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Students Show Common Compound Breaks Down Air Pollution

by Michael Keller

A couple of weeks ago, we brought you an art and science project in the United Kingdom that produced a pollution-eating billboard. Now we hear word that a team of engineering students at the University of California, Riverside has shown powerful evidence that the compound used in the billboard and similarly treated roof tiles does an admirable job of removing pollutants from the air.

At the heart of both projects is titanium dioxide, a compound widely used as a pigment in paper, plastic, paint and food. When it is exposed to sunlight, it also becomes a catalyst that causes smog-producing nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds to break down into environmentally harmless products. 

The students coated two sample roof tiles with different amounts of titanium dioxide and put them in an experimental rig meant to mimic outdoor conditions. Nitrogen oxides were fed into the chamber and ultraviolet lights bathed the tiles in a proxy for sunlight. 

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Americans Breathing Easier With Fewer Particulates In The Air

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by Michael Keller

We may not have noticed it, but Americans are breathing a little easier thanks to a great story for the country’s air quality.

A Rice University study concludes that states are successfully reducing a harmful air pollutant called fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in diameter, which can stay suspended in the atmosphere for weeks and has been linked to chronic and fatal diseases. 

In fact, the study found that state efforts have been so successful that most urban areas had already lowered PM2.5 to more stringent levels instituted in 2012 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The improvements are good enough to translate into Americans living slightly longer lives. 

“The trend across the country is that air quality is improving,” says Daniel Cohan, an atmospheric researcher and associate professor of environmental engineering. “Power plants are getting better at controlling emissions. There are more industrial controls to pollution. Cars are getting cleaner.”

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Will Water Be Your Next Printer Ink?

by Michael Keller

For office workers concerned about cutting costs and environmental impacts, clicking the print button triggers an ongoing internal debate. Many people find reading words on a printed page to be a hard habit to break when the only alternative is reading them on glowing screen.

But given that up to 40 percent of office documents are printed for one-time use, the desire to take in paper-based words versus ink’s relatively high cost and the waste that is generated is an area ripe for change.

Chinese researchers say they may have come up with just the thing to ease the conscience and lower the cost of reading documents on paper. They’ve created a jet printer that uses water instead of ink and a complimentary reusable paper that changes color while it’s moist.

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Stem Cell Brains, The Rim Fire, Our Martian Ancestry: This Week in Txch

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by Ysabel Yates

This week on Txchnologist, we found out that, while our power grids are more vulnerable to catastrophic failure than previously thought, scientists are finding new ways to secure them. We also looked at ways humans are taking hints from the animal kingdom when we examined a possible (and slimy) replacement for stitches and learned that echolocation could be our new party trick.

Now we’re sharing the developments, research and other cool things we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation. 

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