October 12, 2013

Richard Obousy on Alcubierre and Casimir Warp Drives

Dr. Richard Obousy describes an advanced space-propulsion concept based on modifying the local cosmological constant to facilitate an expansion/contraction of spacetime around a spacecraft to create an exotic form of field-propulsion. This idea is analogous to the Alcubierre bubble, but differs entirely in the approach, utilizing the physics of higher dimensional quantum field theory, instead of general relativity.

"In the spirit of Morris, Thorne and Yurtsever these warp drives, provide an unique and inspiring opportunity to ask the question 'what constraints do the laws of physics place on the abilities of an arbitrarily advanced civilization'. In this paper a new and innovative mechanism to generate the necessary 'Alcubierre warp bubble' is proposed. The main focus of the paper is to demonstrate that the manipulation of the radius of one (or more) of the extra dimensions found in quantum gravity theories, creates a local asymmetry in the cosmological constant which could be used to propel a space vehicle.

At such an early stage in the theoretical development of this idea it is challenging to make predictions on how this 'warp drive' might function. Naively one could envision a spacecraft with an exotic power generator that could create the necessary energies to locally manipulate the extra dimension(s). In this way, an advanced spacecraft would expand/contract the compactified spacetime around it, thereby creating the propulsion effect." -- Dr. Richard Obousy

About 12 minutes into the video is where Richard Obousy gets to proposing his version of warp drive created by altering the radius of extra dimensions which alters the cosmological constant. Before that Richard discuss the physics that is relevant to exotic propulsion.

Arxiv - Warp Drive: A New Approach

Graphene nanoribbons make plastic that is 1000 times harder for gas to escape for better storage of natural gas or bottled beer and soda

A discovery at Rice University aims to make vehicles that run on compressed natural gas more practical. It might also prolong the shelf life of bottled beer and soda.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour has enhanced a polymer material to make it far more impermeable to pressurized gas and far lighter than the metal in tanks now used to contain the gas.

The combination could be a boon for an auto industry under pressure to market consumer cars that use cheaper natural gas. It could also find a market in food and beverage packaging.

By adding modified, single-atom-thick graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) to thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), the Rice lab made it 1,000 times harder for gas molecules to escape, Tour said. That’s due to the ribbons’ even dispersion through the material. Because gas molecules cannot penetrate GNRs, they are faced with a “tortuous path” to freedom, he said.

The researchers acknowledged that a solid, two-dimensional sheet of graphene might be the perfect barrier to gas, but the production of graphene in such bulk quantities is not yet practical, Tour said.

ACS Nano - Functionalized Low Defect Graphene Nanoribbons and Polyurethane Composite Film for Improved Gas Barrier and Mechanical Performances

Developer behind Shanghai Tower buying a 70% stake in a $4 billion real estate project in New York

Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest skyscraper that is currently under construction and the world’s second highest, marked a big step toward its finish today with the placing of its last steel beam in a topping-off ceremony. The 125-floor structure stands in the heart of the city’s Lujiazui financial district. It is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Greenland Holding Group Co., a developer building the Shanghai Tower, agreed to buy a 70 percent stake in New York’s Atlantic Yards, the 22-acre residential and commercial real estate project in Brooklyn.

Greenland Holdings Group said in a statement that it is purchasing a 70% stake in the Atlantic Yards Apartment Project, near the Barclays Center, the stand-out sports arena built last year. The project, led by Forest City Ratner, is expected to cost almost $4 billion.

Devices with ten times the range for the internet of things

IBM and Semtech Corp., a leading supplier of analog and mixed-signal semiconductors, today announced a significant advancement in wireless technology, combining IBM software and Semtech hardware to create a system capable of transmitting data up to a distance of 15 km (9 miles), depending on the environment, with significantly improved ease-of-use.

Fast Growth Projected for Internet of Things

Over the next 15 years, the number of machines and sensors connected to the Internet will explode creating what is called the Internet of Things. According to IMS Research,
1) there will be more than 22 billion web-connected devices by 2020
2) These new devices will generate more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data every day
3) while every hour enough information is transported on the Internet to fill seven million DVDs.

To make wireless sensor networks (WSN) easier to program and use, IBM has developed a software development kit — called Mote Runner — which provides an open and programmer-friendly platform to connect sensor and actuator motes.

This platform is now available on the Semtech SX1272 RFIC to create a system capable of covering a range of 15 km (nine miles) in a semi-rural environment and up to five km (three miles) in dense urban environments. For comparison, the maximum distance today of a smart-meter transceiver in Europe, utilizing FSK modulation, is between one and two kilometers (1.2 miles).

Spacex Grasshopper reusable rocket flies to 744 meters and back

On Monday, October 7th, Grasshopper completed its highest leap to date, rising to 744 meter altitude. This is two and half times the previous height of about 300 meters. The view above is taken from a single camera hexacopter, getting closer to the stage than in any previous flight.

Grasshopper is a 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact. While most rockets are designed to burn up on atmosphere reentry, SpaceX rockets are being designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing. The Grasshopper VTVL vehicle represents a critical step towards this goal.

Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

Reusable rockets can reduce the cost of launching into orbit by 100 times.

Photonic laser propulsion out to 100 kilometer range and eventually to interstellar distances

Popular Mechanics has an article with some new information about Young Bae photonic laser propulsion work.

The big-picture plan starts with using laser propulsion in the coming decades on near-Earth space missions, journeys to the moon, and visits to near-Earth asteroids. Within 50 years, he hopes for phase two: Mars. After that comes the gas and ice giants in the outer solar system and their intriguing moons. And then, beyond: "We envision that humans can fly to other stars or other planets in other solar systems," he says.

One of the most intriguing parts about using laser propulsion for deep space journeys: There's the potential for in-flight gravity, or something like it. The system would create acceleration similar to 1g, meaning that astronauts would have their feet on the ground. "Once you accelerate, then that acceleration acts like gravity," Bae says. "Your feet will be toward the laser because of the acceleration. That way, I think the Star Trek–type of travel is possible."

What's holding Bae back? For one, you'd need tremendous power to realize such a mission with current technology. For even near-Earth and lunar missions, Bae estimates a requirement of 1 gigawatt of power, requiring a large amount of power to be generated by solar or nuclear power to generate the thrust.

Then there are the lasers themselves. As the distance between the photonic source and the craft increases, the signal spreads wider and wider, decreasing the precision of the guidance and reducing overall thrust. Think of it like shining a flashlight. Up close, the light is easy to narrowly direct to a particular object. But shining it on something farther away spreads the light out more, covering a wider distance but with less luminosity. Now, for a laser that's supposed to be shooting precise guidance lasers, tshis becomes a problem. So while near-Earth and Martian flights will be okay, problems will arise getting farther and farther away. One compensation is the idea of doing smaller platforms to create a "photonic railway," each acting as a sort of refueling station in between to get the craft where it needs to be. But Bae wants to also control the problem of the lasers spreading themselves too thin. Bae has his eye on research into Bessel beams, which don't diffract, and therefore could be fired at a spacecraft from farther away.

