fund-raiser for our 501(c)3 charitable organization continues this
month. If anyone joins IRI for a 2017 membership before December
30th, they will get an extra holiday gift for FREE, one this year
and one next year! Donations are
also encouraged with or without membership. Also consider
purchasing a new 18"x24" Patents Progress poster
that IRI now has the rights to sell and see the story of how
it represents the entire historical journey from invention to
patent in a humorous, educational, and colorfully visual manner.
Great holiday gift too.
Our first Story #1
gives us the impression that silkworms will be the new factory
workers of tomorrow, churning out electrical silk wires when
fed with small amounts of graphene and nanotubes. These super
silkworms now make silk that is 50% stronger and conducts
electricity! Thus wearable circuitry will now be comfortable too.
The Story #2 is a
work in progress and invites suggestions at www.bristol.ac.uk/cabot the
University of Bristol in the UK where an amazing synthetic diamond
manufacturing method has been developed using carbon-14 from
radioactive waste. With a double encasement, the diamonds become a
nuclear battery spewing out electrons for only about 5000 years.
Hopefully the scientists will team up with other nuclear battery
manufacturers that IRI has reported on in this column to produce a
commercial product like CityLabs which used tritium to make a 25
year IC battery. Check out the great 4-minute instructional video
to learn more.
Story #3 should be
our lead story since it is potentially the most transformative new
energy source that we have ever reported on. The earth's crust is
literally supported by various amounts of molten lava or magma
which makes it constantly on the move. However, NO ONE until now
has been taking advantage of its intense heat for the BEST
geothermal energy one can ask for, until now. It took one of the
coldest countries to drill deep enough to reach the hot magma and
generate 50 MW from the same single well hardware that usually
only yields 5 MW from a typical geothermal energy plant. Hopefully
the US will follow Iceland's example and start energy harvesting
from Yellowstone's caldera, which is the largest and most deadly
volcano in the world. Such multiple magma geothermal plants might
also forestall the inevitable eruption, which has occurred twice
in the past, by drawing heat away from the massive lava dome just
under Yellowstone National Park.
Story #4 offers a
fanciful account of Uber's dream of vertical takeoff air taxis
which may be cheaper and faster than cars. Part of the Uber
Elevate program, it would allow for more lengthy travel options,
up to 100 miles.
Story #5 gives us
another indication that perhaps the speed of light is not the
constant barrier that it has been made out to be but instead
depend on the universe's density. If so, the Imperial College of
London thinks that it can be tested and shown to have varied in
the past when the universe was much younger. Maybe it will have
some spinoffs that affect faster than light travel if it is a
variable depending on density.
Tom Valone, Editor
Graphene-fed Silkworms Produce Super Strong Silk that
silk conducts electricity, is twice as tough as regular silk, and
can withstand at least 50 percent higher stress before
breaking. This smart textile could have applications in
medicine, athletics, wearable electronics...the possibilities are
Silk is a naturally sourced fiber popular in textile
applications not just for its beauty, but also for its mechanical
strength, and one study has now reported that the gossamer threads
become even stronger and tougher when silkworms are fed carbon
nanotubes and graphene.
Graphene, a carbon nanoparticle considered a
"miracle material," has shown massive potential in
energy, electronics, medicine, and more. Silkworms, the larvae of
silk moths, spin their threads from silk proteins produced in
their salivary glands, so a study led by Yingying Zhang
from Tsinghua University examined the effects of adding
graphene to the silkworms' diet of mulberry leaves.
The researchers sprayed mulberry leaves with aqueous
solutions containing 0.2 percent by weight of either carbon
nanotubes or graphene, and then collected the silk after the worms
spun their cocoons. Collecting the as-spun silk fibers is standard
in silk production, so feeding the silkworms the carbon nanotubes
and graphene was a much simpler method than treating regular
silk with the nanomaterials dissolved in chemical solvents after
According to the study, the carbon-enhanced silk was
twice as tough as regular silk and could withstand at least 50
percent higher stress before breaking. Zhang's team tested
conductivity and structure after heating the silk fibers at
1,050°C (1,922°F) to carbonize the silk protein, and unlike
untreated silk, the carbon-enhanced silk conducted electricity.
