SciTech Briefs

Engine turns waste hot water into electricity

Exergyn, a firm based in Dublin, Ireland, has created a new engine called the Exergyn Drive, that turns waste hot water into electricity, which will help to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption in a variety of companies.

“There’s just so much waste hot water in the world,” said Exergyn CEO Alan Healy. “In most cases [companies] are actually spending energy to cool it.”

This type of engine is particularly useful for cargo ships, which typically pump waste hot water around the vessels to cool their engine down. Recycling this waste hot water in an efficient manner will help reduce both costs and carbon emissions.

The Exergyn Drive uses nitinol, an alloy of nickel and titanium that undergoes a phase transition when heated and reverts back to its original shape. When cooled, nitinol expands, similar to water and ice. In the Drive itself, nitinol wires attached to a piston are flushed with hot and cold water, expanding and contracting the wires to create a piston movement.

From 200 kilowatts of thermal energy in the waste hot water, the engine produces 10 kilowatts of electricity. Exergyn plans to run industrial trials next year. This engine can revolutionize the way companies deal with waste.

Source: New Scientist

False news floods social media, affects public opinion

In the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, fake news has flooded social media, making it incredibly difficult to discern fact from fiction. An analysis published in First Monday, the peer-reviewed journal of the internet, by University of Southern California computer scientists found that nearly 20 percent of election-related tweets came from social media bots. A social media bot is any computer program that poses as a real person.

The abstract from the study claims, “The presence of social media bots can indeed negatively affect democratic political discussion rather than improving it, which in turn can potentially alter public opinion and endanger the integrity of the Presidential election.”

However, even beyond politics, fake news can be catastrophic for science. Click-bait headlines with fake news about “controversial” science topics such as climate change and vaccines can spread false information. With people unable to tell when information is not true, they may form opinions on a topic based on incorrect information.

According to cognitive scientist David Rapp of Northwestern University, research shows that even if people initially know the news is false they will remember it to be true later.

Source: Science News

Parkinson’s may be linked to gut microbe

Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, progressive movement disorder, affects more than 10 million people worldwide, of which 70 percent have gastrointestinal issues such as constipation. Often, gastrointestinal issues manifest before neurological problems, but it was unclear as to whether there was a link between gut microbes and the disease itself.

This week, researchers published a report in Cell about how intestinal microbes send signals that set off Parkinson’s characteristic brain inflammation and motor problems in mice.

The team conducted a study raising two kinds of mice. In both cases, the mice produced too much alpha-synuclein, the protein that clumps in the brain and is believed to cause Parkinson’s. But one set of mice were raised to be germ-free while the other set was not. In the germ-free mice, the alpha-synuclein wasn’t clumping in their brains, and they acted less sick.

“Even though the mice that received the healthy microbiota received hundreds of bacteria, they didn’t get the disease,” said Mazmanian. These findings could help researchers understand the mechanism of Parkinson’s disease and develop new treatments for this disorder.

Source: Science News

Perovskite solar cells hit new world efficiency records

Recently, engineers at the Australia’s University of New South Wales in Sydney have created perovskite solar cells that break new world records regarding energy conversion efficiency. At the Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference in Canberra this past Friday, Anita Ho-Baillie, a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP), announced the accomplishment.

The team’s perovskite solar cell is 16 square centimeters and has a 12.1 percent efficiency rating, which was independently confirmed by Newport Corp in Montana. The team’s 1.2 square centimeter cell has an 18 percent efficiency rating.

Perovskite is a compound containing a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide. The compound is cheap and simple to manufacture and is very versatile.

“This is a very hot area of research, with many teams competing to advance photovoltaic design,” said Ho-Baillie. “Perovskites came out of nowhere in 2009, with an efficiency rating of 3.8 percent, and have since grown in leaps and bounds. These results place UNSW amongst the best groups in the world producing state-of-the-art high-performance perovskite solar cells. And I think we can get to 24 percent within a year or so.”

Source: Science Daily

Europe presses ahead with plans for Mars rover

Europe now has plans to put a robotic rover assembled in the United Kingdom on Mars by the year 2021. In a meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, research ministers agreed to fund the 436 million euro project. Because of the cost and timing, there is fear the European Space Agency (ESA) may drop the project.

However, the research ministers both confirmed their desire for the project and that European involvement in the International Space Station would continue through 2024.

“We need inspiration for the future. Inspiration is a driver, and from inspiration and fascination come motivation. And for me, it’s very clear we are responsible for the motivation of the next generation to create the future,” said Jan Woerner, the director general of ESA.

Getting the rover to Mars is the second part of a two-part project called ExoMars. The first part of this project was getting a satellite to Mars to explore different gases in the planet’s atmosphere that may come from other-world microbes.

“Nobody else is doing the science that is planned for ExoMars, drilling below the surface of the planet for the first time” said David Parker, the director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration at ESA.

Source: BBC

Evidence shows supernova formed our solar system

New evidence has emerged from a scientist at Monash University that uses data from meteorites and a new computer model to suggest that the formation of our solar system was triggered by a low-mass supernova.

Our solar system was formed around 4.6 billion years ago after a cloud of gas and dust was disturbed; the resulting gravitational collapse enabled the formation of a protostar, which later became our Sun, and the surrounding disc where the planets were born. One of the cosmic events that would have enough energy to cause the gravitational collapse would be a supernova, when a star explodes at the end of its life cycle.

“Before this model there was only inconclusive evidence to support this theory,” said Alexander Heger, a professor at the Monash School of Physics and Astronomy.

The researchers focused on radioactive nuclei in the decay products of modern meteorites that were only present during the early years after the solar system’s formation. These nuclei have a very short life span, and could only have come from a supernova. The study was published in Nature Communications.

Source: Science Daily