Laser-Treated Cork Absorbs Oil for Carbon-Neutral Ocean Cleanup

WASHINGTON, DC, April 23, 2024 – Oil spills are deadly disasters for ocean ecosystems. They can have lasting impacts on fish and marine mammals for decades and wreak havoc on coastal forests, coral reefs, and the surrounding land. Chemical dispersants are often used to break down oil, but they often increase toxicity in the process.

In Applied Physics Letters, by AIP Publishing, researchers from Central South University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev used laser treatments to transform ordinary cork into a powerful tool for treating oil spills.

They wanted to create a nontoxic, effective oil cleanup solution using materials with a low carbon footprint, but their decision to try cork resulted from a surprising discovery.

“In a different laser experiment, we accidentally found that the wettability of the cork processed using a laser changed significantly, gaining superhydrophobic (water-repelling) and superoleophilic (oil-attracting) properties,” author Yuchun He said. “After appropriately adjusting the processing parameters, the surface of the cork became very dark, which made us realize that it might be an excellent material for photothermal conversion.”

“Combining these results with the eco-friendly, recyclable advantages of cork, we thought of using it for marine oil spill cleanup,” author Kai Yin said. “To our knowledge, no one else has tried using cork for cleaning up marine oil spills.”

“Oil recovery is a complex and systematic task, and participating in oil recovery throughout its entire life cycle is our goal.”

—Yuchun He

Read the full story at AIP.


Apollo 11 Astronaut Speaks about the Moon Landing and Why Space Matters Today

Collins: Keeping Earth in View Doesn’t Require a Spacecraft

On July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew with Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after achieving the first lunar landing. (NASA)

Earth Day 2019:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first landing on the moon, on July 20, 1969. 

While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, Michael Collins’ job was to fly around the moon and pick them up again before coming back to earth.

Astronaut Collins spoke at the National Press Club Apr. 15 to recount his role in the Apollo 11 mission with Armstrong and Aldrin. He was interviewed by Marvin Kalb, and they discussed not only the 1969 mission but today’s Mars mission planning, competition in space, militarization and privatization of space technology, and what space exploration means for people, politics, and the human race.

The full livestreamed video is available at the National Press Club.

Aldrin stands beside the lunar module strut and probe. (NASA)

Aldrin poses for a portrait. (NASA)

Aldrin’s boot and footprint in lunar soil. (NASA)

This photograph of the Lunar Module at Tranquility Base was taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission, from the rim of Little West Crater on the lunar surface. Armstrong’s shadow and the shadow of the camera are visible in the foreground. When he took this picture, Armstrong was clearly standing above the level of the Lunar Module’s footpads. Darkened tracks lead leftward to the deployment area of the Early Apollo Surface Experiments Package (EASEP) and rightward to the TV camera.  This is the furthest distance from the lunar module traveled by either astronaut while on the moon. (NASA)

Full panoramic image of the lunar module at tranquility base. (NASA)

The lunar module approaches the command module for docking, with earthrise in the background. (NASA)

Crescent earth image taken on the Apollo 11 return trip. (NASA)

Earthrise viewed from lunar orbit prior to landing on the moon. (NASA)

Lunar module inspection after undocking. (NASA)

Apollo 11 Mission Page

NASA History: Apollo 11

Listen to “One small step…” audio at NASA.


Coated optical fibers as opto-mechanical sensors

New model details Brillouin scattering interactions between light and sound waves in polyimide-coated fiber for detecting liquids outside the cladding boundary.

Since light carried by optical fibers cannot reach outside the inner core, it is difficult to use these cheap and flexible tools for the analysis of surrounding media. Fortunately, the same fibers also support the transfer of ultrasonic waves, and the interactions between light and sound waves can be exploited for probing the properties of liquids outside the protective coating.

Building on their previous research, Diamandi et al. extended their model of these light-ultrasound opto-mechanical sensors to include polyimide-coated fibers, which are readily available commercially. The coating gives the fiber some protection, and at the same time provides connectivity for the ultrasonic waves that actually perform the sensing task.

In their experiment, spectra of interaction between light and ultrasound were measured for stretches of fibers in air, ethanol and water. To push the experiment further, spatial mapping of liquids was carried out over a mile-long fiber that was coated in polyimide for its entire length.

Read the full story at AIP Scilight.


