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Energy-generating ‘artificial plants’ turn greenhouse gases into clean air

University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Fernando Uribe-Romo, artificial plant, artificial plants, synthetic material, synthetic materials, metal-organic frameworks, photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas, greenhouse gases, fuel, solar fuel, light, visible light, LED light, blue light, chemistry, science

Groundbreaking research from scientists at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Florida State University could help in the fight against climate change. The researchers were able to trigger photosynthesis in metal-organic frameworks (MOF) with a little help from blue light, and the process turned carbon dioxide (CO2) into solar fuel. UCF assistant professor Fernando Uribe-Romo described the find as a breakthrough.

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Scientists have been seeking such a breakthrough for years. The trick is getting visible light to set off the chemical reaction; ultraviolet rays can do it but only comprise four percent of the light hitting Earth from the sun. Most materials that can absorb visible light to set off the reaction are too expensive or rare. The Florida scientists, however, found they could use the common nontoxic metal titanium added with organic molecules that can be designed to absorb certain colors of light. Uribe-Romo set them up to absorb blue light.

Related: MIT Scientists Create Artificial Solar Leaf That Can Power Homes

The team tested the MOF inside a photoreactor – or glowing blue cylinder lined with LED lights to mimic blue wavelengths shining from the sun – and the resulting chemical reaction turned CO2 into solar fuel.

Uribe-Romo said, “The idea would be to set up stations that capture large amounts of CO2, like next to a power plant. The gas would be sucked into the station, go through the process, and recycle the greenhouse gases while producing energy that would be put back into the power plant.”

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He said it may even be possible for the material to be put in rooftop shingles to both clean the air and generate energy usable for homeowners. He aims to keep working with the synthetic material and see if different wavelengths of visible light can set off the reaction.

The Journal of Materials Chemistry A published the find online earlier this month.

Via The Independent and EurekAlert!

Images via UCF: Bernard Wilchusky and University of Central Florida

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Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

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For years, scientists have believed that humanity was a relatively recent visitor to the North American continent, migrating from Siberia only 15,000 years ago. Now, more accurate dating of mastodon fossils from California shows that an early human ancestor likely existed on the continent 130,000 years ago, far further back than even the most extreme estimates made by previous researchers.

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The fossils consist of elephant-like teeth and bones, which were discovered in Southern California during the construction of an expressway in 1992. The fossils bear clear signs of deliberate breakage using stone hammers and other early human tools – but until recently, dating technology was not sophisticated enough to accurately pinpoint the era from which they originated.

Related: Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification

Using new methods to measure traces of natural uranium in the bones, researchers with the US Geological Survey and the Center for American Paleolithic Research found these bones were far older than the era when humans are generally accepted to have lived in America.

While these people were clearly somehow related to modern-day humans, and were advanced enough to create and use stone tools, researchers say that they wouldn’t have been Homo sapiens as we know them. Our species didn’t leave Africa until 80,000 to 100,000 years ago. Instead, some likely candidates are Homo erectus, the Neanderthals, or perhaps a little-known hominid species called the Denisovans, whose DNA can still be found in Australian aboriginal populations today.

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It’s likely this ancient human population died out before Homo sapiens eventually crossed the Pacific. It’s believed they did not interbreed with modern humans and likely are not direct ancestors of any Native American groups. The new findings have been published in the journal Nature.

Via Phys.org

Images via San Diego Natural History Museum

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Ai Weiwei and Shepard Fairey launch skateboard protest art for Trump’s 100th day

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Artist-activists Ai Weiwei and Shepard Fairey have teamed up to launch a new series of artwork today in response to the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency. The pieces are printed on an intriguing medium: limited-edition skateboards. The collection is debuting at The Skateroom, a social entrepreneurship initiative that uses funds from its custom, fine-art skateboard decks to support at-risk youth.

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This is the second time The Skateroom has worked with Ai Weiwei, a contemporary artist and political activist whose work has drawn the ire of Chinese government on more than one occasion. His Study of Perspective collection showcases a series of photos shot between 1995 and 2003, with the artist flipping the finger at iconic landmarks and symbols of authority across the globe. Though it’s not a new series, the spirit of ideological opposition is one that remains especially relevant in today’s political climate – and the piece The Skateroom has chosen to highlight takes aim directly at the White House.