Additionally, spectroscopy and microscopic imaging showed that the
modified silk fibers had a more ordered crystal structure.
Garments made using smart textiles have so
many more potential uses than those created using traditional
materials. A conductive fabric using this carbon-enhanced
silk could have applications in biomechanics, showing an
athlete the tension and pressure applied on areas of the body
during exertion. It could be used in tech for electronic
clothing that can "talk to our smartphones," and
scientists creating biodegradable medical
implants could potentially incorporate these enhanced silks
into their work.
According to materials scientist Yaopeng Zhang
of Donghua University, the method used by the team at Tsinghua
University is an "easy way to produce high-strength silk
fibers on a large scale," so we could be one step closer
to an exciting future of readily available wearable tech that
could improve the lives of everyone.
One problem with dealing with nuclear waste is that
it's often hard to tell what's waste and what's a valuable
resource. Case in point is the work of physicists and chemists at
the University of Bristol, who have found a way to convert
thousands of tonnes of seemingly worthless nuclear waste into
man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric
current for longer than the entire history of human civilization.
How to dispose of nuclear waste is one of the great
technical challenges of the 21st century. The trouble is, it
usually turns out not to be so much a question of disposal as
long-term storage. If it was simply a matter of getting rid of radioactive
material permanently, there are any number of options, but spent
nuclear fuel and other waste consists of valuable radioactive
isotopes that are needed in industry and medicine, or can be
reprocessed to produce more fuel. Disposal, therefore is more
often a matter of keeping waste safe, but being able to get at it
later when needed
One unexpected example of this is the Bristol team's
work on a major source of nuclear waste from Britain's aging
Magnox reactors, which are now being decommissioned after over
half a century of service. These first generation reactors used
graphite blocks as moderators to slow down neutrons to keep the
nuclear fission process running, but decades of exposure have left
the UK with 95,000 tonnes (104,720 tons) of graphite blocks that
are now classed as nuclear waste because the radiation in the
reactors changes some of the inert carbon in the blocks into
Carbon-14 is a low-yield beta particle emitter that
can't penetrate even a few centimeters of air, but it's still too
dangerous to allow into the environment. Instead of burying it,
the Bristol team's solution is to remove most of the c-14 from the
graphite blocks and turn it into electricity-generating diamonds.
The nuclear diamond battery is based on the fact that
when a man-made diamond is exposed to radiation, it produces a
small electric current. According to the researchers, this makes
it possible to build a battery that has no moving parts, gives off
no emissions, and is maintenance-free.
The Bristol researchers found that the carbon-14
wasn't uniformly distributed in the Magnox blocks, but is
concentrated in the side closest to the uranium fuel rods. To
produce the batteries, the blocks are heated to drive out the
carbon-14 from the radioactive end, leaving the blocks much less
radioactive than before. c-14 gas is then collected and using low
pressures and high temperatures is turned into man-made diamonds.
Drilling into hot rocks to tap geothermal energy is
one thing. Drilling deep enough to tap the energy from magma
oozing into volcanoes is quite another, offering a massive
increase in the potential to exploit Earth's inner heat.
That is the task of a rig now drilling 5 kilometres
into the rugged landscape of old lava flows in Reykjanes, at the
south-west corner of Iceland. Drilling began on 12 August.
By the end of the year, the Iceland Deep
Drilling Project hopes to have created the hottest hole in
the world, hitting temperatures anywhere between 400 and 1000 °C.
Event: Reinventing Energy Summit - Meet the
people shaping the future of energy
The drilling will penetrate a landward extension of
the Mid-Atlantic Ridge - a major boundary between Earth's tectonic
plates - says Albert Albertsson, assistant director of HS Orka, an
Icelandic geothermal-energy company involved in the project. At
that depth, magma that moves from below through volcanic activity
meets and heats seawater that has penetrated beneath the ocean
"People have drilled into hard rock at this
depth, but never before into a fluid system like this," says
Albertsson. He says the team could find the landward equivalent
of "black smokers", hot underwater springs along the
ridge saturated with minerals such as gold, silver and lithium.