Bessel beams are lasers that behave very differently from ordinary lasers. Consider how the typical laser pointer behaves, creating a small red dot where you point it. Instead of a single point on a wall, Bessel beams create a bullseye: one dot surrounded by concentric rings. The number of rings is some indication of the strength of the beam. Many commercial Bessel beam devices create beams with about eleven rings. The ideal Bessel beam would have an infinite amount - because an ideal Bessel would use an infinite amount of energy.

Unlike a typical laser beam, a Bessel beam does not diffract and get larger as the beam gets farther from its point of origin. One of the most prized attributes of Bessel beams is the fact that the central core of the beam can be blocked, without interrupting the beam. The laser essentially self-heals by using the rings which were not blocked. It's the optical terminator.

Haier has internal free market in talent and an open innovation model

The radical boss of Haier wants to transform the world’s biggest appliance-maker into a nimble internet-age firm. Haier Group has 9.6% of the global appliance market and sales of over $26 billion. It is ranked as the eight most innovative firm worldwide (ahead of Amazon).

By listening closely to demanding consumers, his firm’s fast and frugal engineers came up with clever products like mini-fridges built into computer tables (for students), freezers with a slightly warmer compartment (for keeping ice cream soft) and horizontal deep freezers with two tiers of drawers (for Americans too lazy to dig to the bottom). Haier also developed new niches, such as affordable wine fridges, ignored by Western rivals obsessed with economies of scale. It is now pioneering wireless charging of appliances.

GE's vision of smarter appliances and the home of 2025

GE has imagined the technological enhancements that will change the way we live and how our homes will look a dozen years from now after studying trends in advances in food science, demographic shifts, ecological issues, healthcare services, water scarcity and home delivery. "This isn't about the Jetsons or pie in the sky ideas," says Lou Lenzi, director for GE Appliances' Industrial Design Operation. "Home 2025 is about reality-based innovation that will be possible over the next decade."

Using its expanded industrial design team and advanced development engineers, GE Appliances has envisioned the home of 2025.
"To project what the Home of 2025 may look like, we first took a high level look at where we think society, culture, and technology is taking us and intersected that with ways in which we could make our lives less complex and more enjoyable," says Lenzi. "We conceptualized how we will prepare meals, wash clothes, and interact with information as families over the next dozen years."



China has carbon exchanges now, carbon pricing by 2015 and carbon tax by 2020

China has some carbon exchanges now. They trade carbon permits in seven trial markets. The price is about $7 to 10 per ton of CO2. China will likely add seven pilot carbon pricing systems by 2015. China is expected to add a carbon tax by 2020 and national emissions trading by 2020. These moves will increase the financial incentives for nuclear energy, hydro power, solar and wind power in China.

Carbon permits on the Shenzhen Emissions Exchange, the first of seven trial carbon markets being launched in China, have risen to a price exceeding those in Europe According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Shenzhen carbon allowances for 2013 increased to US$7 a tonne, up from US$5 a tonne on June 18, the first day of trading.

The chinese carbon emission exchange website is here.

China is expected to have seven pilot pricing systems in place no later than 2015, followed by a national scheme, according to a new survey from Australian National University.

The survey – a joint initiative between the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific’s Crawford School and Beijing-based NGO China Carbon Forum – collected the opinions of 86 China-based carbon pricing experts.

The survey found strong confidence that China will introduce carbon-pricing mechanisms in coming years, that the price of emitting carbon will rise over time, and that China will have both a national emissions trading and a carbon tax by the end of the decade.

Nanoimprinted metamaterials control visibile light and the fabrication process will scale

A ‘nanoimprinting’ technique makes it possible to fabricate visible-light-bending metamaterials at unprecedented scales. Takuo Tanaka from the RIKEN Metamaterials Laboratory, in collaboration with Shoichi Kubo and colleagues at Tohoku University, has now demonstrated a scalable fabrication method that greatly eases the production of metamaterials that can interact with light at visible wavelengths.

The team was able to create split rings approximately 212 nanometers across and 54 nanometers high.

Tanaka and his colleagues demonstrated that their metamaterial magnetically interacts with red light. More important, however, is the scalability of their fabrication technique. Whereas techniques such as electron-beam lithography are limited to producing arrays of just several hundred square micrometers in area, Tanaka and his co-workers managed to create an array of 360 million split-ring resonators across a 5-millimeter square using their nanoimprint technique. “This is, to the best of our knowledge, the world’s largest two-dimensional split-ring resonator array metamaterial for visible light,” explains Tanaka. “Our next step will be to create much larger metamaterials, to make them three dimensional, and to reduce the operation wavelength.”

Applied Physics Letters - Split-ring resonators interacting with a magnetic field at visible frequencies

Calculations show carbyne chains will be twice the tensile strength of graphene three times the stiffness of diamond

Carbyne will be the strongest of a new class of microscopic materials if and when anyone can make it in bulk.

If they do, they’ll find carbyne nanorods or nanoropes have a host of remarkable and useful properties, as described in a new paper by Rice University theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson and his group.

Carbyne is a chain of carbon atoms held together by either double or alternating single and triple atomic bonds. That makes it a true one-dimensional material, unlike atom-thin sheets of graphene that have a top and a bottom or hollow nanotubes that have an inside and outside.

According to the portrait drawn from calculations by Yakobson and his group:

* Carbyne’s tensile strength – the ability to withstand stretching – surpasses “that of any other known material” and is double that of graphene. (Scientists had already calculated it would take an elephant on a pencil to break through a sheet of graphene.)

* It has twice the tensile stiffness of graphene and carbon nanotubes and nearly three times that of diamond.

* Stretching carbyne as little as 10 percent alters its electronic band gap significantly.

* If outfitted with molecular handles at the ends, it can also be twisted to alter its band gap. With a 90-degree end-to-end rotation, it becomes a magnetic semiconductor.

* Carbyne chains can take on side molecules that may make the chains suitable for energy storage.

* The material is stable at room temperature, largely resisting crosslinks with nearby chains.

ACS Nano - Carbyne from First Principles: Chain of C Atoms, a Nanorod or a Nanorope

Arxiv - Carbyne from First Principles: Chain of C Atoms, a Nanorod or a Nanorope

Qualcomm reveal neural network chips that will be available to developers in 2014 for future robots and smarter smartphones

Biologically inspired neural processing units (NPUs) were recently described by Qualcomm at the MIT Technology Review's EmTech conference. Qualcomm chief technology officer (CTO) Matt Grob described a new generation of NPUs and design tools that they hope to make available to developers next year. Grob showed videos of their Zeroth Robot prototype which used the NPUs.

These early prototypes are general-purpose image processors that learn their application, rather than depend on complicated hand-written algorithms, they are already offering comparable performance to the best custom-designed image processing algorithms for conventional computers today. Qualcomm has also partnered with Purdue University professor Eugenio Culurciello, which is using its suite of neural network development tools, to perform realtime image recognition of objects from moving cars.

Qualcomm envisions using these chips in its core business, mobile handsets. He described applications for cellphones that offer more natural interfaces, where the user trains the phone rather than being forced to learn complicated menu commands. Qualcomm also aims to incorporate sophisticated, neural-based search capabilities through Big Data that are very efficient compared to the power-hungry remote servers used today.

