This Week in Science (Feb. 21 – 28)

Feb 28, 2016

This is a collection of the 10 best and most popular stories from science and technology over the past 7 days. Scroll down and click the individual images below to read the stories and follow the This Week in Science on Wakelet (here) to get these weekly updates straight to your inbox every Sunday.

18 comments on “This Week in Science (Feb. 21 – 28)

  • 2
    Stardusty Psyche says:

    Reverse combustion is just too exciting for words!!!

    Rather than trying to store solar and wind as chemical energy (batteries) or thermal energy (typically hot liquid storage) I can see placing reverse combustion plants near solar and wind generation farms to deal with those pesky problems of night, storms, and calm air.

    Here we have the closed carbon cycle promise of biofuels without the terrible costs of soil depletion, modern farming impacts, and increased food prices.

    The concentration of CO2 is very low in air and the article did not address the source of CO2 or any negative effects of having O2 or N2 present in the feedstock.

    Sources previously considered for sequestration might be turned into fuel instead, or the reverse combustion process could possibly take advantage of waste heat and CO2 concentrated exhaust from fossil fuel powered generation.

    200 C and pressures up to 6 atmospheres

    I was surprised how conventional these conditions are. My oven in my kitchen gets up to 250C and the air pump in my garage gets up to 8 bar, and I bought it at Home Depot!

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  • This is a message for Alan4discussion.

    Hi Alan,

    You might remember that I was diagnosed with terminal cancer 11 years ago. Unfortunately, my doctor has given me only two months to live. I know I have not been on this site recently, but I just wanted to say good bye and best wishes to you.


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  • 5
    Stardusty Psyche says:


    Nordic11, please excuse me for intruding on your conversation but Alan and I have been having some lively differences of opinion on other threads.

    You might not be familiar with the syntax I have used above, which will route a notification to the username. I do not see Alan on this particular thread and he might be busy contesting my views elsewhere 🙂

    Best wishes to you in your remaining time with us.

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  • The first tick is that the research was published in the National Academy of Science Journal and was reported in news.

    If this technology proves true, then it could be a game changer but I say that with the proviso that it is not another “Cold Fusion”, it could be significant source of renewable energy. Also I note the use of catalysts, titanium oxide is mentioned. I guess (??) this is readily available and that other rare earths are not required to complete the process and thus limit mass production. Can the reaction be scaled up to fuel refinery size and productivity. Is the input of energy to set this up, using fossil fuels, going to be so carbon intensive that it will outweigh and future carbon offsets?

    The fact that it will feed directly into existing infrastructure and engine designs is a plus

    I hope this technology is true because it will be a game changer.

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  • Nordic,

    I’m sorry to hear your news. Your recent absence had made me fear the worst.

    Your posts made the discussions on this site the richer. My thanks for them.

    You wrote two years ago-

    As time marches me closer to my final demise, I much prefer my truth over yours. My truth comforts me and makes me a better person in the midst of chemo pain and beneath the shadow od death. After all, even if you’re right, what will it matter in the end anyway?

    Maybe I can offer our consolation also?

    I would smile warmly, nod to acknowledge that I understand and say, touching my head, “and for me X is here, where I can enjoy his company whenever I want.” I would then talk about some aspect of X’s life that has changed the present and will likely change the future. “We were lucky to have him.”

    We have been lucky to have you, Nordic.

    I join with Mervyn Peake in saying the miracle is that we were born at all.

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  • Nordic11 #3
    Feb 28, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    This is a message for Alan4discussion.

    I am sorry to hear it has caught up with you.

    I hope you can live as well as possible for the rest of your life, and have a peaceful end to it.

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  • “We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water,” said Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co-principal investigator of the project.

    “Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process.”

    MacDonnell also has worked on developing new photocatalysts for hydrogen generation, with the goal of creating an artificial photosynthetic system which uses solar energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could then be used as a clean fuel.

    Read more at:

    There have been various schemes to produce fuel from dissociating water into hydrogen and oxygen using solar thermal plant and chemical processes. Some have been two stage, combining the hydrogen with carbon compounds to produce hydrocarbon fuel.

