Almanac is building a faster doc editor for the remote work era

Few things have captured Silicon Valley-based investors’ attention in recent years quite like the quest to back the successor[s] to Google Docs. The estimable and entrenched productivity suite has been unbundled and repackaged into products that a number of multi-billion dollar tech startups have been built around.

All the while, entrepreneurs are continuing to poke holes in their predecessors’ lore, creating something faster, sleeker or more intuitive. For plenty of the current generation productivity startups, the journey to replace Google Docs and Microsoft Office got a historic shot in the arm this past year as a global pandemic gave remote work software companies a jot of attention.

“Covid has made everybody realize that the way that we were working had to change,” Almanac CEO Adam Nathan told TechCrunch. “The core tools we used for productivity, Microsoft Word and Google Docs were for when we did a completely different type of work.”

Almanac is trying to revamp the document editor in a package that’s quicker than products like Notion and far more intuitive than legacy software suites, Nathan says. Last year, the startup raised a $9 million seed round led by Floodgate and has been quietly building out its network of users in early access beta.

The document editor found its way into a diverse number of offices outside tech startups — from a Domino’s branch to a veterinary office — through its open source template library Core, a hub for user-submitted guides on everything from how to run a one-on-one meeting to how to structure salaries for your customer service team. There are 5,000 documents on Core which are accessible to any logged-in user, something that has been a sizable customer channel for the startup as more companies and offices across the country have begun to question some entrenched ways of doing things.

“There are way more people working in docs outside of Silicon Valley than in it,” Nathan says.

As a document editor, Almanac’s core offering is the ability to keep files organized in the way that companies actually organize themselves.

One of its hallmark features is the ability to track document changes in a way that makes Google Docs look completely unintelligible. User can easily make their own copies of documents, merge them with the original and quickly approve changes. Users can also get approval from their manager or another user in their network and ask for feedback along the way.

For tasks that require a bit more thought, people can use Almanac to add tasks to another users to-do list inside the documents themselves, a feature that they might have needed a project management tool like Asana to handle in the past. Updates for items a user has been assigned or has assigned to others live inside their own inbox where notifications flow automatically as documents evolve. The team believes that functionality like this inside Almanac will help teams cut down on unnecessary Slacking and let the documents speak for themselves.

The company is quickly iterating itself into new workflows — they recently launched a feature specifically around building and updating handbooks, and they also just shipped a feature called Snippets which allows users to save oft-used blocks of texts so they can quickly build up new documents.

In a crowded productivity software space, Almanac’s sell relies on users fully committing to the offering, that’s been a central struggle in the post-Microsoft Office era where users have often seen their productivity toolsets swell with tools claiming to cut down on confusion. This often isn’t the fault of the tools themselves, but with how organizations adopt new software. Almanac hopes that by focusing on common workflows inside documents, its users can resist the urge to open another app and instead realize the gains that come from centralizing feedback in one platform.

#asana, #ceo, #chemistry, #dominos, #silicon, #silicon-valley, #tc

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Physicists unlock multispectral secrets of earliest color photographs

French physicist Gabriel Lippmann pioneered color photography and snagged the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physics for his efforts. But according to a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lippmann’s technique distorted the colors of the scenes being photographed. Physicists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland were able to determine the nature of that distortion and developed a means of reconstructing the original spectrum that created the plates.

“These are the earliest multi-spectral light measurements on record so we wondered whether it would be possible to accurately recreate the original light of these historical scenes,” said co-author Gilles Baechler. “But the way the photographs were constructed was very particular, so we were also really interested in whether we could create digital copies and understand how the technique worked.”

A physics professor at the Sorbonne, Lippmann became interested in developing a means of fixing the colors of the solar spectrum onto a photographic plate in 1886, “whereby the image remains fixed and can remain in daylight without deterioration.” He achieved that goal in 1891, producing color images of a stained-glass window, a bowl of oranges, and a colorful parrot, as well as landscapes and portraits—including a self-portrait. (Fun fact: Lippmann’s laboratory protégés included a promising Polish physics student named Marie Skłodowska, who went on to marry Pierre Curie and win two Nobel Prizes of her own.)

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#chemistry, #color-photography, #gabriel-lippmann, #gaming-culture, #history-of-science, #optics, #physics, #science

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Dozens of viruses seem to use a different DNA base

Image of two chemical structures.

Enlarge / Normal DNA uses adenine (left), while some viruses use diaminopurine instead.

DNA is the genetic material used by every living organism. But, in a few edge cases, the four bases of DNA—adenine, thymidine, cytosine, and guanine—undergo chemical modifications. And in viruses, things are far more flexible, with many using RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material. In all these cases, the base pairing in the genetic material takes place according to the rules that James Watson and Francis Crick first proposed.

Until now, there was a single exception, a virus that infects bacteria and uses its own, seemingly unique base. But researchers have finally looked in more detail, and they’ve discovered that this “Z-DNA” seems to be used by dozens of viruses.

Not that Z

Confusingly, there’s something else called Z-DNA. The DNA in our cells has a right-handed curve, called A-DNA, to its double helix. But it’s also possible to have a double helix with a left-handed curve, called Z-DNA.

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#biochemistry, #biology, #chemistry, #dna, #science

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Volcanic Ash Threatens Pompeii’s Buried Murals

Tests on excavated paintings revealed corrosive salts coming from surrounding volcanic material

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#advances, #chemistry, #the-sciences

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Novel hydrogels can safely remove graffiti from vandalized street art

A psychedelic mural.

Enlarge / A five-year-old boy with boxing gloves poses in front of a huge mural of himself in Denver, Colorado. (credit: Blaine Harrington III/Image Bank/Getty Images)

Mention the word “graffiti,” and many people’s thoughts immediately turn to vandalism in the form of defacement of property. But there is also graffiti that rises above such negative connotations and qualifies as bona fide street art. Think of the commemorative murals created after the death of NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna; the Black Lives Matter logos painted on the streets in New York City, and along 16th Street in Washington, DC, last year amid ongoing protests; and the works of Banksy, Eduardo Kobra, and the countless other less well-known artists around the world, who embellish our streets with their work.

Street art, in turn, is vulnerable to vandalism, posing unique challenges to those seeking to preserve these rather ephemeral creations. This week, a team of Italian scientists described its novel, environmentally friendly new method to safely remove defacing over-paintings on street art at a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“For decades, we have focused on cleaning or restoring classical artworks that used paints designed to last centuries,” said co-author Piero Baglioni, a chemist at the University of Florence and principal investigator on the project. “In contrast, modern art and street art, as well as the coatings and graffiti applied on top, use materials that were never intended to stand the test of time.”

