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Tiny ‘Artificial Sunflowers’ Bend Towards Light To Harvest Solar Energy



Tiny ‘Artificial Sunflowers’ Bend Towards Light To Harvest Solar Energy

Depending on where you are in the world, the sun rises on one side, moves up, over your head, then sunsets down on the opposite side. Therefore, the light is always moving, and if you depend on it to generate power, then you might experience oblique-incidence energy-density loss.

To remedy this issue, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles and Arizona State University, have designed solar panels made from rows of tiny artificial sunflowers. The sunflowers automatically bend towards the light, allowing it to harvest a significant amount of solar power. This behavior is much like in nature, real sunflowers tilt their flowers to face the sun, heating their reproductive bits to attract pollinators.

This system could potentially be a solution for almost any system that experiences efficiency loss due to a moving energy source. For example, with rays from an overhead illumination source, the light coming in at an angle of around 75 degrees carries up to 75% less energy.

The researchers, Ximin He, and her colleagues say their system is a sunflower-like biomimetic omnidirectional tracker, dubbed ‘SunBOT.’ Each artificial sunflower has a stem made up of a material that reacts to light. An energy harvesting flower, made from a light-absorbing material used in solar cells, sits at the top of the stem. Each SunBOT is measured less than 1 millimetre wide.

When a part of the SunBOT’s stem gets exposed to light, it heats up and shrinks, causing it to bend and lean towards the light. Once the SunBOT is aligned with the light, the bending stops because the flower creates a shadow that gives the material time to cool down and stop shrinking.

The team tested the artificial sunflower to detect its harvesting capabilities by building a panel of SunBOTs, some of which possessed the bendy material and some that didn’t. The researchers found that the SunBOTs with the bendy-stems harvested up to 400% more solar energy than the non-bendy stemmed ones.

SunBOTs’ creators explain:

“This work may be useful for enhanced solar harvesters, adaptive signal receivers, smart windows, self-contained robotics, solar sails for spaceships, guided surgery, self-regulating optical devices, and intelligent energy generation, as well as energetic emission detection and tracking with telescopes, radars, and hydrophones.”

It seems the possibilities are endless with this new kind of technology! The researchers describe their study in Nature Nanotechnology.

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Two Guys In Mexico Created Vegan Leather From Cactus



Photo Credit: Collective Evolution

Although there are some heart-warming stories that are coming out of Australia right now, it’s truly devastating what’s happening there, especially for the animals. Approximately 1 billion of them have lost their lives due to the fires. In the midst of all of this, however, let’s not forget about the fact that hundreds of millions of animals are killed every single day for human consumption, as well as products that we buy, like clothing, for example.

Compassion is the main reason that the vegan market is thriving, and continues to grow, from food, all the way to to the manufacturing of multiple products. There are hundreds of examples to choose from, and one of the latest comes from Adrian Lopez Velarde and Marte Cazarez.

After finishing university, they found themselves growing more and more concerned about the environment and the treatment of animals, and as a result decided to come together, after years of friendship, to create a cruelty-free alternative to animal leather. They recently debuted “Desserto,” which is organic leather made entirely from cactus. It’s the first of its kind.

The product is a great replacement for both animal and synthetic leather. It’s breathable and durable, the touch and feel is very similar to leather, and again, it’s a completely sustainable material. It’s also less water intensive, free from phthalates, free from toxic chemicals as well as PVC-free.

According to Vegan First,

“The duo showcased the product last month at the International Leather Fair Lineappelle in Milan, Italy.

Plant-based leather alternatives are a growing market, with innovators turning to pineapple, olives and coconuts to produce eco-friendly materials. Earlier this year, high-street retailer H&M unveiled a vegan jacket made from pineapple leather, while German footwear brand thies launched a line of leather shoes made from olive leaves. Closer to home, Kerala-based brand Malai fashions leather and accessories from coconuts!”

It took the inventors two years to come up with the material. ‘Nopal leather’ is made through a series of processes that produce a powder which is then mixed and layered over cotton canvas. The recently presented the material at an international exhibition in Milan.

Things are changing quite rapidly on our planet, with a shift in consciousness in so many different areas; we change the world as a human collective. One of many great examples comes from the fact that America’s largest milk producer has filed for bankruptcy.

The world is changing, and it’s changing fast, we are currently in the process of a great transformation, and have been for quite some time. Exciting times!

