Research round-up

A brief reflection on some of the most significant recent scientific discoveries

National Science Foundation (NSF) statistics show the majority of Americans find scientists “odd and peculiar”

The publication Science & Engineering Indicators 2018, is a large report from the USA which tracks scientific activity around the world. Along with tracking funding and growth in different sectors, the publication also conducts polls to determine public perceptions of scientists. The results of this polling show that there has been a substantial shift between 1983 and 2016, with a majority (52%) of Americans now agreeing that scientists are “odd and peculiar.”

Production of solar roofing tiles officially begins in Tesla Buffalo Factory

Solar roof tiles differ considerably from solar panels in size. This allows them to be applied to a much wider range of surfaces and a broader range of shapes. This adaptability will also make it easier to retrofit older houses to become more environmentally friendly. The tiles that Tesla have begun to produce will be cheaper than conventional solar panels, costing between 10-15% percent less than the price of a new roof plus solar panels. The first roofs composed of the tiles are expected to be built in the next few months.

Solar panels not only reduce the burden on fossil fuel generation but also reclaim space that is already being utilised.

New York City has divested it’s pension funds from fossil fuels and is set to sue major polluters
The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, and his administration have claimed that the U.S.’s biggest oil companies are culpable for harming the environment by burning fossil fuels despite knowing its harmful effects. The companies singled out were BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, which together have contributed to 11% of the world’s carbon.and methane pollution since the Industrial Revolution.

The administration will sue these companies for this pollution and for having “intentionally misled the public to protect their profits.” in the wake of the bashtag #ExxonKnew – the news that Exxon has known for many years the full extent of climate change and said nothing.

The lawsuit seeks to recover billions from these companies to fund construction of “physical infrastructure, like coastal protections, upgraded water and sewer infrastructure, and heat mitigation, but also public health campaigns.” to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Genetically Modified Algae Could Be Key to Tomorrow’s Bio Solar Cells

A new fuel cell has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, which is powered by algae and is five times more efficient than others which use microalgae and plants. This new design is also more cost-effective and practical to use. These fuel cells are a type of biophotovoltaic (BPV) cells, also known as bio solar cells, and are defined by their ability to harvest solar energy and convert it into electrical energy using photosynthesis.

The fuel cell designed by the team in Cambridge contained genetically modified algae which work more efficiently than normal. This increased efficiency is the result of genetic engineering minimizing the amount of electricity wasted during photosynthesis.

Astrophysicists predict we will see a black hole for the first time ever in 2018

Astrophysicists working with The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) believe that, within the next 12 months, they’ll be able to do the unheard of and visualize a black hole. Black holes are points in space with an extremely strong gravitational pull, such that not even light can escape. Since Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these when developing his theory of general relativity, there has been no concrete evidence that they actually exist. With the EHT this may be about to change.

The EHT is, in fact, a network of telescopes worldwide. When the capacities of each of these are combined, they can for the first time provide everything necessary to capture an image of a black hole. Visualizing a black hole requires both ultra-high magnification and also a method to see through the gas in the Milky Way and around the black hole. It is believed that the EHT can accomplish both of these things.

Capturing an image of a black hole would not only be of great interest to astrophysicists, it would also be the first hard evidence that the phenomenon actually exists.