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#art, #art-conservation, #chemistry, #gaming-culture, #graffiti, #science, #street-art

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MIT scientists study spider web structure by translating it into music

Now you can walk through a virtual spider web, using VR headset and controllers to interact with a web sonification model.

A spider weaving its intricate web is a bit like a person composing a song, at least in the eyes of MIT materials engineer Markus Buehler, whose research involves translating web structure into musical melodies. Together with his collaborators, he has devised a way for humans to “enter” a 3D spider web and explore its structure both visually and aurally via a virtual reality setup. Buehler described the ongoing project during a talk at the (virtual) meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) this week.

The work may one day lead to a means of rudimentary communication with spiders in their own “language” of web vibrations, such as when they stretch a strand of silk while building a web or when the strands vibrate in response to a gust of wind or to the presence of trapped prey. “The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” Buehler said during an online press conference. “They don’t see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.”

As we’ve reported previously, several years ago, Buehler led a team of MIT scientists that mapped the molecular structure of proteins in spider silk threads onto musical theory to produce the “sound” of silk in hopes of establishing a radical new way to create designer proteins. The hierarchical elements of music composition (pitch, range, dynamics, tempo) are analogous to the hierarchical elements of a protein structure. Much like how music has a limited number of notes and chords and uses different combinations to compose music, proteins have a limited number of building blocks (20 amino acids) that can combine in any number of ways to create novel protein structures with unique properties.

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#american-chemical-society, #chemistry, #proteins, #science, #sonification, #spider-webs, #spiders

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The secret to a successful wine pairing? Fats have an affinity for tannins

Manchego cheese slices and pieces in a cutting board shot on dark rustic wooden table, with glass of red wine.

Enlarge / The traditional cheese and charcuterie board is generally considered an excellent pairing for a classic bold red wine. A new study finds that the secret is an interaction between the tannins in wine and lipids in the cheeses and meats. (credit: cafotodigital/Getty Images)

Wine aficionados know that a well-paired wine enhances the flavors of whatever foods one consumes, while a poorly paired wine does the opposite. And some foods can, in turn, influence the flavors in a wine. Is there any better accompaniment to one’s favorite cheeses and/or cured meats than a good bottle of Bordeaux or a California cabernet? A team of French scientists specifically explored the role of interactions between the tannins in wine and fatty molecules known as lipids in foods to better understand what is happening at the molecular level with such complementary pairings, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Of course, taste in wine is highly subjective to the individual; we all have different combinations of taste receptors which influence how we perceive flavors. But some characteristics are quantifiable: bitterness, sweetness, sourness, and the body (or weight) of a wine. That’s the basis for the art and science of wine pairings in most fine-dining restaurants. The tannins in wine are polyphenolic compounds responsible for much of the bitterness and astringency in a given wine; they’re derived from the skins and stems of the grapes, or as a result of aging in oak barrels. Tannins pair well with proteins and fats, which offset their astringency and bitterness. That’s why wines with a heavier tannic component (such as cabernet sauvignon or barolo) go so well with cheeses and charcuterie.

The degree of residual sugar—how much sugar remains after fermentation—determines the sweetness of a wine. Very dry wines have almost no residual sugar, while very sweet dessert-type wines, such as sauternes or tokays, have high residual sugars. Sweeter wines pair well with spicy cuisines, for instance, because the sugar contrasts with the heat of the food. Acidity is a measure of how sour a given wine is, and there are three primary acids in wines. Malic acid confers a kind of green apple flavor; lactic acid confers a milky component; and tartaric acid will give wine additional bitter flavors. Wines that are more acidic pair with fatty, oily, rich, or salty foods because the acids will offset those qualities on the palate.

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#chemistry, #food-chemistry, #gaming-culture, #science, #wine, #wine-tasting

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Could we fuel our jets using our sewage?

Image of food waste at a trash can in a park.

Enlarge / A future green jet fuel? (credit: Picture Alliance/Getty Images)

For many applications, liquid fuels remain the most practical energy supply—applications like aircraft and large ships being obvious examples. It’s possible to avoid using fossil fuels for these applications, since there are many ways to produce biofuels. But we can’t produce biofuels at a competitive price, leaving fossil fuels as the dominant option.

A group of US-based researchers has therefore looked into the prospect of converting food waste into jet fuel. Chemically, the results are excellent, producing material that can be blended with a bit of standard jet fuel to meet all regulatory standards. Economically, the situation is not nearly so great, only working at prices that were prevalent over five years ago. But the fact that the waste would otherwise put methane in the atmosphere as it decays more than offsets the carbon dioxide produced by the jet fuel in the blend. So a price on carbon could change the equation.

Food (and other stuff) to fuel

The work here is focused on what are called “wet wastes,” which include things like food waste, animal manure, and sewage. As you might expect, we produce a lot of this stuff, with the authors estimating that its total energy content is roughly equivalent to 10 billion gallons of jet fuel every year. Due to the amount of water present, it’s extremely energy-intensive to directly convert this waste to any sort of fuel, since the water has to be discarded. It is, however, possible to put the waste in an oxygen-free environment and have bacteria convert it to methane.

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#biofuel, #chemistry, #climate-change, #economics, #green, #jet-fuel, #science

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Startup founded by ‘Survivor’ champ debuts airless bike tires based on NASA rover tech

As NASA is quick to remind people, the investments it funnels towards space exploration often winds up improving life on Earth – and it’s now in the business of speeding up some of that work through startups. SMART, a startup founded in 2020, has a partnership with NASA through the Space Act Agreement and is part of the agency’s formal Startup Program that aims to commercialize some of its innovations. The young company today revealed its first product: An airless bicycle tire based on technology NASA engineers created to make future lunar and Martian rovers even more resilient.

SMART’s METL tire is the the first fruit of the startup’s work with NASA’s Glenn Research Center, where NASA engineers Dr. Santo Padula and Colin Creager first developed their so-called ‘shape memory alloy’ (SMA) technology. SMA allows for a tire constructed entirely of interconnected springs, which requires no inflation and is therefore immune to punctures, but which can still provide equivalent or better traction when compared to inflatable rubber tires, and even some built-in shock absorbing capabilities.

Engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center assemble the new shape memory alloy rover tire prior to testing in the Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory.

Dr. Padula and Creager’s key development was creating an alloy that can return to their shape at the molecular level, meaning they can deform to adapt to uneven terrain, including obstacles like gravel and potholes, and return to their shape without losing structural integrity over time.

SMART, which is co-founded by Survivor Fiji champion Earl Cole and engineer Brian Yennie, worked with Padula and Creager, along with former NASA intern Calvin Young, to apply the benefits of SMA to the consumer market. They’re targeting the cycling market first with their METL tire, which is set to become available to the general public by early next year. Following that, SMART intends to also pursue bring SMA tires to the automotive and commercial vehicle industries, too.

