Monthly Archives: July 2008

MIT Students Develop Solar Dish Hot Enough to Melt Steel

‘New solar dish from MIT concentrates sunlight intensely enough to melt steel.’ –

The solar industry is booming. With waves of investment and grants, the solar power industry is for the first time becoming a serious business. New power plants will soon be pumping power out to consumers, while other firms market to sell panels directly to the consumer, providing them with a more direct means of experiencing solar energy.

There are many forms of solar power technology. Today the most dominant is photo-voltaics , which comprise the traditional solar panels that come to mind when one thinks of solar power. However, there are other promising ways of capturing the sun’s energy that are merely less developed.

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Nanowires Make Bendy Solar Cells

Researchers at the A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore, led by Chang-yun Jiang, have developed highly bendable “dye-sensitized” solar cells made from zinc oxide nanowire photoelectrodes on plastic substrates. The researchers found that the nanowires are highly resistant to cracking because gaps between the nanowires allow them to efficiently release bending stresses. The devices, which conserve their photovoltaic properties even when they are extremely bent, have a variety of potential application in flexible and portable devices, such as solar-cell mobile phone chargers, clothes, and umbrellas.

The photoanodes in dye-senzitised solar cells (DSCCs) are usually made from a film of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide nanocrystals. The problem is that these thick films are fragile and crack easily when bent. Moreover, nanocrystals work well at high temperatures, which are disastrous for the plastic-film substrates. The scientists solved this problem by creating flexible DSSCs that are based on this substrate, so that their properties are conserved even when bent.

More about the zinc oxide nanowire flexible cells can be found here (translated via Google).

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IBM’s eight-core Power7 chip to clock in at 4.0GHz

IBM looks set to join the seriously multi-core set with the Power7 chip. Internal documents seen by The Register show Power7 with eight cores per processor and also some very, very large IBM boxes based on the chip.

The IBM documents have the eight-core Power7 being arranged in dual-chip modules. So, that’s 16-cores per module. As IBM tells it, each core will show 32 gigaflops of performance, bringing each chip to 256 gigaflops. Just on the gigaflop basis, that makes Power7 twice as fast per core as today’s dual-core Power6 chips, although the actual clock rate on the Power7 chips should be well below the 5.0GHz Power6 speed demon.

In fact, according to our documents, IBM will ship Power7 at 4.0GHz in 2010 on a 45nm process. We’re also seeing four threads per core on the chip.

For some customers, IBM looks set to create 2U systems with four of the dual-chip modules, giving the server 64 cores of fun. These 2U systems will support up to 128GB of memory and hit 2 teraflops.

IBM has an architecture that will let supercomputing types combine these 2U boxes to form a massive unit with 1,024 cores, hitting 32 teraflops of performance with 2TB of memory.

And, er, if you are a seriously demanding type, boy, does IBM have the system for you.

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IBM is  planning to build a supercomputer that runs at 10 petaflops in 2011. A petaflop is 10^15 calculations per second. So 10 petaflop would be 10^16.

The military recently built the very first supercomputer to break the 1 petaflop barrier. A tenfold increase within 3 years is no laughing matter.

A 10 petaflop supercomputer would also be powerful enough (according to Kurzweil’s calculations, that is) to simulate a human brain in real time.

Florida Gives Green Light to Largest Solar Power Plant in U.S.

The Florida Public Service Commission has “unanimously and enthusiastically” approved a plan to build America’s largest commercial solar-power plant in the state. The committee also gave the green light to a further two facilities, due to go on-line in 2009.

Florida Power & Light have selected SunPower to construct the three solar-power plants in the center of the state. The largest, a 75-megawatt plant in Martin County on the East Coast, will be connected to a natural gas plant. Another 25-megawatt plant in DeSoto County will be the largest photovoltaic facility in the country, while a third, 10-megawatt photovoltaic facility is to be housed at the Kennedy Space Center.

