This week, Science Friday brings you self-mending plastics, magnetic twisters, space-based energy, self-propelling chemicals, and an exclusive look at the how Star Trek 2009 is impacting laboratory scientists. All this plus our gadget of the week: Holographic Storage Discs!
Self-Mending Plastics for Tough Recyclables
Most of the plastics that are recyclable today — water bottles and grocery bags, for instance — are what are called thermoplastics. They are polymers that can be melted down and molded into something else. But, other plastics known as thermoset resins, which make up things like circuit boards, electrical insulation, and epoxy glue, aren’t so easy to recycle. When these resins are heated, they decompose and tend to end up as waste. Scientists have now created thermoset resins that, rather than decompose, repair themselves when heated. The researchers demonstrated that the material can be shredded, melted and remolded at least seven times with no loss of mechanical properties.
Magnetic Twisters on Mercury
New findings from the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around Mercury have indicated that the supersonic wind from the sun creates never before seen magnetic “twisters” that dance across Mercury’s magnetic field and occasionally touch down on the surface. The invisible structures, made of high-energy electrons, kick up material from the planet’s surface and send it flying into the atmosphere. The solar wind affects Earth, too, and we see evidence of that in the spectacular aurorae that light up our northern and southern skies. Understanding these magnetic twisters on Mercury can help scientists to understand more about “space weather” and how it affects us here at home.
Space-Based Solar Energy
Like something straight out of a science fiction novel, renewable energy company SolarEn plans to launch solar panel arrays into space to capture the rawest form of solar energy and send it back down to earth. The company plans to convert the captured solar energy into radio frequencies that would then be sent to the surface. Although not exactly a new concept, sending solar energy technology into space this time around has a lot more promise. Plans by the US Government to achieve the same thing have been undertaken by NASA and the Pentagon as early as the 1960’s. Critics cite the costly nature of sending the satellites into space; but SolarEn ensures that their technology is commercially viable unlike any previous endeavors trying to achieve the same thing.
Collecting energy from the sun and beaming it down to Earth
Self-Propelling Chemical Created by Japanese Scientists
A group of Japanese roboticists at Waseda University, have created a chemical gel capable of independent motion, similar to that of a caterpillar. Using a process that combines polymers, the material not only moves on its own, but also can change colors and can be used to perform calculations. According to the scientists involved in the project the morphable material could even one day be used as components of a future robot, thus making the notion of the incredibly scary Terminator T-1000 a real possibility. Check out the video below!
TrekMovie EXCLUSIVE: Effects of Star Trek 2009 on the Nerd Psyche
Scientists such as myself have been noticing a distinct paradigm shift in the behavior of our fellow laboratory-inhabitants. Over the past month, experimentalists, modelers, and theoreticians have been in an ever-increasing state of elation. Normally prone to a state which mirrors the dinginess, gloominess, and lack of natural light that epitomizes “The Lab”, scientists have been described as of late as “chipper, good-natured, and generally productive”. The amount of elation in the subjects is directly proportional to the Star Trek 2009 propaganda now littering their walls, bulletin boards, and desktop wallpapers (See Fig. 1). If you or anyone you know is experiences these symptoms, don’t panic! Unless, of course, your colleagues begin citing Zefram Cochrane or Noonien Soong in journal articles. If that happens, get them to the local theater on or shortly after May 8th.
Gadget of the Week: GE’s 500GB Holographic Storage Discs
Yep, you read right: holograms! Like something you might see in the holodeck arch, or inside an engineering console, GE has developed micro-holographic disc that’s the same size as present-day CD, DVD and Blu-ray discs. Instead of the two-dimensional surfaces used for Blu-ray’s 50GB, holographic storage uses three dimensions to store digital data. These discs can store 500GB of data by using holographic light patterns to densely pack three-dimensional data. While still in the developmental phase at this point, industry experts are hopeful that it could become the next form of low-cost storage for consumers.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
- Google Earth aids in yet another discovery, this time in early African mammal fossils
- Rogue black holes roaming the galaxy
- First lunar greenhouses planned for 2012
- Orion spacecraft gets first sea trials