Physicist Takes Cues from Artificial Intelligence

NEWPORT NEWS, VA –  In the world of computing, there’s a groundswell of excitement for what is perceived as the impending revolution in artificial intelligence. Like the industrial revolution in the 19th century and the digital revolution in the 20th, the AI revolution is expected to change the way we live and work. Now, Cristiano Fanelli aims to bring the AI revolution to nuclear physics.

Fanelli, who is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the winner of the 2018 Jefferson Science Associates Postdoctoral Prize for his project to use artificial intelligence to optimize systems for nuclear physics research being carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

It’s an exciting time to do nuclear and particle physics research with the artificial intelligence revolution happening now.

—Cristiano Fanelli

Since 2015, Fanelli has been working on GlueX, an experiment that is being carried out as part of the 12 GeV upgrade to Jefferson Lab’s Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF). Scientists in the GlueX collaboration aim to produce and study so-called exotic hybrid mesons. These particles are built of the same stuff as ordinary protons and neutrons: quarks bound together by the “glue” of the strong force. But the glue in these mesons behaves differently and may provide a window into how subatomic particles are built.

The GlueX collaboration is adding a new system to its existing equipment called DIRC, which stands for Detection of Internally Reflected Cherenkov light. The new system will help identify particles that are produced in experiments, such as protons, pions and kaons. This capability will allow researchers to infer the quark flavor content of exotic hybrid and conventional mesons produced in experiments.

The DIRC consists of a complex design of many components that must be aligned precisely for accurate particle identification. Fanelli is working on implementing Bayesian optimization to allow researchers to use computers to more quickly and accurately predict the optimum alignment for the components of the DIRC system.

Read the full story at JLAB.


From the Seafloor to the Drugstore: Inventor Amy Wright on Marine Natural Products

Those were the glory days. Amy Wright would plop down into the seat inside a giant acrylic dome to be submerged 3,000 feet underwater, with a front-row seat on the wonders far below the waters off the Florida coast. It was Wright’s first job as a chemist. She didn’t know it then, but she was riding a wave that would rise from expeditions in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible vehicles to the breakthrough inventions in medicine she is known for today.

Days spent diving from a research ship and using robotic equipment on a manned submersible vehicle allowed Wright and her collaborators to travel to underwater vistas in the depths where, over the course of the next few decades, they would collect thousands of samples of marine invertebrates, the source materials for marine natural products.

Read more–>


Virtual Immersion Goes Beyond the Surface with Underwater Drones

Christine Spiten is the 27 year old co-founder and chief global strategist of Blueye Robotics, a company making underwater drones that connect with your smartphone, tablet, laptop or a pair of goggles to explore the marine environment 150 meters underwater. In an interview for Sea Technology with Spiten just a few hours after she emerged from an underwater adventure in the fjords of Trondheim Norway, where Blueye Robotics is based, I asked her about the company’s debut model, the Pioneer.

We also discussed future development plans and Spiten’s ideas about democratizing access to the ocean to make underwater inspection—whether the hull of a ship, an aquaculture farm, for search-and-rescue, or just for fun—an everyday activity without the need for expensive, heavy equipment or professional crews of divers.



X-Ray Vision: Berkeley’s High-Speed Electrons Fuel Atomic-Scale Science

BERKELEY, California—A group of eager writers attending the World Conference of Science Journalists 2017 stood on an upper platform at Berkeley’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) research lab. Under their feet, electrons raced at nearly the speed of light. Overhead, an iconic domed ceiling—the same ceiling under which Nobel laureate and nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence invented the cyclotron—endowed a jumbled space full of laboratory pipes and instruments with the airy feel of a giant atrium.

As the journalists enjoyed their visit to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on 29 October, magnets steered groups of electrons around a giant circle, 200 meters in circumference, and released light at 40 different openings. “Think of the electrons as cars with their headlights on,” said physicist Roger Falcone, director of ALS. “As they drive around, flashes of light come out each of those ports.”

Peering into molecules  

At the ends of each of the 40 light beams—in a range of wavelengths spanning the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to both soft and hard X-rays—instruments perform experiments that depend on this constant flow of electrons. The relentless light penetrates materials and allows scientists to study the atoms and molecules inside. Each beam can be tuned to a different wavelength to reveal a particular element or molecule. Scientists use the beams to study everything from how the crystallographic structure of a new polymer reflects light rays to how a bacterium breathes in the absence of oxygen.