Purdue Univerisity researchers use Qualcomm's prototype neural network chips and suite of design tools to create an image processing application that can categorize objects from a moving car in realtime. SOURCE: Eugenio Culurciello, Purdue University/Qualcomm at MIT's EmTech

Korean APR1400 nuclear reactor submitted for US design certification

South Korea is seeking new export markets for its nuclear technology. They have submitted an application for design certification of the Advanced Pressurised Reactor-1400 (APR-1400) to the NRC (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission).

Four APR-1400 units are under construction in Korea: two at Shin Kori and two at Shin Hanul. Four further APR-1400 units are planned for Shin Kori and another two at Shin Hanul.

The APR-1400 was selected as the basis of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) nuclear power program, with the first four reactors to be operating at Barakah by 2020 under a $20.4 billion contract. Construction of the first two units is underway.

October 11, 2013

A population of 100 million for Canada

Irvin Studin (Professor University of Toronto) made the case that Canada should have a population of 100 million.

Canada should be a country of 100 million people. It has been said before. Apocryphally, by Winston Churchill himself; more recently, by the countless immigrants, newcomers and visitors to the country who are able, it must be observed, to see in Canada what incumbent Canadians oftentimes do not: that Canada could be a proper world power – a country of global consequence.

Canada population trends are already heading towards about 75-90 million by 2100.

A discussion of tripling Canada's population by 2100

$1.3 billion european graphene research project kicks off

Graphene Flagship – the EU's biggest research initiative ever, and, according to the European Commission, 'history's greatest distinction for excellent research'– is closely linked to the Graphene Centre at Chalmers. With a budget of EUR one billion, the Graphene Flagship is tasked with taking graphene from the realm of academic laboratories into European society in the space of ten years – thus generating economic growth, new jobs and new opportunities for Europeans as both investors and employees. There are already 126 research groups from universities, research institutes and companies on-board the flagship.

The Graphene Flagship is divided into two separate phases:

1. a 30-month ramp-up phase under the 7th Framework Programme (1 October 2013 – 31 March 2016) with a total European Commission funding of 54 million Euro,

2. A steady-state phase under the Horizon 2020 programme, starting 1 April 2016, with expected European Commission funding of M€ 50 per year.

Canada could have more people and larger economy than Japan by 2080

The case for increasing Canada's population to 100 million has been made in Canada's leading newspaper the Globe and Mail in 2012.

Canada should build its population to a size – at least 100 million – that will allow it to determine its own future, maintain its standard of living against the coming challenges and have a large enough body of talent and revenue to solve its largest problems. All it takes is a sustained and determined increase in immigration, to at least 400,000 permanent immigrants per year.

This will not be free: Immigration requires support and assistance. But it will become much more expensive in the future, when shrinking world populations make immigrants scarce, and Canada’s crisis of underpopulation becomes expensive.

Creating a policy to increase immigration from the current level of about 250,000-265,000 per year to 400,000 was made again in the Globe and Mail in 2013.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has a backgrounder that talks about increasing immigration by 25% from 0.8% of population to 1%.

Statistics Canada has built in an increasing level of immigration into many population forecast scenarios.

Canada's 2013 population census came in at its high estimate and Canada's population is now over 35.1 million. Alberta had the most growth and has over 4 million people. Alberta could pass British Columbia by 2026.

Canada's population increased by 404,000, or 1.2 per cent, over the previous year.

Canada is growing faster than California.

Will China build hundreds of new coal plants and then shut them off ? Wishful thinking versus what will happen as China is sitting on 15 trillion tons of coal resources

The recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report had the hopeful title “The Future of China’s Power Sector: From Centralized and Coal-Powered to Distributed and Renewable?”

According to Bloomberg, 343-450 Gigawatts of new coal generation will be built in China over the next fifteen years, more than the total capacity of the entire current US coal fleet, which is roughly 300 Gigawatts. Even in the best case aggressive solar and wind investments, China will continue to bring on line roughly an average of one large 500 MW coal plant per week through 2030. This is on top of China’s existing 750 GW coal fleet, already more than twice the size of America’s.

In all cases, including the most optimistic, well over half of China’s power in 2030 will come from coal.

There are studies from China that show that China could have over 15 trillion tons of coal resources.

A energy and environment policy taskforce that is led by the Vice-premier of China in 2009 described China's coal resources.

China’s prospective coal reserves have reached 5,555 billion-ton (Gt), with cumulative proven reserves at 1,042 Gt. For a long time coal will remain dominant in the primary energy structure in China.

The 5.5 trillion tons is before over 2 trillion tons of coal was found in Xinjiang and another large deposit in Shianxi.

Coal use will also be increasing in at least 10 other asian countries.

IBM Launches Accelerated Discovery Lab

IBM announced the Accelerated Discovery Lab, a new collaborative environment specifically targeted at helping clients find unknown relationships from disparate data sets.

The workspace includes access to diverse data sources, unique research capabilities for analytics such as domain models, text analytics and natural language processing capabilities derived from Watson, a powerful hardware and software infrastructure, and broad domain expertise including biology, medicine, finance, weather modeling, mathematics, computer science and information technology. This combination reduces time to insight resulting in business impact – cost savings, revenue generation and scientific impact – ahead of the traditional pace of discovery.

Understanding the science and the potential of cancer vaccines

In this video, Dr. Claudia Gravekamp, an Associate Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, describes the principles of cancer vaccination and her own lab's cutting-edge research in the field. She begins by presenting the basics of cancer and tumor immunology, then discusses the advantages of cancer vaccines compared to current therapies. Dr. Gravekamp details how these therapies leverage cytotoxic T lymphocytes to kill cancerous cells, then describes the multiple hurdles that cancer vaccines have yet to overcome, including the relative lack of naive T cells in elderly patients. Finally, Dr. Gravekamp launches into a thorough description of her own research to make better cancer vaccines using Listeria, an intracellular bacterium that does not multiply in normal tissues but does infect tumor cell.

October 10, 2013

John Preskill: Quantum Computing and the Entanglement Frontier

John Preskill visited Google LA to speak about "Quantum Computer and the Entanglement Frontier." This talk took place on September 25, 2013. Quantum AI Lab speaker series at the Google Quantum AI Lab.

Theoretical Quantum Information Science is driven by Three Great Ideas :

1) Quantum Entanglement
2) Quantum Computation
3) Quantum Error Correction

This is the basis of the talk (an introduction to those three great ideas) (1:10 minutes)

Video of Google Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab

In May, Google launched the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab with quantum computing hardware from the Canadian company D-Wave systems and technical expertise from NASA.

Tomorrow, the Google Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab will show a short film. It will be shown at the Imagine Science Films Festival at Google New York. The film takes a look at various researchers working on the project, as well as the computer itself, which has to be operated at near-absolute-zero temperatures. Researchers hope the quantum architecture will eventually be used to optimize solutions across complex and interconnected sets of variables currently outside the capabilities of conventional computing. That could allow for new solutions in computational medicine or help NASA to construct a more comprehensive picture of the known universe. "We don't know what the best questions are to ask that computer," says NASA's Eleanor Rieffel in the video. "That's exactly what we're trying to understand."

