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

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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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Innovation

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

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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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Innovation

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

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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.

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These Sustainable, Fireproof, Weather-Proof Geoship Domes Could Solve Today’s Housing Crisis

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These Sustainable, Fireproof, Weather-Proof Geoship Domes Could Solve Today’s Housing Crisis
Photo Credit: Geoship

As the years go by, natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes are becoming more frequent. Meanwhile, architects have been battling with this situation by coming up with new design ideas that are resilient and stronger, capable of withstanding the growing forces of nature. One such design solution – the bioceramic geodesic dome – comes from an eco-friendly architectural firm in Seattle called Geoship run by two brothers.

The “home of the future” is not made from conventional building materials such as wood or concrete. It is made from bioceramic, a material which can withstand disasters, and has the potential to dramatically lower construction costs. One of the owners of the firm a young engineer called Morgan Bierschenk, told FastCompany that the idea to use this material first arose when he asked himself: “Why we’re still pounding nails in wood, like people were doing 100 years ago?”

Geoship home. Credit: Geoship

When Bierschenk began researching better ways to design, he came across the architectural revolution of the geodesic dome, promoted in the 1970s by Buckminster Fuller. That was when the lightning bolt struck. While Fuller envisioned the design solution to be something that could help the housing crisis after WWII, he was a little ahead of his time because the materials and methods were not advanced yet to make his idea revolutionary. He realized the idea itself was brilliant, and it’s relevant to today’s crisis too, maybe even more so… and now we do have advanced enough materials and methods to mass make these geodesic homes affordably to house all the people in need of shelter! From this moment, Bierschenk and his brother founded the Geoship startup.

Credit: Geoship
Advantages Of The Bioceramic Geodesic Dome
  • The overall shape is inherently strong and efficient. The structure should be able to withstand extreme forces from wind and weather.
  • The main material is ceramic composite (CC) which was originally developed at Argonne National Labs for use in shielding nuclear waste – it is a highly resilient substance made from minerals and it is reliable.
  • The CC can be made into any shape one wishes. They had the material made into modular triangular panels for their geodesic domes.
  • The CC is lightweight.
  • The CC is fireproof up to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit; in a fire, the house won’t burn.
  • The CC reflects more than 80% of the heat from the sun, helping keep the inside cool in heatwaves, a plus with the onset of climate change.
  • The CC resists insects and mold. It absorbs little water so it is also ideal in case of flooding.
  • The panels are chemically bonded together so there are fewer connections and therefore fewer chances for failure.
  • The homes are modular and can be disassembled and rebuilt elsewhere.
  • Any repairs are easily done by simply using the same material again to patch up a panel. The bioceramic acts like glue and bonds to itself.
  • The homes estimated to have a 500-year lifespan.
  • Overall costs are said to be 40% less than traditional construction. The geometry shrinks the amount of material needed.
  • The primary material in CC is phosphate, which can be recycled from wastewater.
  • The panels would be mass made in a factory, then delivered in a shipping container and assembled on-site. It would only take a few days saving heaps in labour costs. “Essentially, it’s like Legos going together,” said Bierschenk.
  • The homes are chemical-free and chemically inert. The materials don’t create any indoor air pollution.
  • The homes are self-venting and full of natural light. Vents at the top and the bottom of the dome help cool the house naturally. Insulation is made by making hollow panels – the same ceramic material is used but filled with air. This makes the home “passive” so it can be heated and cooled without external energy, therefore saving on energy use and costs.
  • The homes sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Geoship Villages

The company has plans that could make it possible for people with little money to afford a home through community land trusts. They aim to help groups start land trusts to create dome “villages” and even offer co-op part-ownership of the company to the buyers. “We think to really solve the affordable housing crisis you have to have some way to kind of transcend the single-family home with land ownership and take land speculation out of the picture,” Bierschenk said.

Credit: Geoship

Geoship is even building a platform that groups of people can use to collaborate on the design of a village of the homes. They will then walk groups through the process of setting up the community land trust and provide them with a cooperative ownership model in which customers will ultimately own between 30% and 70% of the company. “This fundamentally reshapes the home building industry, and capitalism itself,” Geoship writes on their website. “Our success becomes your success.”

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Innovation

New MRI Technique Can See Changes In Brain’s Molecular Composition

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Molecular Composition
Photo Credit: Intelligent Living

MRIs are a brilliant piece of modern medicine that give us a picture of our body’s insides – organs, bones, nerves, and soft tissue. Now, scientists have made them even more useful by successfully transforming an MRI from a diagnostic camera into a device that can record changes in the biological makeup of brain tissue. Meaning, it can show us the molecular makeup of our body parts!

This advance could help doctors more quickly determine the onset of disease and begin treatment. It will clarify whether a patient is merely aging or developing a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Aviv Mezer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI)’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences successfully transformed an MRI into a diagnostic camera which serves as a device that can record changes in the biological makeup of brain tissue.

“Instead of images, our quantitative MRI model provides molecular information about the brain tissue we’re studying. This could allow doctors to compare brain scans taken over time from the same patient, and to differentiate between healthy and diseased brain tissue, without resorting to invasive or dangerous procedures, such as brain tissue biopsies.”

When you look at someone in person, the signs of aging are obvious – i.e. gray hair, a stooped spine, wrinkled skin, occasional memory loss, etc. However, what really matters is what’s going on upstairs, in the brain. Is that occasional forgetfulness normal or something to worry about? That can only be seen on the biological level. Normal aging and neurodegenerative diseases both create biological “footprints” in the brain. These “footprints” change the lipid and protein content of brain tissue.

Current MRI scans can only provide pictures of the human brain making it difficult to see the jeopardous biological changes. This new technique, on the other hand, provides biological readouts of brain tissue – the ability to see what’s going on on a molecular level and to direct a course of treatment accordingly.

Ph.D. student Shir Filo who worked on the study said:

“When we take a blood test, it shows us the exact number of white blood cells in our body and whether that number is higher than normal due to illness. MRI scans provide images of the brain but don’t show changes in the composition of the human brain, changes that could potentially differentiate normal aging from the beginnings of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.”

Mezer presumes that in the future, the new MRI technique will also provide a crucial understanding of how our brains age. He explained:

“When we scanned young and old patients’ brains, we saw that different brain areas ages differently. For example, in some white-matter areas, there is a decrease in brain tissue volume, whereas in the gray-matter, tissue volume remains constant. However, we saw major changes in the molecular makeup of the gray matter in younger versus older subjects.”

With technology like this available, patients will be able to get an MRI that has the adequacy of distinguishing molecular signs of normal aging from the early signs of disease. The day is soon coming where people will receive a correct diagnosis earlier and therefore be able to start treatment earlier. Those people will be able to maintain an improved quality of life for a longer time, all via a non-invasive technique, and that’s a beautiful thing!

This article (New MRI Technique Can See Changes In Brain’s Molecular Composition) was originally created for Intelligent Living and is published here under Creative Commons.

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