Transparent solar collector to turn skyscrapers into power plants

We may soon be able to create electricity using the screens of our phones, windows in buildings and any other clear surface.

Researchers have created a ‘transparent’ surface that can capture light and convert it into electricity using solar technology.

The team, from Michigan State University, developed organic molecules that are able to take in waves of sunlight which are not visible to the human eye.

It is the first time that a transparent solar concentrator has been created.

Richard Lunt who worked on the research, said that the unique nature of the transparency means we may be able to incorporate it into our everyday lives and create energy from clear surfaces.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

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As the materials used do not absorb or emit any light that can be seen by the human eye, this means they appear transparent when we look at them.

Instead they rely on infrared light, which is guided to the edge of the material where it is converted to electricity by solar cells.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” explained Lunt. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”

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The previously developed coloured concentrators developed by MIT

However the future for the technology isn’t yet crystal clear as work needs to be done on improving the energy-producing efficiency.

Currently its solar conversion rate lies close to one percent, but the researchers believe they will be able to get it close to five percent when everything has been fully optimised.

At present coloured variations of the concentrator have efficiency levels of around seven percent.


Featured image and image one courtesy of the Michigan State Univeristy. Image two courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Julian Assange tells UK government: “It’s the end of the road – there is no appeal”

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder and infamous resident of London’s Ecaudorian Embassy, launched a scathing attack on comments made by the UK government following the UN’s legally binding decision that he is being unlawfully deprived of his liberty.

Responding to comments made by UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond calling the decision “ridiculous”, Assange said that both the UK and Sweden had their chance to object to the verdict, but did not use it, and should now accept the decision or face damaging their involvement in the United Nations.

“Now I have read this morning the comments of UK foreign minister Philip Hammond insulting the United Nations, calling the decision – which I doubt very much that he has read – ridiculous,” said Assange from a live video feed broadcast to a press conference held today in London’s Frontline Club. “I find those comments to be beneath the stature that a foreign minister should express in this situation.

“This is a serious finding, it adds to an already really important body of international law, and while I understand the momentary political imperatives for representatives of Sweden and the UK to look like they were correct in their earlier unlawful decisions, the fact is they are not.

“There has been a final decision. There is no ability to appeal to the United Nations; the lawfulness of my detention or otherwise is now a matter of settled law.”

Julian Assange addressing the assembled press at today's press conference, via video feed.

Julian Assange addressing the assembled press at today’s press conference, via video feed. Featured image courtesy of Cancillería del Ecuador.

Despite suggestions in British media that UK wanted to appeal the decision, Assange was keen to stress that this was no longer possible.

“The United Kingdom and Sweden had their opportunity to appeal. The last two weeks, they had that opportunity: they did not lodge an appeal. They cannot now seek to object to the findings of a process which they themselves were involved in for 16 months, a jurisdiction which they submitted to, recognise and in part founded together with their early involvement in the United Nations,” he said.

He suggested that the comments were merely made for political reasons, in an attempt to present the government in a positive light.

“You can’t decide that you are going to recognise a forum, take place in proceedings, respond to the other party, and then at the end when you don’t like the outcome, because you have been breaking the law, and you don’t even bother to appeal, come out with press statements and say, well we disagree or engage in purely superfluous ad-hominem attacks like saying that a finding is ridiculous,” he said.

“Those statements are simply for domestic consumption. They have no relevance in law. It is the end of the road.”

Assange with Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño at London's Ecuadorian embassy in 2013. Assange has been resident at the embassy for two and a half years, but could finally leave as a result of the UN verdict. Image courtesy of Xavier Granja Cedeño/Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores.

Assange with Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño at London’s Ecuadorian embassy in 2013. Assange has been resident at the embassy for two and a half years, but could finally leave as a result of the UN verdict. Image courtesy of Xavier Granja Cedeño/Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores.

Assange did not say when he planned to leave the Ecuadorian Embassay, which he has been living in for the past two and a half years, but did call on the UK and Sweden to act on the verdict, which would enable him to safely depart.

“It is now the task of the state of Sweden and the United Kingdom as a whole to implement a verdict,” he said, warning that if either country chose not to do this, they would be seriously risking their place in the UN.

“While there can be attempts for the media, for the popular press, to look tough and attempt to undermine that, a serious attempt, not just for show, would have the effect of undermining the UN system, and there are consequences for that.

“The diplomatic effect will be to make it difficult for Sweden and the United Kingdom to be treated seriously as international players,” he said, suggesting that it could lead to their “removal from UN committees, a movement against those states in voting processes and ultimately up to and including sanctions.”