SMART's METL tire close up

Image Credits: SMART Tire Company

Already, SMART has a partnership in place with Ford-owned Spin, the bike and scooter-sharing company focused on novel micro-mobility models. SMART’s technology has the potential not only to make flat tires or under inflation a thing of the past, but could reduce cost and waste long-term by supplementing the need for rubber tires, which need frequent replacement and can be a danger to riders or drivers when used without proper pressure.

SMART is also using WeFunder to seek crowdsourced equity investment, with SAFEs currently available at an $8 million valuation cap.

#aerospace, #chemistry, #engineer, #ford, #greentech, #tc, #tire, #tires, #wefunder

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How Quantum Computing Could Remake Chemistry

It will bring molecular modeling to a new level of accuracy, reducing researchers’ reliance on serendipity

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #the-sciences

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Ketchup Is Not Just a Condiment: It Is Also a Non-Newtonian Fluid

Everybody’s favorite red sauce may be thin or thick, depending on how it is handled

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #physics, #the-sciences

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5 Picture Books About the Wonders of Science

Fossils, flowers, galaxies and a rare “lefty” snail.

#biology-and-biochemistry, #books-and-literature, #chemistry, #children-and-childhood, #el-fathi-mickael, #flowers-and-plants, #fossils, #fossils-from-lost-worlds-book, #genetics-and-heredity, #hahn-daniel, #hubble-space-telescope, #hubble-edwin, #ignotofsky-rachel, #laverdunt-damien, #marcero-deborah, #marinov-isabelle, #medicine-and-health, #nobel-prizes, #paleontology, #physics, #popova-maria, #rajcak-helene, #science-and-me-book, #science-and-technology, #snails, #space-and-astronomy, #stars-and-galaxies, #the-boy-whose-head-was-filled-with-stars-a-life-of-edwin-hubble-book, #the-snail-with-the-right-heart-a-true-story-book, #whats-inside-a-flower-and-other-questions-about-sciencenature-book, #winter-ali, #zhu-ping-illustrator

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Everdrop raises $21.8m Series A round led by Felix Capital for its dissolvable cleaning tablet

It’s almost too simple. You get a tablet made of household chemicals that can be dissolved in water which can become a cleaning spray for the kitchen, glass and bathroom, with no need to ship the water it is dissolved into because it literally comes out of your tap. That was the premise of Munich-based startup everdrop and it’s been a hit not just with consumers, but also with investors. It’s now raised an €18m ($21.8m) Series A funding round led by Felix Capital, with participation from HV Capital and Vorwerk Ventures. Everdrop now plans to develop a wider range of sustainable household products and market them across Europe, and eventually the US.

Launched in Dec 2019, the cleaning tablet also removes the need for single-use plastic bottles, thus appealing to environmentally conscious consumers, (unusually for a consumer good company, the startup has 110,000 followers on Instagram).

Everdrop estimates it was able to eliminate over 2.5 million single-use plastic bottles with their tabs.

David Löwe, Co-Founder of everdrop told me in an interview that while it might be possible to clone the company’s formats, it would not be easy to replicate its water hardness calculator: “Plus, the individualizing of the laundry detergent is quite unique. I think there’s no one out there in other countries who are doing that at the moment… But obviously, other companies could potentially do that too.”

Everdrop competes with Grove Collaborative, Blueland and to some extent The Honest Company.

Löwe told me: “If I’m very honest, it would be cool if the other companies would do it because this is something that I’m really convinced about. If we inspire with our success, the big corporations could finally change into more sustainable products.”

As well as the tablet, everdrop now has a range of sustainable laundry detergents, also microplastic-free, which addresses water hardness by tailoring the detergent to the water in the customer’s home area. This means everdrop can save up to 50% of the unnecessary surfactants in the detergent. Laundry detergent is the biggest chemical emitter in private households. Everdrop estimates its approach saves 250 tons of unnecessary surfactants from going into the environment.

Its latest product is a “naked” dishwasher tablet which doesn’t have the plastic wrapper that usually envelops these products.

David Fischer, investor at HV Capital said: “It is incredible how a truly sustainable brand such as everdrop has a similar growth trajectory in its inception year as its D2C peers Hims and DollarShaveClub.”

#chemistry, #cleaning, #co-founder, #d2c, #david-fischer, #dishwasher, #europe, #felix-capital, #honest-company, #laundry, #munich, #tc, #united-states

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Even Tiny Phytoplankton Have Microbiomes

These algae exchange vital chemicals with bacteria that live around their surface

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#biology, #chemistry, #the-sciences

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Kombucha tea inspires new “living material” for biosensing applications

Brewing kombucha tea. Note the trademark gel-like layer of SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).

Enlarge / Brewing kombucha tea. Note the trademark gel-like layer of SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). (credit: Olga Pankova/Getty Images)

Kombucha tea is all the rage these days as a handy substitute for alcoholic beverages and for its supposed health benefits. The chemistry behind this popular fermented beverage is also inspiring scientists at MIT and Imperial College London to create new kinds of tough “living materials” that could one day be used as biosensors, helping purify water or detect damage to “smart” packing materials, according to a recent paper published in Nature Materials.

You only need three basic ingredients to make kombucha. Just combine tea and sugar with a kombucha culture known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), aka the “mother,” also known as a tea mushroom, tea fungus, or a Manchurian mushroom. (It’s believed that kombucha tea originated in Manchuria, China, or possibly Russia.) It’s basically akin to a sourdough starter. A SCOBY is a firm, gel-like collection of cellulose fiber (biofilm), courtesy of the active bacteria in the culture, creating the perfect breeding ground for the yeast and bacteria to flourish. Dissolve the sugar in non-chlorinated boiling water, then steep some tea leaves of your choice in the hot sugar water before discarding them.

Once the tea cools, add the SCOBY and pour the whole thing into a sterilized beaker or jar. Then cover the beaker or jar with a paper towel or cheesecloth to keep out insects, let it sit for two to three weeks, and voila! You’ve got your own home-brewed kombucha. A new “daughter” SCOBY will be floating right at the top of the liquid (technically known in this form as a pellicle). But be forewarned: it’s important to avoid contamination during preparation because drinking tainted kombucha can have serious, even fatal, adverse effects. And despite claims that drinking kombucha tea can treat aging, arthritis, cancer, constipation, diabetes, or even AIDS, to date there is no solid scientific evidence to back those claims.

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#biomaterials, #chemistry, #kombucha, #materials-science, #science, #scoby, #synthetic-biology

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Nanome raises $3 million to help scientists get up close with molecular structures in VR

Discovery and research of new molecular compounds is an expensive business, with development costs exceeding $10 billion per substance in some cases. Part of that comes from the need to closely examine every relevant molecule, studying its chemical composition and interactions as well as its physical structure at the atomic level. Despite advances in software to help model these compounds and molecules, there are still challenges in fully understanding their shapes through a two-dimensional computer screen.