This article (Two Guys In Mexico Created Vegan Leather From Cactus) was originally created for Collective Evolution and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Scientists Have Built The First-Ever Robots Constructed Entirely Out Of Living Cells



Scientists Have Built The First-Ever Robots Constructed Entirely Out of Living Cells
Photo Credit: Science Alert

Michelle Stark, Science Alert

In another lifetime, if they had been allowed to follow their natural development, the stem cells taken from embryonic frogs would have turned into skin and heart tissue within living, breathing animals.

Instead, in configurations designed by algorithms and constructed by humans, those cells have been assembled into something new: the first-ever robots constructed entirely out of living cells.

The creators have called them xenobots; tiny, submillimeter-sized blobs containing between 500 and 1,000 cells that have been able to scoot across a petri dish, self-organise, and even transport minute payloads. These xenobots are unlike any living organism or organ we’ve encountered or created to date.

The possibilities for custom living machines designed for a variety of purposes, from targeted drug delivery to environmental remediation, are pretty mind-blowing.

These are novel living machines,” said computer scientist and roboticist Joshua Bongard of the University of Vermont.

“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”

Designing the xenobots required the use of a supercomputer, and an algorithm that could virtually put together a few hundred frog heart and skin cells in different configurations (somewhat like LEGO bricks), and simulate the results.

The scientists would assign a desired outcome – such as locomotion – and the algorithm would create candidate designs aimed to produce that outcome. Thousands of configurations of cells were designed by the algorithm, with varying levels of success.

The least successful configurations of cells were tossed out, and the most successful were kept and refined, until they were about as good as they were going to get.

Then, the team selected the most promising designs to physically build out of cells harvested from embryonic African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). This was painstaking work, using microscopic forceps and an electrode.

When they were finally put together, the configurations were actually able to move around, as per the simulations. The skin cells act as a sort of scaffolding to hold everything together, while the contractions of the heart cell muscles are put to work to propel the xenobots.

These machines moved about an aqueous environment for up to a week without the need for additional nutrients, powered by their own ‘pre-loaded’ energy stores in the form of lipids and proteins.

One design had a hole through the middle in an attempt to reduce drag. This hole could be exapted into a pouch for transporting objects, the team found; as they evolved the design, they incorporated the pouch and transported an object in a simulation.

(Kriegman et al., PNAS, 2019)
(Kriegman et al., PNAS, 2019)

The xenobots moved objects around in the real world, too. When their environment was scattered with particulates, the xenobots spontaneously worked together, moving in a circular motion to push the particulates into one spot.

It’s fascinating work. According to the researchers, their efforts can provide invaluable insight into how cells communicate and work together.

You look at the cells we’ve been building our xenobots with, and, genomically, they’re frogs. It’s 100% frog DNA – but these are not frogs. Then you ask, well, what else are these cells capable of building?” said biologist Michael Levin of Tufts University.

“As we’ve shown, these frog cells can be coaxed to make interesting living forms that are completely different from what their default anatomy would be.”

Although the team calls them ‘living’, which may well depend on how you define living creatures. These xenobots are not able to evolve on their own, there are no reproductive organs, and they are unable to multiply.

When the cells run out of nutrients, the xenobots simply become a small clump of dead cells. (This also means they are biodegradable, which gives them another advantage over metal and plastic robots.)

Although the current state of the xenobots is relatively harmless, there is the potential for future work to incorporate nervous system cells, or develop them into bioweapons. As this field of research grows, regulation and ethics guidelines will need to be written, applied and adhered to.

But there is plenty of potential good, too.

We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do,” Levin said, “like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering micro-plastic in the oceans, travelling in arteries to scrape out plaque.”

The research has been published in PNAS, and the team has made their source code freely available on Github.

This article (Scientists Have Built The First-Ever Robots Constructed Entirely Out Of Living Cells) was originally created for Science Alert and is published here under Creative Commons.

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CityTree: A Mossy Wall That Has The Same Air-Purifying Effect As 250 Trees



CityTree: A Mossy Wall That Has The Same Air-Purifying Effect As 250 Trees
Photo Credit: CityTree

Germany is installing “mossy walls” called CityTree – the world’s first bio-tech filter to quantifiably improve air quality – around their cities, mainly Berlin. A variety of mosses are capable of binding environmental toxins such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides while producing oxygen at the same time. These CityTree’s contain nearly 2,000 pots of moss so imagine how much environmental toxins it binds!