Speaking about the project, Howard Wenger, SunPower’s Senior Vice President, Global Business Units said, “These agreements confirm the growing trend in the U.S. to build solar power plants at a scale rivalling those in market-leading countries such as Germany and Spain.”

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Just when it looked like things were getting dark for solar, the tide has taken a turn for the better.

I’m not going to stand by idly while this revolution is taking place. I’m buying alternative energy stocks, damnit!

Another recent energy-related article of interested is the one about Al Gore’s ambitious plan to go 100% carbon neutral in only 10 years.

Enjoy the read.

General Motors: Self-Driving Cars Not Far Off

Imagine the scene: You’re driving your car to an office building in New York City, five minutes from a job interview. No worries. You have already dialed into the car’s memory the parking garage where it’s going to stay, and prepaid the bill. You shut the door. And off it goes. Driverless. And the chances of the car getting into an accident while it travels five or six treacherous city blocks are less than if the hopeful job applicant had tried to park it himself under time pressure.

Does it sound too good to be true? A sign of the end of civilization as we know it? Too far into the future to care? It depends on whom you ask. But some researchers, engineers, and auto companies believe that such automation is not only on the way to becoming commonplace in the next 20 years, but essential to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles from the U.S. to China and everywhere else. Oh, and as the technology necessary to achieve the “autonomous” car arrives in stages every few years — some of it is already here, in options such as electronic stability control and blind-spot detection — it promises to sharply reduce traffic fatalities.

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There are already lots of ‘digital assistents’ in the cars already manufactured today or in the near future. The article names a few…

  • Electronic stability control
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Blind-spot detection
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Collision mitigation

Over the coming years. we will see more and more technology sneak into our cars. And the technology will become more capable. Slowly but surely, cars will go from assisting us to taking over control of the car.

There are many benefits to this. I’m looking forward to it, although I do not expect truly autonomous cars sooner than 10 years from now.

Researchers Crack Final Part Of The Immune System Code

A group of researchers at the Technical University of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen have developed models of neural networks that make it possible to simulate how the body protects itself from disease and predict the immune system’s access codes. The human body has its own natural inbuilt defence mechanism which uses access or “pincodes” to stop microorganisms that invade the body from discovering how the entire human immune system works. Every human being on the planet has their own unique version of this defence mechanism. But the sheer complexity of the immune system has, up until now, also made it difficult for researchers to understand how the immune system functions and develop precise immunological treatments. Last year, the research team led by Associate Professor Morten Nielsen and Professor Søren Buus successfully decoded some of the pincodes. Now, the team has completed work on their project and put together a complete picture of how the immune system checks the inner and outer components of our cells for dangerous invaders. The research could have significant consequences for the treatment of cancer, infectious diseases and also for transplant operations.

Perspectives: Decoding the immune system to target disease

For the individual patient, the artifical neural networks mean that if scientists can identify the patient’s tissue type molecules (pincodes), they can then predict all the possible samples that would be taken by the tissue type molecules and displayed in the two display windows. If the patients own immune system, for example, does not react to a particular disease the knowledge could be used to stimulate (find, isolate and produce) the necessary T cells that can see the disease antigens (viruses, cancer cells etc). On a global scale, the neural network method could help researchers to deal with all the variants/single components of a global epidemic.

“We’ll be able to find candidates for vaccines which can both help the individual as well as the whole of humanity” explains professor Søren Buus. The neural networks provide the most comprehensive knowledge of the immune system to date.

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Solar Technology Getting Cheaper And Cheaper

No more solar cells covering a roof, but around the edges of a flat glass panel, as shown in the artist’s representation by NSF.

MIT engineers say they’ve created a new approach to harnessing the sun’s energy that provide windows with a clear view and illuminate rooms at the same time without the need for tracking devices.

According to a news release from MIT , the solar concentrator collects light at the edges, and dye molecules coated on the glass absorb sunlight and re-emits it at different wavelengths. The light is trapped within the glass and transported to solar cells along the edge, creating electricity and allowing light into the room as well.