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LA-based street artist Shepard Fairey, perhaps best known for his iconic and controversial Obama “HOPE” posters, has also adapted one of his existing political works for The Skateroom. No Future is a simple, black and white stenciled image that denounces hate speech and propaganda – two subjects that have become disturbingly urgent in this new era of fake news and “alternative facts.”

Related: Creepy Skull Sculptures Rise from the Remains of Dead Skateboards

The collaboration with both artists makes perfect sense – Weiwei and Fairey have both attempted throughout their careers to use art as a force for positive social change, so The Skateroom’s mission is a clear match. These politically-charged works will debut at Art Market San Francisco from April 27th-29th, and will be available to purchase at The Skateroom online store.

The Ai Weiwei print is available in a limited edition run of 666 hand screen-printed 7-ply Canadian maple skateboards, the first 66 of which will be signed by the artist and priced at $3,000 each. The Shepard Fairy edition will be slightly more limited, with only 450 skateboards available, priced at $450 a piece.

+ The Skateroom

Images courtesy of The Skateroom

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Snow Water Ice and Water and Adaptive Actions for a Changing Arctic

The Arctic is changing fast, and the Arctic Council recently commissioned the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) to write two new reports on the state of the Arctic cryosphere (snow, water, and ice) and how the people and the ecosystems in the Arctic can live with these changes.

The two reports have now just been published and are called Snow Water Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic Update (SWIPA-update) and Adaptive Actions for a Changing Arctic (AACA).

I can see why these reports can be a bit confusion, with two reports released at the same time by the same organisation. Actually, there are four parts.

The AACA report consists of three regional reports with an emphasis on the Baffin Bay/Davis Strait region, the Barents region, and the Bering/Beaufort/Chukchi region.

The writing process has involved scientists from the US, Canada, Germany, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

The message from these reports is that the Arctic temperatures increase rapidly, in line with the notion of ‘polar amplification’.

The increased temperatures have been accompanied with changes in snow, sea-ice, precipitation, permafrost, icebergs, landice, river runoff, polar lows, synoptic storms, cloudiness, avalanches, ocean circulation, and ocean acidification.

For some of these aspects, there have been clear evidence for changes, such as precipitation, snow, ice, and permafrost. For others, such as polar lows, synoptic storms, and cloudiness, the evidence is more ambiguous.

The number of polar lows and the frequency of fog over the Barents sea, however are believed to diminish as the sea ice cover retreats.

The changing conditions in the Arctic have an impact on both the ecosystems and the people living there.

The AACA report covers social sciences in addition to the atmosphere, the Arctic ocean, and the cryosphere. It provides an update since the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) from 2004 and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

The full reports are still not public, so it is only the summaries that are publicly available at the moment. I expect the full reports to be publicly available some time this summer.

I can see why some people think it’s strange that the summary comes before the report, and this has also been an issue with the assessment reports from the IPCC.

Personally, I think it’s better to wait with the summary until everything is ready to avoid misunderstandings about the report writing process. The main reports are more or less finished and it is just the final quality control and checking that remain.

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NASA unveils inflatable greenhouse for sustainable farming on Mars

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A group of researchers from the University of Arizona, in collaboration with NASA scientists, have created an innovative inflatable greenhouse to help feed astronauts on other planets. The Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse project would allow astronauts on deep space missions access to healthy, fresh food year-round.

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The greenhouse is made of an inflatable material and functions as a closed loop, integrated with the astronaut’s life support systems. The carbon dioxide released by the astronauts is used to support the plants, which convert it into oxygen while also providing a source of food.

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Water to grow the plants would be brought along or gathered on site, depending on whether the site had ice or liquid water nearby. Then the water would be oxygenated and infused with nutrient salts, continuously slowing across the root zone of the plants.

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The entire process is designed to mimic the resources that plants would have access to on Earth, in order to give them the optimal conditions for growth. Research is still ongoing to determine which plants, seeds, and other materials would be most suitable for use on the moon or Mars.

Related: Trump plans to strip NASA’s earth science division, promote mission to Mars

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The plants would need to be protected from the harsh radiation of space on a planet without Earth’s protective atmosphere, so the greenhouses would likely be buried under the ground for protection, and the plants would be fueled by special lighting instead of natural sunlight. Scientists have had success both with LED lighting and light concentrators that use fiber optic bundles to channel natural sunlight from the outside.

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While the current experiments with the greenhouse are taking place on Earth, astronauts on the International Space Station have been experimenting with the practical challenges of growing food in space. NASA’s Veggie Plant Growth System was the first American fresh-food growth experiment on the station back in 2014.

