2021-07-22 12:14:55 ..
2021-11-29 10:45:50 UTC
2021-11-29 15:25:23 UTC --martyb
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From our energy grid to the manufacturing of certain textiles and other products, many parts of our society are built to use fossil fuels. Transitioning away will come at some cost.
But what if we could produce an economically attractive replacement for fossil fuels? New research from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) suggests a way to do just that. Biologists have devised a way to engineer yeast to produce itaconic acid[*]—a valuable commodity chemical—using data integration and supercomputing power as a guide.
Itaconic acid has enormous potential as a renewable chemical building block. It could substitute for some fossil-fuel-derived products. In 2004, it was named one of the "top value added chemicals from biomass" in a report by the Department of Energy (DOE). Seeing the potential of itaconic acid as a petrochemical replacement, data scientist Neeraj Kumar set out to inexpensively produce it using microbes.
Kumar and colleagues had previously developed a way to calculate how engineered changes in microbes could affect their metabolism. Building upon this idea, Kumar wanted to see if he could use these metabolic predictions to engineer yeast to produce high amounts of itaconic acid.
[*] Itaconic acid on Wikipedia.
Designing microbe factories for sustainable chemicals https://phys.org/news/2021-11-microbe-factories-sustainable-chemicals.html ,
The James Webb Space Telescope is a very big, very overdue and very sensitive project. After years of delays, it was supposed to launch on Dec. 18 and become the newest flagship observatory. The launch has now been moved to no earlier than Dec. 22 after an incident during launch preparations.
The telescope is in the process of getting together with the Ariane 5 rocket that will escort it into space. "A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band — which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter — caused a vibration throughout the observatory," NASA said in a statement Monday.
[...] NASA expects to deliver an update on the telescope's condition at the end of the week.
Let your Mac-owning friends boast all they want about the blinding speeds of Apple's new M-series chips, because who needs fast performance when you have freedom of choice? That's one of the benefits of buying a PC—or at least, it's supposed to be.
It turns out Microsoft might have been restricting the hardware powering certain Windows 11 laptops. According to XDA Developers, ARM-based Windows devices have only been powered by one brand of processor because of an exclusive deal between Microsoft and Qualcomm.
Want Windows on ARM laptop without a Qualcomm chip? Sorry, it doesn't exist. At least, not yet. Multiple people familiar with the deal told XDA that the agreement between these tech giants is "set to expire soon," but a specific timeline was not given.
[...] That certainly isn't due to a lack of trying. Microsoft announced Windows on ARM in 2016 with the ability to run 32-bit, x86 apps via an emulator. A few years later, the company launched the Surface Pro X, an ARM-based version of its Surface Pro tablets running on a custom version of the Snapdragon 8cx SoC. It was critically panned for being overpriced and underpowered, along with software compatibility issues. Microsoft addressed that last issue recently by bringing 64-bit, x84 emulation to Windows 11 (but abandoned plans to do so for Windows 10).
The influence of aspirin on heart failure is controversial. This study aimed to evaluate its relationship with heart failure incidence in people with and without heart disease and assess whether using the drug is related to a new heart failure diagnosis in those at risk.
The analysis included 30,827 individuals at risk for developing heart failure who were enrolled from Western Europe and the US into the HOMAGE study. "At risk" was defined as one or more of the following: smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Participants were aged 40 years and above and free of heart failure at baseline. Aspirin use was recorded at enrolment and participants were classified as users or non-users. Participants were followed up for the first incidence of fatal or non-fatal heart failure requiring hospitalization.
The average age of participants was 67 years and 34% were women. At baseline, a total of 7,698 participants (25%) were taking aspirin. During the 5.3-year follow-up, 1,330 participants developed heart failure.
The investigators assessed the association between aspirin use and incident heart failure after adjusting for sex, age, body mass index, smoking, alcohol use, blood pressure, heart rate, blood cholesterol, creatinine, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and treatment with renin-angiotensin-aldosterone-system inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, diuretics, beta-blockers, and lipid-lowering drugs. Taking aspirin was independently associated with a 26% raised risk of a new heart failure diagnosis.
Blerim Mujaj, Zhen-Yu Zhang, Wen-Yi Yang, et al. Aspirin use is associated with increased risk for incident heart failure: a patient‐level pooled analysis [open], ESC Heart Failure (DOI: 10.1002/ehf2.13688)
A team of University of Arizona researchers has developed an ultra-thin wireless device that grows to the surface of bone and could someday help physicians monitor bone health and healing over long periods. The devices, called osseosurface electronics, are described in a paper published Thursday in Nature Communications.