Fermi Paradox, Great Filters and Super Volcanoes

Robin Hanson discussed great filters in regards to the Fermi Paradox. Humanity seems to have a non-trivial chance of expanding to fill the universe with lasting life. But the fact that space near us seems dead now tells us that any given piece of dead matter faces an astronomically low chance of begating such a future. There thus exists a great filter between death and expanding lasting life, and humanity faces the ominous question: how far along this filter[s] are we?

Consider our best-guess evolutionary path to an explosion which leads to visible colonization of most of the visible universe:

1. The right star system (including organics)
2. Reproductive something (e.g. RNA)
3. Simple (prokaryotic) single-cell life
4. Complex (archaeatic and eukaryotic) single-cell life
5. Sexual reproduction
6. Multi-cell life
7. Tool-using animals with big brains
8. Where we are now
9. Colonization explosion

In regards to step 7, tool using humans almost vanished around 70,000 BC.

Around 70,000 B.C., a volcano called Toba, on Sumatra, in Indonesia went off, blowing roughly 650 miles of vaporized rock into the air. It is the largest volcanic eruption we know of, dwarfing everything else... It was probably the second largest known explosive eruption over the last 450 million years.

The Toba catastrophe theory suggests that a bottleneck of the human population occurred c. 70,000 years ago, proposing that the human population was reduced to perhaps 10,000 individuals when the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia erupted and triggered a major environmental change. The theory is based on geological evidences of sudden climate change and on coalescence evidences of some genes (including mitochondrial DNA, Y-chromosome and some nuclear genes) and the relatively low level of genetic variation with humans.

UK researchers discover how to halt death of brain cells, a turning point in the fight against Alzheimers

A historic ‘turning point’ against Alzheimer's as UK researchers discover how to halt death of brain cells, opening new pathway for future drug treatments.

Although the prospect of a pill for Alzheimer's remains a long way off, the landmark British study provides a major new pathway for future drug treatments.

The compound works by blocking a faulty signal in brains affected by neurodegenerative diseases, which shuts down the production of essential proteins, leading to brain cells being unprotected and dying off.

It was tested in mice with prion disease - the best animal model of human neurodegenerative disorders - but scientists said they were confident the same principles would apply in a human brain with debilitating brain diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

Science Translational Medicine - Oral Treatment Targeting the Unfolded Protein Response Prevents Neurodegeneration and Clinical Disease in Prion-Infected Mice

Stem cell breakthrough could set up future transplant therapies

A new method for developing stem cells enables the production of liver and pancreatic cells in “clinically relevant” quantities for the first time, paving the way for regenerative therapies.

A new method for creating stem cells for the human liver and pancreas, which could enable both cell types to be grown in sufficient quantities for clinical use, has been developed by scientists.

Using the technique, researchers have for the first time been able to grow a pure, self-renewing population of stem cells specific to the human foregut, the upper section of the human digestive system.

These so-called “Foregut stem cells” could then be developed further to produce liver or pancreatic cells. The method significantly improves on existing techniques for cultivating this type of stem cell, and raises the possibility that, with further work, they could be grown in large numbers in bioreactors. That would make it possible to use them for regenerative therapies, repairing damaged organs or tissues in the body, and treating conditions such as type I diabetes or liver disease.

“We have developed a cell culture system which allows us to specifically isolate foregut stem cells in the lab,” Dr Nicholas Hannan, from the University of Cambridge Wellcome Trust MRC Stem Cell Institute, Department of Surgery, explained. Hannan led the study, which was carried out in the lab of Dr Ludovic Vallier.

“These cells have huge implications for regenerative medicine, because they are the precursors to the thyroid upper airways, lungs, liver, pancreas, stomach and biliary systems. We now have a system where we may be able to create all these cell types from the same starting population.”

Stem Cell Reports - Generation of Multipotent Foregut Stem Cells from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells

Watery asteroid in dying star points to habitable exoplanets

The latest research on rocky relics suggests a distant planetary system, now past its “death throes”, had very similar water ‘delivery system’ to our own - and consequently the potential to contain habitable exoplanets complete with water.

Astronomers have found the shattered remains of an asteroid that contained huge amounts of water orbiting an exhausted star, or white dwarf. This suggests that the star GD 61 and its planetary system – located about 150 light years away and at the end of its life – had the potential to contain Earth-like exoplanets, they say.

This is the first time that both water and a rocky surface - two “key ingredients” for habitable planets - have been found together beyond our solar system.

Earth is essentially a ‘dry’ planet, with only 0.02% of its mass as surface water, so oceans came long after it had formed: most likely when water-rich asteroids in the solar system crashed into our planet.

The new discovery shows that the same water ‘delivery system’ could have occurred in this distant, dying star’s solar system – as latest evidence points to it containing a similar type of water-rich asteroid that would have first brought water to Earth.

Artist impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61. Credit: Mark Garlick

China cuts currency deal with EU

Europe and China have agreed a currency swap deal to boost trade and investment between the regions.

Under the terms of the deal between the European Central Bank and the People's Bank of China, the swap facility could total as much as 350 billion yuan and €45 billion.

The agreement is one of the largest currency deals between China and a non-Asian trading partner and will last for three years.

Europe and China trade roughly €480 billion in goods and services each year, and the European Union is China's biggest export market.

In June, China struck a similar agreement with the Bank of England worth up to 200 billion yuan.

Global foreign exchange trading grew by 33% to $5.3 trillion over the three-year period (2010 to 2013). China's 2.2% of currency transactions would be about $115 billion in annual volume. The UK and EU deals will nearly double that currency volume.

Tripling China RMB usage by 2015 would put the RMB as about the 6th most used currency. China seems likely to get to 4th most used by 2018-2020 even with a conservative plan of capital liberalization.

‘Peanut butter’ test can help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease

A dollop of peanut butter and a ruler can be used to confirm a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer's disease, University of Florida Health researchers have found. Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student in the UF McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste, and her colleagues reported the findings of a small pilot study in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences. Stamps came up with the idea of using peanut butter to test for smell sensitivity while she was working with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, the James E. Rooks distinguished professor of neurology and health psychology in the UF College of Medicine's department of neurology.She noticed while shadowing in Heilman's clinic that patients were not tested for their sense of smell. The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve and is often one of the first things to be affected in cognitive decline. Stamps also had been working in the laboratory of Linda Bartoshuk, the William P. Bushnell presidentially endowed professor in the College of Dentistry's department of community dentistry and behavioral sciences and director of human research in the Center for Smell and Taste.

"Dr. Heilman said, 'If you can come up with something quick and inexpensive, we can do it,'" Stamps said.

She thought of peanut butter because, she said, it is a "pure odorant" that is only detected by the olfactory nerve and is easy to access.

Both sides of the African poverty industry debate

The Afrobarometer research project says that access to food, healthcare and education is still terrible for millions

The impression from travelling in Africa, including in many rural parts, is that things are improving for the poorest. Having visited about half of Africa's 55 countries this year or last, Baobab thinks the report's findings seem odd. In most places, the poor have benefitted from the growth in economic activity, as one might expect. Even some corrupt governments build roads and clinics. Businesses spend money, some of which eventually drips down to the neediest.

