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Txch This Week: Shape-Shifting Liquid Metal Alloys And Camo Squid Skin Technology

by Jared Kershner

This week on Txchnologist, we watched the world’s first 3-D printed car hit the road after being made in a mere 44 hours. The vehicle, called Strati, was sent on a test drive last Saturday after being quickly printed and assembled by a Local Motors team days before. The company plans to offer 3-D printed vehicles for sale in the coming months, paving the way for innovation in automotive design and opening new doors for modern manufacturing.

The creators of an MIT project called Local Warming are pioneering a heating system that uses motion sensing to direct infrared energy beams at occupants of a space, heating them directly while the remaining space stays cold. With current space heating accounting for 37 percent of the total power consumed by U.S. buildings in 2010, funding programs that rethink how to keep people comfortable could spark a radical shift in greater building energy efficiency nationwide.

Smog-producing low-level ozone concentrations are rising globally and bringing with them heightened public health and ecological threats. Scientists studying the environmental dangers of ozone offer a simple solution—plant more trees. Their models have shown that the reforestation of regions directly abutting urban areas provides an effective tool for abating ground-level ozone pollution, and could complement technology-based controls.

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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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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