    If this can be done efficiently in a single stage process, that could be simpler.

    Some hydrocarbon fuels will be needed even in a green energy economy, so if carbon foot-prints can be eliminated or greatly reduced, and land for crop-use producing biofuels kept for food production, so much the better.

    It will of course have specialised uses as part of a mix of energy sources.

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  • We’d like to add our own message of sorrow and support, Nordic. We will all miss your occasional contributions to the site and we’re sure everyone who has got to know you a little here will hope that the coming weeks will be as comfortable and peaceful as they can be.

    With all good wishes
    The moderators

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  • Not sure if we have ever spoken Nordic but may I wish you the best and hope your time left is comfortable and with the ones you love.

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  • Thanks so much for your kind words alan, phil, Stardusty, Pinball, and David. Even though I’m a Christian, I have enjoyed the time spent on this site over the years.

    I feel a great sense of peace here at the end (though I’m leaving two sons ages 13 and 16 and my wife of 26 years behind, which is the hardest part). But I wish you the very best this life has to offer. May you all find peace, love and grace!


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  • Hi Nordic, very sad news, but it does make me smile that you thought enough of the people on the site to come say goodbye. I all ways enjoyed your contributions to the site. Even in the face of harsh, and sometimes over the top criticism, you almost all ways responded in a intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful manner. I’m thankful to have known you, even if it was only in a small way. Good voyage, Nordic.

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  • There is notable progress in oceanography being made!
    After releasing the first images from its ocean and land colour camera this week, the EU’s new Sentinel satellite has produced its first sea-surface height measurements.

    These come from the spacecraft’s altimeter instrument.

    A lot of work still needs to be done to get the Sentinel-3a tool ready for full science operations, but the first data look extremely encouraging.

    The sample track on this page clearly shows features of the Gulf Stream.

    This dominant flow of warm water that crosses the Atlantic from the Gulf of Mexico towards Europe stands proud against the surrounding ocean surface.

    Seeing such currents in action will be just one type of observation made by the new Sentinel altimeter.

    It will also assess the general height of the global oceans, measure wind speeds out at sea (by examining the state of the ocean surface), and track the size of waves.

    In addition, it will sense oil slicks in pollution incidents; and in polar regions, it will even gauge the shape of the ice sheets and the thickness of marine floes.

    “All this will feed into a range of different services,” said Dr Craig Donlon, the senior scientist on Sentinel-3a for the European Space Agency (Esa).

    “For example, the maritime sector can use ocean current data to plot more efficient courses for ocean passages.

    “By working with currents, as opposed to against them, ships can reduce their fuel costs and limit their carbon emissions.

    “But perhaps the most important measurement we will make with the altimeter is the direct measurement of sea level changes.

    “As you know, there is a big challenge this century for coastal communities and small island states to be able to cope with global ocean rise, and with Sentinel-3 we will be contributing to these critical observations.”

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  • Another noteworthy discovery is of these fossils in amber!
    Lizards locked in amber for 99 million years give a glimpse of a “lost world”, say scientists.

    The ancient reptiles are preserved in “superb detail” down to scales of skin, the tip of a tongue and tiny claws.

    Two of the fossils are related to modern-day chameleons and geckos, revealing how features such as sticky toe-pads evolved.

    The lizards inhabited tropical forests in what is now Myanmar during the Mid-Cretaceous Period.

    Researchers in the US have published their assessment of the specimens in the journal Science Advances.

    The fossilised amber provides a view into a lost world, revealing that the tropics of the Mid-Cretaceous contained a diverse lizard fauna,” Dr Edward Stanley of the Florida Museum of Natural History told BBC News.

    One of the fossils appears to be a transitional form between the “standard” lizard form and chameleons, said Dr Stanley.

    “This ‘missing-link’ is roughly 80 million years older than the next oldest chameleon fossil, and shows that features like the chameleon’s projectile tongue was present deep in its ancestry,” he added.

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