This week on Txchnologist, we explored inventions and discoveries that have the potential to improve myriad lives. First, our correspondent talked to researchers who have engineered growth factors that speed the wound-healing process.
The quest to design better water filters continues. MIT researchers have created an efficient nanofilter by poking tiny holes in atom-thick graphene. Their results appear to be dramatically better than the traditional carbon water filters available on the market.
This week we also learned about new generators that produce energy from the smallest motions. The generator harvests the same kind of static electricity that you produce by shuffling across the carpet.
Our hearts melted when we watched 12-year-old Peyton Robertson describe his Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Education award-winning experiment. He used the scientific method come up with an innovative solution defending against floods.
Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.
Tiny filters measuring just one-atom thick might be the next generation of technology that efficiently separates salt and impurities from water. Researchers report that they have successfully punched subnanoscale holes in graphene, the sheets of bound carbon atoms known to be one of the strongest materials on Earth.
They fired metal ions at the graphene to disrupt the bonds between carbon atoms, which naturally form into hexagonal rings that look like chicken wire. The graphene was then etched with a solution that dissolved the weakened bonds and formed densely packed pores.
“We bombard the graphene with gallium ions at high energy,” said Sean O’Hern, an MIT graduate student who led the research, in a university statement. “That creates defects in the graphene structure, and these defects are more chemically reactive.”
Sometimes the best innovations aren’t about finding the most technologically advanced solutions, but merely looking at the problem differently.
In arid regions throughout the world, the problem is simple: inadequate ground and surface water supplies force people to undergo hardship even where sufficient rain falls. A group called PITCHAfrica has part of the solution.
The world is awash in antibiotics. We take them to fight off the bacteria that mean to colonize us. We feed them to animals to prevent the outbreak of disease in densely packed factory-farming operations. Even many of our cleaning and body care products, controversially, now contain them.
But many antibiotics don’t get fully metabolized within humans or animals and, through excretion, find their way into waste and surface waters. It’s a major environmental concern whose full ecological implications still aren’t clear.
And the problem creates a vicious cycle. Evolution gives our microbial adversaries the strategic advantage—the ability to adapt to our weapons and render them harmless. So we engage in a microscopic arms race, battering increasing numbers of antibiotic-resistant bugs with more and more drug compounds to keep them at bay.
So you could call it a small case of poetic justice when researchers figure out how to use the cellular machinery that renders some bacteria drug-resistant to reclaim antibiotics from contaminated water.