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A Drop Of Power Makes Hydrogen Fuel Cheaper


by Michael Keller

**Editor’s Note: There seems to be some confusion based on readers’ comments that this post is about researchers discovering electrolysis of water. That process has been known since the 18th century. This article is about research looking to make industrial-scale hydrogen gas from water using novel electrodes that diminish the amount of electricity and precious metals needed during electrolysis.**

Scientists have made a breakthrough in generating hydrogen gas fuel more efficiently by splitting water with smaller amounts of electricity. 

Stanford University researchers report that they have disassembled water molecules into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen with the electromotive force of a single AAA battery. Both gaseous products are flammable and hydrogen is considered a viable power source for electricity production and vehicles. In fact, the first hydrogen fuel cell cars will be available for purchase in the US beginning in 2015.

The Stanford group also accomplished the low-power water splitting, a process called water electrolysis, without the expensive precious metals typically used. They put two electrodes in a beaker of water and sent current through them, which broke the liquid into the two gases.


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Physicists Manipulate Waves To Make Tractor Beam

Scientists studying how floating particles move on the surface of water have come up with a way to pull them in, push them away or make them stay still. They can now precisely control objects by generating waves with specified frequency and amplitude.

The work by Australian National University researchers might find use in cleaning up oil spills. It could also lead to a better understanding of how moving water develops into rip currents.

"We have figured out a way of creating waves that can force a floating object to move against the direction of the wave," said physicist Horst Punzmann, who led the research. "No one could have guessed this result."

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What Some Can Do With A Little Tension

These striking images of an insect that walks on the surface of water come from the lab of John Bush, an MIT applied mathematics professor. Bush studies fluid dynamics, focusing his science—and the art that often comes from it—on surface tension.

Visualized in the pictures above is the movement of the water strider, a bug that, according to Bush, stands on water through “surface tension force generated by curvature of the free surface.” It propels itself across the surface by rowing hydrophobic legs, which transfer momentum to the water by deforming the film-like surface and shedding fluid vortices as seen in these pictures. Click here to see a larger version of the top picture, which graced the cover of the journal Nature several years ago. Read the paper that describes the physics of water strider motion here.

The lab showed the vortices by floating Thymol Blue, a dye that is insoluble in water and is often used as a pH indicator, on the water’s surface.

We’ve featured work from the Bush lab before. Check out this story to see how you can play with surface tension to make fun cocktail boats driven by alcohol.

All images courtesy David Hu, Brian Chan & John Bush/MIT.

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Predicting Where Water Will Go In A Hurricane


by Joel N. Shurkin, Inside Science

In most hurricanes the greatest damage is done not by the wind but from the storm surge, the mountain of water pushed by raging winds from the ocean to deluge the land.

There is always a level of unpredictability when dealing with Mother Nature, but knowing where the water would go when a storm is bearing down on the coast would be useful, particularly in densely populated coastal cities such as New York, which maintains complex systems of houses, office buildings, sidewalks, basements, alleys, subway stations, and streets clogged with parked cars.

Scientists at the College of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences at Gloucester Point, Va., reported they have a computer model that may do that, starting about 30 hours before the storm comes ashore. At least it worked in retrospect with the Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the East Coast in 2012.

Click through for an interactive map of New York City flooding and a video.

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