Posts tagged research

Want to be a green scientist? With this site you can!

Sci.Spy from Discovery

Screenshot of Sci.Spy application for iPhone

This is an application I’ve been wanting to see for some time now – so glad it’s a reality!  Sci.Spy lets you take your photos of natural things (animals, plants, fungi, etc) and upload them to a database for use by scientists studying species distributions and the like.

It’s a natural extension of many smaller citizen science projects, for example, one which allowed the cataloging of tree species in British urban environments.  However, with Discovery Science behind the wheel and with the integration of an iPhone app which simplifies the process of uploading mobile phone images with geo tag information, this network looks as though it could become a very deep source of data.

As someone who travels pretty much everywhere with camera in hand, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities for individual species identification as well.  So often I take images of things, wild plants especially, which then require a lot of web researching to figure out what species or variety I’ve taken.  If a large body of data is amassed, then eventually this site could be used by foragers and and individuals looking to ID plants and animals in their surroundings with better accuracy.  And for foraging especially, that is quite important!

Want to find out more?  Check out the Sci.Spy site at Discovery.com, or download the iPhone app.

Here are some other interesting citizen science sites:

Urban Forest Map, The Wild Lab, The Milky Way Project, and ScienceForCitizens.net (has a listing of many citizen scientist projects).

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The Solar Necktie

It seems inevitable that eventually clothing designers will hop on the solar train and integrate solar power into their designs. Already, Noon Solar and several other handbag manufacturers are realizing nice profits creating stylish solar designs that charge your cell phone on the go. But this invention takes the solar geek award by a landslide. The Solar Necktie, brainchild of researchers at Iowa State University’s Textiles school, is a perfect integration of office style and solar cool. It even has a place to tuck your cell phone in the back while its charging!

I have to admit, I’d have expected to see this sooner on the runways of Calvin Klein than a university. And most of the other designs left a little to be desired in the style file. (though they designed a solar jacket, too, which has potential!) New Flexible Thin Film solar technologies will be greatly expending the potential for power generation in our daily activities very soon. They can be wrapped around buildings, woven into fabrics, and used in other compounds to generate power from all sorts of things. Though this design still pays obvious homage to the solar look we are used to, soon, you may not even notice that you are using a solar appliance until you actually draw power from it. Kudos to these researchers on a nice application and guidepost for future designers.

Read all about the products here: Research Bulletin

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Solar Sailor: cruising through green waters

“We are confident we can build everything up to ocean liners
and in fifty years time people will look back at boats of the
20th Century and they’ll say “where are the wings”?”
– Dr Robert Dane, CEO, Solar Sailor

Imagine a boat powered by the sun. Unlike the wind, which comes and goes with unpredictable ferocity, the sun makes a fairly easily scheduled appearance most days. Add wind power as a concentrated burst of energy when the sun doesn’t necessarily shine, and you’ve got a luxury ride. It simultaneously looks like a subway train and a transformer: it isn’t the lofty elegance of an old galleon, but it makes a fashion statement nonetheless!

The Sun Sailor has won numerous award for its intriguing design. It simply makes sense to marry the sun and sailing, and takes place under some of the least obstructed skies on earth. And there’s some big name support. The leader of the company is an ex-prime minister of Australia, and recently Solar Sailor was awarded a contract with the US navy developing unmanned vehicles.

Visit the Solar Sailor site here

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Stylish and Sensible: Solar Roof Tiles

Solar Roof Tiles

Here’s a really nicely executed concept hitting the research airwaves. Sebastian Braat, an Australian designer working on his graduate thesis, came up with a combination solar electric solar thermal roof tile that not only has up to 18% efficiency, but also is adaptable and looks really sleek.

You can more than power an average sized family home with only 200 tiles.  That allows for more placement options to suit your situation, and there are plans to develop a variety of different styles.  Mr. Braat concerns himself with “easing the power burden our housing estates are rapidly creating” in innovative and informative ways.

No word yet on cost, but file this one away in your “near future” pile.

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Solar Plastic: Film of the Future

National Geographic article on Solar plastics

Sargent Group – Inventors of Solar Plastic

Ted Sargent’s Home Page (the inventor, a globally recognized young innovator)

So this article is from 2005, not exactly hot-off-the-presses.   But it’s an interesting look at a new technology: solar cells that absorb both the visible and infrared spectrums of light and process them into usable energy.  Not only that, they’re based in a spray solution for ease of application across a variety of surfaces.  A spray-on plastic coating that could charge your car while driving or your cell-phone while walking are great ideas, with a billion more applications to be dreamed up along the way.  I’m now going to search for more information on this technology, and will report whatever I find to you as it comes in. 

Even now, I’m envisioning spray-painting a backyard deck/patio with a plastic coating that weather proofs it, and makes it more attractive, all while powering solar evening lamps or CMOS security sensors around a property’s perimeter, perhaps also powering a sensor-activated automatic watering system for garden plantings.  Or, on a less serious tack, maybe creating a line of ultra-mod swimwear that uses solar plastics and a closed system of lighting to create light-up fashions?  How cool would that look underwater?  What do you see in your solar dreams?