Admittedly, it is often the middle class and the rich who benefit most. They have seen truly dramatic improvements in living standards in the past decade. But they are not the sole beneficiaries of Africa's boom.

Investment banks pump up opportunities in Africa to make a quick buck. Africa-watchers offended by their hyperbole respond by denying that any benefits accrue to the Africans we care about most, the poor. Neither side is right.

NBF - There are those who benefit from economic aid to Africa continuing in the same form as the last few decades. There are those who would benefit from altered perceptions of investment possibilites in Africa.

China outsourced to Ukraine for rocket engines for Long March 6 and Long March 7 and beyond

The Ukrainian space agency has always been short of funding. The Ukrainians used to work closely with the Russians as part of the Soviet program, but that stopped with the breakup of the soviet union. Currently Russia's leader Putin has bad relations with the Ukraine. Ukraine has the Zenit rocket family

Ukraine had been working on the "lighthouse" project to make expanded rocket engines based on the Zenit engines. Previously it was believed that these were mostly paper studies.

The Cyclone-4 engine should launch in 2014

China has money in its space program. China and Ukraine space agencies have a cooperation program. The combination will help China to accelerate technological catch up in space launch capabilities. China has its own teams and rocket designs and internally developed a liquid hydrogen upper stage, but there seems to be a speed up in rocket development by utilizing rocket engines that Ukraine has developed.

The Long March 6 is a small carrier rocket. Chinese liquid-fuelled carrier rocket is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2013.

The Long March 7 will be a medium heavy rocket that should launch in 2014.

Ukrainian designs to get to 250 ton and 500 ton thrust rockets. 500 tons thrust rockets would be need for China's planned manned moon landing in the 2020s.

The space agencies of Ukraine and China will work on the issue of expanding the current program of Ukrainian-Chinese space cooperation for 2011-2015 with new large-scale projects, the State Space Agency of Ukraine has told Interfax-Ukraine.

Cooperation in the exploration of the Moon and Mars, rocket engine building, space welding and projects in the solar energy area are among the promising cooperation areas of the Ukrainian-Chinese cooperation program.

Understanding the science of stem cells and the future of stem cell medicine

Dr. Daniel Kraft (Singularity University, FutureMed) discusses stem cells and the many promising therapies that are being developed from them. Dr. Kraft begins by giving a broad overview of the field of regenerative medicine, including its history and recent rise to prominence. He then delves into the stem cell field, separating the hype from the genuine hope that it provides patients and the public at large. He discusses the key differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells as well as describes the technology used to identify them. Finally, Dr. Kraft gives an expansive review of the latest developments in the field, touching on many key discoveries and cutting-edge research projects.

October 09, 2013

Google's Antiaging company will get hundreds of millions to billions in backing and will deeply analyze genetic data to generate life extension treatments

Calico is considered the brainchild of Bill Maris, the Google Ventures managing partner who once was a biotech portfolio manager at Investor AB. Sources says that Maris looked at the life sciences landscape, and saw hundreds of companies all focused on curing or minimizing various diseases and conditions. In all cases, the goal was either to prolong life and/or improve the quality of life.

What didn't exist, however, were companies focusing on the root cause of so much of this disease and death. Namely, that we all keep getting older. Or, put another way, that our bodies begin to fail on a cellular level – largely due to degradation of our genetic materials.

Now that the entire genome had been coded, Maris wondered if it was possible to actually study the genetic causes of aging and then create drugs to address them (a question that was heavily influenced by talks with futurist and Googler Ray Kurzweil). For example, what if you examined the genomes of thousands of healthy 90 year-olds from all parts of the world? What genetic similarities do they have? Or, perhaps, what happens to most of us that didn't happen to them. Even if this didn't result in longer life, it perhaps could at least lead to an improved quality of life for folks on the back nine.

Google commitment to Calico is believed to be a minimum of hundreds of millions (tranched out, of course).

Army funding next generation Special Ops combat armor

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)is invites industry, academia, individuals, and Government labs to submit revolutionary low Technology Readiness Level (TRL) technology demonstration nominations addressing revolutionary/novel technologies/developmental approaches leading to possible Government/Industry collaboration for development of USSOCOM technology capabilities supporting a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). The intent is to accelerate the delivery of innovative TALOS capabilities to the Special Operations Forces (SOF) warfighter.

The suit may use liquid armor, currently under development at MIT, which has the ability to transform from a "liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied." The goal is full-body ballistic protection, theoretically allowing the wearer to literally walk through a stream of bullets. A panel that rests against the skin would be able to detect and respond to the body's core temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, and hydration levels. The suit would also provide basic life support such as heat, air, and oxygen.

The US Special Operations Command is looking for revolutionary new gear assisting troops in exceeding human performance in combat. SOCOM is looking for practical, near-term capabilities. typical of the command’s no nonsense attitude, the technologies selected for demonstrations should be integrated to form an initial capability within twelve months. A secondary goal is to determine the feasibility of fielding objective capabilities within three years.

They want

* Improved armor protection
* lighter protection and systems so that wearers are not slowed down or fatigued
* integrated electronics and sensors
* improved communications and displays
* built in automated first aid to manage injuries
* powered exoskeleon

Basically over the next 1 to 3 years have the best engineers try to compete to pull together bleeding edge technology to try to make commandos tougher, more deadly and more effective.

Extreme Ultraviolet lithography could take over at the 9 nanometer level and beyond

The view of extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) has always been a bit rosy from this part of the world, where it is being born. So it's no surprise that EUV held a relatively sunny spot in an otherwise fairly detailed and balanced semiconductor road map the IMEC research institute showed at an annual press event here.

The development of the latest MOPA light source for EUV put the weakest component in the long-delayed lithography system on a more steady footing, they said. Researchers now expect to demo an 80W light source in a working system by the end of the year, a 125W version next year and a 250W one capable of driving commercial throughput of 125 wafers/hour by the end of 2015.

At that cadence, chip makers still need to rely on prior generation immersion lithography for their initial offering of 10nm technology. However, they could be able to insert a pilot line of EUV at the same time, cutting over at least a few critical steps soon afterwards.

"I would not be surprised if they come up with a 9nm node using EUV," said An Steegen, who manages the IMEC division that handles process technology research.

October 08, 2013

Even marginal success in research delaying aging is a better investment than cancer, heart disease research

An analysis, from top scientists at USC, Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and other institutions, assumes research investment would conservatively lead to a 1.25 percent reduction in the likelihood of age-related diseases. In contrast to treatments for fatal diseases, slowing aging would have no health returns initially, but would have significant benefits over the long term. With even modest gains in our scientific understanding of how to slow the aging process, an additional 5 percent of adults over the age of 65 would be healthy rather than disabled every year from 2030 to 2060

The study showed significantly lower and declining returns for continuing the current research “disease model,” which seeks to treat fatal diseases independently, rather than tackling the shared, underlying cause of frailty and disability: aging itself.

Lowering the incidence of cancer by 25 percent in the next few decades — in line with the most favorable historical trends — would barely improve population health over not doing anything at all, the analysis showed. The same is true of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide: About the same number of older adults would be alive but disabled in 2060 whether we do nothing or continue to combat cancer and heart disease individually. The findings are in line with earlier research showing that curing cancer completely would only increase life expectancy by about three years.

