science conservation earth_day cooperation species life_and_nature habitat pollution biology

An Earth Day Thought: Cooperation Is A Survival Tool

by Michael Keller

Every sunrise is a new breath of life. The morning comes and our star once again bathes us in the energy upon which the whole machinery of being runs. And life responds with every day’s beginning—plants grow; animals graze, browse and hunt; fungi, bacteria and insects slowly bring all of us back into the soil. When the night comes, much of life becomes quiet. Even then, though, many organisms remain at work, taking advantage of the darkness to give birth, take prey, and otherwise make their way in a crammed world. The Earth is beautiful and brutal—such is the nature of life.

Creatures breathe from almost every place on our planet, from the hydrothermal vent communities in the crushing pressure and pitch black abyss of the ocean’s floor to the microbes catching rides through the stratosphere on Sahara Desert dust storms. It’s a constant competition among individuals and species. Yet an exquisite adaptation to succeed in the bloodsport of survival has arisen over evolutionary time—cooperation. Many of us come equipped to work together so that we may individually and collectively live a little better.

"Organisms are inherently competitive, yet cooperation is widespread," wrote Columbia University’s Dustin Rubenstein and James Kealey in a 2010 paper in the journal Nature. ”Genes cooperate in genomes; cells cooperate in tissues; individuals cooperate in societies.”

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$2 Do-It-Yourself Solar Lamp Brings Better Light To Poor

by Michael Keller

When the sun goes down on almost 1.3 billion people around the world, the only respite from the darkness is fire. These are the people who have no access to electricity. If children want to study, or adults want to remain productive, or families want to sit and talk, most must do it by light of a flame.

But light sources like wood, candles, or hydrocarbons like kerosene oil, which was burnt at the rate of 38.7 million gallons a day in 2010, are far from the best solution. Combustion is dirty, releases toxic chemicals and can be expensive.

“A fifth of the world’s population earns on the order of $1 per day and lacks access to grid electricity,” wrote Evan Mills, a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab staff scientist, in the 2012 technical report Health Impacts of Fuel-Based Lighting. “They pay a far higher proportion of their income for illumination than those in wealthy countries, obtaining light with fuel-based sources, primarily kerosene lanterns. The same population experiences adverse health and safety risks from these same lighting fuels.”

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The Chance To Dance Again

by Michael Keller

We highlighted the TED talk of Hugh Herr a couple of weeks ago. But his work is too important and beautiful to leave to just one post.

The MIT associate professor of media arts and sciences is making prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons that restore function in those who have lost legs from injury or disease. This set of gifs focuses on his team’s BiOM powered ankle and foot prosthesis

"Bionics is not only about making people stronger and faster," he said during the talk. "Our expression, our humanity can be embedded into electromechanics."

To prove his point, Herr and fellow researchers studied dance movement to replace the lower leg that professional dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis lost after last year’s Boston marathon bombing. He concluded his talk by bringing Haslet-Davis on the stage to perform a bionic rumba. 

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Txch This Week: Baby Face Software And Floating Nuclear Reactors


by Norman Rozenberg

This week on Txchnologist, we looked at the wide range of innovations that could prove to be disruptive to a number of fields. First, University of Washington researchers have developed a software that accurately predicts changes in faces from babies to senior citizens.

We looked at how sound waves could revolutionize medicine in the coming years. Doctors have treated tumors using focused ultrasound, a way of delivering energetic high-frequency sound waves that are sent into the body without surgery. The technology is cost-effective and could be extremely useful. Staying with medical devices, Txchnologist also looked to the past to appreciate the roots of one of the most advanced imaging tools available, the PET scanner.

The Department of Energy has made a map that highlights wind power growth in the United States. Wind turbine farms grew in number from just one in 1975 to 815 in 2012.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee civil engineers have developed a mixture of concrete that is water-resistant, flexible and promises to keep bridges and roads intact for up to 120 years.

Research in subatomic particles is at the forefront for a number of scientists. A facility in southern China called the Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment is studying the electrically neutral neutrino and attempting to understand one of the building blocks of the universe using six huge detectors.

Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.

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