Courtesy Wikimedia - en:User:Fir0002Eden Steven, a physicist at Florida State University is developing ways to possibly conduct electricity using spider webs and carbon nanotubes.
A carbon nanotube is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon that’s been rolled into a tube. A nanotube’s diameter is at least 10,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair. Carbon nanotubes are strong and have been found to conduct electricity and heat.
Florida State University reports Steven used just a drop of water to attach powdery carbon nanotubes onto spider silk. He gathered the spider silk himself, using a stick to gather webs outside his lab.
The experiment has drawn much national attention. “It turns out that this high-grade, remarkable material has many functions,” Steven said of the silk coated in carbon nanotubes. “It can be used as a humidity sensor, a strain sensor, an actuator (a device that acts as an artificial muscle, for lifting weights and more) and as an electrical wire.”
Steven wanted to investigate eco-friendly materials and was especially interested in materials that could deal with humidity without complicated treatments and chemical additives.
“Understanding the compatibility between spider silk and conducting materials is essential to advance the use of spider silk in electronic applications,” Steven wrote in the online research journal Nature Communications. “Spider silk is tough, but becomes soft when exposed to water. … The nanotubes adhere uniformly and bond to the silk fiber surface to produce tough, custom-shaped, flexible and electrically conducting fibers after drying and contraction.”
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Courtesy Mark RyanOver the past couple years, Science Buzz has posted several stories (here and here) about the humongous patches of garbage and plastic debris found floating in the world's oceans. It's a serious problem and one that should raise red flags for anyone concerned with the Earth's environment. But even more troubling is the recent news that plastic particles have now been found in all five of the Great Lakes lining the border of the USA and Canada. Unlike the large globs of plastic clogging areas of the ocean, the plastics polluting the Great Lakes are microscopic particles detectable only in a microscope. But they're no less disturbing.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason, professor of chemistry at SUNY-Fredonia has been gathering water samples and reported finding high concentrations of plastic particles in the chain of freshwater lakes. One of the researchers involved is environmental chemist Lorena Rios-Mendoza from University of Wisconsin-Superior. Both she and Mason have studied the Great Trash Island (aka Trashlantis) in the Pacific Ocean but has now turned their attention to the Great Lakes.
Most of the plastic found in the water is visible only under a microscope, but has been found in all five of the Great Lakes, both in the water column, and in lake sediment. The amount of micro-plastic varies between lakes with Lake Erie - the shallowest and smallest by water volume - containing the largest ratio and Lake Superior - the largest and most voluminous - a much smaller ratio. But it doesn't matter; the point is that we're polluting some of our important sources of fresh water with plastic.
It's thought that cosmetics with could one of the sources, since the industry relies heavily on using micro-beads in its products. These tiny plastic particles used on our faces, skin, and teeth, eventually get washed off into the water supply where they're too small to get filtered out. But cosmetics certainly aren't the only source.
Courtesy tedxgp2Think of the ungodly amount of plastic material we use and discard every year. Surprisingly, only about five percent of the bags, bottles, cups, electronics, etc. get recycled; most plastic trash ends up in landfills where it slowly degrades and eventually finds its way into the world's favorite garbage dump: the oceans.
“We have no idea how long some of these plastics stay in the ocean, could be more than 40 years,” Rios-Mendoza said. She also worries if organic toxins in the water can attach themselves to the tiny plastic particles, and end up in the food chain. In this regard, Rios-Mendoza has been sampling Great Lake fish to see if such toxic particles are present in their guts.
It's important to remember that only 3 percent of the world's water is freshwater and the five Great Lakes - Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Erie - together contain 20 percent of that freshwater. That's a large portion of a relatively scarce and essential life ingredient. Last fall, I posted an interesting graphic that illustrates nicely Earth's total water supply versus fresh water and puts things in perspective.
Courtesy Mark RyanRios-Mendoza and Mason have been collaborating with a research and education group called 5Gyres Institute that monitors and studies garbage patches found in five subtropical gyres in the world's oceans. Rio-Mendoza presented a preliminary study of their work on the Great Lakes at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society. The team's future studies involve pinpointing the sources of plastic pollution and acquiring a better understanding of how plastics degrade in the environment.
"We all need to become aware of how much plastic we use in our lives and avoid using single-use products. Don’t buy water in plastic bottles or cosmetic products with micro beads. Bring re-usable bags to the store with you. Simple things like this make a big difference, but it’s also important to keep talking about this issue and raising awareness about how it affects the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans.” --- Dr. Sherri Mason“
By the way, here in Minnesota, and situated at the western tip of Lake Superior, the city of Duluth was recently proclaimed to have the best tasting drinking water in the state. By best-tasting, I'm assuming they mean it has no taste whatsoever since water is described as a colorless, tasteless liquid. Whatever the case, I always thought Duluth's drinking water was the best while growing up there (my grandparents lived in a Twin Cities' suburb and I never liked the taste of their softener-treated water).