San Diego-based startup Nanome uses virtual reality to solve that problem. The idea for Nanome came out of CEO and Founder Steve McCloskey’s time in the nanoengineering program at UC San Diego, where he saw a need for a better understanding of three-dimensional molecular structures.

“Understanding structure empowers our users to understand how their designs function,” he wrote in an email. “Yet, the R&D process for drug discovery relies on 2D monitors, keyboard, and mouse, which limits the understanding of complex 3D structures or interactions and contributes to massive R&D costs averaging $2.5B per drug.”

Nanome recently closed a funding round led by Bullpen Capital for $3 million to establish new business partnerships, build up the company’s brand, and expand their science and engineering team. “Nanome is reimagining the way we interact with science at a time when innovation in collaboration is more important than ever before,” said Bullpen Capital General Partner Ann Lai in a press release. Formic Ventures, led by Oculus co-founder Michael Antonov, also took part in the round.

McCloskey thinks that Nanome’s platform has become even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers might be forced to work remotely on occasion, limiting their access to in-lab technology and software.

“Nanome helps scientists get on the same page quicker,” he wrote in an email. “Traditionally scientists working with molecules use screenshots or screen sharing, and rely on the mouse cursor and Zoom to communicate their insights and ask for feedback from other team members.” Nanome streamlines this process by bringing researchers to the same virtual reality space to work on molecule development together.

So far, Nanome has worked largely on projects with companies in the food and beverage industry, as well as another to develop more sustainable batteries. But they have plans to use this new funding to expand into pharmaceutical chemistry, synthetic biology, and even education. Their next product update will feature what McCloskey calls ‘Spatial Recording,’ that will allow users to record their work for later review – basically a screen recording but with a VR experience. “This is not only an amazing feature for asynchronous collaboration among researchers, it is also useful for producing lectures and lessons,” he wrote in an email.

#ann-lai, #biotech, #bullpen-capital, #chemistry, #drug-discovery, #funding, #health, #oculus, #pharmaceutics, #recent-funding, #san-diego, #science, #startup, #startups, #virtual-reality

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Here’s how Elon Musk’s $100 million Xprize competition for carbon removal will work

Elon Musk notified the world that he would be donating $100 million to pursue new technologies for carbon capture, methods through which carbon dioxide can be actively extracted from the atmosphere as a means to help stave off climate change. As TechCrunch reported in January when he made the tweet, Musk’s sizeable pool of monetary incentive would be going to the Xprize foundation, a non-profit that has organized similar ambitious technology competitions aimed at developing world-changing tech. Now, Xprize and Musk have released new details of the competition.

The entire $100 million prize pool is up for grabs with this competition, which will seek solutions that can “pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and lock it away permanently in an environmentally benign way.” That’s an ambitious goal, and one that seeks methods for carbon extraction which have a net negative effect on the overall global balance of the element’s presence. Xprize aims to award up to 15 finalists $1 million each, along with three top winners, with $50 million to the Grand Prize victor, and $20 million and $10 million respectively for second and third place. 25 student scholarships valued at $250,000 each will also be up for grabs specifically for student team entrants.

To qualify for victory, solutions must be able to extract 1 ton of CO2 per day, and be viable in a scaled, validated model at time of presentation, with the ability to scale it to “gigaton levels” in commercially viable ways in future. Those are big goals for new technologies, but the competition’s stakes are high: Musk has frequently referred to climate change as an existential threat to humanity, and carbon capture is one key means to combat it.

Carbon capture methods exist, and some are at the center of new startups and emerging businesses, like Canadian company Carggon Engineering which uses CO2 extracted from the atmosphere to create new types of fuel, or Air Vodka, a carbon negative vodka distilled using C02 removed from the atmosphere. Though there are a handful of companies pursuing this, the problem is that it’s typically very expensive to remove carbon in a way that is both safe and that has no subsequent impact on the environment from its resulting byproducts.

The new Xprize competition hopes to spur the development of a wide range of emerging companies in a way similar to how the the 2004 $10 million private spaceflight Ansari Xprize led the development of a whole new era in the space industry. The competition will officially begin on April 22, 2021, at which time full guidelines will be made available and registration will open. Applicants will have up to four years to submit their solution, with the competition closing on Earth Day 2025 and the initial $1 million awards distributed after 18 months following that. That will provide the funding necessary for teams to build out their full-scale demos to claim the top prizes.

#articles, #carbon-dioxide, #chemistry, #earth-day, #elon-musk, #greentech, #tc, #transhumanism, #xprize

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Life on Venus? The Picture Gets Cloudier

Despite doubts from many scientists, a team of researchers who said they had detected an unusual gas in the planet’s atmosphere were still confident of their findings.

#chemistry, #extraterrestrial-life, #microbiology, #research, #space-and-astronomy, #telescopes-and-observatories, #venus-planet

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Einsteinium Is Mysterious. Scientists Have Unlocked Some of Its Secrets.

Number 99 on the periodic table does not occur naturally and is difficult to make and store, challenging researchers who want to study it.

#chemistry, #einstein-albert, #laboratories-and-scientific-equipment, #nature-journal, #physics, #radiation, #research

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Scientific community on report of a strange chemical at Venus: Probably not

Image of a yellow-brown planet.

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

In September of last year, a paper announced a startling finding: evidence that a highly unstable chemical is present in the atmosphere of Venus. Since the chemical is expected to be destroyed rather quickly in the Venusian environment, its presence seems to imply that there was a steady source of the chemical, somehow feeding it into the atmosphere of the planet. Looking over the components of that atmosphere, the researchers concluded there’s no obvious way of producing it, which creates a mystery.

Since the chemical, called phosphine (PH3), had already been suggested as a possible sign of living things, speculation immediately began about the possibility of this being evidence of something alive in the clouds of Venus.

But reports like these invariably invite critique from the wider scientific community. Now, months later, a lot of that criticism has rolled in, and the authors went back and revised some of their initial analysis. Overall, their best case is that the levels of the chemical are much smaller than originally reported. But many other researchers are saying that, quite possibly, it’s not there at all.

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#astronomy, #chemistry, #exobiology, #planetary-science, #science, #venus

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It’s Not Every Day We Get a New Blue

In 2009, a professor discovered a novel hue by accident in his university lab. Now, you can paint with it

#art, #chemistry, #color, #crayola-llc

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Remembering the Extraordinary Scientist Paul Crutzen (1933–2021)

Among other things, he explored the concept of nuclear winter, won a Nobel for his role in helping understand atmospheric ozone depletion, and coined the term “Anthropocene”

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #the-sciences

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Andreessen Horowitz could make the carbon offset API Patch its latest climate bet

The early-stage carbon offset API developer, Patch, could be another one of Andreessen Horowitz’s early bets on climate tech.

