Welcome to Technology Tuesday! Every week The Job Shop Blog will bring you our 5 top science and technology news stories from around the web.
This week: Graphene could lead to limitless clean energy, micro-robots could be flowing through us within the next decade, a promising gene-therapy about to start human trials, farming on Mars, and long term storage of thermal energy.
PHYSICISTS DISCOVERED A LOOPHOLE IN GRAPHENE THAT COULD UNLOCK CLEAN, LIMITLESS ENERGY
By all measures, graphene shouldn’t exist. The fact it does comes down to a neat loophole in physics that sees an impossible 2D sheet of atoms act like a solid 3D material.
New research has delved into graphene’s rippling, discovering a physical phenomenon on an atomic scale that could be exploited as a way to produce a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
The team of physicists led by researchers from the University of Arkansas didn’t set out to discover a radical new way to power electronic devices.
MAGNETICALLY CONTROLLED MICROBOTS COULD CHANGE MEDICINE WITHIN A DECADE
Google’s chief engineer and notable futurist Ray Kurzweil has said that nanobots or microbots will flow through our bodies by 2030. While the technology could be life-changing, the prospects for these nanobots are still limited by challenges in powering the micro devices and guiding them through the body.
A team of researchers led by Li Zhang, a materials scientist from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin, may have found a solution to both problems. In a study published in the journal Science Robotics, Zhang and his colleagues turned to a type of miniature alga called Spirulina platensis, commonly used as a dietary supplement.
A PROMISING GENE THERAPY FOR HEART FAILURE STARTS HUMAN TRIALS NEXT YEAR
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 6 million adults in the U.S. live with heart failure. Of those, at least half are expected to die within five years of their diagnosis. Needless to say, any advances made in terms of treatment for the condition would be invaluable — if not life-saving.
So far this year, the UK has implemented a new program that uses donor hearts to aid those suffering from heart failure. In October, the exciting news came that scientists had managed to successfully reverse advanced heart failure in mice. Those findings were particularly important to the future of treatments, as the hearts of mice and humans are actually incredibly similar
SOME ORGANISMS COULD THRIVE IN MARTIAN SOIL
If we’re ever to establish a permanent base on Mars — and survive there — we’ll need to learn how to farm on the Red Planet before we make solid plans to relocate. To that end, scientists have already started experimenting with simulated Martian soil developed by NASA.
The soil simulant was created using data collected by Mars rovers and orbiters and is said to be as close to the real thing as possible, given the information that’s currently available. Since the soil doesn’t contain any organic material, it technically wouldn’t be classified as soil down here on Earth. Scientists are referring to it as such in order to distinguish it from the rocks and gravel present in the Martian regolith.
MIT DISCOVERS METHOD FOR STORING THERMAL ENERGY FOR HOURS
The MIT system hinges upon the use of a phase change material (PCM). When exposed to heat, the substance takes on a liquid form in which it stockpiles energy. When it cools enough to return to a solid state, that energy is released.
Typically, the biggest drawbacks of PCMs are their need for a great deal of insulation to hold onto the energy and the uncontrollable rate at which they turn back into a solid. To tackle those issues, the MIT researchers combined their PCM with molecular switches that change shape when exposed to light.