In another water-related story, it's estimated that life on Earth can survive for at least another 1.75 billion years until we move out of the habitable zone and our oceans (and other water sources) will evaporate in the increased heat. So it's probably best that we take care of what water we have - it needs to sustain us for a long time.
Courtesy Public domain via WikipediaWe've all seen images and films of atomic bomb tests performed by the US government during the mid-20th Century: typically a brilliant flash of light followed rapidly by a mushroom cloud expanding outward and high into the sky. But that's not the only images to come out of the Atomic Age. Scientists were eager to gather as much information as they could about every aspect of fission and fusion, and used several means to glean as much as they could from those thermonuclear tests. The mechanical shutters in conventional cameras just weren't fast enough to photograph the very early moments of an atomic blast which occurred in a matter of nano-seconds. So scientists devised the rapatronic camera, an imaging devise that used three polarized lenses and a Kerr cell to capture the earliest moments of a nuclear reaction. Two of the polarized lenses were turned 90 degrees to each other with a third polarized lens turned at the diagonal and sandwiched between them. A Kerr cell is made up of liquid-suspended electrodes and rotates the light polarization when an electric field is applied (Kerr effect), allowing for super-rapid turning of lens orientation to record some amazing images.
This amazing video from NASA (via EarthSky) shows an incredibly gigantic eruption on the Sun's surface that produced three different types of events: a solar flare, a coronal mass ejection (CME), and a really interesting and rare phenomenon known as coronal rain.
Coronal rain occurs when hot plasma in the eruption cools and condenses then follows the outline of the normally invisible magnetic fields as it rains back to the Sun's chromosphere. I found that particularly amazing to see.
The images were gathered on July 19, 2012 by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s AIA instrument. One frame was shot every 12 seconds over a span of 21.5 hours from 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT. The video plays at a rate of 30 frames per second, so each second equals 6 minutes of real time.
What's extra cool is when the scale of this thing is compared to the size of Earth. If you were feeling small earlier today, you should be feeling microscopic after watching this.
Courtesy Photo and graphic by author plus Wikimedia CommonsThis is a perfect post for Halloween. A really scary story involving quantum physics. Let me begin by saying that this stuff is absolutely mind-boggling. I’m not even sure I can explain it. Albert Einstein himself – the bravest theoretical physicist there ever was - called it “Spooky action at a distance”, that’s how much it scared him. What’s even more disturbing is that scientists now are reporting that this spooky action has gotten even spookier! I’m talking back-from-the-dead-zombie spooky! Let me feebly try to explain.
One dark and stormy night there were two sub-atomic particles – photons, let’s say – that are joined together like a two-headed freak show turtle. Wait, probably a bad analogy – how about this: like a set of identical twins? That works. Think of twins, Larry and Ralph. They’ve interacted with each other since birth, acting exactly the same way no matter where they were. If Larry ate a cheeseburger for lunch, Ralph had one, too. Anyway, in the world of quantum mechanics, this joining of two particles is called entanglement.
At quantum levels all rules of physics are thrown out like a rotting pumpkin on All Saints Day. As I understand it, particles don’t really exist in one particular spot or state on the time-space continuum –but rather in all their probable states at the same time. It has to do with a deal called superposition, and is all about probability. Which means until they’re measured or observed in some way, they live in a constant state of uncertainty. Once one of them gets measured, and a value is placed on it, the uncertainty is eliminated, and at that point it locks into some sort of “existence”. I think so anyway. But – and this is a really big but – just by measuring it, the particle dies. Or it’s state of uncertainty dies– I’m not sure which. Something gets killed. Does this make any sense? Not to me, but I’ll continue anyway.
So, with an entangled pair of particles, things get kind of weird. When two particles are entangled – i.e. physically interacting - with some sort of correlation (or anti-correlation), – that interaction remains no matter where they are located in relation to each other. You measure a value in one of the entangled particles, you can be certain the other particle instantly has the same value. In a correlated pair, if you see that one particle has an up spin, you’ll know right away the other has an up spin, too. In a normal world analogy, if you see Larry bobbing for apples at a party tonight, you’ll know Ralph is somewhere with a wet head.
This theory has been successfully tested several times on pairs of entangled photons separated by 80 some miles. It would matter not a whit if they were separated by a 100 billion lightyears, some unexplained force tying them together, would give the same results.
