UPFRONT News, Notes, Bits and Bytes From Here, There, Everywhere
OH, Them Golden Nanoparticles!
What if we could create natural street lights that don’t need electricity to power them? Funny you should ask, if indeed you asked. A group of scientists in Taiwan recently discovered that placing gold nanoparticles within the leaves of trees causes them to give off a luminous reddish glow. The idea of using trees to replace street lights is an ingenious one —not only would it save on electricity costs and cut CO2 emissions, but it could also greatly reduce light pollution in major cities. The discovery came about accidentally after the scientists were looking for a way to create high-efficiency lighting similar to LED technology, but without using toxic chemicals such as phosphor powder.
By implanting the gold nanoparticles into the leaves of the Bacopa caroliniana plants, the scientists were able to induce the chlorophyll in the leaves to produce a red emission. Under a high wavelength of ultraviolet light, the gold nanoparticles were able to produce a blue-violet fluorescence to trigger a red emission in the surrounding chlorophyll. Stay tuned.
Geothermal: Where It’s At
As global energy demand increases and efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions intensify, an increasing number of countries are looking to tap domestic geothermal resources to drive low carbon development. A clean, base load source of power, geothermal offers consistent electricity production nearly 24 hours a day with little to no emissions. Worldwide potential is immense, but geothermal remains an underutilized resource and represents only a small fraction of the global renewable energy portfolio. Today, more than 10.7 gigawatts of geothermal power capacity is online across 26 countries with a combined output of approximately 67 terawatt hours of electricity. Currently, the United States is the global geothermal leader with 3,086 megawatts of installed capacity. Seven countries account for 88 percent of global capacity, and among countries utilizing geothermal resources, seven obtain 10 to 30 percent of their total electricity supply from geothermal sources. Conventional geothermal resources account for nearly all online capacity. However, enhanced geothermal systems, which hold the most theoretical potential, and co-produced wells, provide potentially lucrative opportunities for expansion outside of rift zones or volcanically active regions throughout the world.
Pure Nacional, a variety of cacao, the plant used to make chocolate, that was once thought to be extinct, has been rediscovered in Peru. The cacao, with its complex fruit and floral flavors, once dominated the fine chocolate market worldwide but In 1916, diseases struck the plant population and within three years 95 percent of the trees were destroyed. The prized chocolate was thought to be lost, until now. It has been rediscovered growing in Peru.
Missed It Again, Darn
You celebrated, of course. We didn’t because we once again forgot that March 16 was Pi Day. Happy belated returns.
LET’S HEAR IT FOR FAILURE
The Harvard Business Review devotes most of its April issue to, well, failure, which most of us think is worth avoiding if at all possible. But the Review prefers to offer advice on how to understand failure, learn from it and recover from it. “If you’re launching a new business,” the editors say, “creating a new product or developing a new technology, the principles of intelligent failure provide both logic and a safety net.” Do this, the magazine says:
• Decide what you’re trying to do and what success would look like.
• Be explicit about the assumptions you’re making and have a plan for testing them throughout the project.
• Design the initiative in small chunks so that you learn fast, without spending too much money. • Don’t try to learn more than one significant thing at a time.
• Create a culture that shares, forgives and sometimes even celebrates failure.
WHY MOST PRODUCT LAUNCHES FAIL
An article by Joan Schneider and Julie Hall in the April Harvard Business Review sets forth five causes of flops and how to avoid them:
Flaw 1 The company can’t support fast growth.
Have a plan to ramp up quickly if the product takes off.
Flaw 2 The product falls short of claims and gets bashed.
Delay your launch until the product is really ready.
FLAW 3 The new item exists in “product limbo.”
Test the product to make sure its differences will sway buyers.
Flaw 4 The product defines a new category and requires substantial consumer education—but doesn’t get it.
If consumers can’t quickly grasp how to use your product, it’s toast.
Flaw 5 The product is revolutionary, but there’s no market for it.
Don’t gloss over the basic question, “Who will buy this and at what price?”
Top 10 tips for writing boring papers
Kaj Sand-Jensen of the University of Copenhagen has ten key tips for writing boring scientific literature (a lot of writers already know them):
• Avoid focus
• Avoid originality and personality
• Write l o n g contributions
• Remove implications and speculations
• Leave out illustrations
• Omit necessary steps of reasoning
• Use many abbreviations and terms
• Suppress humor and flowery language
• Degrade biology to statistics
• Quote papers for trivial statements
And, voila! Another MEGO* contribution!
* My Eyes Glaze Over
The Government Isn’t the Only Place to Go for Money:
• The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:
Grand Challenges in Global Health
Up to $1 million for “innovative, early stage research” on the world’s most pressing health problems. The application is two pages in length with no preliminary data required and anyone can apply.
• American Brain Tumor Association Discovery Grants
These one-year grants fund up to $50,000 for high-risk, high-impact projects with “the potential to change current diagnostic or treatment paradigms for adult or pediatric brain tumors,” according to the ABTA. The focus is on basic research, so no translational projects.
Some grant writing tips (which also apply to presentations in general), courtesy of The Scientist website:
1. Keep it simple
Explaining the physics of a nanolaser capable of detecting DNA methylation is not necessarily a simple task, but try anyway.
To prove an idea is truly innovative, it’s important to thoroughly document research in the area. Although many grant applications restrict the length of citations, it’s important to know what’s out there.
3. Reduce the risk
It helps to let evaluators know that you know what the risks are and how you can lessen them.
4. Show your planning
Any project, even one labeled “high risk,” has to be realistic, so make an effort to show the details of how it can be done.
5. Never, never, never give up
Good News About Hydrogen
Researchers have revealed a new single-stage method for recharging the hydrogen storage compound ammonia borane. This makes hydrogen a more attractive fuel for vehicles
and other transportation modes. Los Alamos National Laboratory and University of Alabama researchers report a significant advance in hydrogen storage science. Hydrogen is in many ways an ideal fuel. It possesses a high energy content per unit mass when compared to petroleum and it can be used to run a fuel cell, which in turn can be used to power a very clean engine. On the down side, it has a low energy content per unit volume versus petroleum (it is very light and bulky). The crux of the hydrogen issue has been how to get enough of the element on board a vehicle to power it a reasonable distance.
Work at LANL has focused on chemical hydrides for storing hydrogen, with one material in particular, ammonia borane, taking center stage. It’s attractive because its hydrogen storage capacity approaches a whopping 20 percent by weight—enough that it should, with appropriate engineering, permit hydrogen-fueled vehicles to go farther than 300 miles on a single “tank,” a benchmark set by DOE. The researchers envision vehicles with interchangeable hydrogen storage “tanks” containing ammonia borane that are used, and sent back to a factory for recharge.
ANOTHER PRESIDENT, SAME GOAL
President Obama has established a goal to reduce America's imported oil (11 million barrels per day) by a third in 10 years, which he believes is reasonable, achievable and necessary. However, presidents dating back to the 1970s have also laid out similar goals with disappointing results. This time may be different though. As Energy Secretary Chu said in response to the speech: "I think technologically, we're much closer than we ever were.”