[...] The outer layers of bones shed and renew just like the outer layers of skin. So, if a traditional adhesive was used to attach something to the bone, it would fall off after just a few months. To address this challenge, study co-author and BIO5 Institute member John Szivek -- a professor of orthopedic surgery and biomedical engineering -- developed an adhesive that contains calcium particles with an atomic structure similar to bone cells, which is used as to secure osseosurface electronics to the bone.
It's not for that kind of bone.
Cai, Le, Burton, Alex, Gonzales, David A., et al. Osseosurface electronics—thin, wireless, battery-free and multimodal musculoskeletal biointerfaces [open], Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27003-2)
Those seven threads (technically, they're back-to-back, high-voltage, direct-current connections) join America's Eastern and Western interconnections and have 1,320 megawatts of electric-power handling capacity. (The seam separating the grids runs, roughly, from eastern Montana, down the western borders of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas and along the western edges of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Texas, with its own grid, is mostly outside the two big grids.)
And they are big grids -- the eastern grid has a generating capacity of 700,000 megawatts and the western 250,000 megawatts. So, up to 1,320 megawatts isn't much electricity moving between the two.
But what if there were bigger connections between the two grids? What if more power moved back and forth? Could that move Iowa wind power, Southwest solar power and Eastern off-shore wind power from coast to coast? Could the West help the East meet its peak demand, and vice versa? Would bigger connections boost grid reliability, resilience and adaptability? Would the benefits exceed the costs?
The short answer: Yes.
That's according to the Interconnections Seam Study, a two-year, $1.5 million study launched as part of a $220 million Grid Modernization Initiative announced in January 2016 by the U.S. Department of Energy.
[...] "The results show benefit-to-cost ratios that reach as high as 2.5, indicating significant value to increasing the transmission capacity between the interconnections under the cases considered, realized through sharing generation resources and flexibility across regions," says a summary of the latest paper.
"So, for every dollar invested, you get up to $2.50 back," said James McCalley, an Iowa State Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, the Jack London Chair in Power Systems Engineering and a co-author of the papers.
How much would you have to invest? McCalley said it would take an estimated $50 billion to build what researchers are calling a "macrogrid" of major transmission lines that loop around the Midwest and West, with branches filling in the middle and connecting to Texas and the Southeast.
1.) Aaron Bloom, Josh Novacheck, Gregory L. Brinkman, et al. The Value of Increased HVDC Capacity Between Eastern and Western U.S. Grids: The Interconnections Seam Study, (DOI: 10.1109/TPWRS.2021.3115092)
2.) Armando L. Figueroa Acevedo, Ali Jahanbani-Ardakani, Hussam Nosair, et al. Design and Valuation of High-Capacity HVDC Macrogrid Transmission for the Continental US, (DOI: 10.1109/TPWRS.2020.2970865)
As the study points out, if you want a good planetary magnetic field, what you really need is a strong flow of charged particles, either within the planet or around the planet. Since the former isn't a great option for Mars, the team looks at the latter. It turns out you can create a ring of charged particles around Mars, thanks to its moon Phobos.
Phobos is the larger of the two Martian moons, and it orbits the planet quite closely—so closely that it makes a trip around Mars every eight hours. So the team proposes using Phobos by ionizing particles from its surface, then accelerating them so they create a plasma torus along the orbit of Phobos. This would create a magnetic field strong enough to protect a terraformed Mars.
It's a bold plan, and while it seems achievable, the engineering hurdles would be significant. But as the authors point out, this is the time for ideas. Start thinking about the problems we need to solve, and how we can solve them, so when humanity does reach Mars, we will be ready to put the best ideas to the test.
Simple solution, really. It's the dependencies that are a bear...
R. A. Bamford, B. J. Kelletta, J. L. Green, et al How to create an artificial magnetosphere for Mars How to create an artificial magnetosphere for Mars (DOI: doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2021.09.023https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2021.09.023
Even after 30 months in space, The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 mission continues to successfully "sail on sunbeams," demonstrating solar sail technology in Earth orbit. The mission is providing hard data for future missions that hope to employ solar sails to explore the cosmos.
LightSail 2, a small cubesat, launched in June 2019 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, as a demonstration mission to test how well a solar sail could change the orbit of a spacecraft. A month after launch, when LightSail 2 unfurled its ultra-thin 32-square-meter Mylar sail, the mission was declared a success because the sail raised the orbit of the small, loaf-of-bread-sized spacecraft.
"We're going to a higher orbital altitude without rocket fuel, just with the push of sunlight," The Planetary Society's (TPS) CEO Bill Nye said at a press conference following the deployment. "This idea that you could fly a spacecraft and could get propulsion in space form nothing but photons, it's surprising, and for me, it's very romantic that you'd be sailing on sunbeams."
