GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – SEPTEMBER 2021

High-Energy Laser Will Provide Ignition For Fusion Energy Reactors

 Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, announced the achievement of an important milestone on the road to nuclear fusion on Tuesday, August 17, a report from CNBC explains.

Nuclear fusion sees two atoms slammed together to form a heavier nucleus. The process unleashes great amounts of energy and it is the method by which the Sun and other stars produce energy.

Physicists worldwide are developing methods to safely harness this process, which has the potential to provide endless energy while practically producing no harmful emissions. The latest milestone announced by LLNL researchers brings us one step closer to “ignition,” a crucial step in attaining viable nuclear fusion.

In an interview with CNBC, the deliciously-named Omar A. Hurricane, the Chief Scientist for the Inertial Confinement Fusion Program at LLNL said the new milestone is a “significant step forward in understanding what is required for it to work. To me, this is a Wright Brothers moment.”

Scientists at the LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) are using a powerful laser to heat and compress hydrogen fuel, with the goal of initiating fusion. In order to reach the milestone of “ignition,” they must show that the energy released by fusion exceeds the energy delivered by the laser. A recent experiment, conducted on August 8, shows that, for a brief moment, they were able to produce 1.3 megajoules of energy, which is roughly 70 percent of the laser energy. In order to achieve ignition, they must produce more than the 1.9 MJ emitted by the laser. Though the achievement does not constitute ignition, it is a significant step towards reaching that milestone.

“This advancement puts researchers at the threshold of fusion ignition, an important goal of the NIF, and opens access to a new experimental regime,” a press statement from the researchers reads.

Volvo Is The First Automaker To Start Using “Fossil Free” Steel

 A milestone in decarbonization has been reached as Sweden’s SSAB made the world’s very first “fossil-free” steel delivery, created with green hydrogen instead of coal and coke, to a customer, Volvo, where it will be used in electric trucks.

SSAB’s HYBRIT process uses hydrogen as the reductant as iron ore and limestone are combined to create steel, replacing “coke,” or baked coal. The traditional coal-fired blast furnace is also replaced with an electric arc furnace.

The company makes sure the hydrogen electrolysers, as well as its own arc furnaces, are run on “fossil free” renewable energy as well. What’s more, all of the iron ore used in the process will come from “fossil free” mining operations.

What’s this “fossil free” business? Well, SSAB is wary of the term “green,” since there’s no official definition or standards with which to hold anyone accountable. So it imposes its own: “created without using fossil-fuels or fossil raw materials. Fossil-free steel is made without creating CO2 emissions and by using fossil-free energy sources.”

Can Tesla Do For Robots What It’s Done For Cars?

At Tesla’s recent AI Day presentation, Elon Musk revealed that the company is working on its own AI-driven humanoid robot. According to Musk, the Tesla Bot is designed to “navigate through a world built for humans, and eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks.”

The Tesla Bot will be around 5 ft 8 in (173 cm) tall, weigh around 125 lb (57 kg), and will have a screen for a face, allowing it to display useful information. It’ll have a top speed around 5 mph (8 km/h), and be capable of carrying loads up to 45 lb (20 kg), deadlifting as much as 150 lb (68 kg) or holding a 10-lb (4.5-kg) weight with its arms extended.

It’ll perceive the world through eight cameras and a Full Self Driving computer. Through 40 electromechanical actuators, it promises to be able to get around in spaces that aren’t designed for robots, and its “human-level hands” and force-feedback sensing of the world around it promise to make it useful in a wide variety of typically human jobs.

Obviously, when you start talking about building humanoid robots, you’re going up against a well-established giant in the field: Honda’s Asimo. OK, maybe not. But there’s also been a thing or two going on over at Boston Dynamics, now owned by Hyundai. So why does Tesla think it’s got what it takes to disrupt a market that hasn’t even opened up yet?

The answer is twofold. Firstly, says Musk, Tesla already operates a huge fleet of intelligent robots trained to see the world, label things meaningfully, understand spoken-language requests and decide on autonomous courses of action toward a requested goal.

“Our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” he said. “The Full Self Driving computer, essentially the inference engine on the car, which we’ll keep evolving, obviously, and Dojo, and all the neural nets, recognizing the world, understanding how to navigate the world … It kinda makes sense to put that onto a humanoid form.”

Secondly, Tesla has gone through a lot of pain to get good at manufacturing complex products capable of meeting strict automotive quality standards.

But take this announcement with a huge pinch of salt.

Does Histamine Play A Role In Causing Depression?

Through a series of ingenious mouse experiments, researchers have discovered evidence that inflammation-induced histamine activity can inhibit the release of serotonin in the brain. The findings suggest histamine may play a key role in causing depression.For several decades researchers have seen a distinct association between inflammation and depression. A variety of autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease have been consistently linked with higher rates of mood disorders, however, there is still debate over what kind of causal mechanism could directly associate inflammation with depression. A robust new study, from an international team of scientists, has found one possible missing link that could help explain how inflammation leads to depression.

The research began by creating a new kind of microelectrode that can be implanted in the hippocampus of mice to measure serotonin levels in real-time. Serotonin is a key mood-regulating neurotransmitter often focused on as a therapeutic target for depression.

To investigate how inflammation influences serotonin activity the researchers injected the animals with a toxin known to trigger inflammatory responses. Within minutes serotonin levels were seen dramatically dropping in the animals’ hippocampus.

