Scientists at the University of Plymouth have been developing methods to `close the loop` on waste and pollution, by finding waste products that can be used to improve soil / plant-growth conditions. At the Society for Experimental Biology conference in Swansea Dr Stuart Lane presented ways in which garden and industrial waste could be recycled to benefit the environment.
In collaboration with Ecological Sciences Limited, Dr Lane`s group investigated a horticultural growth substitute for peat, derived from garden waste products. Because the mining of peat bogs is both unsustainable and ecologically destructive, given that peat bogs take hundreds of years to form and provide a specialised habitat, horticulturalists are seeking to replace traditional methods based on peat with more environmentally friendly alternatives. The EcoSci research project headed by Stephen Bullock experimented with green waste derived compost (GWC) made up of garden waste (such as hedge trimmings and lawn clippings) collected from civic refuse sites. The waste was carefully composted and mixed with coir - coconut husks, another industrial waste product - and composted bark. The GWC was tested against a well-known peat-based commercial product for ten plant species and was found to out-perform the peat product in almost all the parameters tested. GWC is organically accredited and the company is now looking to develop an organic multi-purpose compost.
Dr Lane`s group also investigated a waste product of horticulture. Hydroponics - growing plants without soil - frequently uses rockwall, a loft insulation material that cannot be recycled. Dr Lane set up a hydroponics study where the rockwall was replaced with zeolite, a cystalline solid that acts like a molecular sieve and is used in industrial catalysts and in products such as washing powders. Zeolite effectively retains and exchanges ions, so can be used to `channel` nutrients to plant roots and retain toxic minerals. Dr Lane found that the zeolite provided a good growth medium, regulating minerals and aerating the roots properly, and could be re-used for a number of growth cycles. The group also investigated the safest way of disposing of the zeolite once its ion exchange capacity was spent, by mixing it into soil at concentrations where it would not interfere with the flow of beneficial minerals to plants or release high levels of harmful metals.
Jenny Gimpel | alphagalileo
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Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.
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At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
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Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
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