[...] Solar sails use the power of photons from the Sun to propel spacecraft. While photons have no mass, they can still transfer a small amount of momentum. So, when photons hit the solar sail, the craft is pushed very slightly away from the Sun. Over time, if a spacecraft is out in space without any atmosphere to encumber it, it could potentially accelerate to incredibly high speeds.
A spacecraft with a solar sail wouldn't need to carry fuel and so could theoretically travel for longer periods of time, as it wouldn't need to refuel.
But LightSail 2 is in orbit around the Earth. As the spacecraft swings its sails into the sunlight, it raises its orbit by as much as a few hundred meters a day. But the small spacecraft doesn't have the means to tilt the sails precisely enough to prevent lowering its orbit on the other side of the planet. Eventually, LightSail 2 will dip far into the Earth's atmosphere to succumb to atmospheric drag. It will deorbit and burn up.
LightSail 2 Spacecraft Successfully Demonstrates Flight by Light
Drama in Low-Earth Orbit as LightSail 2 Deploys its Sails
Planetary Society Receiving Data From LightSail 2
One Legacy of Carl Sagan May Take Flight Next Week—a Working Solar Sail
New homes and buildings in England will be required by law to install electric vehicle charging points from next year, the prime minister is set to announce.
The government said the move will see up to 145,000 charging points installed across the country each year.
New-build supermarkets, workplaces and buildings undergoing major renovations will also come under the new law.
The move comes as the UK aims to switch to electric cars, with new petrol and diesel cars sales banned from 2030.
A turkey in every pot, and a charge point in every garage...
Researchers from Bristol's School of Education sought to determine what types of humour are present in early development and the ages at which different types of humour emerge. The team created the 20-question Early Humour Survey (EHS) and asked the parents of 671 children aged 0 to 47 months from the UK, US, Australia, and Canada, to complete the five-minute survey about their child's humour development.
The team found the earliest reported age that some children appreciated humour was 1 month, with an estimated 50% of children appreciating humour by 2 months, and 50% producing humour by 11 months. The team also show that once children produced humour, they produced it often, with half of children having joked in the last 3 hours.
Of the children surveyed, the team identified 21 different types of humour. Children under one year of age appreciated physical, visual and auditory forms of humour. This included hide and reveal games (e.g., peekaboo), tickling, funny faces, bodily humour (e.g., putting your head through your legs), funny voices and noises, chasing, and misusing objects (e.g., putting a cup on your head).
One-year-olds appreciated several types of humour that involved getting a reaction from others. This included teasing, showing hidden body parts (e.g., taking off clothes), scaring others, and taboo topics (e.g., toilet humour). They also found it funny to act like something else (e.g., an animal).
Two-year-olds' humour reflected language development, including mislabelling, playing with concepts (e.g., dogs say moo), and nonsense words. Children in this age group were also found to demonstrate a mean streak as they appreciated making fun of others and aggressive humour (e.g., pushing someone).
Finally, 3-year-olds were found to play with social rules (e.g., saying naughty words to be funny), and showed the beginnings of understanding tricks and puns.
Elena Hoicka, Burcu Soy Telli, Eloise Prouten, et al. The Early Humor Survey (EHS): A reliable parent-report measure of humor development for 1- to 47-month-olds. [open], Behavior Research Methods (DOI: 10.3758/s13428-021-01704-4)
Most of the readers here are probably aware that the European Union is betting heavily on hydrogen as a clean energy carrier. Related to that, Martin Sandbu wrote an interesting article in the Financial Times, titled The Gordian Knot of Europe's gas dependence.
In essence, his thesis in the article was that the best way forward for the EU, from an energy perspective, is to keep investing into its gas fields, combined with conversion of that gas into so-called blue hydrogen, combined with carbon capture. The problem was though, he argued, that all of these three things need to happen together: if there's no market for either, the whole system will be caught in a catch-22 situation.
Gas producers will not invest in new fields if there are no takers to convert the gas into hydrogen, and mass market realisation of hydrogen technologies will not take off if there is no ample supply. Carbon capture, of course, is needed so the conversion of gas into hydrogen does not cause further climate change, and the EU can reach its carbon emission targets.
What is interesting, though, is a reader's letter in reaction to that article. The writer of that letter is the Chief Executive of Snam, Europe's largest gas network operator. When you read the following quotes, keep in mind that many commercial boilers can already take a 20 percent hydrogen blend, and that RWE (the 2nd largest offshore wind power generator in the world) and Shell have already teamed up to produce green hydrogen, on a gigawatt scale:
One little-known but crucial fact is that the grade of steel usually used for natural gas pipelines in Europe is compatible with hydrogen, at blends up to 100 per cent.
That our grids are already "hydrogen ready" means two things for Sandbu's conundrum. First, any investment required by the transport network to keep gas flowing and competitive over the next couple of decades needn't result in stranded assets when the time comes to switch to hydrogen.