Now here comes the really scary part. Quantum physicists are now predicting that the same kind thing can happen when the two entangled particles don't even exist at the same time. This is called an entanglement swap. It involves removing a particle from one entangled pair, and using it to create a new pair with another particle removed from a different entangled pair. I know. Blah, blah, blah. But let’s see if I can help you (and me) understand.
Let’s start with an entangled pair of photons, our old pals “Larry and Ralph” again. You decide to measure Larry’s spin. It’s a down spin. So far so good. But unfortunately, your measurement leaves his twin Ralph, all alone. “You’re dead to me!” Ralph screams! And Larry is dead because you gave him a value (his spin). Ralph now wanders about by himself (with the same down spin as Larry of course). This is called disengagement. A little later, you create another entangled pair of photons, this time named “Jane and Sally”. They’re not very happy– always bickering, always fighting over whether they’re actually particles or packets of waves – you know, the usual photon sibling stuff. Anyway, after a while they become disengaged (somehow evidently without measuring and killing one – I’m confused here). Anyway, Jane leaves in a huff and eventually ends up hooking up with the very lonely Ralph. They’ve now done the old entanglement swap.
This leaves us with one dead photon, Larry, and one abandoned photon, Sally. They come from two different disengaged pairs and couldn’t be more unrelated. But, thanks to the screwy world of quantum mechanics Larry has somehow returned from the dead and is suddenly now entangled with Sally. They are an entangled pair. Sally wasn’t even alive when Larry died! But now she’s stuck in a paired entanglement with a stupid zombie. Now that's frightening. I’m sure Einstein is spinning in his grave.
If my telling of this bizarre quantum tale hasn’t scrambled your brains, or made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you can try to learn more at the below links.
SOURCES AND LINKS
New Scientist story
Scientific American story
Niels Bohr – the genius responsible for this stuff
Schrodinger’s Cat A cat's both dead and alive until you look inside the box.
Courtesy ksoAs a happy accident, scientists from the University of Manchester learned that graphene (sheets of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb crystal lattice, just one atom thick – think chicken wire) can repair itself spontaneously. Graphene is a semi-metal that conducts electricity very easily. It has potential uses in not only electronics, but also DNA sequencing, desalination, and it has been found to be a great antimicrobial.
The Manchester researchers were originally trying to understand how metals react with graphene, which will be an important part of incorporating it into everyday electronic devices. They found, much to their dismay, that some metals actually damaged graphene’s structure by punching holes in its neatly-arranged lattice. This is not a good thing if you’re trying to create a graphene-based device. However, quite unexpectedly, the graphene started to mend itself spontaneously, using nearby loose carbon atoms! As stated by the Scientific Director at the Daresbury Laboratory, Dr. Quentin Ramasse, this could mean the “difference between a working device and a proof of concept with no real application.” It also means that graphene just jumped to the top of my “baller carbon allotropes” list.
Courtesy Mark RyanA special group of rock hounds gathered over the weekend in the Twin Cities to celebrate and give praise to agates, those special gemstones found in just about every country of the world. “A Celebration of Agates” was held July 26-29, 2012 at the Lindbergh Center at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, MN.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe weekend event was hosted by the Minnesota Mineral Club and included presentations, book signings, banquets, plenty of vendors, and lots of agates – piles of them, on tables, in buckets, inside display cases, all there for the public to enjoy.
Each year at the Minnesota State Fair, I man a booth for the Geological Society of Minnesota. It’s great talking geology with visitors, answering their rock and geology questions. But by far the most frequent questions and discussions are about agates - specifically, those found in the Lake Superior region. It’s not surprising that the Lake Superior agate is Minnesota's state gem.
Courtesy Mark RyanThese beautiful gemstones formed inside the empty spaces (vesicles) created by gas bubbles trapped in lava flows that poured out during the Mid-continental Rift (MCR) episode about a billion years ago and cooled into fine-grained basalts. Later, when the basalts were buried deep under sediments, ground water or hydrothermal activity flowing through the sequence deposited minerals (mainly silicon dioxide) inside the empty spaces layer by layer - and from the inside out - forming amygdules. Trace minerals and impurities can add color to each layer, creating bands of different color. In the Lake Superior area, the rocks became exposed again, and the basalts began to weather leaving the harder amygdules to fall out. Glaciers transported agates from the Lake Superior region and deposited them with tons of other rocks forming gravel pits to the south of the lake. Some of the best Lake Superior agates can be found around the Twin Cities.
Courtesy Mark RyanPersonally, I never got into collecting them, I’ve always been mostly into fossils, but I have to admit, some of those agates I saw at the show were stunningly beautiful pieces of natural art. There’s something very attractive about a collection of Lake Superior agates covering a tabletop or laid out inside a display case. But Minnesota’s state rock wasn’t the only agate on display. Participants from many states and several countries including India, Australia, Germany, and South America brought their collections and knowledge to share with other agate lovers.
