Solar power will give you non-stop water during bike rides

Jon Fingas @jonfingas

If you’re a cyclist, you know the anxiety that comes with running out of water in the middle of a bike ride — the last thing you want is dehydration when you’re miles away from home. Design student Kristof Retezàr may just set your mind at ease, though. He recently developed Fontus, a bike-mounted device that uses solar power to convert air moisture into water for your drinking bottle. The key is its use of thermoelectric cooling. Solar panels generate electricity that cools the top of the device, where air comes in as you ride; as the moisture condenses, it drips water into a bottle below. The bottom stays warm, but that only accelerates the condensation process above.

This is a design exercise at the moment, but Retezàr is looking at both crowdfunding and investors to turn this into a shipping product. It won’t need much refinement to be both cheap and effective, at least. The Fontus prototype cost less than $40 to make, and it actually works best when conditions are at their worst — it produces half a liter (17 fluid ounces) of water in an hour when subjected to hot and humid air. That may not be completely satisfying if you’re extremely thirsty, but it should be enough to tide you over until your next rest stop.

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Elusive dark matter may be detected with GPS satellites

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This two-clocks-illustration shows the pattern of how two atomic clocks would desynchronize and then resynchronize due to a lump of dark matter sweeping through a Global Positioning System or other atomic clock based network. Credit: Andrei Derevianko, University of Nevada, Reno.

The everyday use of a GPS device might be to find your way around town or even navigate a hiking trail, but for two physicists, the Global Positioning System might be a tool in directly detecting and measuring dark matter, so far an elusive but ubiquitous form of matter responsible for the formation of galaxies.

Andrei Derevianko, of the University of Nevada, Reno, and his colleague Maxim Pospelov, of the University of Victoria and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, have proposed a method for a dark-matter search with GPS satellites and other atomic clock networks that compares times from the clocks and looks for discrepancies.

"Despite solid observational evidence for the existence of dark matter, its nature remains a mystery," Derevianko, a professor in the College of Science at the University, said. "Some research programs in particle physics assume that dark matter is composed of heavy-particle-like matter. This assumption may not hold true, and significant interest exists for alternatives."

"Modern physics and cosmology fail dramatically in that they can only explain 5 percent of mass and energy in the universe in the form of ordinary matter, but the rest is a mystery."

There is evidence that dark energy is about 68 percent of the mystery mass and energy. The remaining 27 percent is generally acknowledged to be dark matter, even though it is not visible and eludes direct detection and measurement.

"Our research pursues the idea that dark matter may be organized as a large gas-like collection of topological defects, or energy cracks," Derevianko said. "We propose to detect the defects, the dark matter, as they sweep through us with a network of sensitive atomic clocks. The idea is, where the clocks go out of synchronization, we would know that dark matter, the topological defect, has passed by. In fact, we envision using the GPS constellation as the largest human-built dark-matter detector."

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Quantum physicist Andrei Derevianko of the University of Nevada, Reno has contributed to the development of several novel classes of atomic clocks and now is proposing using networks of synchronized atomic clocks to detect dark matter. His … more

Their research was well-received by the scientific community when the theory was presented at renowned scientific conferences this year, and their paper on the topic appears today in the online version of the scientific journal Nature Physics, ahead of the print version.

Derevianko is collaborating on analyzing GPS data with Geoff Blewitt, director of the Nevada Geodetic Laboratory, also in the College of Science at the University of Nevada, Reno. The Geodetic Lab developed and maintains the largest GPS data processing center in the world, able to process information from about 12,000 stations around the globe continuously, 24/7.

The two are starting to test the dark matter detection ideas by analyzing clock data from the 30 GPS satellites, which use atomic clocks for everyday navigation. Correlated networks of atomic clocks such as the GPS and some ground networks already in existence, can be used as a powerful tool to search for the topological defect dark matter where initially synchronized clocks will become desynchronized. The time discrepancies between spatially separated clocks are expected to exhibit a distinct signature.

Blewitt, also a physicist, explained how an array of atomic clocks could possibly detect dark matter.

"We know the dark matter must be there, for example, because it is seen to bend light around galaxies, but we have no evidence as to what it might be made of," he said. "If the dark matter were not there, the normal matter that we know about would not be sufficient to bend the light as much as it does. That’s just one of the ways scientists know there is a massive amount of dark matter somewhere out there in the galaxy. One possibility is that the dark matter in this gas might not be made out of particles like normal matter, but of macroscopic imperfections in the fabric of space-time.

"The Earth sweeps through this gas as it orbits the galaxy. So to us, the gas would appear to be like a galactic wind of dark matter blowing through the Earth system and its satellites. As the dark matter blows by, it would occasionally cause clocks of the GPS system to go out of sync with a tell-tale pattern over a period of about 3 minutes. If the dark matter causes the clocks to go out of sync by more than a billionth of a second we should easily be able to detect such events."

