Tag Archives: environment

New Material Stores Oxygen for Later Use

Oxygen is an important element required for metabolisms occurring in our body and without it we would be dead in a couple of seconds. This is the reason that we cannot survive under the water or any other place without oxygen. Scientists  at University of Southern Denmark found a new way to store oxygen for using in places that oxygen is not available. They made a substance based on cobalt which can absorb oxygen from its surrounding air or water and release it anytime it is needed.

By Kenneth Abbate , via Wikimedia Commons

Oxygen can bind many different materials but the result is not always useful. For instance, oxygen can spoil foods or can rust metals. Professor Christine McKenzie, one of the researchers, explains that this new material can reversibly react with oxygen which means it can be used to transport oxygen and release it in its initial form similar to what hemoglobin does in our body. Cobalt is responsible for determining the structure of this new material in a way that it has affinity for oxygen same as iron in our body. Professor McKenzie added that the rate of oxygen absorption can range from seconds to days because of several factors such as atmospheric oxygen content, temperature and pressure. Furthermore, the material releases oxygen when it is heated up or placed in a vacuum. This material can be used to make many useful devices. For example, a light weight device could be designed to provide oxygen for patients with lung diseases who have to carry heavy oxygen tanks with themselves all the time. In addition, divers can use this material to stay longer under the water since it can absorb oxygen from water if the diver breathes in all the available oxygen in the material.

By Stephan Borchert (Eigenes Werk.) via Wikimedia Commons

-Amir Jafarvand

Metal Can Sit on Dandelions?

Boeing, one of the world’s leading airplane manufacturers, along with the help of HRL laboratories, University of California, and Caltech has developed the lightest metal structure on earth. It is called the “ultralight metallic microlattice” and it composed of 99.99% air. So far, this structure can be made of any material, but it is easiest made with nickel.  Remarkably, this new material is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and it is so light it can sit atop a dandelion without crushing the delicate seeds!

The delicate seed heads of the dandelion.

Delicate seeds of the dandelion. Credit: Greg Hume

How can this material be so light? It is all related to the structure of it. The architecture of the ultralight metallic microlattice is created by hollow-tubed microlattices that are arranged to resemble the honeycomb structure of the human bone. Is human bone not dense and rigid? The outer casing of bone (compact bone) may be dense and rigid; however, inside the bone (spongy bone) is mostly hollow with an open cellular structure, much like a kitchen sponge, which allows it to be airy and lightweight.

The cross-section of a bone. Notice the special structure of the spongy bone.

The cross-section of a bone. Notice the special structure of the spongy bone.

To create this product, researchers created thin, hollow struts with a diameter of only 100 to 500 micrometers and a wall thickness of only 100 to 500 nanometers to mimic the architecture of the spongy bone. To give a comparison, this wall would be 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

As well as being lightweight, this material is also one of the strongest in the world. It can be designed to maximize energy absorption which makes it a useful insulator. As an insulator, it can dampen shock, vibrations, and acoustic energy and therefore this material can be widely used across many fields of technology. Furthermore, this material is able to completely recover from a compression of over 50% strain.

With this discovery, Boeing has been investigating possible ways to implement  this material in planes. This would create lighter airplanes which would create more fuel efficient flights. Boeing has created and sold many Boeing 787, Dreamliners, which already consume substantially less fuel and with this new material, optimistically there is a possibility that Boeing will soon be creating the world’s most fuel efficient flights!

Here’s a video from Boeing which summarizes the “world’s lightest material”:

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Lightest Metal Ever
Credit: Boeing

– Maureen Lai

The Sixth Extinction Will Be Caused by Humans

In the past, there have been five mass extinctions which were due to various reasons. None of those reasons were due to the effects from any one species. However, there is no doubt that humans will have a role in the sixth extinction. In fact, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the sixth extinction is already in progress and humans are the ones to blame. Many scientists agree that a biodiversity crisis is already underway.

The video below gives a nice summary of the past mass extinctions and what the sixth extinction will be like.

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Credit: It’s Okay To Be Smart

Humans over-consume, pollute the environment, and destroy habitats. The list of human activities which negatively affect other species seems endless. What evidence is there that these human activities are to blame for the current crisis? Well, there is a lot of evidence.

Millions of years ago, before humans existed, there was about 0.1 extinctions per million species per year. Compare that with the current rate of extinction which is about 1000 times higher at 100 to 1,000 species lost per million per year. Since there are 8.7 million known species, about 870 to 8,700 species are lost worldwide per year at the current extinction rate. Unfortunately, there are still many species not recognized so those numbers should be higher.

The habitat destruction caused by humans is a major contributor to species extinction. For example, oil spills are relatively common and can have devastating effects. The year 2015 hasn’t even ended and there have already been four oil spills this year. In the year 2014, there were six oil spills contributing a total of about 5000 tonnes of oil. If you think that number is big, you won’t believe the amount of oil spilled from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010. An estimated 205.8 million gallons of oil was spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Among the thousands of animals killed, endangered species such as bluefin tuna were also affected by the oil spill. From this single disaster, the population of species indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico plummeted enough that it would take generations for them to recover.

Even from space, you can clearly see the oil as white and gray streaks.

Even from space, you can clearly see the oil as white and gray streaks. Credit: NASA

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Credit: MSNBC

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Credit: William R. Parrott

So the situation of other species seems pretty dire but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for people to try preventing the sixth mass extinction from occurring. If humans can cause extinctions then why not also stop extinctions? Nonetheless, you might still want to plan a trip to the zoo. Who knows which animal will disappear next?

Don't deny it!

Don’t deny it! Credit: Mimi and Eunice

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Credit: SourceFed


-Bowen Zhao