According to several people with knowledge of the investment round, former OpenTable chief executive and current Andreessen Horowitz partner Jeff Jordan is looking at leading the young company’s latest financing.

Such an investment would be a win for Patch, which could benefit from Andreessen Horowitz’s marketing muscle in a space that’s becoming increasingly crowded. And, if the deal goes through, it could be an indicator of more to come from one of the venture industry’s most (socially) active investors.

Companies like Pachama, Cloverly, Carbon Interface, and Cooler.dev all have similar API offerings, but the market for these types of services will likely expand as more companies try to do the least amount of work possible to become carbon neutral through offsetting. A growing market could generate space for more than one venture-backed winner.

Neither Patch’s co-founders nor Andreessen Horowitz responded to a request for comment about the funding.

One concern with services like Patch is that its customers will look at offsetting as their final destination instead of a step on the road to removing carbon emissions from business operations. To fix our climate crisis will take more work.

Founded by Brennan Spellacy and Aaron Grunfeld, two former employees at the apartment rental service Sonder, Patch raised its initial financing from VersionOne Ventures back in September.

Around 15 to twenty companies that are using the service now, according to people familiar with the company’s operations.

The company has an API that can calculate a company’s emissions footprint based on an integration with their ERP system and then invests money into offset projects that are designed to remove an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

While services like Pachama privilege lower-cost sequestration solutions like reforestation and forest management, Patch offers an array of potential investment opportunities for offsets. And the company tries to nudge its customers to some of the more expensive, high technology options in an effort to bring down costs for emerging technologies, said one person familiar with the company’s plans.

Like other services automating offsetting, Patch evaluates projects based on their additionality (how much additional carbon they’re removing over an already established baseline), permanence (how long the carbon emissions will be sequestered) and verifiability.

And, as the company’s founders note in their own statement about the company’s service, it’s not intended to be the only solution that customers deploy.

“The majority of climate models indicate that we need to reduce our emissions globally, while also removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” the founders wrote in a Medium post. “We take care of a company’s carbon removal goals, while they focus their efforts on reducing emissions, a more proprietary task that requires intimate operational knowledge. Patch complements this behavioral shift and gives us a real chance to mitigate climate change.”

VersionOne’s Angela Tran addressed any concerns about the defensibility of Patch’s technology in her own September announcement.

“We also believe that defensibility comes with the aggregation and “digitization” of quality supply. When we view Patch as a marketplace, we believe that businesses (demand) care about the type of projects (supply) they purchase to neutralize their emissions,” Tran wrote. “For example, a company might choose their sustainability legacy to be linked with forestry or mineralization projects. Patch is partnering with the best carbon removal developers and the latest negative emission technologies to build a network of low-cost, impactful projects.”

While Patch is explicitly focused on climate change, Andreessen has made a few early investments in a broad sustainability thesis. The firm led a $9 million investment into Silo last year and backed KoBold Metals back in 2019.

Silo has developed an enterprise resource planning tool for perishable food supply chains. Currently focused on wholesale produce, Silo said in a statement last year that it would be extending its services to meat, dairy and pantry items over the next year.

“The market potential for an innovator like Silo to reduce waste and improve margins is enormous and we’re excited to support its efforts as the system of record for food distribution in the United States,” said Anish Acharya, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a statement at the time. “Silo is well-positioned to scale beyond the west coast to help more customers modernize and transition their operations from pen and paper to software.”

Meanwhile, KoBold is a software developer that uses machine learning and big data processing technologies to find new prospects for the precious metals that companies need to make new batteries and renewable energy generation technologies.

“By building a digital prospecting engine — full stack, from scratch — using computer vision, machine learning, and sophisticated data analysis not currently available to the industry, KoBold’s software combines previously unavailable, dark data with conventional geochemical, geophysical, and geological data to identify prospects in models that can only get better over time, as with other data network effects,” wrote Connie Chan in a blog post at the time.

Taken together, these investments coalesce into a picture of how Andreessen Horowitz and its pool of $16.5 billion in assets under management may approach the renewables industry.

#andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #anish-acharya, #api, #chemistry, #general-partner, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #jeff-jordan, #opentable, #pachama, #patch, #renewable-energy, #tc, #united-states, #west-coast

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Newly Studied Proteins Expand CRISPR’s Editing Range

A catalog of Cas9 proteins could provide gene-editing variety

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#advances, #biology, #chemistry, #the-sciences

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Craft brewers now have a new tool for sniffing out trace flavor compounds

In dry hopping, hops are added during or after the fermentation stage of the brewing process.

Enlarge / In dry hopping, hops are added during or after the fermentation stage of the brewing process. (credit: Natasha Breen/Getty Images)

Craft-beer aficionados relish the endless flavor variations that can be achieved by mixing and matching different varieties of hops, whether one favors refreshing citrus or fruity notes or something a bit more earthy or pine-scented. But some of the chemical compounds that contribute to those flavors are present in such trace amounts that it’s difficult for brewers to measure and track them during the brewing process. Now German scientists have devised an automated, efficient method for doing just that, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

As we’ve previously reported, all beer contains hops, a key flavoring agent that also imparts useful antimicrobial properties. (Without them, beer spoils quickly.) Brewers mash and steep grain in hot water, which converts all that starch into sugars. This is traditionally the stage when hops are added to the liquid extract (wort) and boiled to give the beer that hint of bitterness. During the boiling process, a certain portion of the resins (alpha acids) in hops isomerize into iso-alpha acids. That chemical rearrangement of the molecules is what produces bitterness. Yeast is then added to trigger fermentation, turning the sugars into alcohol.

But a little hops goes a long way. Add too many hops, and the beer will be so bitter as to be undrinkable.

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#beer, #chemistry, #food-chemistry, #hoppy-beers, #mass-spectrometry, #science

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New battery chemistry results in first rechargeable zinc-air battery

Image of three chunks of zinc metal.

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the disposable batteries you’ll come across are technically termed alkaline batteries. They work at high pH and typically use zinc as the charge carrier. Zinc is great because it’s very cheap, can be used to make one of the two electrodes, and, in the right context, allows the use of air at the other electrode. These latter two items simplify the battery, allowing it to be more compact and lighter weight—so far, attempts to do similar things with lithium batteries have come up short.

The problem with all of this is that the batteries are disposable for a good reason: the chemistry of discharging doesn’t really allow things to work in reverse. Carbon dioxide from the air reacts with the electrolyte, forming carbonates that block one electrode. And the zinc doesn’t re-deposit neatly on the electrode it came from, instead creating spiky structures called dendrites that can short out the battery.