At that depth, pressures are high, too - at more than
200 times atmospheric levels. The consortium of energy
companies and researchers behind the project expects the water to
be in the form of "supercritical steam", which is
neither liquid nor gas and holds much more heat energy than
A well that can successfully tap into such steam
could have an energy capacity of 50 megawatts, compared to the 5
MW of a typical geothermal well, says Albertsson. This would mean
some 50,000 homes could be powered, versus 5,000 from a single
profoundly disrupted the taxi business with its ride sharing
model, and has made it clear it wants to be a key player in future autonomous taxi services. Now, it's released a
fantastic 97-page white paper detailing exactly how it wants to
integrate electric VTOL multirotor air taxis into
its mid-range transport system.
The full document makes fantastic reading for the
future-focused. In it Uber leaves no doubt that it believes
electric air taxis will be viable, safe and in many cases, both
faster and cheaper than cars over a certain distance. Here's a
summary of the points we found most interesting.
What will VTOL air
taxis look like?
In order to meet the key goals of the Uber Elevate
program (safety, efficiency, low cost, minimal noise and
disruption, minimal infrastructure) the team has zeroed in on some
highly likely design parameters.
Firstly, they'll be electric multirotors, using
multiple small rotors instead of a single larger one like a
helicopter. This helps keep the noise down (Uber is hoping for
around 67 dB at a 250-ft (76-m) altitude, which is around the
level of a normal spoken conversation), but multiple rotors also
increase stability, ride comfort and redundancy in case of motor
failure, not to mention the ability to deal with unbalanced loads
like having a passenger on one side and an empty seat on the
Secondly, they'll have between two and four seats -
current charter flights at the moment are taking an average of
between 1.3-1.7 passengers, and even 100-mile (62 km) car trips
have an average of 1.3 people in them. These aircraft don't need
to be huge.
Thirdly, while Uber sees VTOL as an imperative part
of the service, the aircraft will most likely convert to some sort
of cruise mode once they're aloft. Tilt wings and tilting rotors
along a wingcould both achieve this sort of
effect, vastly reducing the energy requirements as the aircraft
Albert Einstein might be known for a great many
things, but even the layman might be familiar with at least one
thing: E = mc2, the formula for mass-energy equivalence. However,
a critical part of that formula might soon be debunked. According
to Einstein's physics, light has, does, and always will travel at
a constant speed. Some physicists and cosmologists have begun
challenging that observation, and may just have gotten closer to
proving that the venerable scientist may have been wrong.
It may all sound like the sort of inconsequential
things scientists debate about, but the implications of refuting
Einstein's physics model has repercussions in how we understand
the universe, both now and the past. Specifically, Einstein's
theory that light travels at a constant speed underpins the
popular Theory of Relativity as well as our models for
understanding what happened after the Big Bang.
In particular, Einstein's model presents a puzzle
called the "horizon problem". In a nutshell, the
constant speed of light wouldn't be able to explain why the
universe today, as large as it is, is homogeneous in density, or
largely uniform everywhere. If the speed of light were constant
right from the beginning of the Big Bang up to the present time
where the universe has already expanded, light from the
theoretical center wouldn't reach the outer expanse of the
universe at the same time. This would result in a non-homogeneous
universe, which isn't what we observe today.
In order to solve that horizon problem, scientists
like Professor João Magueijo from Imperial College London and Dr
Niayesh Afshordi at the Perimeter Institute in Canada theorize
that light's speed isn't actually constant. At the beginning of
the Big Bang, it would have traveled faster and thus reached from
the center to the edge of the universe sooner. As the universe
settled down and the expansion slowed down, so did the speed of
light. By that time, however, the universe has become mostly
Of course, that's all theory, but these scientists
may have found a way to test that. Scientists have become much
better at mapping out the cosmic microwave background (CMB), that
is the light history, of the universe. Magueijo and Afshordi have,
in turn, used their model to predict a specific number on that
"spectral index". In short, if in a few years' time
their prediction matches what will actually be observed on the
index, then that would confirm their theory as valid and
Einstein's constant to be wrong.
Of course, that's not going to change our world,
overnight or soon. It will still be challenged by other rival
theories about the origin of the universe. And life as we know it
will still go on, despite the potential upheaval in the physics
and cosmology circles. After all, it's all relative.
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