Check out this stunning video of inventor JoAnn Kuchera-Morinis demonstrating the Allosphere at the last TED conference. The Allosphere is a 3 story high chamber that allows researchers to stand in the middle of incredible visual and sonic representations of their data. Complex algorithms are powered by a super-computer to bring data to life in breakthrough fashion.
The results could achieve the catalytic performance seen in rare and expensive metals such as platinum, and further humankind's ability to use nanostructured systems to elegantly manipulate the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, electrons, photons and metals to enable new forms of energy production, storage and conversion.
“Nature relies on a very elaborate architecture to support its own ‘hydrogen economy,’ ” said Chemistry Professor Thomas Rauchfuss, a professor of and corresponding author of the paper. “We cracked that design by generating mock-ups of the catalytic site to include the substrate hydrogen atom.”
Manipulating Natural Molecular Building Blocks Enzymes are proteins that facilitate chemical reactions via catalysis. Today, human beings know very little about the molecular magic of hydrogen producing enzymes (known as 'hydrogenase') and the complex reactions that occur inside the core reaction sites.
Developing accurate models of these activation sites is the first step towards developing low cost synthetic catalysts that can break the bonds of oxygen and hydrogen or carbon and hydrogen. The Illinois team is the first to model a nickel-iron structure with the use of a key link or bridge (hydrideligand).
Hydrogen's Hype vs Profitable Role of Chemical Storage & Distributed Power Generation
60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
The Future of Energy will be based on our ability to elegantly control the interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals. And for all our engineering prowress of extracting and blowing up ancient bio-energy reserves (coal/oil), there is still so much to learn about basic energy systems from Mother Nature.
Laying Down Algae Shells for Solar Panels Researchers from Oregon State University and Portland State University have developed a new way to make “dye-sensitized” solar cells using a 'bottom up' biological assembly processes over traditional silicon chemical engineering.
The teams are working with a type of solar cell that generates energy when 'photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity.'
Rather than build the solar cells using traditional technqiues, the team is tapping the outer shells of single-celled algae, known as diatoms, to improve the electrical output. (Diatoms are believed to be the ancient bio-source of petroleum.)
The team placed the algae on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then (removed) the living organic material, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template that is integrated with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to complete the solar cell design.
Biology's Nanostructured Shells & Bouncing Photons? “Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity,” said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor of chemical engineering “But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient.”
The research team is still not clear how the process works, but 'the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity... potentially with a triple output of electricity.'
According to the team, this is the 'first reported study of using a living organism to controllably fabricate semiconductor TiO2 nanostructures by a bottom-up self-assembly process.' So, chalk up another early win for advanced bio-energy manufacturing strategies!
MIT's Biomolecular Materials Group has advanced a technique of using 'genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.'
This advanced 'bio-industrial' manufacturing process, which uses biological agents to assemble molecules, could help to evolve key energy material components (e.g. cathodes, anodes, membranes) used in batteries, fuel cells, solar cells and organic electronics (e.g. OLEDs).
Professors Angela Belcher and Michael Strano led the breakthrough bio-engineering work which can now use bacteriophage 'to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.' While the prototype was based on a typical 'coin cell battery', the team believes it can be adapted for 'thin film' organic electronic applications.
Energy = Interactions Energy and Materials Science is about manipulating the assembly and interaction of molecules like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals.
Today we are at the beginning of new eras of nanoscale materials science and bio-industrial processes that are certain to change the cost and efficiency equations within alternative energy and biomaterials. And we have a lot to learn about molecular assembly from Mother Nature's genetically driven virus/bacteria and plants. After all, the energy released from breaking the carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal (ancient ferns) and oil (ancient diatoms) was originally assembled by biology (with some help from geological pressures!). So why not tap this bio-industrial potential for building future energy components?
I recently blogged and vlogged about Medtronic starting a clinical trial where deep brain stimulation (DBS) would be applied to the ventral striatum (part of the human reward circuit) to treat depression in up to 200 patients. Then the article on CNNmoney that I was basing this on disappeared and I worried that the whole thing might have been a mistake or a hoax. But the article has resurfaced on the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, and I finally got around to digging up Medtronic's original press release from 19 Feb 2009, which confirms that they are conducting a clinical trial of DBS as a treatment for depression.