Lab Grown Brain Automatically Develops “Eyes” That Can See

 Researchers have made a striking breakthrough in lab-grown mini organs. Using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the team induced brain organoids to develop rudimentary eye structures that can sense light and send signals to the rest of the brain.

The human brain is one of the most ridiculously complex things nature has ever concocted, so to help us understand it better, scientists have been making miniature versions in the lab. Skin cells are taken from adult donors, reverted back into stem cells, and placed into a culture that mimics the environment of a developing brain, encouraging them to form different brain cells. The end result is a pea-sized, three-dimensional brain model that can be used to study development, disease or the effects of drugs.

Now, research led by the University Hospital Düsseldorf has taken it a step further. The team has grown brain organoids complete with optic cups, vision structures found in the eye where the optic nerve meets the retina. They grew symmetrically at the front of the mini-brain, giving the organoid a striking visage.

 Enlarged Testicles Anyone?

 Kevin begins his day by swimming laps at his neighbourhood pool, just around the corner from his house in St. Louis, Missouri. Along with his towel and trunks, the 25-year-old takes with him a collection of supplements and medications he has assembled over nearly a decade.

His haul consists of an antidepressant, protein shake, Amazon-bought supplements including zinc, sunflower lecithin, and various amino acids, plus an occasional sprinkling of fenugreek seeds. But the latest supplement he is trying is something a little different: a bacterium called Lactobacillus reuteri. The reason? Kevin is trying to supersize his balls.

L’reuteri is a probiotic typically taken to help the digestive system. It’s in formula milk, but has recently gained an evangelistic following who are convinced that it holds the key to heftier testicles. Despite the lack of solid evidence, and the fact that gut health experts decry the trend as misleading and irresponsible, companies are jumping on the craze. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are littered with adverts promising men that bacteria can boost the size of their balls, and they’re finding an audience who are eager to put that claim to the test.

Since it was first isolated in 1962, scientific studies have found that in a probiotic form, L’reuteri – which is also found naturally in the digestive system – can help inflammatory diseases in the gut as well as conditions such as colic.

Today, millions of L’reuteri supplements are sold each year in health food shops and online retailers, with the market-leading producer, Swedish healthcare company BioGaia, selling more than £60 million of probiotics in 2020 alone. But the scientific evidence that L’reuteri does anything to expand testicles is almost non-existent, with a spokesperson for BioGaia distancing the company from self-experimentation and rival’s claims, saying it would be “unethical” to make such “unsupported claims”. In fact, all claims about L’reuteri’s potency as a testicle-enhancer rest on a single study from 2014, which found that one strain of the bacterium could help reduce testicular shrinkage in mice.

Well, it is the silly season.

Capturing Solar Energy In Orbit

 “This is an idea that’s older than even the space program,” Caltech’s Harry Atwater said recently. Citing Asimov and Clarke, Atwater conjured an image of gleaming solar panels floating above the Earth on a large metal truss, all wired in to hardware that converts the current to a form suitable to beam back down to Earth. Unlimited clean power, delivered around the clock.

He then explained why the system he is working on will end up looking nothing like that vision, even if it will ultimately accomplish the same thing.

In August, Caltech announced that a member of its board of trustees had given over $100 million meant to foster the development of space-based power. The timing was somewhat odd, given that the donor, Donald Bren, had started the process over a decade ago. At the time, Bren had described his interest in space-based power to the university administration, which began identifying faculty members who had research interests that might be relevant to the project.

“Initially, I was very sceptical because this is an idea that’s been visited many times,” Atwater told Ars. “What could possibly be done that’s new?” But over the course of the year, he gradually became convinced that some different approaches might be possible. Atwater certainly had relevant expertise; he had already formed a spinoff company focused on ultralight photovoltaic hardware. And he was joined by researchers at Caltech with complementary skills: Ali Hajimiri (who has done work on power conversion hardware) and Sergio Pellegrino (whom Atwater called “one of the world’s leaders in the development of lightweight deployable space structures”).

The collective expertise has been critical in producing a design that represents a significant change in thinking compared to earlier ideas. “The key parameter in space is not efficiency, per se,” Atwater told Ars. “It is the specific power—that is, the power per unit mass. What we care most about is watts per kilogram.”

“All those previous ideas never could develop a scalable and deployable approach,” he said, “because the mass per unit area and total payload mass was, by orders of magnitude, too large.”

This Is A Great Way To Recycle Old Wind Turbine Blades

 Although stand-up paddleboards are very eco-friendly to use, they’re typically made of not-so-green substances. German scientists are trying to change that, with a board made entirely of sustainable materials – obtained partially from old wind turbine blades.

Ordinarily, stand-up paddleboards consist of a petroleum-based polystyrene foam core, surrounded by a composite shell containing non-renewable materials such as epoxy resin, polyester resin or polyurethane. Typically, it is quite difficult to separate such substances from one another for recycling.

Led by Christoph Pöhler, scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research have teamed up with colleagues from the Technische Universität Braunschweig to create a more environmentally friendly alternative.

At the heart of the new board is a lightweight foam made of balsa wood harvested from the cores of discarded wind turbine blades. After a hammer mill is used to separate chunks of the wood from the blades’ surrounding glass-fibre reinforced plastic shell, that wood is finely ground, mixed with water to form “a kind of cake batter,” then processed into a firm yet lightweight foam that holds together without the need for any added adhesives.