“Even a marginal success in slowing aging is going to have a huge impact on health and quality of life. This is a fundamentally new approach to public health that would attack the underlying risk factors for all fatal and disabling diseases,” said corresponding author S. Jay Olshansky of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “We need to begin the research now. We don’t know which mechanisms are going to work to actually delay aging, and there are probably a variety of ways this could be accomplished, but we need to decide now that this is worth pursuing.”

Health Affairs - Substantial Health And Economic Returns From Delayed Aging May Warrant A New Focus For Medical Research

Novel two stage laser nuclear fusion approach

A novel approach to nuclear fusion. First a laser strips electrons then a second accelerates a proton beam. This achieves 10x higher fusion output than using the laser directly and thousands of times better output than hitting a solid target with a laser.

Nature - Two-laser boron fusion lights the way to radiation-free energy

Physicists have now produced fusion at an accelerated rate in the laboratory without generating harmful neutrons. A team led by Christine Labaune, research director of the CNRS Laboratory for the Use of Intense Lasers at the Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France, used a two-laser system to fuse protons and boron-11 nuclei. One laser created a short-lived plasma, or highly ionized gas of boron nuclei, by heating boron atoms; the other laser generated a beam of protons that smashed into the boron nuclei, releasing slow-moving helium particles but no neutrons.

The lasers that Labaune’s teams used to generate fusion do so in brief spurts separated by up to 90 minutes. But the same experiment could be repeated with faster lasers that would generate fusion reactions continuously, says laser physicist Gérard Mourou at the Ecole Polytechnique, who was not involved in the research.

The study was not designed to attain fusion’s holy grail — ignition, the break-even point at which the energy generated by the fusion process equals that of the input energy required to power the lasers. But leaps in the power and miniaturization of lasers and the simplicity of the two-laser system “makes this scheme practical” as a future power source.

There are lasers that lasers that fire 100 million times per second with multi-terawatt power.

The laser system could make the John J. Chapman proposed nuclear fusion system more feasible for propulsion and energy generation.

China's manned and unmanned lunar program

There are several planned lunar missions over the next few years.

Country    Name                             Launch due
USA        LADEE                            August, 2013
China     Chang'e 3  Second half         2013
(Private)  GLXP Moon Express                2015
Russia     Luna-Glob 2 / Luna-Resurs        2014
China      Chang'e 4                        2015
Russia     Luna-Glob 1                      2015
India      Chandrayaan-2                    2016
China      Chang'e 5                        2017
USA        ILN Node 1                       2018
USA        ILN Node 2                       2018

China is planning and unmanned rover landing this year.

China is working towards a manned lunar mission in about 2025.

China is acquiring manned lunar landing technology from the Ukraine and working with the Ukraine on rockets.

Ukraine had previously offered the People's Republic of China the so-called unit "E", developed by Yuzhnoye DO which was responsible for the landing from the lunar orbit to the Moon and return to the orbit. He said that although the project did not take place and once [the Soviet] program was shut down, the unit, however, was seriously improved. "On that basis, but at the current level we have gained a lot to build engines, stages for orbital missions, including missions to the Moon," the Yuzhnoye DO chief emphasized.

The lunar lander is described on Russianspaceweb. However, the actual unit is in a warehouse in the Ukraine and the actual design work was in the Ukraine.

Market demand for unreliable power is being met at steadily lowering prices

Solar power consumption increased by 58 percent, to 93 terrawatt-hours (TWh), and the use of wind power increased by 18 percent, to 521 TWh. Although hydropower remains the world’s leading renewable energy, solar and wind continue to dominate investment in new renewable capacity and are quickly becoming the highest-profile renewable energy sources.

Global investment in solar energy in 2012 was $140.4 billion, an 11 percent decline from 2011, and wind investment was down 10 percent, to $80.3 billion. But due to lower costs for both technologies, total installed capacities grew sharply. In 2012, installed capacity for concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) reached 2.55 GW, with 970 megawatts (MW) alone added in 2012.

At least 110 TWh, or 110 billion kWh will be produced in 2013 by PV systems already installed.

The wind and solar power are less reliable than nuclear (80-90% capacity factor), natural gas (pump in the gas and it runs as needed) or coal power plants (shovel in the coal it works). Wind works about 20-30% of the time when the wind is blowing and varies by the minute. Solar power works about 10-20% of the time when the sun is shining and there are not too many clouds.

Current solar PV and wind turbines have reached a scale and cost reduction path that will make it difficult for any leapfrog technology to displace them. Even though the current system architectures use too much steel and support structures for the energy that is produced. Concentrated solar power as has been indicated above is about 2% of the overall solar market and costs about twice as much as solar PV. There are rooftop solar water heaters in China with a significant market and contribution but those appear to be unlikely to be adopted in the developed countries.

World Economic Growth stuck in low gear with surprises most likely to be disappointing even low expectations

The IMF's (International Monetary Fund) latest world outlook is out. Global growth is in low gear, and the drivers of activity are changing. These dynamics raise new policy challenges. Advanced economies are growing again but must continue financial sector repair, pursue fiscal consolidation, and spur job growth. Emerging market economies face the dual challenges of slowing growth and tighter global financial conditions.

The IMF also cut its global growth forecast to 2.9% in 2013, down from its 3.2% projection in July. For 2014, it now forecasts 3.6% growth, down from its forecast of 3.8% in July. The IMF assumes is that the US shutdown will end and there'll be no problem raising the debt ceiling.

Here is the full 249 page report that was released October, 2013

Looking ahead, global activity is expected to strengthen moderately but the risks to the forecast remain to the downside. The impulse is projected to come from the advanced economies, where output is expected to expand at a pace of about 2 percent in 2014, about ¾ percentage point more than in 2013. Drivers of the projected uptick are a stronger U.S. economy, an appreciable reduction in fiscal tightening (except in Japan), and highly accommodative monetary conditions. Growth in the euro area will be held back by the very weak economies in the periphery.

Emerging market and developing economies are projected to expand by about 5 percent in 2014, as fiscal policy is forecast to stay broadly neutral and real interest rates to remain relatively low. Unemployment will remain unacceptably high in many advanced economies as well as in various emerging market economies, notably those in the Middle East and North Africa.

Carnival of Space 322

1. TheSpacewriter presents an exoplanet with clouds. The Kepler space telescope (along with the Spitzer Space Telescope) have returned data about a distant exoplanet called Kepler-7b that show it has clouds in its atmosphere. The data allowed astronomers to create an atlas of cloud forms over this planet, ranging from high clouds and clear skies in the western to somewhat clearer regions elsewhere. This is the first time that a “reflective signature” (that is, data that indicate reflectivity of an object in space) has been seen.

Kepler-7b (left), which is 1.5 times the radius of Jupiter (right), is the first exoplanet to have its clouds mapped. The cloud map was produced using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT

2. The Meridiani Journal - Today’s weather forecast is patchy clouds – on exoplanet Kepler-7b

3. Telescope Experts blog joins the Carnival of space. He has an article First Telescope? Don’t be Fooled by High Magnification. Learn What is More Important! by Nicholas.

