Monthly Archives: November 2007

Nanosolar’s Breakthrough – Solar Now Cheaper Than Coal

Nanosolar’s Breakthrough – Solar Now Cheaper than Coal


Their mission: to deliver cost-efficient solar electricity. The Nanosolar company was founded in 2002 and is working to build the world’s largest solar cell factory in California and the world’s largest panel-assembly factory in Germany. They have successfully created a solar coating that is the most cost-efficient solar energy source ever. Their PowerSheet cells contrast the current solar technology systems by reducing the cost of production from $3 a watt to a mere 30 cents per watt. This makes, for the first time in history, solar power cheaper than burning coal.

These coatings are as thin as a layer of paint and can transfer sunlight to power at amazing efficiency. Although the underlying technology has been around for years, Nanosolar has created the actual technology to manufacture and mass produce the solar sheets. The Nanosolar plant in San Jose, once in full production in 2008, will be capable of producing 430 megawatts per year. This is more than the combined total of every other solar manufacturer in the U.S.

Nuke to the Future!

Nuke to the Future


The portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub. It’s shaped like a sake cup, filled with a uranium hydride core and surrounded by a hydrogen atmosphere. Encase it in concrete, truck it to a site, bury it underground, hook it up to a steam turbine and, voila, one would generate enough electricity to power a 25,000-home community for at least five years.

The company Hyperion Power Generation was formed last month to develop the nuclear fission reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory and take it into the private sector. If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors.

Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn’t like to think of its product as a “reactor.” It’s self-contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn’t require a human operator.

“In fact, we prefer to call it a ‘drive’ or a ‘battery’ or a ‘module’ in that it’s so safe,” Hyperion spokeswoman Deborah Blackwell says. “Like you don’t open a double-A battery, you just plug [the reactor] in and it does its chemical thing inside of it. You don’t ever open it or mess with it.”

Nano Cancer Bombs And Mini Organs From MIT

Nano cancer-bombs and mini organs from MIT

Scientists at MIT have developed remote-controlled nano particles that, with the push of a button, can deliver drugs directly to a tumour. The same research director has also found a way to build tiny human “livers” just 500 micrometres across. This work should lead to more reliable toxicity testing for new drugs.

According to Geoff von Maltzahn, post-doctoral researcher at the Harvard-MIT division of health sciences & technology (HST), the nano particles are first persuaded to clump together, which makes it easier to track their progress through a patient’s body. Then, drug molecules are attached to the clumps of nanoparticles with DNA tethers and the whole lot is injected into the patient.

The nanoparticles are then tracked with an MRI scanner (hence the clumping). When they get to their target they are pulsed with an electromagnetic field at between 350-400kHz. This is harmless to the human body, but melts the tether and releases the drugs exactly where they are needed.

The breakthrough rests on a property of the nanoparticles: superparamagnetism. This characteristic causes them to give off heat when they are exposed to a magnetic field. This heat breaks the connection with the DNA tether, and allows the system to deliver the drugs.

Using DNA as the tether has another advantage: it makes it possible to choose the EM frequency that will break the bond, since longer or differently arranged strands will have different melting points. This means one clump of nanoparticles can carry multiple doses of drugs to several sites. If each drug has differently tuned DNA tethers, doctors can use a different EM frequency to deliver each dose.

Second Life Brain-Computer Interface, Thought Controlled Technology

Brain-computer interface for Second Life

While recent developments in brain-computer interface (BCI) technology have given humans the power to mentally control computers, nobody has used the technology in conjunction with the Second Life online virtual world — until now.

A research team led by professor Jun’ichi Ushiba of the Keio University Biomedical Engineering Laboratory has developed a BCI system that lets the user walk an avatar through the streets of Second Life while relying solely on the power of thought. To control the avatar on screen, the user simply thinks about moving various body parts — the avatar walks forward when the user thinks about moving his/her own feet, and it turns right and left when the user imagines moving his/her right and left arms.

The system consists of a headpiece equipped with electrodes that monitor activity in three areas of the motor cortex (the region of the brain involved in controlling the movement of the arms and legs). An EEG machine reads and graphs the data and relays it to the BCI, where a brain wave analysis algorithm interprets the user’s imagined movements. A keyboard emulator then converts this data into a signal and relays it to Second Life, causing the on-screen avatar to move. In this way, the user can exercise real-time control over the avatar in the 3D virtual world without moving a muscle.

New Technology Can Be Operated By Thought

Neuroscientists have significantly advanced brain-machine interface (BMI) technology to the point where severely handicapped people who cannot contract even one leg or arm muscle now can independently compose and send e-mails and operate a TV in their homes. They are using only their thoughts to execute these actions.

Thanks to the rapid pace of research on the BMI, one day these and other individuals may be able to feed themselves with a robotic arm and hand that moves according to their mental commands.

In previous studies, this lab developed the technology to tap a macaque monkey’s motor cortical neural activity making it possible for the animal to use its thoughts to control a robotic arm to reach for food targets presented in 3D space.

In the Pittsburgh lab’s latest studies, macaque monkeys not only mentally guided a robotic arm to pieces of food but also opened and closed the robotic arm’s hand, or gripper, to retrieve them. Just by thinking about picking up and bringing the fruit to its mouth, the animal fed itself.

The monkey’s own arm and hand did not move while it manipulated the two-finger gripper at the end of the robotic arm. The animal used its own sight for feedback about the accuracy of the robotic arm’s actions as it mentally moved the gripper to within one-half centimeter of a piece of fruit.

“The monkey developed a great deal of skill using this physical device,” says Meel Velliste, PhD. “We are in the process of extending this type of control to a more sophisticated wrist and hand for the performance of dexterous tasks.”

Researchers Simulate Photosynthesis, Design Better Leaf

Researchers successfully simulate photosynthesis and design a better leaf

University of Illinois researchers have built a better plant, one that produces more leaves and fruit without needing extra fertilizer. The researchers accomplished the feat using a computer model that mimics the process of evolution. Theirs is the first model to simulate every step of the photosynthetic process.

Photosynthesis converts light energy into chemical energy in plants, algae, phytoplankton and some species of bacteria and archaea. Photosynthesis in plants involves an elaborate array of chemical reactions requiring dozens of protein enzymes and other chemical components. Most photosynthesis occurs in a plant’s leaves.

It wasn’t feasible to tackle this question with experiments on actual plants, Long said. With more than 100 proteins involved in photosynthesis, testing one protein at a time would require an enormous investment of time and money.

“But now that we have the photosynthetic process ‘in silico,’ we can test all possible permutations on the supercomputer,” he said.

Using “evolutionary algorithms,” which mimic evolution by selecting for desirable traits, the model hunted for enzymes that – if increased – would enhance plant productivity. If higher concentrations of an enzyme relative to others improved photosynthetic efficiency, the model used the results of that experiment as a parent for the next generation of tests.

This process identified several proteins that could, if present in higher concentrations relative to others, greatly enhance the productivity of the plant. The new findings are consistent with results from other researchers, who found that increases in one of these proteins in transgenic plants increased productivity.

“By rearranging the investment of nitrogen, we could almost double efficiency,” Long said.