Sunday, June 12, 2011

Are We Heading To A Mass Extension?

The bad news is that our dear planet might be heading towards a mass extinction, where at least 75% of the life on earth will be gone.
The good news is the chances of it happening are pretty low for at least three more centuries.
Scientists writing in the journal Nature are suggesting that we might be on the brink of a massive extinction, the kind of which has only been seen only five times in 540 million years.
“If you look only at the critically endangered mammals–those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations & assume that their time will run out and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm,” said Anthony Barnosky, an integrative biologist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Who is responsible for this? Possibly we.
“A modern global mass extinction is a largely unaddressed hazard of climate change and human activities,” H. Richard Lane of the National Science Foundation said.
According to Barnosky, if the species that are now considered critically endangered, endangered & vulnerable actually went extinct, and that rate of extinction continued, the sixth mass extinction could arrive in three to twenty-two centuries.
However, this is not a very solid thing and according to the researchers we still have enough time to rescue these species. For this we're gonna have to deal with threats of storms, destruction of habitat, disease and global warming.
Last time such thing ever happened was 65 million years ago when that meteor fell into whats now Yucatan, causing the massive die-off.
Arctic polar bears are often symbolized as species facing threats because of their icy habitat that is melting fast.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Environment Friendly Construction Material

Civil engineers at Purdue University are on working on a low cost and lightweight mixture for road and bridge building. Its made up of shredded tires & sand, and it is applicable for the regions of roads and bridges that get the weight & pressure, particularly the areas that are built above soft, weak soil deposits. It can also be applied as backfill behind retaining walls and to increase the strength of slopes prone to landslides etc.
As per 2007 EPA report, 7.5 million tons of rubber ends up as waste every year, most of it comes from vehicle tires. And approximately just 35 percent of tires are recycled. The Indiana Department of Transportation has used this new compound on nine different projects so far & 1.1 million tires have been utilized, thus saving $1.2 million.
Most importantly, this mixture is very easily compacted when compared to other materials, it uses far less energy. Another factor contributing to its cost efficiency.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ants Form Live & Kicking Life Rafts

After briefly analyzing the biomechanics of many animals, engineers are now turning their tools to some pesty creatures, the fire ants.
Engineers from Georgia Institute of Technology observed the notoriously and tough ants more closely than ever before and uncovered that they have a rough skin with hairy surface which makes it difficult for water to pass in, bit like how duck feathers resist water because of their small bumps. This can be advantageous discovery for those who are working on new and high efficiency waterproof materials.
Whenever fire ants see a risk of drowning, they engage in a amazingly effective survival mechanism. Involving a group of ants(sometimes reaching thousands) stack up, lock their limbs & jaws, and form a live and kicking life raft that can survive for months.
A single fire ant, when put in water, will struggle and flail. A detail observation, however, reveals a thin layer of air along the body of the ant. But if multiple of them come together, proximity pushes each ant’s individual air bubble against the next ant’s. This giant bubble  then protects the whole raft and its precious cargo, including the queen, off springs and the food.
This ant raft doesn't only hold strength but it also gives more buoyancy. Even the bottom layer of ants doesn't get wet. This unique ability of this species  likely evolved because they belong from a place that frequently faces floods, amazons of Brazil and Argentina.
This discovery is not only fruitful for people hunting for better waterproof materials, according to robotics engineers the fire ants can be helpful in designing blueprints for a system of programming many simple robots to work together, which can help accomplish greater objectives than one large clumsy robot.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Solar Powered Water Purifiers

Far off villages in developing countries might find these 40-ft long containers pretty useful — a water purification system that runs on solar power and is ideal thing to replace the noisy generators that run on oil, water-tankers and can save hours for people who walk daily to fetch it from distant sources.

That’s what the makers hope, an environmental technology group known as SwissINSO Holding Inc. This small company has succeeded in winning its first contracts and will soon be supplying these plants to Algeria and Malaysia. And now it is aiming to sell forty two units of what it says is the world’s “first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system” in 2011.
Today's world of more than a billion people who lack access to fresh water has lots of room for this incredible system. It can also find its application in disaster struck areas and other fields like construction and military.
Company's Chief Executive 'Yves Ducommun' says that his machines(housed in the two containers) are capable of pumping a 100,000 liters of drinking water daily for 20 years costing less than $0.03 per litermaintenance included. This setup itself costs somewhere between $800,000 and $1.2 million up front, depending on factors such as how many solar panels are needed to drive the purification, which filters out dirt and toxins, or salt from seawater, through a membrane.
This might sound like a lot of money for a village in sub-Saharan Africa, but when we see it on a scale of 20 years then it starts sounding nice enough for governments or aid agencies to show interest. The developers reckon it supplies enough water for about five thousand people. And can free them from walking long distances each day to collect water, therefore  allowing them to do other fruitful things, like working or studying.
“It’s a cost, but if you think of the cost of carrying water by tanker or truck to remote places, or a unit powered by diesel you are in a better position with our system,” said Ducommun. Especially with the forecast of more frequent floods, drought and desertification that'll arise due to climate change.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Magic Wrap

Now a plastic wrap can tell you if  your lunch fresh enough to eat.
Consumers often dump food suspecting that it has “gone bad” when actually it is perfectly fit to eat. Result is increase in the refuse the cities produce and wastage of food. According to the Environmental Protection Agency estimates; such food scraps constitute twelve percent of municipal landfills, making food items the single largest element of the waste stream of the United States.
So now, the scientists are developing a plastic wrap that will change its color when the food turns unsafe to eat. Therefore preventing the consumers from throwing away food prematurely.
Made up of “intelligent plastics” this wrap will warn the consumers as food looses its freshness because it has broken or damaged packaging, has passed its “best before” date or hasn't been refrigerated properly.
This inexpensive wrap is far more economical than high-tech equipment that inserts freshness indicators inside the labels or food-industry packaging.
It wont just cut down the waste-mass produced but it will also help save many live that are lost due to food poisoning and other diseases(an estimated 76 million Americans contract food poisoning every year.)
The researchers at Scotland’s Strathclyde University have received over $500,000 in funding form Scottish Enterprise, a government board. Hopefully soon they’ll be able to say, “that’s a wrap!"