Now, an international team has figured out how to make zinc batteries rechargeable. The answer, it seems, involves getting rid of the alkaline electrolyte that gave the batteries their name.

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#batteries, #chemistry, #materials-science, #science, #zinc

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Study sheds new light on polar explorer’s final hours, 100+ years later

Danish explorer Jørgen Brønlund's petroleum burner was found in 1973. Brønlund and two compatriots died in 1907 during an expedition to Greenland.

Enlarge / Danish explorer Jørgen Brønlund’s petroleum burner was found in 1973. Brønlund and two compatriots died in 1907 during an expedition to Greenland. (credit: Jørn Ladegaard)

Over 100 years ago, a Danish explorer named Jørgen Brønlund perished during an expedition to northeast Greenland, along with two members of his expedition. He left behind a diary detailing his last moments, with a black spot underneath his final signature. Scientists have now analyzed that spot using a variety of techniques to determine its composition, thereby shedding fresh light on Brønlund’s final hours, according to a November paper published in the journal Archaeometry.

Northeast Greenland is still one of the most hostile regions of the Arctic, with only the Sirius Patrol of the Danish Army occasionally crossing the frozen expanse on dog sledges during the coldest part of the year. Back in 1906, when the Denmark Expedition launched, many parts of the region had not yet been mapped; that was a primary objective of the expedition, along with various scientific studies. (Alfred Wegener was among the scientists in the expedition.)

The expedition sailed to Greenland on board the SS Danmark, landing in August 1906 and establishing a base camp (depot) called Danmarkshavn. Members were assigned to sledge teams to head northward. Jørgen Brønlund was part of Sledge Team 1, along with expedition commander Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen and Niels Peter Høeg Hagen. A significant part of their mission was to discover whether the so-called Peary Land (discovered by Robert Peary in 1891) was a peninsula—in which case it would remain part of the Danish Kingdom—or an island, in which case the US would claim it as a US territory.

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#12-days-of-christmas, #archaeology, #chemistry, #denmark-expedition, #physics, #polar-exploration, #science, #spectroscopy

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Like Titan, Pluto’s atmosphere is hazy, but for a different reason

Pluto's atmosphere is fairly hazy.

Enlarge / Pluto’s atmosphere is fairly hazy. (credit: NASA)

Saturn’s moon Titan is distinctive, in part for its orange-ish and hazy atmosphere. It’s virtually impossible to see surface features because the haze is so opaque in the visible portion of the spectrum; what we know of it comes from things like radar imagery, instead. The haze is the product of chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere, driven by ultraviolet radiation. These then cascade into larger and more complex organic (reminder: that doesn’t mean biological) molecules.

The New Horizons mission to Pluto showed that the dwarf planet, too, has a haze. It’s less prominent in Pluto’s meager atmosphere, but it is there (it’s actually similar to the one on Neptune’s moon Triton). Because Pluto’s atmosphere isn’t that different from the upper reaches of Titan’s atmosphere, it has been thought that the same chemistry is responsible.

But a new study led by Panayotis Lavvas at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne shows that Pluto’s haze may require a different explanation. On both bodies, the atmosphere contains methane, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen. But if Titan’s process worked at the same rate on Pluto, it wouldn’t make enough haze particles to match what we’ve measured there. As Pluto’s atmosphere is even colder than the upper atmosphere on Titan, that haze particle chemistry should be running slower on Pluto.

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#atmospheric-science, #chemistry, #new-horizons, #planetary-science, #pluto, #science, #titan

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Don’t try this at home: George’s Marvelous Medicine is quite toxic

The concoction featured in Road Dahl's 1981 children's book, <em>George's Marvelous Medicine</em>, could be harmful—even fatal—to grandmas, new BMJ study finds.

Enlarge / The concoction featured in Road Dahl’s 1981 children’s book, George’s Marvelous Medicine, could be harmful—even fatal—to grandmas, new BMJ study finds. (credit: YouTube/Storyvision Studios UK)

Famed children’s author Roald Dahl greatly admired doctors who pioneered new medicines, and even dedicated his 1981 book, George’s Marvelous Medicine—in which a young boy cooks up a potion using various ingredients around his family farm—to “doctors everywhere.” Copies of the book contain a disclaimer to readers, warning them not to try to make George’s concoction at home, as it could be dangerous. And now a recent paper published in the annual Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has determined just how toxic the concoction could be if ingested.

The BMJ’s Christmas issue is typically more light-hearted in nature, although the journal maintains that the papers published therein still “adhere to the same high standards of novelty, methodological rigour, reporting transparency, and readability as apply in the regular issue.” Past years have included papers on such topics as why 27 is not a dangerous age for musicians, and the side effects of sword swallowing, among others. The most widely read was 1999’s infamous “Magnetic resonance imaging of male and female genitals during coitus and female sexual arousal.” (We wrote about the paper last year to mark the 20th anniversary of its publication.)

(Spoilers for the 1981 children’s book below.)

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#books, #british-medical-journal, #chemistry, #childrens-books, #gaming-culture, #poison, #roald-dahl, #science

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How the First Life on Earth Survived Its Biggest Threat–Water

Living things depend on water, but it breaks down DNA and other key molecules. So how did the earliest cells deal with the water paradox?

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#biology, #chemistry, #earth, #the-sciences

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Eye Treatment Stretches Mouse Sight Beyond Visible Spectrum

Nanoparticles that attach to photoreceptors allowed mice to see infrared and near-infrared light for up to two months.

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #mind, #neuroscience, #physics, #the-sciences

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Inventing Us: How Inventions Shaped Humanity

Materials scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez talks about her latest book The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another.

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#artsculture, #chemistry, #engineering, #physics, #tech, #the-sciences

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Eating Turkey Does Not Really Make You Sleepy

Don’t blame the tryptophan in your Thanksgiving turkey. The post-dinner drowsiness probably results from carbs and alcohol

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#biology, #chemistry, #the-sciences, #wellness

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Do Wine over Those Brussels Sprouts

Taking a swig of red wine before eating Brussels sprouts appears to moderate Brussels sprouts’ polarizing flavor. Christopher Intagliata reports

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#biology, #chemistry, #cognition, #mind, #the-sciences

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The Harmful Chemical Lurking in Your Children’s Toys

A scientist tracks the dangers of flame retardants, meant to protect children, and why manufacturers cannot seem to stop using them.