October 07, 2013

Crowdfunded security in Oakland - It is every block for themselves just like Judge Dredd

Oakland has an understaffed police department and is the city with the highest robbery rate in America. In the last few weeks three separate campaigns have been started on Crowdtilt in order to fund four months of private security patrols in three different section of Rockridge. Near $35,000 have been raised so far, and two of the three projects have raised enough funds to ensure they will move forward.

“We shouldn’t have to do this,” says Steven Kirsh, who is running the last of the three Rockridge campaigns, “but we need to do this.” He doesn’t see the Oakland Police Department suddenly getting more resources, so in order to protect his belongings, family and property value, the $82 per household doesn’t seem like much to ask, for 12 hours of patrolling five days a week. For a four month trial it will work out to less than a dollar a day.

Krish is also hoping that the relative cheapness of private security in Rockridge might opens the door to “educate other people if they're not aware of this sort of model.”

Mercedes Benz shows off their self driving car and say it will be ready within six years

With its S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle, Mercedes-Benz in August 2013 became the world's first automobile manufacturer to demonstrate that autonomous driving in rural and urban traffic is possible.

Mercedes-Benz will start selling cars that can fully drive themselves by 2020. But it won’t launch a special vehicle just for that purpose. Rather, it looks to incorporate autonomous driving technology into its regular lineup, most likely starting with its flagship model, the S-Class.

“Our approach is, let’s not do it with a special car with a lot of antennas, let’s do it with a standard car,” said Thomas Weber, head of product engineering for Mercedes.

Recently, an experimental vehicle called the S500 Intelligent Drive completed a journey of more than 60 miles driving completely autonomousl

Programmable chemical controllers made from DNA

Biological organisms use complex molecular networks to navigate their environment and regulate their internal state. The development of synthetic systems with similar capabilities could lead to applications such as smart therapeutics or fabrication methods based on self-organization. To achieve this, molecular control circuits need to be engineered to perform integrated sensing, computation and actuation. Here we report a DNA-based technology for implementing the computational core of such controllers. We use the formalism of chemical reaction networks as a 'programming language' and our DNA architecture can, in principle, implement any behaviour that can be mathematically expressed as such. Unlike logic circuits, our formulation naturally allows complex signal processing of intrinsically analogue biological and chemical inputs. Controller components can be derived from biologically synthesized (plasmid) DNA, which reduces errors associated with chemically synthesized DNA. We implement several building-block reaction types and then combine them into a network that realizes, at the molecular level, an algorithm used in distributed control systems for achieving consensus between multiple agents.

Dwave Quantum Computer Solves a hard optimization problem but will need the 2048 qubit system to push to solutions beyond current classical computers

D-Wave quantum computing system was used to find solutions to optimization problems in what is known as Ramsey theory, after British mathematician Frank Ramsey. This field deals with situations in which a certain kind of order appears within a disordered system.

A well-known problem called the “party problem” asks what the minimum number of guests you would need to invite to a gathering to ensure that a small subset is made of people who all know each other and another who all don’t. Solutions to this problem are given in what’s known as Ramsey numbers. Calculating the minimum number of guests to ensure groups of three strangers and three friends is fairly easy (the answer is six). But increasing the number of people makes the solution increasingly hard to calculate, with most Ramsey numbers being beyond the capability of our current computers.

While noting that the D-Wave experiment’s calculations were correct, the authors of a commentary piece in the same issue wrote that “many more tests would be needed to conclude that the logical elements are functioning as qubits and that the device is a real quantum computer.”

The algorithms used to calculate these Ramsey numbers “don’t need as much coherence as a full-blown quantum computer,” said physicist Frank Gaitan of the University of Maryland, who worked on the D-Wave experiment.

D-Wave’s machine is not necessarily a universal quantum computer, which could run any algorithm given to it. Instead, it is designed to be particularly good at solving optimization problems, such as those in Ramsey theory, and the evidence from his research shows that the device “uses some kind of quantum effect that solves some kind of problems.”

1.61 billion dollar human brain project has started in Europe

A 10-year, billion pound (US$1.61 billion) neuroscience project which aims to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain has begun.

The Human Brain Project is an attempt to build completely new computer science technology that will enable us to collect all the information we have built up about the brain over the years," said Prof Henry Markram, Director of the HBP at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), in Switzerland.

"We should begin to understand what makes the human brain unique, the basic mechanisms behind cognition and behaviour, how to objectively diagnose brain diseases, and to build new technologies inspired by how the brain computes."

The HBP can be viewed as the neuroscience equivalent of the Human Genome Project, which involved thousands of scientists around the world working together to sequence our entire genetic code. That took more than a decade and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

But whereas that involved mapping every one of the three billion base pairs found in every cell that make up our entire genetic code, the Human Brain Project will not be able to map the entire human brain. It's simply too complex. The brain has around 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells and 100 trillion synaptic connections.

Scientists at the University of Manchester are building a model which will mimic 1% of brain function. The SpiNNaker project is led by Steve Furber, a pioneer of the computer industry

A working draft of the genome was announced in 2000 and a complete one in 2003, with further, more detailed analysis still being published. The Human Genome Project started in 1987.

Genome engineering could arrive around 2023.

The Human Brain Project seems to be aspiring to kick off a ramping up of neuroscience over 15-40 years.

Head of JET Tokomak fusion project proposes a ridiculous acceleration of nuclear fusion buildout once Tokomak's get to net energy gain the 2020s

Prof Steven Cowley, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, believes the world’s first nuclear fusion power plant in France could be producing viable electricity in the 2020s. The Joint European Torus (JET), a European pilot project at Culham in Oxfordshire, which is run by Prof Cowley.

Prof Cowley’s laboratory in Oxfordshire has had a number of firsts and remains the only place which can produce fusion energy on a regular basis.

In 1991 it instigated the world’s first controlled release of fusion energy, and in 1997 it produced a world-record 16 megawatts of fusion power, albeit for just two seconds. It took 24 megawatts of power to produce 16 megawatts. So net energy gain has not been demonstrated by Tokomaks and will not be until the early 2020s at the earliest.

The European Union has set the 2040s as a target goal to produce electricity based on fusion power, but Prof Cowley believes it can be done quicker than that.

He explained: “I hope that with ITER that in the 2020s we will be able to demonstrate a full-blown sustained fusion burn, with lots of energy coming out. It will ignite worldwide support and push through to deliver electricity at that point.

Crowley is suggesting that the first commercial continuous power generation prototype for nuclear fusion tokomaks could be produced by the end of the 2020s instead of 25-30 years after net energy gain is demonstrated for a few minutes by ITER. This assumes ITER hits its 2023-2028 schedule for net gain power demonstration.

Diagram of ITER. Notice the person for scale. DEMO continuous fusion reactor would be 15% bigger.

Prof Cowley believes that, if harnessed properly, nuclear fusion can provide half of all mankind’s energy needs by the middle of the century.

This would mean producing a few thousand copies commercial scale nuclear fusion reactors within about 20 years after the first commercial unit is demonstrated. This would mean scaling up new supply chains for magnets and superconducting wire. This would mean producing probably 5000-6000 ton vacuum chambers that are about 12-15 stories tall. This would be having about 500 being built at the same time and expecting commercial construction in about 4 years even though ITER will take about ten years to build.

