The solar panel installer SolarCity is beginning to address one of solar power's big drawbacks: The sun doesn't always shine. The solution: big battery packs that will provide backup power while lowering electric bills. The supplier: electric car maker Tesla Motors, whose CEO Elon Musk is also the chairman of SolarCity.
The outer shell of a droplet of oil on a surface has a thin skin which allows it to hold its shape like a small dome. Researchers at the Univ. of Missouri have developed a technique to form a virtual wall for oily liquids that will help confine them to a certain area, aiding researchers who are studying these complex molecules. The finding could also help halt industrial oil spills.
At high pressures and low temperatures, such as those in the deep oceans, carbon dioxide occurs as a liquid that is denser than seawater. Researchers in England have identified regions beneath the oceans where the igneous rocks of the upper ocean crust could safely store very large volumes of carbon dioxide.
A multinational team led by Chinese researchers in collaboration with U.S. and European partners has successfully demonstrated a novel technique for suppressing instabilities that can cut short the life of controlled fusion reactions. The team combined the new technique with a method that Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has developed for protecting the walls that surround the hot, charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions.
Scientists at Penn State Univ. have developed a method that enables a more accurate prediction of how ribonucleic acid molecules (RNAs) fold within living cells, shedding new light on how plants, as well as other living organisms, respond to environmental conditions. The advance was made possible by the ability to analyze more than 10,000 RNA molecules in a single cell.
With support from the Photosynthetic Systems Div. at the U.S. Dept. of Energy, researchers in the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are expanding a successful research program to uncover the minute workings of the photosynthetic protein, Photosystem II. The high-impact research, led by prof. K.V. Lakshmi, seeks to adapt photosynthesis for artificial use as an abundant source of renewable energy.
A collaboration of physicists and engineers has found a new way to control electron spins not with a magnetic field but with a mechanical oscillator. This demonstration of electron spin resonance that’s “shaken, not stirred” showed that an oscillator can drive the transitions of electron spins within defects commonly found in the crystal lattice of a diamond.
Much of what is known about sensory touch and hearing cells is based on indirect observation. Scientists know that these tiny cells are sensitive to changes in force and pressure. But to truly understand how they function, scientists must be able to manipulate them directly. Now, Stanford Univ. scientists are developing a set of tools that are small enough to stimulate an individual nerve or group of nerves.
A team working at the SACLA x-ray Free-Electron Laser in Japan has, for the first time, succeeded in generating ultra-bright, two-color x-ray laser pulses in the hard x-ray region. These light pulses have different wavelengths whose time separation can be adjusted with attosecond accuracy. They could be powerful tools for investigating the structure of matter and the dynamics of ultrafast physical processes and chemical reactions.
Using the powerful eye of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, two teams of scientists have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets. The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but this is the first study to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds.
Quantum entanglement, a perplexing phenomenon of quantum mechanics that Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance,” could be even spookier than Einstein perceived. A team of physicists believe the phenomenon might be intrinsically linked with wormholes, hypothetical features of space-time that in popular science fiction can provide a much-faster-than-light shortcut from one part of the universe to another.
X-rays transformed medicine a century ago by providing a noninvasive way to detect internal structures in the body. Still, they have limitations: X-rays cannot image the body’s soft tissues, except with the use of contrast-enhancing agents that must be swallowed or injected, and their resolution is limited. But a newly developed approach could dramatically change that.
Counselors helping people use the federal government's online health exchange are giving mixed reviews to the updated site, with some zipping through the application process while others are facing the same old sputters and even crashes. The Obama administration had promised a vastly improved shopping experience on healthcare.gov by the end of November, and this is the first week for users to test the updated site.
Hard-to-predict sudden changes to Earth's environment are more worrisome than climate change's bigger but more gradual impacts, a panel of scientists advising the federal government concluded Tuesday. The 200-page report by the National Academy of Sciences looked at warming problems that can occur in years instead of centuries. The report repeatedly warns of potential "tipping points" where the climate passes thresholds.
A consortium led by Northwestern Univ. will establish a new NIST-sponsored center of excellence for advanced materials research. The Center for Hierarchical Materials Design (CHiMaD) will be funded in part by a $25 million award from NIST over five years and will focus on computational tools, databases and experimental techniques to allow “materials by design”, a major goal of the Materials Genome Initiative.
DARPA-funded researchers have recently developed new methods to integrate long 50-m coils of waveguides with low signal loss onto microchips. This new class of photonic waveguides, with losses approaching that of optical fiber, is smaller and more precise than any previous light delay device.
NASA said Monday that the Hubble Space Telescope is the best bet for figuring out whether Comet ISON disintegrated during its brush with the sun last week. A pair of solar observatories saw something emerge from around the sun following ISON's close approach on Thanksgiving Day. But scientists don't yet know whether the spot of light was merely the comet's shattered remains or what's left of its icy nucleus.
Hydrogen is a “green” fuel that burns cleanly and can generate electricity via fuel cells. One way to sustainably produce hydrogen is by splitting water molecules using the renewable power of sunlight, but scientists are still learning how to control and optimize this reaction with catalysts. At the National Synchrotron Light Source, a research group has determined key structural information about a potential catalyst.
Listen up nickel-titanium and all you other shape-memory alloys, there’s a new kid on the block that just claimed the championship for elasticity and is primed to take over the shape memory apps market at the nanoscale. A research team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has discovered a way to introduce a recoverable strain into bismuth ferrite of up to 14% on the nanoscale.
A government panel proposed additional measures to lessen the radioactive water crisis at Japan's crippled nuclear power plant, saying Tuesday that current plans are not enough to prevent the risk of a disaster. Officials on the Industry Ministry's contaminated water panel also said that the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant could run out of storage space for contaminated water within two years if current plans are not fully workable.
Oil and water don’t mix, as any chemist or cook knows. Tom Russell, a polymer scientist from the Univ. of Massachusetts who now holds a visiting faculty appointment with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Materials Sciences Div., is using that chemical and culinary truth to change the natural spherical shape of liquid drops into ellipsoids, tubes and even fibrous structures similar in appearance to glass wool.
When engineers design devices, they must often join together two materials that expand and contract at different rates as temperatures change. Such thermal differences can cause problems if, for instance, a semiconductor chip is plugged into a socket that can’t expand and contract rapidly enough to maintain an unbroken contact over time. The potential for failure at such junctures has intensified as devices have shrunk to the nanoscale.
Researchers have identified a protein that causes loss of function in immune cells combating HIV. The scientists report in a paper appearing online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that the protein, Sprouty-2, is a promising target for future HIV drug development, since disabling it could help restore the cells’ ability to combat the virus that causes AIDS.
Researchers have tried for decades to understand the undulations and gyrations that allow transport proteins to shuttle molecules from one side of a cell membrane to the other. Now scientists report that they have found a way to penetrate the mystery. They have worked out every step in the molecular dance that enables one such transporter to do its job.
Researchers in Switzerland have managed to combine antennas and solar cells to work together with unprecedented efficiency in a near future. This is a first step towards more compact and more lightweight satellites. The technology could also be deployed in the autonomous antenna systems used in the aftermath of natural disasters.