. Irv Halter, who helped run Operation Northern Watch, the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, “but they’ll be looking through a soda straw.”

A trickier target will be the Libyan fleet of attack helicopters, which Marine Commandant James Amosidentified as a crucial part of Gadhafi’s arsenal. While it’s possible that precision weaponry from the NATO aircraft thousands of feet above could take the copters out, military analyst Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution suggests using French and British carriers in the southern Mediterranean to launch helicopters of NATO’s own, plus “missiles and naval gunfire” to keep the copters grounded. (There’s also talk of cratering runways and helicopter staging areas, so the aircraft can’t get off of the ground.) …”



Earthquake Fault Lines in America

5:39:42 PM, Saturday, March 12, 2011

-- So, by raise of hands, who knew about the NY/PA/NJ one?



How The Human Penis Lost Its Spines

2:44:18 PM, Saturday, March 12, 2011

"You've read the headline, and it probably made you giggle. Go ahead. Get it out of your system. Then take a deep breath and consider how evolution affected a few specific body parts, and why.

Humans and chimpanzees share more than 97% of DNA, but there are some fairly obvious differences in appearance, behavior and intellect. Now, scientists are learning more than ever about what makes us uniquely human.

We know that humans have larger brains and, within the brain, a larger angular gyrus, a region associated with abstract concepts. Also, male chimpanzees have smaller penises than humans, and their penises have spines. Not like porcupine needles or anything, but small pointy projections on the surface that basically make the organ bumpy.

Gill Bejerano, a biologist at Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues wanted to further investigate why humans and chimpanzees have such differences. They analyzed the genomes of humans and closely related primates and discovered more than 500 regulatory regions -- sequences in the genome responsible for controlling genes -- that chimpanzees and other mammals have, but humans do not. In other words, they are making a list of DNA that has been lost from the human genome during millions of years of evolution. Results from their study are published in the journal Nature.

Think of it like light bulbs and their switches, where the light bulbs are genes and the switches are these controlling DNA sequences. If there's no bulb, the switch can't turn the light on. Now imagine there's one bulb and five switches to turn it on at different times in different places. If you take one of the switches away, the bulb still works in the four other contexts, but not in the fifth.

This study looks at two particular switches. Bejerano and colleagues took the switch information from a chimpanzee's genome and essentially "hooked it up" to a reporter gene, a gene whose effects scientists can track as an organism develops. They injected the reporter gene in a mouse egg to see what the switch would do.

They found that in one case, a switch that had been lost in humans normally turns on an androgen receptor at the sites where sensory whiskers develop on the face and spines develop on the penis. Mice and many other animals have both of these characteristics, and humans do not..."

-- Are you telling me I could've had spines on my penis! Who cut that one out of the gene pool, seriously?



Engineers Re-Create the Flying House in ‘Up’

2:26:17 PM, Saturday, March 12, 2011

-- I've been meaning to share this! While kinda pointless it's still awesome. Good Morning America featured this segment showing a bunch of engineers recreating the floating house in Disney/Pixar’s movie Up. They didn't float an actual house but a bare-bones house using 300 large helium balloons. via



Photos of Japan After the Massive 8.9-Magnitude Earthquake

2:02:24 PM, Friday, March 11, 2011

-- Heart-breaking images that show the destruction and the immensity of the flooding… It'll take a while for that whole part of the world to recover from this one, I hope the world can come together and speed up that process and not have politics and greed interfere.



Space Shuttle Discovery STS-131

12:36:17 PM, Thursday, March 10, 2011

-- Beautiful. STS-131, if you're interested.



Humans, Version 3.0

10:46:02 AM, Thursday, March 10, 2011

“Where are we humans going, as a species? If science fiction is any guide, we will genetically evolve like in X-Men, become genetically engineered as in Gattaca, or become cybernetically enhanced like General Grievous in Star Wars.All of these may well be part of the story of our future, but I’m not holding my breath. The first of these—natural selection—is impracticably slow, and there’s a plausible case to be made that naturalselection has all but stopped acting on us.Genetic engineering could engender marked changes in us, but it requires a scientific bridge between genotypes—an organism’s genetic blueprints—and phenotypes, which are the organisms themselves and their suite of abilities. A sufficiently sophisticated bridge between these extremes is nowhere in sight.