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Vegetarians Rejoice!

“Our finding that children with greater intelligence are more likely to report being vegetarian as adults, coupled with the evidence on the potential health benefits of a vegetarian diet, may help to explain why higher IQ in childhood or adolescence is linked with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease in adult life.”

This is news from a 2006 study done in England on many individuals, correcting for things such as social class and educational levels of attainment.  It clearly showed that people who reject meat products tend toward a higher IQ, and that this relationship can be demonstrated early in life simply by testing a child’s IQ.  Wow!  As a semi-vegetarian, but someone who does try to think about food choices, this is great news.  Be sure to read the full article here, because I’ve barely scratched the surface of their particular study, and upon hearing such good conclusions from the scientists, I’m feeling a sudden craving for a salad…

IQ Booster

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Using grade-school tech to meet global power needs

Energy Tower

Researchers at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology claim they have created a conceptual power plant that could meet all of the globe’s energy needs… fifteen times over! It’s called the Energy Tower, and it uses the weight of cooled air to power generating turbines at the bottom of a tall tower. The air is cooled by water pumped to the top of the tower and released amidst air warmed by the sun. This reaction causes the newly cooled air to fall down the tunnel, allowing for the collection of power. Technically solar, certainly hybrid, and zero-pollution, if the concept translates into a working prototype it will be a major breakthrough, as it will be capable of producing power at less than present costs. It may also possibly operate to desalinate water, which is a generally expensive process as a byproduct of the power generating sequence.

Read more about the Energy Tower here.

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Solar Power While You Sleep

Idaho National Lab Solar Cell

Look like the future of solar?  Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory think so.  This sheet of plastic is covered with millions of nano-scale collectors that reach potential efficiencies of up to 80%!  That blows current solar technologies out of the water.  And it’s cheaper to make these cells, too.   They use common ingredients and can be printed on flexible plastics, like bags.  Now, you ready for the good news?  (yeah, it get’s better)  These nano-antennae are tuned into infrared energy, which is radiated down on us all day by the sun and re-radiated back from the Earth at night.  Which translates to the fact that these solar collectors don’t need their beauty sleep like regular solar cells.  They pull overtime, day in and day out.  Only problem?  They haven’t figured out how to convert the energy into something useful by humans… yet.  Well, when you get that covered, guys, put me on the customer list!

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Powered by…You!

Here’s an amazing, “why didn’t someone think of it before” idea. Of course, it’s from the ever smart and innovative students of MIT. (Side plug, if you’re ever looking for some great reading, check out MIT’s Technology Review, available online or in stores. It’s loaded with cutting-edge and interesting ideas for the future)Basically, this idea takes the power of human gravity and converts it to usable energy.

Yep. It’s that simple. What I want to see is a super-charged home version of the system, so you can actually power your home as you run around after your dog (or kids), for instance. Visit their site for more info.

clipped from crowd-farming.com

Crowd farming

How can we find alternative energy from simple human movement? Well, the idea for this alternative energy source came from a pair of MIT students Tad Juscyzk and James Graham. The duo announced their ideas at the Holcim Forum 2007 awards ceremony where they won top honors.

The project seeks to convert the energy of human movement in places where it is abundant and dense, like in urban settings, to energy suitable for consumer use. Juscyzk and Graham’s crowd farm was based in Boston’s South Station terminal. The floor of this popular railway destination would contain a responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks. These nodes would depress slightly when stepped upon and would be in station’s main lobby. The friction of the blocks as people walked would generate power through a dynamo, or a device converting energy of motion to this new form of alternative energy.

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2007: an Analysis of the Renewable Power Industry

Consider these facts, taken from the Renewables 2007 Global Status Report:

  • Renewable electricity generation capacity reached an estimated 240 gigawatts (GW) worldwide in 2007, an increase of 50 percent over 2004. Renewables represent 5 percent of global power capacity and 3.4 percent of global power generation. (Figures exclude large hydropower, which itself was 15 percent of global power generation.)

  • Renewable energy generated as much electric power worldwide in 2006 as one-quarter of the world’s nuclear power plants, not counting large hydropower. (And more than nuclear counting large hydropower.)

  • The largest component of renewables generation capacity is wind power, which grew by 28 percent worldwide in 2007 to reach an estimated 95 GW. Annual capacity additions increased even more: 40 percent higher in 2007 compared to 2006.

  • The fastest growing energy technology in the world is grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV), with 50 percent annual increases in cumulative installed capacity in both 2006 and 2007, to an estimated 7.7 GW. This translates into 1.5 million homes with rooftop solar PV feeding into the grid worldwide.

  • Rooftop solar heat collectors provide hot water to nearly 50 million households worldwide, and space heating to a growing number of homes. Existing solar hot water/heating capacity increased by 19 percent in 2006 to reach 105 gigawatts-thermal (GWth) globally.

Alternative Energy is (very) ready for its time in the spotlight.  With the quick adoption rates that these numbers reflect, one can only wonder how long it will be until 50 or even 75% of our power could be renewable.

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