#american-chemistry-council, #babies-and-infants, #chemicals, #chemistry, #child-car-seats, #children-and-childhood, #consumer-product-safety-commission, #consumer-protection, #fires-and-firefighters, #flame-retardants, #foam, #furniture, #hazardous-and-toxic-substances, #parenting, #stapleton-heather-m

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A Butterfly’s Brilliant Blue Wings Lead to Less Toxic Paint

A phenomenon known as structural color could be translated to a range of commercial products

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#biology, #chemistry, #sustainability

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Low-Carbon Cement Can Help Combat Climate Change

Microbes will help decarbonize the construction industry

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #engineering, #tech

0

Sun-Powered Chemistry Can Turn Carbon Dioxide into Common Materials

Visible light can drive industrial processes

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #engineering, #tech

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Europa probably glows in the dark, and that may tell us what’s in it

A spacecraft flies over a moon.

Enlarge / An early design of the Europa Clipper spacecraft. (credit: NASA)

If everything goes according to plan, 2024 will see NASA launch the Europa Clipper program, which is designed to make multiple passes to study the water-rich moon’s potential to host life. The big challenge the mission will face is that any liquid water is likely to be far below Europa’s icy surface. At best, we can hope for some indication of what’s going on based on the composition of any material trapped in the ice itself or the possible presence of geysers that release bits of its interior to space.

That makes understanding the sorts of remote sensing that might be possible critical. And, to that end, some NASA scientists have looked into how ice behaves in Jupiter’s high-radiation environment. The scientists found out that Europa’s ice probably glows in the dark, and that glow may carry some information about what’s present in the ice.

Let there be light

The mechanism that can make Europa’s ice glow is a bit like what’s used by a black light poster. There, light outside of the visible wavelengths excites molecules that then release the energy at wavelengths we can see. In the case of Europa, the excitation energy doesn’t come from light, but that energy is indirectly powered by Jupiter’s magnetic fields. These fields pick up charged particles liberated by the planet itself (or one of its moons) and accelerate them. (Much of the material in Jupiter’s high-radiation areas was expelled into space by volcanoes on its moon Io.)

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#astronomy, #chemistry, #planetary-science, #science

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Science News Briefs from Around the Globe

Here are some brief reports about science and technology from all over, including one from the United Arab Emirates about the the first interplanetary mission by an Arab country.

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #conservation, #earth, #environment, #evolution, #space, #the-sciences

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Leading Edge Equipment has a technology to improve solar manufacturing and $7.6 million to go to market

Only a few weeks after the successful public offering of Array Technologies proved that there’s a market for technologies aimed at improving efficiencies across the solar manufacturing and installation chain, Leading Edge Equipment has raised capital for its novel silicon wafer manufacturing equipment. 

The $7.6 million financing came from Prime Impact Fund, Clean Energy Ventures and DSM Venturing and the company said it would use the technology to ramp up its sales and marketing efforts. 

For the last few years researchers have been talking up the potential of so-called kerfless, single-crystal silicon wafers. For industry watchers, the single-crystal versus poly-crystalline wafers may sound familiar, but as with many things with the resurgence of climate technology investment maybe this time will be different.

Silicon wafer production today is a seven-step process in which large silicon ingots created in heavily energy-intensive furnaces are sawed into wafers by wires. The process wastes large amounts of silicon, requires an incredible amount of energy and produces low-quality wafers that reduce the efficiency of solar panels.

Using ribbons to produce its wafers, Leading Edge’s manufacturing equipment uses the floating silicon method to reduce production to a single step, consuming less energy and producing almost no waste, according to the company.

Founded by longtime experts in the silicon foundry industry — Alison Greenlee, a quadruple-degreed graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who worked on floating silicon method that reduces waste in the manufacturing of silicon for solar cells; and Peter Kellerman, the progenitor of floating silicon method technologies.

The two founded Leading Edge Equipment to rejuvenate a project that had been mothballed by Applied Materials after years of research.

The two won $5 million in federal grants and raised an initial $6 million from venture capital firms in 2018 to kick off the technology.

Leading Edge expects that its equipment could become the standard for silicon substrate manufacturing.

Kellerman, now the emeritus chief technology officer, was replaced by Nathan Stoddard, a seasoned silicon manufacturing technology expert who has worked on teams that have brought three different solar wafer technologies from concept to pilot production. Stoddard, a former colleague of Greenlee’s at 1366 — one of the early companies devoted to new silicon production technologies — was won over by Greenlee and Kellerman’s belief in the old Applied Materials technology. 

The company claims that its technology can reduce wafer costs by 50 percent, increases commercial solar panel power by up to seven percent, and reduces manufacturing emissions by over 50 percent.

To commercialize the project, earlier this year the team brought in Rick Schwerdtfeger, a longtime innovator in solar technology who began working with CIGS crystals back in 1995. In the 2000s Schwerdtfeger spent his time in building out ARC Energy to scale next-generation furnace technologies. 

“After critical technology demonstrations and the development of a new commercial tool, we are now ready to launch this technology into market in 2021,” said Schwerdtfeger in a statement. “Having recently secured a 31,000 square foot facility and doubled the size of our team, we will use this new funding to prepare for our 2021 commercial pilots.”

 

#applied-materials, #chemistry, #crystals, #manufacturing, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #silicon, #solar-cell, #solar-manufacturing, #tc, #venture-capital-firms, #wafer

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Funky Cheese Rinds Release an Influential Stench

The volatile compounds released by microbial communities on cheese rinds shape and shift a cheese’s microbiome. Christopher Intagliata reports. 

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#biology, #chemistry, #the-sciences

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Better than the Scoville scale? Chili-shaped device can rate pepper hotness

Seeds spill out of a trio of hot peppers in a skillet.

Enlarge / There could soon be an easier way to tell how hot that chili pepper is. (credit: Azman Mohamad / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Capsaicin is the compound responsible for determining just how hot a variety of chili pepper will be; the higher the capsaicin levels, the hotter the pepper. There are several methods for quantifying just how much capsaicin is present in a pepper—its “pungency”—but they are either too time-consuming, too costly, or require special instruments, making them less than ideal for widespread use.

Now a team of scientists from Prince of Songkla University in Thailand has developed a simple, portable sensor device that can connect to a smartphone to show how much capsaicin is contained in a given chili pepper sample, according to a new paper in the journal ACS Applied Nano Materials. Bonus: the device is whimsically shaped just like a red-hot chili pepper.

An American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville invented his eponymous Scoville scale for assessing the relative hotness of chili peppers back in 1912. That testing process involves dissolving a precise amount of dried pepper in alcohol so as to extract the capsaicinoids. The capsaicinoids are then diluted in sugar water. A panel of five trained tasters then tastes multiple samples with decreasing concentrations of capsaicinoids until at least three of them can no longer detect the heat in a given sample. The hotness of the pepper is then rated according to its Scoville heat units (SHU).

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#capsaicin, #chemistry, #chili-peppers, #food-chemistry, #science

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Dinosaur Asteroid Hit Worst Case Place

The mass extinction asteroid happened to strike a place where the rock contained lots of organic matter, and sent soot into the stratosphere where it could block sunlight for years.  