But more than that. It turns out that the entire implant procedure that they're using isn't new at all - it's the same procedure they use to treat OCD (recently FDA approved for up to 4000 patients). The implant is called Reclaim and (quoting the press release) "the anatomical target in the brain is the.. ventral striatum.. which is a central node in the neural circuits believed to regulate mood and anxiety". So it seems DBS implants have been placed in the human reward circuit since the OCD trials started, many years ago. This is good news because it means we're even better at putting DBS implants in the human reward circuit than I thought we were. Basically, DBS applied to the ventral striatum (VS) didn't just alleviate the behavioural tics of OCD patients but also improved their mood. Studies like Schlaepfer et al 2008 (3 patients) and Malone et al 2009 (15 patients), which I thought were ground-breaking, merely confirmed that DBS applied to the VS improves the mood of severely depressed patients as well.
This week, researchers from Canada and Scotland made a major advancement in the field of stem cell biology. They discovered a method to successfully reprogram somatic cells into stem cells without the use of viruses.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are a type of stem cells derived from adult somatic cells by forcing expression of genes shown to sufficiently reprogram somatic cells into stem cells. iPSCs have been shown to possess key characteristics of embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the most important of which is the ability to give rise to cells of all three germ layers. iPSCs are an ideal source of stem cells because they circumvent the need for human embryos to generate stem cells. Additionally, because they can be generated from one’s own somatic cells which are readily available, iPSCs can be used for patient-specific therapies, thereby reducing the risk of immune rejection.
Platelet Rich Plasma Treatment is making its way into the sports medical profession. It's pretty straight-forward and basically takes a person's own blood, separates the red blood cells and the plasma and takes the resultant concentration of platelets and injects them back into an injury site to promote quicker healing. Hines Ward's (Pittsburgh Steelers) recovery from a sprained medial collateral ligament in time to play in last month's Super Bowl brought attention to this new technique.
This type of treatment bodes well for faster healing from injury and possibly greater performance too but raises ethical questions in the world of professional sports.
Juan Enriquez' recent presentation at TED juxtaposes the accelerating world financial crisis against the backdrop of the longer term, more profound changes in robotics, biology and genetics. For the former, he suggests that we work longer before receiving social security and not get too tied up in the current morass that we lose track of the incredible advances in the latter. With regard to this he says we are beginning to evolve into a new species - "Homo Evolutis - Hominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species...and others." This is not a new meme though it seems to be gaining traction and is popping up more frequently these days. Our ability to manipulate and integrate technology into our very beings will no doubt be one of the hot button issues of the next decade.
One of the most exciting areas of 'Nano-bio' research is the engineered integration of 'wet' and 'dry' nanoscale systems that might revolutionize research in genetics and proteomics (Study of Proteins). But how do you explain this breaking down the barriers of biological and human-made systems? Through 3D animation videos on YouTube, of course!
There's no actual change in policy from the Obama administration on the stem cell front yet but some exciting things are happening and you can feel the pace picking up. In the past week Geron Technologies announced that they have received FDA clearance to put their GRNOPC1 into clinical human trials and researchers in Spain also announced that they had had success in treating lab rats with significant spinal injuries. While both studies have achieved impressive results in lab animals, a primary difference is that Geron uses embryonic stem cells to derive their hESC oligodendrocyte progenitor cells while the Spanish team used adult stem cells from tissue in the injured rats themselves to get their progenitor cells. Miodrag Stojkovic, who headed up the study done in Spain, said that "we need both adult and embryonic stem cells to understand our body and apply this knowledge in regenerative medicine."
It's worth noting that the success has come with injuries where the spinal cord has been traumatically compromised but not entirely severed. Also, the success in the rat recovery process has been demonstrated in injuries treated within 7-14 days of occurrence. Though there is hope that treatments will be derived for those whose injuries are older, rapid application seems to be key and has also been found effective in treating a variety of neural injuries including stroke and brain trauma.