October 06, 2013

Magnetic self-assembling robots

Small cubes with no exterior moving parts can propel themselves forward, jump on top of each other, and snap together to form arbitrary shapes.

They have proof-of-concept robots that are the first step in a project that will hopefully lead to the development of modular robot blocks that are cable of generic lattice-based self-reconfiguration. This current generation of robots is limited to being able to "roll" in only one direction per cube. Future work will hopefully add the ability for a single robot to move in all three planes.

The robots (called M-Blocks) are cubes with no external moving parts. Nonetheless, they’re able to climb over and around one another, leap through the air, roll across the ground, and even move while suspended upside down from metallic surfaces.

Inside each M-Block is a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute; when the flywheel is braked, it imparts its angular momentum to the cube. On each edge of an M-Block, and on every face, are cleverly arranged permanent magnets that allow any two cubes to attach to each other.

Possible 2015 commercialization of roll to roll manufacturing of high quality graphene

Graphene Frontiers is trying to ramp up roll-to-roll manufacturing of graphene. This could enable graphene to be used to in big industries. Graphene Frontiers’ method works at normal pressure, negating the need to make graphene in a vacuum. They plan to make sheets of graphene a meter wide.

Graphene Frontiers will be ready to commercialize several applications within a few years. By early 2015, it will have a roll-to-roll machine prototype ready. The three big applications will be desalinization and filtration, biosensing and electronics. Patterson expects to enter the food and water safety industries and, by 2018, healthcare.

A 300 square centimeter sheet of graphene on copper

Solar grids for rural communities in Africa

The University of Southampton is leading an international project to provide sustainable electricity supplies to rural communities in Africa.

It is a 2.6 million euro (US$3.54 million) five year project.

The E4D project will develop a community-based mini-grid solar electrification system aimed at invigorating village trading centres (TC) by providing electricity directly to businesses, which in turn, provide charging for electrical appliances, such as LED lanterns for lighting and for mobile phones, to the rest of the community.

This is the concept of the Kitonyoni village market solar project established in 2012 in Makueni County, Kenya. The project displaced the use of candles or kerosene used for lighting within community households and businesses, which is expensive and has negative health effects. By working closely with the villagers, the E4D team established an economically sustainable approach, whereby the community is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the plant.

Switzerland will vote on US$2800 per month basic income for all adults

Switzerland will hold a vote on whether to introduce a basic income for all adults.

A grassroots committee is calling for all adults in Switzerland to receive an unconditional income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,800) per month from the state, with the aim of providing a financial safety net for the population.

Organizers submitted more than the 100,000 signatures needed to call a referendum on Friday.

Signatures are also currently being collected in the EU for an EU citizens’ initiative (not comparable with popular initiatives in Switzerland). This is entitled: “Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) – Exploring a pathway towards emancipatory welfare conditions in the EU.

A married couple could earn $67,000 per year and not work.

The average U.S. worker earned $3,769 in pre-tax, monthly salary in 2011. Food service industry workers earned $1,785 in pre-tax income during the same period.

Switzerland has a per capita GDP of 63000 euros (US$85400).

The US$28000 would be taking all current Swiss taxes and redistributing it as basic income and having nothing left for other government services (such as healthcare, defence, roads, etc...)

Switzerland has a population of 8 million.

Huge gains in transportation efficiency have been available but people must want them and use them

Brad Templeton points out the benefits of half width cars and lighter robotic cars. I agree that those choices would be beneficial and more energy efficient. However, choices are being made that are wasteful of energy.

Underutilized options today
* carsharing
* bikes
* electric bikes
* public transportation - not very efficient without high ridership and utilization like in Asia
* lighter cars

Factors involved in selection are not just energy efficiency or cost of fuel. There is also convenience, status, practicality, overall trip times and many other complications in what people want and need or think they might want and need.

Benefits of light and narrow vehicles

The ability to use small, light vehicles means the ability to make transportation much more efficient. While electric cars are a good start (at least in places without coal-based electricity) the reality is today’s electric cars are still sedans and in fact are heavy due to their batteries. As such they use 250 to 350 watt-hours/mile. That’s good, but not great. At the national grid average, 300 wh/mile is around 3000 BTUs/mile or the equivalent of 37mpg. Good, and cleaner if from natural gas, but we can do a lot more.

Half-width vehicles have another benefit — they don’t take up much room on the road, or in parking/waiting. Two half-width vehicles that find one another on the road can pair up to take only one lane space. A road that’s heavy with half-width vehicles (as many are in the developing world) can handle a lot more traffic. Rich folks don’t tend to buy these vehicles, but they would accept one as a taxi if they are alone. Indeed, a half-width face-to-face vehicle should be very nice for 2 people.

Carpooling peaked at about 20% during the first oil crisis

Carpooling peaked in the US in 1970 with a commute mode share of 20.4%. By 2011 it was down to 9.7%. In large part this has been attributed to the dramatic fall in gas prices (45%) during the 1980s. In addition, the character of carpool travel has been shifting from the "Dagwood Bumstead" variety, in which each rider is picked up in sequence, to a "park and ride" variety, where all the travelers meet at a common location. Recently, however, the internet has facilitated growth for carpooling and the commute share mode has grown to 10.7% in 2005.

Keqiang index of China's economy from rail, power and loan activity is up

Jim O'Neill who created the term BRIC and a China optimist indicates that China's slowdown to its current 7.5 percent growth rate was well signposted by a sharp slowdown in leading indicators. Those measures, including monetary growth and electricity usage, are no longer flashing red.

Consumption measures such as retail sales have held up, and the current account surplus is down to about 3% of GDP, says O'Neill.

The three major indicators used by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang are also up. In August, on a year-over-year basis, power production increased 13.4%, which is the fastest rate of growth since June 2011. Rail freight volume is also up, rising 7.9%, the highest since September 2011. Bank loans outstanding climbed 14.1%. While bank loans are currently trending down, they are stabilising.

Taking the weighted average of the year-over-year growth of 40% power generation, 35% total loans outstanding, and 25% rail freight volume, the 'Keqiang Index' showed an increase of 12.3%. This is the fastest since September 2011 and solidly above the three-month average.

Agricultural outlook to 2022

OECD-FAO agricultural outlook from 2013 to 2022. h. Global agricultural production for commodities covered in this Outlook is projected to grow at 1.5% annually, on average, compared to 2.1% in the previous decade. This slower growth is expected to be exhibited by all crop sectors and livestock production. These trends reflect rising costs, growing resource constraints, and increasing environmental pressures, which are anticipated to inhibit supply response in virtually all regions.

World population will grow by 1% per year but food from agriculture will increase by 1.5% per year.

Ethanol production is expected to increase 67% over the next ten years with biodiesel increasing even faster but from a smaller base. By 2022, biofuel production is projected to consume a significant amount of the total world production of sugar cane (28%), vegetable oils (15%) and coarse grains (12%).

* Developing countries are expected to account for 80% of the growth in global meat production. Per capita meat consumption growth will slow as major developing economies approach the levels of developed countries; while poultry remains the least expensive and most popular choice and accounts for around 50% of the increase in meat consumption.

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