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #earth, #evolution, #natural-disasters, #space, #the-sciences

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If recycling plastics isn’t making sense, remake the plastics

Image of a forklift surrounded by plastic bottles.

Enlarge / Workers sort plastic waste as a forklift transports plastic waste at Yongin Recycling Center in Yongin, South Korea. (credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images)

A few years back, it looked like plastic recycling was set to become a key part of a sustainable future. Then, the price of fossil fuels plunged, making it cheaper to manufacture new plastics. Then China essentially stopped importing recycled plastics for use in manufacturing. With that, the bottom dropped out of plastic recycling, and the best thing you could say for most plastics is that they sequestered the carbon they were made of.

The absence of a market for recycled plastics, however, has also inspired researchers to look at other ways of using them. Two papers this week have looked into processes that enable “upcycling,” or converting the plastics into materials that can be more valuable than the freshly made plastics themselves.

Make me some nanotubes

The first paper, done by an international collaboration, actually obtained the plastics it tested from a supermarket chain, so we know it works on relevant materials. The upcycling it describes also has the advantage of working with very cheap, iron-based catalysts. Normally, to break down plastics, catalysts and the plastics are heated together. But in this case, the researchers simply mixed the catalyst and ground up plastics and heated the iron using microwaves.

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#catalysts, #chemistry, #materials-science, #plastics, #recycling, #science

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Popeye would approve: Spinach could hold key to renewable fuel cell catalysts

Popeye reaches for a can of spinach in a still from an unidentified <em>Popeye</em> film, c. 1945. Scientists at American University believe the leafy green has the potential to help power future fuel cells.

Enlarge / Popeye reaches for a can of spinach in a still from an unidentified Popeye film, c. 1945. Scientists at American University believe the leafy green has the potential to help power future fuel cells. (credit: Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Image)

When it comes to making efficient fuel cells, it’s all about the catalyst. A good catalyst will result in faster, more efficient chemical reactions and, thus, increased energy output. Today’s fuel cells typically rely on platinum-based catalysts. But scientists at American University believe that spinach—considered a “superfood” because it is so packed with nutrients—would make an excellent renewable carbon-rich catalyst, based on their proof-of-principle experiments described in a recent paper published in the journal ACS Omega. Popeye would definitely approve.

The notion of exploiting the photosynthetic properties of spinach has been around for about 40 years now. Spinach is plentiful, cheap, easy to grow, and rich in iron and nitrogen. Many (many!) years ago, as a budding young science writer, I attended a conference talk by physicist Elias Greenbaum (then with Oak Ridge National Labs) about his spinach-related research. Specifically, he was interested in the protein-based “reaction centers” in spinach leaves that are the basic mechanism for photosynthesis—the chemical process by which plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates.

There are two types of reaction centers. One type, known as photosystem 1 (PS1), converts carbon dioxide into sugar; the other, photosystem 2 (PS2), splits water to produce oxygen. Most of the scientific interest is in PS1, which acts like a tiny photosensitive battery, absorbing energy from sunlight and emitting electrons with nearly 100-percent efficiency. In essence, energy from sunlight converts water into an oxygen molecule, a positively charged hydrogen ion, and a free electron. These three molecules then combine to form a sugar molecule. PS1s are capable of generating a light-induced flow of electricity in fractions of a second.

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#catalysts, #chemistry, #electrochemistry, #fuel-cells, #nanotechnology, #physics, #renewable-energy, #science, #tech

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Finally, the First Room-Temperature Superconductor

It conveys electricity in the climate of a crisp fall day, but only under pressures comparable to what you’d find closer to Earth’s core.

#chemistry, #electric-light-and-power, #electronics, #hydrogen, #nature-journal, #physics, #research, #superconductors, #your-feed-science

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High pressure superconductors reach room temperature

Image of a blue box surrounded by hardware lit in green.

Enlarge / Equipment including a diamond anvil cell (blue box) and laser arrays in the lab of Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester. Undoubtedly, they cleaned up the typical mess of cables and optical hardware before taking the photo.

In the period after the discovery of high-temperature superconductors, there wasn’t a good conceptual understanding of why those compounds worked. While there was a burst of progress towards higher temperatures, it quickly ground to a halt, largely because it was fueled by trial and error. Recent years brought a better understanding of the mechanisms that enable superconductivity, and we’re seeing a second burst of rapidly rising temperatures.

The key to the progress has been a new focus on hydrogen-rich compounds, built on the knowledge that hydrogen’s vibrations within a solid help encourage the formation of superconducting electron pairs. By using ultra-high pressures, researchers have been able to force hydrogen into solids that turned out to superconduct at temperatures that could be reached without resorting to liquid nitrogen.

Now, researchers have cleared a major psychological barrier by demonstrating the first chemical that superconducts at room temperature. There are just two catches: we’re not entirely sure what the chemical is, and it only works at 2.5 million atmospheres of pressure.

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#chemistry, #materials-science, #physics, #science, #superconductivity

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Engineering a battery fast enough to make recharging like refueling

Layers of phosphorene sheets form black carbon.

Enlarge / Layers of phosphorene sheets form black carbon. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Right now, electric vehicles are limited by the range that their batteries allow. That’s because recharging the vehicles, even under ideal situations, can’t be done as quickly as refueling an internal combustion vehicle. So far, most of the effort on extending the range has been focused on increasing a battery’s capacity. But it could be just as effective to create a battery that can charge much more quickly, making a recharge as fast and simple as filling your tank.

There are no shortage of ideas about how this might be arranged, but a paper published earlier this week in Science suggests an unusual way that it might be accomplished: using a material called black phosphorus, which forms atom-thick sheets with lithium-sized channels in it. On its own, black phosphorus isn’t a great material for batteries, but a Chinese-US team has figured out how to manipulate it so it works much better. Even if black phosphorus doesn’t end up working out as a battery material, the paper provides some insight into the logic and process of developing batteries.

Paint it black

So, what is black phosphorus? The easiest way to understand it is by comparisons to graphite, a material that’s already in use as an electrode for lithium-ion batteries. Graphite is a form of carbon that’s just a large collection of graphene sheets layered on top of each other. Graphene, in turn, is a sheet formed by an enormous molecule formed by carbon atoms bonded to each other, with the carbons arranged in a hexagonal pattern. In the same way, black phosphorus is composed of many layered sheets of an atom-thick material called phosphorene.

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#batteries, #chemistry, #green, #materials-science, #science

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Nobelist Talks CRISPR Uses

New chemistry Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna talks about various applications of the gene editing tool CRISPR.

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#biology, #chemistry, #environment, #health, #medicine, #policyethics, #sustainability, #the-sciences

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