This month I turn my attention to a set of new technologies that will improve the world around us – but are unrelated otherwise. First is a novel approach to generate energy from water. MIT engineers have developed a thin film made of one polymer which is hard but flexible and another that is a water-absorbing gel. When the gel absorbs water, it expands and causes the hard polymer to bend; and as soon as the gel is surrounded by air, it dries rapidly and the hard polymer snaps back into place. This constant back and forth spring action can lift a load 380 times its own weight!
Here are two ideas to help remove waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. Two researchers at Newcastle University found that CO2 can be trapped on nickel nanoparticles when the gas is bubbled through water. They made this discovery while researching sea urchins of all things – more proof that it is impossible to determine the research that might yield important life-changing technologies as some critics of scientific studies have suggested. A commercial company believes it has found a way to turn CO2 from industrial waste streams into plastic. Novomer, Inc. has already produced more than 7-tons of finished product with more than 40% of it waste CO2 by weight.
Scientists have sought a way to produce energy from salinity gradients between salt and fresh water but to date the process has been too inefficient for profitability. A recent discovery may well change this paradigm. A team of physicists at the Institut Lumière Matière have increased the efficiency of this process by an amazing 1000 times using nanotubes made of boron nitride to generate electricity from the osmotic flow.
And finally, have scientists found another wonder material with properties similar to graphene? A team at Nanyang Technological University thinks so. The material is formed by crystallizing titanium dioxide into nanofibers which are woven into a flexible membrane along with carbon, copper, zinc or tin depending on the end product. If this product is as amazing as it sounds with applications from desalination to imparting anti-microbial properties to bandages, it is a major scientific breakthrough.
What would you do with hours of free time on your hand and every episode of Seinfeld close by? Well, clearly you would map the relationship of every major character (i.e. Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer) with the supporting cast. Okay, honestly I would not spend the time doing this either but thankfully the folks at DULA.tv have. Did you know Jerry had 45 girlfriends during the 180 episodes versus George’s 35 relationships. Oh the TV memories this Seinfeld map triggers, enjoy!
It’s Spring here in Boulder (well, sort of, since it is 60-degrees and sunny today but 12-inches of snow are on the way tomorrow) and in honor of this glorious season, I Googled, ‘GIS and flowers.’ The results were extensive so you might have missed this article about urban agriculture and bee pollination. A group of researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, received a National Sciences Foundation grant to study the impacts of urbanization on bee pollination patterns. Specifically, they hope to determine if in urban environments there are areas with lower bee diversity and thus lower pollination rates; and if so, what can be done to increase these rates in urban gardens. This is important research as data shows many low-income urban areas have a lower density of supermarkets and thus it is harder for residents to find healthy food choices locally.
From the California coastline we travel to the Rockies and check out the GIS resources for Denver, Colorado. As might be expected in one of the nation’s geospatial hotbeds, the Denver GIS website is robust with more than 100 layers you can download. There are parcels, high res images, bike routes, building footprints and so much more. The GIS department will also help you with custom map requests, you can find out more about these services here.
Brock Adam McCarty