And machine-enhancement is part of our world even today, manifesting in the smartphones and desktop computers most of us rely on each day. Such devices will continue to further empower us in the future, but serious hardware additions to our brains will not be forthcoming until we figure out how to build human-level artificial intelligences (and meld them to our neurons), something that will require cracking the mind’s deepest mysteries. I have argued that we’re centuries or more away from that.Simply put, none of these scenarios are plausible for the immediate future. If there issomething next, some imminently arriving transformative development for human capabilities, then the key will not be improved genes or cortical plug-ins. But what other way forward could humans possibly have? With genetic and cyborg enhancement off the table for many years, it would seem we are presently stuck as-is, sans upgrades.

There is, however, another avenue for human evolution, one mostly unappreciated in both science and fiction. It is this unheralded mechanism that will usher in the next stage of human, giving future people exquisite powers we do not currently possess, powers worthy of natural selection itself. And, importantly, it doesn’t require us to transform into cyborgs or bio-engineered lab rats. It merely relies on our natural bodies and brains functioning as they have for millions of years.

This mystery mechanism of human transformation is neuronal recycling, coined by neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, wherein the brain’s innate capabilities are harnessed for altogether novel functions…”



A Seriously Jaw-Dropping Close-Up Photo Of The Sun

1:05:29 AM, Thursday, March 10, 2011

-- "This picture was taken by Alan Friedman...

...Alan used a filter that lets through only a very narrow wavelength of light emitted by hydrogen (called Hα for those of you keeping track at home), so this tracks the activity of gas on the solar surface. He also inverts the image of the solar disk (makes it a negative) to increase contrast. Somehow this adds a three-dimensional quality to the picture, and reveals an amazing amount of texture. I swear I had a rug in my bedroom growing up that was this texture (though somewhat cooler and less burny).

The scene-stealer is that detached prominence off to the left. That’s the leftover material ejected from the Sun by an erupting sunspot (you can see other sunspots in the picture as well). The gas is ionized — a plasma — and so it’s affected by magnetic fields. The material follows the magnetic field of the Sun in the explosion, lifting it off the surface and into space. Sometimes it falls back, and sometimes it leaves the Sun entirely. In this case, Alan caught some of the material at what looks like the top of its trajectory.

The beauty of this picture belies its violence and sheer magnitude: the mass of material in a prominence can easily top 10 billion tons! As for size, see that dark elongated sunspot near the base of the prominence, just to the right of the bigger, speckly one? That spot is roughly twice the size of the Earth...

...Making this even more amazing, these images are taken with a 90mm telescope — that’s a lens not even 4 inches across! Superior optics, a good mount, and a steady hand can do wonders.



Prisoners Help Build Patriot Missiles

12:59:26 AM, Thursday, March 10, 2011

"This spring, the United Arab Emirates is expected to close a deal for $7 billion dollars’ worth of American arms. Nearly half of the cash will be spent on Patriot missiles, which cost as much as $5.9 million apiece.

But what makes those eye-popping sums even more shocking is that some of the workers manufacturing parts for those Patriot missiles are prisoners, earning as little as 23 cents an hour. (Credit Justin Rohrlich with the catch.)

The work is done by Unicor, previously known as Federal Prison Industries. It’s a government-owned corporation, established during the Depression, that employs about 20,000 inmates in 70 prisons to make everything from clothing to office furniture to solar panels to military electronics.

One of the company’s high-tech specialties: Patriot missile parts. “UNICOR/FPI supplies numerous electronic components and services for guided missiles, including the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missile,” Unicor’s website explains. “We assemble and distribute the Intermediate Frequency Processor (IFP) for the PAC-3s seeker. The IFP receives and filters radio-frequency signals that guide the missile toward its target.”

The missiles are then marketed worldwide — sometimes by Washington’s top officials. Last year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pitched the Patriots to the Turkish government last year, a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks reveals: “SecDef stressed that ‘nothing can compete with the PAC-3 when it comes to capabilities.’”

Patriot assemblers Raytheon and Lockheed Martin aren’t the only defense contractors relying on prison help. As Rohrlich notes, Unicor “inmates also make cable assemblies for the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter, as well as electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder.”

Unicor used to make helmets for the military, as well. But that work was suspended when 44,000 helmets were recalled for shoddy quality..."



Space Shuttle Discovery Landed Today, Ending Its Flying Career

12:43:13 PM, Wednesday, March 09, 2011

as the world's most flown spaceship Wednesday, returning from orbit for the last time and taking off in a new direction as a museum piece.

NASA's oldest shuttle swooped through a mostly clear noontime sky to a touchdown at its home base.