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+ Prototype Lunar Greenhouse

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Vietnam’s “Forest in the Sky” apartment building is topped with 50,000 trees

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This lush residential complex in Hanoi takes green living to the extreme. More than 50,000 trees, shrubs and colorful flowering vines were used to cover the Forest in the Sky building, virtually camouflaging it into the surrounding forest. Along with the ample greenery, the building is equipped with various advanced green technologies and uses 20 percent less energy, and water than a traditionally-constructed building.

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The green “jungle” building is a prime example of green living and will set a new sustainability standard for Vietnam building practices. Besides its green exterior, which helps insulate the building, the tower is equipped with numerous sustainable features. Under the lush greenery, the interior and exterior walls are made of eco-friendly cellular lightweight concrete blocks that offer optimal insulation from extreme heat and cold as well as sound.

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Related: Posh new Vietnamese hotel with a lush green facade brings guests closer to nature

The building also uses high-efficiency hot water boilers, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and energy-efficient lighting to reduce energy usage. Future residents will not only be able to enjoy the amazing greenery and stunning views of the location, but will also enjoy the benefits of green living such as low utility bills.

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The Forest in the Sky project has recently been awarded the preliminary EDGE certificate from SGS Vietnam, which is awarded to buildings that achieve a minimum standard of 20 percent less energy, water and embodied energy than traditional buildings.

+ Coteccons

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World’s last male northern white rhino joins Tinder to avoid extinction

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He may not make the coziest of bedfellows, but if a northern white rhino pops up on your Tinder screen, it might behoove you to swipe right. Dubbed by wildlife experts as the “world’s most eligible bachelor,” 43-year-old Sudan is the sole remaining male of his kind. “I don’t mean to be too forward, but the fate of the species literally depends on me,” the rhino’s profile reads on the dating app. “I perform well under pressure.”

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Sudan isn’t looking to make a love connection, however. There are only two remaining female northern white rhinos left, and neither are viable candidates for mating.

To stave off the subspecies’s extinction, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenyan wildlife group in charge of Sudan’s care is hoping to raise $9 million for research into breeding methods such as in-vitro fertilization.

Related: 21 rare one-horned Indian rhinos drown in monsoon flooding

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Tinder users who swipe right will be directed to a donation site where they can dig deep for the cause.

“We partnered with Ol Pejeta Conservancy to give the most eligible bachelor in the world a chance to meet his match,” Matt David, head of communications and marketing at Tinder, said in a statement. “We are optimistic given Sudan’s profile will be seen on Tinder in 190 countries and over 40 languages.”

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Sudan lives under round-the-clock protection at Old Pejeta with the two females, Najin and Fatu.

“The plight that currently faces the northern white rhinos is a signal to the impact that humankind is having on many thousands of other species across the planet,” said Richard Vigne, the conservancy’s CEO. “Ultimately, the aim will be to reintroduce a viable population of northern white rhino back into the wild, which is where their true value will be realized.”

Via Time

Photos by Unsplash

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Break your newsfeed addiction with better online habits

These days, a lot of folks are asking Umbra how to balance social media (and all the good it can do) with the need for release from a stress-inducing 24-7 stream of outrageous tweets.

Whenever I have a medical problem — anxiety is a medical problem! — I consult the internet which is why I turned to online doctor James Hamblin. NO! He’s a real doctor — and also The Atlantic’s health editor and author of If Our Bodies Could Talk.

The worst thing you can do, Hamblin told me, is to “just be sitting idly by, stewing, doing nothing, consuming information constantly.” But it’s also unhealthy (from a civic standpoint, certainly) to ignore your newsfeed entirely and divorce yourself from the world.

Here’s how Hamblin suggests you can achieve that much-needed Facebook/life balance.