Second, the pipelines themselves can provide an instant home for hydrogen -- decoupling production and consumption.
Early-stage hydrogen producers could simply blend their green fuel into the gas network, scaling up facilities and reducing costs. As the "green premium" narrows, consumers would be encouraged to jump in larger numbers, and the infrastructure could then be switched to carry pure hydrogen. Blending is neither an endgame nor a market. It is a way to give green hydrogen a leg-up.
What to make of Sandbu's preferred solution, which is to encourage the development of blue hydrogen, where the carbon from natural gas is captured? My take is that green is likely to be competitive relative early on, especially if we can scale it up.
(Letter to the Financial Times, Thu Nov 18, "Let markets determine if hydrogen is blue or green", from Marco Alvèra, Chief Executive, Snam, Milan, Italy.)
Could green hydrogen be heating your home in the coming decade?
[...] The researchers found that whereas adults build integrated memories with inferences already baked in, children and adolescents create separate memories that they later compare to make inferences on the fly.
“How adults structure knowledge is not necessarily optimal for children, because adult strategies might require brain machinery that is not fully mature in children,” said Alison Preston, professor of neuroscience and psychology and senior author of the study published today in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. She co-led the study with first author Margaret Schlichting, formerly a doctoral student in Preston’s lab and currently assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
To understand the distinction between how adults and children make inferences, imagine visiting a day care center. In the morning, you see a child arriving with one adult, but in the afternoon that child leaves with a different adult. You might infer that the two grown-ups are the child’s parents and are a couple, and your second memory would include both the second person you saw and information from your earlier experience in order to make an inference about how the two adults — whom you didn’t actually see together — might relate to each other.
This new study finds that a child who has the same experiences isn’t likely to make the same kind of inference that an adult would during the second experience. The two memories are less connected. If you ask your child to infer who that child’s parents are, your child can still do it; he or she just has to retrieve the two distinct memories and then reason about how each adult might be related.
Margaret L. Schlichting, Katharine F. Guarino, Hannah E. Roome, et al. Developmental differences in memory reactivation relate to encoding and inference in the human brain, Nature Human Behaviour (DOI: 10.1038/s41562-021-01206-5)
People with Prader Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder, have an insatiable appetite. They never feel full, even after a hearty meal. The result can be life-threatening overeating and obesity.
According to a new study, their constant hunger results in part to disordered signaling in the brain’s cerebellum, a region of the brain also responsible for motor control and learning. An international research team spanning 12 institutions, led by J. Nicholas Betley, an assistant professor of biology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, and Albert I. Chen, an associate professor at the Scintillion Institute, in San Diego, used clues from Prader Willi patients to guide investigations in mice that uncovered a subset of cerebellar neurons that signals satiation after eating.
When the researchers activated these neurons, the magnitude of the effect "was enormous," accordingly to Betley. The animals ate just as often as typical mice, but each of their meals was 50-75% smaller.
[...] "It's amazing that you can still find areas of the brain that are important for basic survival behaviors that we had never before implicated," Betley says. "And these brain regions are important in robust ways."
Aloysius Y. T. Low, Nitsan Goldstein, Jessica R. Gaunt, et al. Reverse-translational identification of a cerebellar satiation network, Nature (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04143-5)
Psyche's Hall thrusters will be the first to be used beyond lunar orbit, demonstrating that they could play a role in supporting future missions to deep space. The spacecraft is set to launch in August 2022 and its super-efficient mode of propulsion uses solar arrays to capture sunlight that is converted into electricity to power the spacecraft's thrusters. The thrusters work by turning xenon gas, a neutral gas used in car headlights and plasma TVs, into xenon ions. As the xenon ions are accelerated out of the thruster, they create the thrust that will propel the spacecraft.
On Tuesday, TerraPower, the US-based nuclear power company backed by Bill Gates, announced it has chosen a site for what would be its first reactor. Kemmerer, Wyoming, population roughly 2,500, has been the site of the coal-fired Naughton Power Plant, which is being closed. The TerraPower project will see it replaced by a 345 megawatt reactor that would pioneer a number of technologies that haven't been commercially deployed before.
These include a reactor design that needs minimal refueling, cooling by liquid sodium, and a molten-salt heat-storage system that will provide the plant with the flexibility needed to better integrate with renewable energy.
While TerraPower is the name clearly attached to the project, plenty of other parties are involved, as well. The company is perhaps best known for being backed by Bill Gates, now chairman of the company board, who has promoted nuclear power as a partial solution for the climate crisis. The company has been selected by the US Department of Energy to build a demonstration reactor, a designation that guarantees at least $180 million toward construction and could see it receive billions of dollars over the next several years.
Also at Ars Technica.