Stephen Hawking predicts Earth's demise

Prof Stephen Hawking has warned that the likelihood of planet Earth facing destruction in the next thousand or ten thousand years was a "near certainty". The cosmologist said that the Earth is at risk from issues of our own making, including nuclear war, global warming and genetically engineered viruses.

Source: The Telegraph

Virtual workplaces will negate the need for creative hubs

Ideas thrive when they’re easily exchanged, and If ideas live in people, then people need to be near one another to most efficiently swap them, but with the advent of virtual workplaces, talented people will be free to move around. If it’s proximity that ideas need, then this century’s equivalent of the city is online.

Source: Singularity Hub

Stop calling 'hoverboards' hoverboards

The makers of the Hendo Hoverboard have spoken of their frustration at segways being referred to as hoverboards. “It makes us crazy, it really does,” said Scott Santandrea, head of business development at Arx Pax, which sells the Hendo Hoverboard. "We consider those things to be cool toys.”

Source: Motherboard

Scientists in Germany switch on nuclear fusion experiment

Following nine years of construction and testing, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald have begun their nuclear fusion experiment. The experiment is part of a world-wide effort to harness nuclear fusion, which is considered a clean and safe form of nuclear power.

New NASA spacecraft will be propelled by light

In 2018, a small space probe will unfurl a sail and begin a journey to a distant asteroid. It’s the first NASA spacecraft that will venture beyond Earth’s orbit propelled entirely by sunlight. This technology could enable inexpensive exploration of the solar system and, eventually, interstellar space.

Winning hyperloop design revealed by MIT engineers

A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology came first in a SpaceX competition to design pods that could be tested in a prototype hyperloop tube. The Hyperloop is a conceptual transport system in which passenger pods could be fired through vacuum tubes at more than 600mph (1,000km/h).

Source: BBC

NASA finishes installing the James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror

Engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have installed the James Webb Space Telescope’s final primary mirror segment, completing a major milestone in the creation of the most powerful telescope ever to be launched into space.

At slightly above 4.ft (1.3m) wide, and weighing around 88 pounds (40kg), putting the ultra-lightweight beryllium mirror into place without causing damage was no mean feat. The engineers used a robotic arm similar to claw-based amusement arcade game in order to position the mirror, making it the 18th and final one to be added to the telescope.

“Completing the assembly of the primary mirror is a very significant milestone and the culmination of over a decade of design, manufacturing, testing and now assembly of the primary mirror system,” said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  “There is a huge team across the country who contributed to this achievement.”

The fully installed mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope. Image and featured image courtesy of NASA / Chris Gunn.

The fully installed mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope. Image and featured image courtesy of NASA / Chris Gunn.

“Scientists and engineers have been working tirelessly to install these incredible, nearly perfect mirrors that will focus light from previously hidden realms of planetary atmospheres, star forming regions and the very beginnings of the Universe,” added John Grunsfeld, associate administrator at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the Universe.”

A shot from the webcam at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center taken today shows the completed mirror. The webcam can be viewed here.

A shot from the webcam at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center taken today shows the completed mirror. The webcam can be viewed here.

With the James Webb Space Telescope not scheduled for launch until October 2018, there is much to still be done before it will be ready to blast off.

Other parts of the telescope still need to be installed, and the whole structure will be tested thoroughly to ensure it is functioning perfectly when it is operated in space.

“Now that the mirror is complete, we look forward to installing the other optics and conducting tests on all the components to make sure the telescope can withstand a rocket launch,” said Bill Ochs, James Webb Space Telescope project manager. “This is a great way to start 2016!”

The initial six panels of the telescope's mirror undergoing cryogenic testing in 2011. Image courtesy of NASA / MSFC / David Higginbotham.

The initial six panels of the telescope’s mirror undergoing cryogenic testing in 2011. Image courtesy of NASA / MSFC / David Higginbotham.

When the previous largest space telescope, Hubble, was launched in 1990, a slight error in the shape of one of the mirrors meant initial images were very poor, leaving scientists scrambling for a fix, and ultimately settling on “spectacles” that would correct the angle of error.

The mishap caused considerable negative press for the agency, so ensuring the accuracy of the James Webb Space Telescope will no doubt be of paramount importance.

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An artist’s impression of the completed and operational telescope. Image courtesy of NASA / Northrop Grumman.

During launch, the 18 mirrors will be folded up to protect them from damage, and will unfold when the telescope reaches its destination 1,500,000km from Earth.

The telescope’s home will be the second Lagrange point, a location between the Earth and Sun where their opposing gravitational forces hold orbiting objects in place, allowing the telescope to orbit the Sun at the same rate as Earth.

Once in place, the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to capture images of the solar system and beyond in unprecedented detail, and will no doubt yield a wealth of astronomical advances and discoveries.