  1. Hiding out in the woods is actually not a good option. It’s a unique kind of privilege, Hamblin notes, to choose to distance yourself from the news cycle. “It’s like if there was a meteor bearing down on Earth, and you said, ‘You know, I’m just gonna go on a digital detox, and not think about the meteor.’” You have to confront the meteor at some point — especially if you are in a position to use your voice to support people most directly in the meteor’s path.
  2. Real-life interaction is almost always better than the internet kind. A lot of social media posting is akin to shouting into the void. If you know just one person who is disengaged or unaware of what’s happening, it’s significantly more useful to have a direct conversation with him or her than to type-yell into a Twitter thread, Hamblin says.
  3. The real world — no matter how terrible it seems! — will actually make you feel better. Remember when we started this whole rigmarole and I encouraged you to find your cause? It would be good to do that now, if you haven’t already. You’ll feel most engaged and most fulfilled by committing some time to said cause instead of feed-scrolling. There are proven, tangible health benefits to feeling that you’ve got a purpose. Donating your time and money is a very productive form of self care, it turns out.
  4. Get a good bedtime ritual. “I’m a big advocate of sleep. Me and Arianna Huffington,” says Hamblin. Me too, James! I am always asleep. I’m asleep right now, writing this! Anyway, before you knock out for the night, it’s far healthier to take time to read a book, or to reflect on your interactions and conversations throughout the day with real live humans, than to refresh Reddit from the comfort of your sheets. [UMBRA TIP: Jeez, don’t bring Reddit into your bed under any circumstances.] Think about stepping away from the screen at least an hour before bed.
  5. How do you know when you’ve achieved information equilibrium? Overwhelmed by news-related anxiety = bad. No sense of purpose = also bad, furthermore, what are you doing? Be informed enough that you know what you’re fighting, but don’t bury yourself under the weight of a thousand newsfeeds.
  6. If you can’t depend on your own willpower, there are [actually] apps for that. If you do need a break from social media, you can use an app to block certain websites for hours or even a day. You’ll have to find the right one for your device, but I’ve heard good things about Moment or Self Control.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Break your newsfeed addiction with better online habits on Apr 27, 2017.

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Meet the fixer: This organizer fights for safer waste disposal.

Living in Detroit, Ahmina Maxey knew her city had a waste problem. At the time, Detroit was the only major city in the country without a curbside recycling program. In those years, Maxey often collected her community’s recyclable refuse at her house so she could take it to a recycling center. While working at the Zero Waste Detroit coalition, Maxey successfully pushed for a city-wide recycling program in 2014. Now she focuses on what happens to garbage after it’s been picked up.

At the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (or GAIA), Maxey fights for an incinerator-free future. Garbage incinerators spew dangerous levels of chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead into the atmosphere — not to mention CO2 — often near communities of color. At GAIA, a network of over 800 grassroots groups and individuals, Maxey helps coordinate and connect communities working toward cleaner waste removal. She holds workshops on the dangers of incinerators and proposes zero-waste alternatives — such as comprehensive recycling programs and reducing consumption in the first place — in communities fighting active incinerators and incinerator proposals.

The way Maxey sees it, communities can create new, green jobs around better waste-removal practices, and clean up their air in the process. “For every job you can create from traditionally burning waste, you can create 10 more if you choose to recycle it and put it back in the economy.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Meet the fixer: This organizer fights for safer waste disposal. on Apr 27, 2017.

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Barn ruins transformed into contemporary home with spa

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Parisian architecture studio Antonin Ziegler converted an abandoned barn into a metal-clad home crafted to evoke a “contemporary ruin.” Located in France’s Regional Natural Park of Boucles de la Seine, the adaptive reuse project, called The Barn, sits between a wheat field and river and was formerly used to store fodder for horses.

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With the barn’s weatherboarding worn away, the architects encased the timber structure in a new shell of zinc to preserve the building’s monolithic and distinctly agricultural gabled shape. The metal cladding was left untreated and will develop a patina over time. The original timber framework, however, is still visible from the outside and peeks through along a window that runs along the home’s stone foundation base.

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“The framework is the fundamental element of the new residence,” write the architects. “From the outside, it remains partially visible, beneath the zinc envelope, thus conferring an incomplete aspect to the construction, as though eroded by the surrounding nature. The windows and doors are visually understated: the archetypal house is kept at bay to give rise to another kind of habitat, more in keeping with the surrounding wilderness. A lone crack that pierces the roof and walls thus gives the project the appearance of a contemporary ruin.”

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Related: Zinc-clad Midden Studio hides a cozy interior with a see-through floor

The interior echoes the facade’s simple and rustic appearance with a material palette of breezeblocks, battens, and exposed concrete. Natural light pours into the home on all sides and the windows frame views of the river and landscape. The ground floor is mostly open plan with few partitions, with the double-height kitchen, dining room, living room on one end, a double-height swimming spa on the other, and a master bedroom and utility room located in the middle. Four bedrooms are tucked away on the upper floor in the former hay loft.

+ Antonin Ziegler

Via ArchDaily

Images via Antonin Ziegler

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