The mixture of dyes is applied to the surface of the glass and allows light to travel a much longer distance. Mapel said, that as a result, light transportation losses were significantly reduced, resulting in a “tenfold increase in the amount of power converted by the solar cells.”

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Also see See-Through Solar Hack Could Double Panel Efficiency and New Windows Double As Solar Panels.

New Generation Of Home Robots Have Gentle Touch

Who doesn’t long for household help at times? Service robots will soon be able to relieve us of heavy, dirty, monotonous or irksome tasks. Research scientists have now presented a new generation of household robots, the “Care-O-bot® 3”.

The one-armed robot glides slowly to the kitchen table. With its three fingers, it carefully picks up the bottle of apple juice and puts it next to the glasses on the tray in front of it. Then it glides back into the lounge and serves the drinks to the guests. This is how artificial assistants might work in future.

Only 1.45 meters high, Care-O-bot® 3 is the prototype of a new generation of service robots designed to help humans in the household. The quick-to-learn assistant was developed by research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart.

Unlike its predecessors, it can even recognize and respond to gestures,” explains Graf. Numerous household articles are stored in the robot’s databases. It knows, for example, what a cup looks like and where to find it in the kitchen. It can also learn to recognize new objects. The user simply places the unfamiliar object in the robot’s hand so that it can gain a three-dimensional impression of the item. However, the new robot does not look like a human being. “We deliberately moved away from the existing, humanoid service robots when we designed Care-O-bot® 3,” stresses Care-O-bot-3 project manager Christopher Parlitz of IPA.

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It’s a good thing they moved away from the ‘real’ human being look. The real look just isn’t real enough and that makes it creepy. And you don’t want that look for a home robot.

For everybody who does want to see creepy human like robots, have a look at this Cracked article.

Genetic Modification To Make Us Immune To Aids

Some people have a mutation that makes them amazingly resistant to HIV — and now, scientists may have found a way to give that immunity to anyone.

Viruses enter cells and take them over, but to get inside, they need a handhold. HIV pulls itself in by grabbing onto a protein called CCR5, which decorates the surface of T-cells, which are one of the two major types of white blood cells and play an important role in helping the body fight infections. Back in the 1990’s, researchers took interest in a handful of promiscuous gay men who were able to engage in sexual relations with their HIV-positive partners with impunity. Most of them had a mutation that kept their cells from producing normal CCR5 protein.

Armed with that knowledge, scientists have developed several tactics to block the production of CCR5 or perturb its shape so that the HIV virus can’t grab onto it during the first step of its hijacking attempt. The strategy is much akin to cutting your hair before a wrestling match: It gives your opponent one less thing to grab onto.

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Another great step towards curing humanity’s ailments.

This is probably only the beginning. I expect many more diseases to be cured in the coming biotech-decade.

Life Extension From Caloric Restriction… In A Pill!

In 2006, Sinclair and National Institute on Aging gerontologist Rafael de Cabo, also a co-author of the Cell Metabolism study, used resveratrol to improve the health and extend the lives of obese mice on high-calorie diets. The latest study involved both obese and normal mice, fed standard, low- and high-calorie fare.

Regardless of mouse weight and diet, resveratrol worked wonders. At two years of age, or the mouse equivalent of senescence, the mice were more coordinated than their non-dosed counterparts. Their bones were thicker and stronger, their eyes free of cataracts, their hearts beating strong. At the cellular level, tissues displayed gene-level changes almost identical to those produced by caloric restriction.

The mitochondria of resveratrol-taking mice also proved healthy. Mitochondrial degeneration has been implicated in a variety of diseases, leading some researchers to believe that heart disease, cancer and dementia — all the so-called diseases of aging — have a common root.

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I can’t believe what’s possible in mice these days.

I’ve seen’em heal from spinal paralysis, get a cure for sickle cell anemia, and more. And now they’re getting longer and healthier life in which they’re allowed to eat all they want.

Makes me wish I was one of them.