Scientific Social


A ground of carbon crystals magnified on the screen allow scientists to better examine their results.

Photo by Tom Cruise of the Daily Beacon

Scientists Find Way to Capture Carbon Dioxide in Crystals

Neil Williams, a UT graduate research assistant in the Department of Chemistry, along with scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have stumbled upon a method to pull carbon dioxide from the air and trap the carbon in crystalline form.

With the threat of climate change looming, it is becoming increasingly more important to find innovative ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere with as little energy input as possible. While similar capture techniques require temperatures of up to 800 degrees Celsius, this technique is a step in that direction, requiring only about 120 degrees to capture carbon.

A ground of carbon crystals magnified on the screen allow scientists to better examine their results. Photo by Tom Cruise of the Daily Beacon

A ground of carbon crystals magnified on the screen allow scientists to better examine their results.
Photo by Tom Cruise of the Daily Beacon


Transferring carbon from the atmosphere into a solid form is ideal because it is the same way the Earth does it! But of course that takes a lot more time.

The scientists plan to hone their newly discovered method in future research by tweaking parameters to find the ideal conditions for carbon capture.

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Pluto via New Horizons; NASA

New Horizons Finally Reaches Pluto!

If you haven’t already heard the news, NASA’s interplanetary space probe New Horizons has reached Pluto. Nine and a half years and 3 billion miles after it’s launch back in January 2006, New Horizons is the first spacecraft to explore Pluto.

While nine years may seem like a long time to us, New Horizons is the fastest human-made craft ever launched from Earth, traveling about 16.26 kilometers per second (58,536 km/h; 36,373 mph).

Although scientists will be receiving much more data around 9 PM EST tonight about Pluto and its moons, below is one of the closest images sent back of Pluto from New Horizons:

Pluto via New Horizons; NASA

Pluto via New Horizons – NASA

Never heard of New Horizons before today?

As part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, New Horizons was built by in collaboration with the Southwest Research Institute and the Applied Physics Laboratory to study Pluto, its moons as well as the Kuiper Belt – the region of the Solar System beyond the planets. By studying Pluto and the Kuiper belt, scientists hope to have a better understanding of how our Solar System formed.

So why is this a big deal? We’re glad you asked:

  1. Pluto is one of the only major objects in our solar system that we haven’t seen yet. Until today, the best image we had was from the Hubble Space Telescope:hubble-pluto.0
  2. New Horizons is a huge technological accomplishment. Using decade old technology, scientists were able to get this grand piano-sized probe over 3 billion miles with virtually no issues. Not to mention the amount of data the probe gathers in such a small window of time; there’s no slowing down when your traveling at 16.26 kilometers per second!
  3.  New Horizons will provide mankind with a better understanding of our Solar System, including Earth. By studying the data provide by New Horizons on the geology, atmosphere, moons, and more, scientists will gain a better insight into the early stages of planet formation.
  4. This will most likely be the last mission of its kind for a while. Due to major cut backs and budget cuts, it’s hard to fund amazing missions such as this. As David W. Brown writes in his article “The Dark Future of American Space Exploration”: “There is nothing budgeted in the pipeline to take its place. Yesterday invested in today. But we are not investing in tomorrow.”

For the latest on the New Horizons mission, visit If you’re reading this now (July 14th), check out NASA Television for their “New Horizons ‘Phone Home’ Countdown!

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Solar Freakin’ Roadways: The Future of Travel Surfaces or Titanic Waste of Money?

You have probably noticed this video making its rounds on social media.  In the video you are introduced to the Julie and Scott Brusaw, the creators of Solar Roadways. It goes through how beneficial they could be for the economy and the environment and is a very entertaining video to boot. When I first watched this video, I was all about this idea. How cool would it be to jump start the economy with a huge infrastructure project like this?!

However, as Dave from EEVblog and Thunderf00t explain, many of the claims in the Solar Freakin’ Roadways video are unsubstantiated, untested, or even implausible.  For example, Scott Brusaw claims we will run out of asphalt in 50 years because it comes from fossil fuels.  Except asphalt is the most reused material with over 99% of removed asphalt getting reused.

The Brusaw’s have not produced any stop tests on this surface with vehicles traveling at real-world speeds and conditions. How will wet conditions affect the stopping distance on these solar roadways?  No one knows because no one has performed real-world tests.