"To the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say, 'Farewell Discovery,'" radioed the Mission Control commentator.

Florida's spaceport was packed with shuttle program workers, journalists and even some schoolchildren eager to see history in the making.

The six astronauts on board went through their landing checklists with the bittersweet realization no one would ever ride Discovery again. They said during their 13-day space station delivery mission that they expected that to hit them hard when the shuttle came to a stop on the runway.

At three minutes before noon Eastern Time — Discovery landed and ceased being a reusable rocketship.

"For the final time: wheels stop," Discovery's commander Steven Lindsey called out as the shuttle rolled to a stop.

Even after shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis make their final voyages in the coming months, Discovery will still hold the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles, 5,830 orbits of Earth, and 365 days spent in space. All that was achieved in under 27 years.

Discovery now leads the way to retirement as NASA winds down the 30-year shuttle program in favor of interplanetary travel.

NASA estimates it will take several months of work — removing the three main engines and draining all hazardous fuels — before Discovery is ready to head to the Smithsonian Institution. It will make the 750-mile journey strapped to the top of a jumbo jet.

Throughout the flight, Lindsey and his crew marveled at how well Discovery was performing. They noted that the spacecraft was going into retirement still "at the top of her game."

"A dream machine," observed Lindsey's co-pilot, Eric Boe, on the eve of landing.

Discovery's last mission ended up being flawless despite a four-month grounding for fuel tank repairs.

Perhaps more than any other shuttle, Discovery consistently delivered..."

-- I support retiring the shuttles. I do not support not having a replacement... This is very bittersweet, disillusioning really. =(

The photo is of Space Shuttle Discovery catching a ride by Lori Losey NASA, August 19, 2005.



Mount Roraima, Venezuela

12:04:25 PM, Wednesday, March 09, 2011


A Homeless City in the Woods

12:33:51 AM, Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"A crusading minister has built a forested Utopia for the itinerant and destitute. But is a social experiment what they’re looking for, or just a place to live?

The shower is a thing of beauty. Stainless-steel well point buried twenty feet below a cast-iron hand pump connected by gutter pipe to a 55-gallon drum draining through a garden hose into a propane-fueled heater hooked to an electric pump hooked to a car battery hooked to a gas generator. Flick a switch, turn a valve, and voilà: a hot shower in the woods.

Roughly three hundred feet down a rutted dirt road, in a dappled expanse of scrub pine and oak on the outskirts of Lakewood, New Jersey, about 40 men and women have made for themselves a provisional home. Dozens of tents sprawl across several acres. In addition to the shower, there is an outhouse tent with a flushable toilet pilfered from an old RV. There’s a kitchen trailer with a working range. There’s a community tent with turquoise leatherette sofas, and a washer and dryer that, when connected to the generator and filled with collected rainwater, operate as a de facto laundromat. There’s a chicken coop and a vegetable garden. There was even once a goat named Molly, passed off to a local farm because no one could stomach the taste of her milk.

The camp looks something like the scene of an extended hunting trip, but it is in fact a homeless encampment—possibly the largest in the tri-state area, not that any governmental body has bothered to keep track. Some call it Cedar Bridge, after the nearest paved road.

At night, its residents gather around campfires telling Tales of My Homelessness. Some begin with a release from jail, others with a failed business, a failed marriage, a failed drug test, or a failed ability to deal with the daily grind of a nine-to-five. Michael’s story began in New York City, where his work as a union electrician dwindled with the Dow.

“I was working with my landlord. I would send him 500 bucks, 300 bucks. Then finally I got a summons to appear in court.”

“Don’t you just love that?” asks Mary Beth, who is playing hostess tonight outside her low polyester tent.

“Three days later, I’m walking up to the apartment, I see the doorknob is different. There’s a sticker on the door: NO TRESPASSING. TENANT HAS BEEN EVICTED. Well, I managed to salvage what I wanted.”

Mary Beth nods in understanding. “I had the same thing happen, but I made sure I kept the windows unlocked, and I crawled through at night.” This was after she had been fired from Wal-Mart in what she believes to be a systematic effort to rid the company of full-time employees. “Wal-Mart sucks.” Her first night at the camp, listening to all the unknown noises of the forest, she was petrified. The next day she met Big Gerry, who had lost his house and his wife after his fitness center failed. She moved into his tent that night..."

-- Follow the link for a 31 photo slide-show even if you don't plan on reading.



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