The organic particles polluting the air get eaten (digested) by bacteria on the moss, according to the German makers of the wall. The purifying work of the 2,000 pots of moss along with their particle eating bacteria is equal to about 250 trees! A trial wall went up off Piccadilly Circus in London and it indicated that a single CityTree could remove the particulate pollution of 42 diesel cars every month.

Integrated into a wall is:

  • Solar panels to power fans for a controllable ventilation technology that allows airflow to be intensified (meaning that the filter effect can be increased as required.)
  • A rainwater catchment system to supply a fully automated irrigation system for watering the moss.
  • IoT technology which delivers comprehensive information on performance and status as well as environmental data on the CityTree’s surroundings.
An earlier version of the CityTree installed in Oslo, Norway. Credit: Monica Thorud Olsen
An earlier version of the CityTree installed in Oslo, Norway. Credit: Monica Thorud Olsen

These 4-meter tall slabs can improve human health by consuming ultra-fine airborne particles that can travel deep into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream, posing a serious risk to health. Research suggests that particulate pollution is linked to higher death rates from respiratory illnesses and there are numerous studies that link dirty air to higher risk of mental disorders such as dementia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizophrenia. One study even found that breathing polluted city air is the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!

A dozen CityTrees are going up in Berlin for this reason. However, Ian Colbeck, of the University of Essex argues that “the ability of moss to collect air pollutants, especially heavy metals, had been known for some time but that given the scale of the problem it would be better not to emit pollutants.”

It’s clear that it would be better if no pollution was emitted in the first place. But because the complete elimination of everything in the world that emits pollution is not going to happen any time in the near future, it’s good to see solutions popping up that can help clean the air for people in the meantime.

An earlier version of the CityTree installed in Oslo, Norway. Credit: Monica Thorud Olsen
An earlier version of the CityTree installed in Oslo, Norway. Credit: Monica Thorud Olsen

Regardless, the mossy walls create a very pleasant ambiance and they also provide a pleasant cooling effect. Mosses store large quantities of moisture. That, combined with the considerably increased evaporation surface of the wall creates an immense cooling effect for the people around it.

The European Commission are funding Green City Solutions to install 12 CityTrees in Berlin with €1.5 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 science fund. The initial 12 CityWalls in Berlin will serve as a pilot project to prove their effectiveness and could later be expanded throughout Germany and other EU nations.

Note: The featured image at the top is of a CityTree installed by Glasgow City Council, Scotland, mainly to help lower Nitrogen Dioxide and particulate pollution levels. It uses Siberian Stonecrop and moss.

This article (CityTree: A Mossy Wall That Has The Same Air-Purifying Effect As 250 Trees) was originally created for Intelligent Living and is published here under Creative Commons.

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New Seaweed That Tastes Like Bacon And Has Twice The Nutritional Value Of Kale!



Photo Credit: Pexels

Could it really be true, that you can eat bacon guilt free? With a seaweed called dulse, the answer is yes! As a bonus, these algae are packed with nutritional value and it’s a good source of protein. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it!

This unique variety of dulse has been engineered and harvested by professor Chuck Toombs and scientists at Oregon State University (OSU) to taste just like bacon when it’s cooked. This seaweed is a form of red marine algae that usually grows along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. It looks like translucent red lettuce.

Toombs said: “Dulse is a super food, with twice the nutritional value of kale.”

Originally, this new strain was developed by Oregon state researcher Chris Langdon and his team while trying to find a good source of food for edible sea snails or abalones. Langdon realized he had his hands on something special when his colleague Chuck Toombs caught a glimpse of it. Toombs said he thought that the seaweed had potential for a new industry on the Oregon coast. He then began working with the university’s Food Innovation Center, which created a variety of foods with the seaweed as its main ingredient.

Dulse has actually been around for a long time already. It has been produced and consumed by people in northern Europe for centuries! It is well known as a natural source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Langdon told OSU:

“This stuff is pretty amazing. When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

Bacon HD
Photo Credit: Pexels

Some dried red algae are already available in health food supermarkets but it is expensive. Langdon says he is growing about 20 to 30 pounds of this particular strain of bacon-flavoured seaweed per week but he plans to more than triple the production.

No analysis has been done yet to find out whether commercializing the seaweed would be practical, but the team thinks that the vegan and vegetarian markets may be interested. The students and researchers at the university’s Food Innovation Center are already creating delicious varieties of recipes with dulse such as Veggie burgers, salad dressing, and even beer.

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to see more like this one, we’d be humbled if you would help us spread the word and share it with your friends and family. Join us in our quest to promote free, useful information to all!

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