Explore further: Modified theory of dark matter

More information: The paper can be found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys3137.

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Imperfect system is all that protects you from genetic parasites out to destroy your genes

We like to think of evolution as a fine-tuning process, one that whittles away genetic redundancies. The only problem is, we are not fine-tuned machines. Our bodies are chock-full of parts that either don’t work anymore or are so buggy that our biology has Macgyvered a way to make it work.

Take our DNA. No, seriously, take our DNA. It’s mostly garbage anyways. Fifty percent of our genome is comprised of genetic parasites, called transposable elements or transposons, that usually lie dormant. When they are allowed to move around the genome, they can wreak havoc on our genes. These bundles of rogue DNA sequences, nicknamed jumping genes, can hop into an essential gene and interrupt it, leading to a variety of mutations that cause conditions like infertility.

Our reproductive cells, called germ cells, are particularly sensitive to transposons, so they rely on a system called the PIWI pathway to keep the transposons in check. Scientists have long wondered how the pathway works and why, despite its checks and balances, do transposons still make up such a large portion of our genome. Understanding the system would help scientists demystify human infertility and other diseases that result when transposons run amok.

Brandeis biology professor Nelson Lau and his lab recently published two studies on the PIWI pathway, short for P-element Induced Wimpy testis. When the pathway is blocked in fruit flies, it results in small, infertile testes and ovaries.

The pathway’s main weapons against transposons are PIWI proteins and small RNA molecules called piRNAs.

Think of PIWI proteins as transposon bounty hunters and piRNAs as the wanted posters that provide vital information about the outlaw DNA. But the piRNAs don’t offer a complete picture. "Germ cells do something very weird by shredding that wanted poster into a lot of small pieces," Lau says. "Instead of carrying the whole poster, piRNAs carry what might look like part of a nose, half of an eye or a sliver of a lip."

Just as a shredded wanted poster could match many faces, those small piRNAs could match many good genes, so how do PIWI proteins track down and silence transposons without silencing good genes in the process?

In a study published in RNA, Lau and his team, led by graduate student Josef Clark and former technician Christina Post, observed that PIWI proteins are careful. The proteins waited until they had a good composite picture from enough piRNAs before they clamped down on the transposon

But that doesn’t mean the system is flawless. Far from it, Lau’s team discovered.

In a second study published in Genome Research, Lau and postdocs Yuliya Sytnikova, Reazur Rahman and bioinformatician Gung-wei Chirn observed new transposable elements in the fruit fly cells moving to different areas of the genome, affecting nearby genes. "We all knew that the PIWI pathway was continuously active, so the conventional wisdom was that it was doing a decent job keeping these transposons under wraps," Lau says. "We stood corrected."

It turns out transposons are not so easily subdued. Many slipped past the PIWI system, landing on new genome spots and impacting surrounding genes. Some transposons could even make disguises—long non-coding RNAs that Lau thinks are meant to trick the PIWI proteins.

This may explain why transposons continue to make up such a large part of our genome, Lau says. "The PIWI pathway works just well enough to allow our germ cells to develop, but not well enough to keep all of the transposons fully redacted," he says.

This may seem an ineffective way to protect our genome—our body’s most important artifact—but there may be a method in PIWI’s madness. After all, transposons have evolved with every member of the animal kingdom, from sponges to humans—there must be some reason they’re tolerated.

Perhaps, Lau says, a bit of genetic mischief, in the right places, is good. It ensures genetic variation and diversity, which is important for a species to reproduce and evolve.

Like so much of our biology, it’s not pretty but it is effective—for the most part.

Explore further: Newly identified small-RNA pathway defends genome against the enemy within

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The Netherlands has laid the world’s first solar road – we go eyes-on to investigate | ExtremeTech

Earlier this week, the first solar roadway opened in Amsterdam — a 70-meter stretch of cycle path between two suburbs of the city that generates solar power from rugged, textured glass-covered photovoltaic cells. My significant other, Jessica Hall, happens to be spending a semester in Amsterdam and was willing to trek out to the Krommenie-Wormerveer cross-connection to see this solar roadway in action.

Below, we’ll answer some common questions people have raised about the projects and the road itself. One thing to know about the Netherlands is that biking is huge there, despite the wet, maritime climate. Building a solar bike path isn’t a throwaway gesture as it is in the United States, and the bike path itself, as you’ll see, is laned like a modern road. This project is built by SolaRoad — it’s different from the crowdfunded Solar Roadways project that we wrote about earlier this year.

At present, only 70 meters of a planned 100 meters has been completed and only one side. This stretch of path is bathed in consistent sunlight for most of the day, making it a good test case for the project. In the image above, the solar road is on the left, the traditional concrete is on the right.