Courtesy Mark RyanI usually don’t buy rocks, fossils or minerals – I like to find my own – but after I watched one vendor use some sort of strange bolt-cutting tool to break open several large geodes visitors had selected, I had to try my own hand at it.
Buckets of geodes lined a nearby table. The largest were as big as a softball but picked out a modest, three-inch diameter "Mexican Coconut” mined in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Courtesy Mark RyanThese geodes formed in a similar manner as most agates: a hollow space left by gas bubbles in a cooling lava flow allowed for minerals to line the interior and crystals to grow as groundwater flows through it. Sometimes agate (chalcedony i.e. silicon dioxide) forms inside, other times it can be any number of iron-oxides, silicates (quartz), or calcite. The “Coconut” geodes formed in a 44 million year old ash-flow tuff that over time eroded into whitish clay. The geodes are mined from the clay 200 feet below the surface. Geode is a general term for a rock with a hollow space inside. Sometimes geodes can contain agate material such as chalcedony or jasper, and sometimes agates can be considered geodes (if they have a hollow space), but the two terms aren’t always interchangeable.
According to the very helpful vendor, the trick to picking the most primo geode was to find one the feels lighter than others of comparable size. It would logically follow that it has a larger hollow space and therefore possibly more crystal growth inside.
Courtesy Mark RyanSo, I picked out a good one, and the vendor took it and tightened what looked like a large bike chain around the stone, then applied pressure on the cutter handle. After a sharp crack of sound, the geode broke open and fell into his hand in two equal halves. Inside each was a beautiful blue, milky lining of quartz dotted with dark, rod-like crystals of goethite, a hydrated iron oxide.
The event also featured a black-light tent for viewing florescent minerals, videos about agates, hourly drawings, on-going silent auctions, geological tools and lapidary supplies for sale, a ton of agates, and a whole flock of agate-lovers more than happy to show their favorite finds to the droves of rock hounds who came to see them.
Courtesy Mark RyanI think my favorites were the three stunning grapefruit-sized agates that grace the cover of a recent book titled Agates of Lake Superior written by Dan and Bob Lynch from Two Harbors, Minnesota. They had all three beauties on display. Two were found in the Two Harbors area, and the other in a gravel pit near Forest Lake, MN.
Courtesy Fabian OefnerEver wonder what adding watercolor to ferrofluid might look like? Yeah, me neither. But photographer Fabian Oefner did, and this is the result – cool, psychedelic, maze-like images!
Ferrofluid is a colloidal liquid that’s made up of nanoparticles of iron, suspended in a fluid (usually water). Because it’s basically liquid iron, it becomes magnetized when exposed to a magnetic field, and ends up looking like a spiky mound. What Fabian did to create these cool images was to inject watercolors into a magnetized puddle of ferrofluid. The nanoparticles of iron then rearrange themselves into channels and pools to accommodate the paint, creating these colorful labyrinths. I highly recommend watching the video that demonstrates this process – it’s mesmerizing!
Courtesy Bruce WeismanScientists at Rice University developed a new type of paint, infused with carbon nanotubes, that can detect strain in bridges, buildings, and airplanes before the signs of deformation become visible to the naked eye.
This is how it works: The paint is applied to the desired structure and allowed to dry. A laser beam is then focused on the structure, which excites the carbon nanotubes, and in turn, causes them to fluoresce in a way that indicates strain. Finally, a handheld infrared spectrometer is used to measure this fluorescence.
The advantage of strain paint over conventional strain gauges is that the gauge (the paint, in this case) and the read-out device don't have to be physically connected. Also, strain paint allows you to measure strain anywhere on the structure, and along any direction. This product is not yet on the market, but it will benefit all of us, as I'm sure we all find the structural integrity of our planes, bridges, and buildings to be pretty important.
Courtesy Image courtesy of the Materials Research Society Science as Art Competition and Shaahin Amini and Reza Abbaschian, University of California RiversideMaterials science is the study of the relationship between the structure of materials at the atomic or molecular scales and their properties at the macroscale. Materials scientists do a lot of monkeying around at super small scales, and the Materials Research Society (the organization that brings together materials scientists from academia, industry, and government) has given them a creative outlet. At each of their annual meetings, MRS includes a Science as Art competition, where any registered meeting attendee can enter an image they have created. The images are pretty amazing in their own right, but when you think about the methods, medium, and scale used to create them, it's truly mind-boggling! Here are some of the best entries from past meetings, and some video versions of selected works as well.