Roads are dirty. There’s no avoiding that.  But what is going to happen to the glass surface when relatively hard dirt (usually small quartz grains) is driven on top of over and over again? It’s going to scratch the glass, making it less transparent (therefore allowing less light through, lowering the efficiency of the solar panels), wearing away the textured surface.  Check out the pictures of their proposed that surface:

Solar Roadway Surface

Solar Roadway Surface

It looks knobby, almost like bubble wrap.  Imagine what driving over that at 50 miles per hour would sound like!  It would be loud – kind of like driving in a Jeep Wrangler with knobby tires or driving in the rumble strip of a highway.  The sound alone, I think, is enough to keep this idea on the drawing board.

Thick glass will lower the solar panel output and make the LEDs really hard to see in broad daylight, especially when you consider the low angle at which they’ll be viewed.  Speaking of angles, a solar roadway would be lying flat on the ground, not facing toward the sun. This lowers the efficiency of the panels by up to 18%.

According to one calculation, the cost for replacing all of the roads in the lower 48 states would be $56 trillion, that’s over 3 times the United States’ GDP.

A different company, SolaRoad, has installed a 230-foot prototype solar pathway in the Netherlands. This solar pathway was featured in numerous mainstream media sources, including Popular Mechanics.  It has been active for six months and the data are in: it produced more energy than originally thought! But wait… what does that mean, exactly?

As EEVblog’s video explains, not that much.  As it turns out the pathway did not produce any more electricity than a similarly sized rooftop solar array. In fact, a rooftop solar array would have TWICE the output per area of a solar pathway at a fraction of the cost and inconvenience.

So what should we be putting our time and resources toward?

The short answer: above us, not below us.  There are many advantages to putting solar panels on top of parking lots like some stadiums and colleges are doing.  South Korea put solar panels above a bike lane that is located in the median of a major highway as shown below:

Korean Solar Highway

Korean Solar Highway

The Bottom Line

Putting solar panels under the road makes no sense at all and will never be more efficient than putting panels on a roof.  There are just too many disadvantages – both physical and financial – in building roadways (or bike paths) out of solar panels. Back to the drawing board with this one.

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LightSail Nye

Watch the Launch of the Planetary Society’s Groundbreaking Light Sail Live!

The Planetary Society, the largest non-governmental space exploration advocacy organization, is launching the prototype of their LightSail into space on an Atlas V rocket later today.  The mission goal is to test the deployment of the satellite’s solar sails.  Full on solar sailing won’t happen until their next mission in 2016!

Coverage of the launch begins at 10:45 am and the launch windows are 11:05 – 11:15 am and 12:42 – 12:52 pm.

You can watch the launch streaming here!

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood attends the test ride of magnetically levitated (Maglev) train developed by Central Japan Railways Co (JR Central) at JR Central Yamanashi Maglev Test Line on May 11, 2010 in Tsuru, Japan. United States plans to build Maglev lines between major cities.

Hover Train Sets Speed Record

Japan’s maglev (short for magnetic levitation) bullet train set a new speed record of 603 kilometers per hour (374 miles per hour) on a manned trial run on April 21st, breaking its previous record of 590 km/h (366 mph) from the week before.  While China currently operates the fastest commercial maglev train in Shanghai, Japan intends on expanding its maglev network in the future.

This is not to be confused with (more…)

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Fighting Fire With Bass!

Two George Mason University engineering majors have created a way put out fires simply by using sound waves!

Seth Robertson and Viet Tran, seen in the above video demonstrating how their device works, have already applied for a provisional patent in November of 2014. This gives the duo a little less than a year to further test and refine their device. So far, it has only been tested with fires started with rubbing alcohol. Even so, a local fire department has already asked Robertson and Tran to test their creation on structure fires. If effective, they believe this concept could replace the toxic and messy chemicals used in fire extinguishers.

Find out more about this new fire fighting concept here.

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After Two Years of Upgrades, The Large Hadron Collider Is Turned Back On

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was turned back on Sunday, April 5th after a two year hiatus. During its downtime, the collider was upgraded to be about 50% more powerful than when it discovered confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson in 2012. The new upgrades will allow the collider to smash particles together with greater force. This added force will help answer some questions about some of the mysterious properties of our universe. The first mystery to be examined is expected to be dark matter.

The BBC made a hilarious typo in their coverage. He he…

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How Many Stars Are There?

Have you ever looked up into the sky and wondered how many stars there are? On a clear night away from light pollution, a little over 9,000 stars can be seen with the naked human eye. Even in the darkest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert, we can’t see much more than this. But what if we had eyes that was bigger and could absorb more light?

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