Size and composition

One of the questions readers have raised is what traction could be like on a solar roadbed. According to Jess, the road is heavily textured and bumpy to the point that she’d be less afraid of wiping out on concrete than on the solar section.

The difference is clearly visible even while standing. Here’s the closeup version.

The solar road and the standard concrete were the same temperature, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us much — it was cloudy early in the day when these photos were taken, and the sun hadn’t been out very long that afternoon. The solar surface is embedded below the glass/epoxy outer layer.

With texturing like that, you’d expect the surface to grip well — and it does. It’s effectively impossible to slip on the surface. Amsterdam has a maritime climate, which means it rains frequently in winter but snow is less common and heavy snowfall is rare. (Your definition of what constitutes heavy snowfall will depend on where you live, obviously).

Reflectance, wear-and-tear

One interesting question readers had raised is whether or not these new roads are more reflective than previous surfaces. They definitely are — though whether this will be a problem for riders is unclear.

You can clearly see reflections in the road surface, and these are visible (albeit less clearly) even in the cloudier photos.

One reason installing these solar panels on a bike path makes more sense than a traditional road is the wear-and-tear expected on the road itself. According to studies, one reasonable method of estimating road wear is the so-called fourth-power law, which states that the damage a vehicle causes to a road surface is related to the fourth power of its axle weight. Speed and tire pressure all play a part, but the end result is that cars are at least several thousand times more damaging to a road surface than bikes, and trucks are thousands of times more damaging than cars. A solar road surface for a bike path is thus under orders of magnitude less stress than a vehicular road surface.

For now, the entire project is a proof-of-concept demonstration. Plenty of people who are otherwise enthusiastic proponents of solar power are dubious of embedding panels into roadways, and we’ll have to wait and see how this solution performs under real-world conditions to draw conclusions. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to draw conclusions until someone does the testing — so kudos to Amsterdam (and Jess Hall) for taking the plunge on an idea and serving as remote photojournalist, respectively. There are some additional photos of the solar roadway available on Imgur.

Now read Sebastian Anthony’s (rather cynical) analysis of solar roadways

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Japan’s levitating train travels 300 mph and just carried its first passengers

A Japanese train that ever-so-slightly floats above the tracks and moves at super-fast speeds completed its first run with passengers last week.

The maglev train (shorthand for magnetic levitation) carried 100 passengers over a 27-mile span in Japan between the cities Uenohara and Fuefuki, reaching speeds of 311 mph; monitors charted the train’s quick speed. In December, the train will be tested over an eight-day period.

See also: 13 Ridiculous Travel Accessories No One Will Ever Need

The maglev method of transportation works with the help of magnets; its top speeds put other trains to shame. In the U.S., high-speed rail travel hasn’t been adopted in a widespread way, but in countries like China, some commercial travel trains like the Shanghai Maglev Train can reach speeds of 268 mph.

The maglev train is designed for commuters; it can carry up to 1,000 travelers in 16 cars. In addition to the "floating" carriages that hover a few millimeters above the track, the train’s elongated nose reduces wind resistance for quicker travel.

While details about the technology are few and far between, the maglev model is slated to be ready for use by 2017 and will carry passengers from Tokyo to Nagoya. That journey typically takes about 80 minutes, but the maglev train’s technology will cut that travel time in half, according to The Daily Mail.

BONUS: The High-Tech Secret in NYC’s Payphones

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

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Stuxnet worm found its way to Iran’s nuclear facilities via five hacked suppliers – TechSpot

By Shawn Knight on November 13, 2014, 8:00 PM

What do Home Depot and Iran’s nuclear ambitions have in common? Both were on the receiving end of malicious code that infiltrated their systems via suppliers.

We’ve all heard the story about how Stuxnet was allegedly created as part of a joint effort by the United States and Israel to slow down Iran’s nuclear program. Because the Iranian targets were not connected to the Internet, most assumed that Stuxnet spread via USB drive but that’s no longer believed to be the case.

A new book on the matter, Countdown to Zero Day, claims the code first infected five vendors that supplied components used in Iran’s nuclear program. Those companies are believed to be Foolad Technic Engineering Co., Behpajooh Co. Elec & Comp. Engineering, Neda Industrial Group, Control-Gostar Jahed Company and Kala Electric.

The attackers expected these organizations would at some point supply components to Iran for its nuclear program and of courses, they were spot on.

What the coders didn’t count on, however, was the fact that Stuxnet would inadvertently infect other organizations and spread over the Internet due to specific design flaws.

As Kaspersky points out, one major question still remains – was Stuxnet a one-off project or are there other similar pieces of malware out in the wild that have yet to be discovered? Those answers will likely come over time.

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