Guardian: After a 26-year career, Fermilab’s Tevatron collider is being retired. Completed in 1983 at a cost of $120 million, the Tevatron was the highest-energy collider in the world for 25 years. It lost that standing, however, when CERN’s Large Hadron Collider began operations in early 2010. In an article for the Guardian, Mark Lancaster, a member of the High Energy Physics Group at University College London, reflects on his 15 years working on the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) experiment at the Tevatron. He discusses how the Tevatron made novel use of superconducting materials in its magnets and how it required the construction of the world’s largest cryogenic facility.
SciDev.Net: Using remote sensing technologies, a group of researchers in India studied some 15 million hectares of underutilized agricultural land in South Asia in order to identify problem areas, such as land that is too wet or too dry for crops or land where natural resources have been depleted. By combining the data with resource-conserving technologies that include surface seeding and zero tillage—a method of growing crops without disturbing the soil—they found that crop yield could be significantly increased. Such studies will prove increasingly important as populations grow and less land and water are available for farming. The group’s results were recently published in Applied Geography.
Geophysical Research Letters: The 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan last March caused a massive tsunami that devastated whole communities and led to a release of radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Nobuhito Mori of Kyoto University in Japan and colleagues have now surveyed and mapped the impact of the tsunami along a 2000-km stretch of the coast. In the map below, red bars show the height above sea level, and blue shading indicates how far inland the sea reached. “This tsunami was the first case where modern, well-developed tsunami countermeasures faced such an extreme event,” say the authors. One conclusion they reached was that both hard protection (barriers, structures, and the like) and soft countermeasures (evacuation planning) were “insufficient in this disaster.”
Science: The US Department of Energy (DOE) is reshaping how it makes investments in developing better energy technologies in order to have a more coherent and productive transportation program. The new regime, which will be unveiled in the 2013 budget presented to Congress in February, will also have more resources devoted to electric car development. The reevaluation comes from DOE’s first-ever Quadrennial Technology Review, which calls the current R&D spending allocation “a bit unbalanced,” said DOE undersecretary for science Steven Koonin at a briefing held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC.
Nature: Icelandic singer Björk’s album Biophilia, which is released in two weeks, features songs about DNA, crystals, viruses, and electricity—each accompanied by an iPad app. Björk tells Nature‘s Andrew Mitchinson that the lessons are designed for children: “I felt that the years between five and eight, when a child’s brain is soaking up languages and learning to read and write, are the perfect time to absorb musical theory.” As part of her musical science tour, she’ll be holding workshops at science museums around the globe, including in San Francisco.
BBC: Self-healing materials—whether metal, plastic, or a carbon composite—have been around for almost a decade. Now Nancy Sottos and coworkers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new, nature-inspired technique, which they describe in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. It involves impregnating plastic with a fine network of channels, each less than 10-8 meter in diameter, which can be filled with liquid resin, writes Leila Battison for the BBC. The microvascular networks spread out in the material to function much like an animal’s circulatory system, supplying the healing agent to all areas. Syringes on the outside of the material put the liquid resin under constant pressure so that when a crack appears, the pressure drives the fluid into it. Materials that could repair themselves as they crack would have many uses, including in civil engineering.
Medical News Today: An “intelligent” T-shirt has been developed that can monitor body temperature and heart rate, locate the wearer within a hospital, and even determine whether the person is sitting, walking, running, or lying down. Researchers at Carlos III University in Madrid say their device could allow doctors to monitor patients at home and thus reduce the length of hospital stays. The garment is made of textiles that have electrodes integrated into the fabric. Data is collected by an acquisition device worn around the neck under the shirt, which sends the data wirelessly to a management system. The device also includes a thermometer and accelerometer. “The idea of it is to be nonintrusive,” said developer Jose Ignacio Moreno to the Daily Mail. “The patient can be monitored in real-time without any cables due to the wireless platform, so they can stay in bed or walk around as they wish.”
New York Times: A start-up company in California, Simbol Materials, plans to extract lithium and other elements from brine released by a geothermal plant. The plant makes electricity by pumping hot water from deep underground and using its heat to make steam to drive a turbine. The remaining water, which gets reinjected into the ground, is a very strong brine composed of about 30% dissolved salts. Company officials say they have developed a filtering process to collect the brine’s lithium and other “energy critical” elements. Lithium is a crucial element in electric car batteries, for example. Currently the biggest lithium producers are Chile and Argentina, but the new technology, if scalable, has the potential to turn the US into a major exporter of it.
Nature: A diplomatic cable published last month by the WikiLeaks website reveals that most of the Clean Development Mechanism projects in India should not have been certified, writes Quirin Schiermeier for Nature. The CDM, established under the Kyoto Protocol, allows rich countries to offset some of their carbon emissions by investing in climate-friendly projects in developing countries; verified projects earn carbon credits that count toward meeting rich nations’ carbon-reduction targets. The cable, written in 2008 by the US consulate in Mumbai to the US secretary of state, summarizes a discussion among officials that many CDM projects in India may not have reduced emissions beyond those that would have been achieved without foreign investment. If true, the revelation could cast doubt on the principle of carbon trading. In defense of the program, Martin Hession, head of global carbon markets at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and chairman of the CDM executive board, says that since 2008, the board has adopted more stringent guidelines. The European Union maintains that the carbon-trading system remains crucial in tackling climate change.
R&D Magazine: Stacking up three layers of graphene can significantly modify its electrical properties, according to research at the University of California, Riverside. Depending on how the three layers are stacked, some structures are conducting and some are insulating. Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, arranged in hexagonal rings. Its most stable, conducting form occurs when one corner of the hexagons of the middle sheet is located above the center of the hexagons of the bottom sheet, and the top sheet is exactly on top of the lowest sheet, forming what’s called a Bernal-stacked trilayer, or ABA pattern. If the top sheet is shifted by the distance of a single atom, to a rhombohedral-stacked trilayer, or ABC pattern, the trilayer arrangement becomes insulating. “Why this happens is not clear as yet. It could be induced by electronic interactions. We eagerly await an explanation from theorists!” said Jeanie Lau, one of the authors of a Nature Physics paper on the subject.