Read more–>


The Dawn of Gallium Oxide Microelectronics

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 6, 2018– Silicon has long been the go-to material in the world of microelectronics and semiconductor technology. But silicon still faces limitations, particularly with scalability for power applications. Pushing semiconductor technology to its full potential requires smaller designs at higher energy density.

“One of the largest shortcomings in the world of microelectronics is always good use of power: Designers are always looking to reduce excess power consumption and unnecessary heat generation,” said Gregg Jessen, principal electronics engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory. “Usually, you would do this by scaling the devices. But the technologies in use today are already scaled close to their limits for the operating voltage desired in many applications. They are limited by their critical electric field strength.”

Transparent conductive oxides are a key emerging material in semiconductor technology, offering the unlikely combination of conductivity and transparency over the visual spectrum. One conductive oxide in particular has unique properties that allow it to function well in power switching: Ga2O3, or gallium oxide, a material with an incredibly large bandgap.



Deep Dive into Engineering the World’s Most Advanced ROV System

In August 2017 a research group led by explorer and philanthropist Paul G. Allen used ultra-high-tech underwater equipment to locate the wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, a ship that sank in the final days of WWII after it was struck by Japanese torpedoes. The discovery was made by Mr. Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc., using a new expedition ship it acquired for the purpose of seabed discovery—the RV Petrel.

Petrel was outfitted with cutting-edge technologies, including an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which uses side-scan sonar to locate objects on the seabed, and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for further investigation and video documentation.

While AUVs and ROVs are becoming more common, the USS Indianapolis was discovered at a depth of nearly 6,000 m, and technologies suitable for robust research at great depth can be hard to find.



From Dinosaurs to Data Networks: Texas and the Arctic in the Anthropocene

“Report from the Top of the World!”

The flier caught my attention immediately. The U.S. Embassy in Oslo and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC wanted to send graduate journalism students to the Norwegian Arctic as part of a new internship program.

I applied because I wanted to gain a global perspective on my research and reporting. Less than a year later, I found myself standing on an empty beach near Bugøynes on the northern coast of Norway, silent except for the call of a distant bird and the lapping of cold water against the shore. Towering overhead were the sharp black rocks and dark islands of the fjords, silhouetted by midnight sun that glowed a soft, radiant white behind a sheet of fog…

Continue Reading–>


Astronomy Team Brings Data to “Instrument: One Antarctic Night”

From discovering the rings of Supernova 1987A during his time at the European Southern Observatory (Garching‚ Germany) to pioneering supernova spectropolarimetry in Texas‚ Lifan Wang has followed his passion for cosmology around the world. Wang is the director of the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy  (CCAA) responsible for design and deployment of two robotic telescopes to Antarctica – the Chinese Small Telescope ARray (CSTAR) and three Antarctic Survey Telescopes (AST3). Working remotely‚ Wang and collaborators obtained hundreds of thousands of observations of the night sky above the South Pole.



Robotic Telescopes Enable Advanced Antarctic Observations

Antarctica is more like interstellar space than any other place on earth. It is extremely cold‚ dry‚ calm‚ and extra dark with clear seeing to great cosmic distances. As a result‚ a telescope just a few meters tall near the South Pole can make observations as good as larger telescopes at more temperate locations and study the same objects that space satellites can study [1]‚ but at lower cost without sending telescopes into orbit [2]. But installing a telescope in Antarctica is not easy. It requires the use of a giant ice-breaker ship‚ track-wheeled tractors pulling huge storage containers‚ and a crew of woolen boot- and parka-clad “expedition astronomers” [3]. In 2005 a Chinese expedition became the first to reach the peak of the Antarctic ice cap‚ the highest point on the Antarctic Plateau 4093 meters above sea level. It was called Dome Argus‚ now known as Dome A.



Data Processing: A Discovery Pipeline

The computer scientists working on INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic  Night view programming as an art form. They are also versed in the language of statistics‚ and they provide a valuable translation for the team. Theirs is the task of designing a data engine that allows for both graphic rendering and interaction‚ handling hundreds of thousands of data files to create an immersive art + science experience.



Data Sounds: The Music of Statistics

INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic Night is a suite of data instruments that use data from hundreds of thousands of stars captured by robotic telescopes in Antarctica. The interactive‚ and immersive aesthetic data experience will provide visitors the opportunity to explore characteristics of the stars seen above the South Pole through responsive sound‚ movement‚ graphics and visualization. To create sound for INSTRUMENT‚ the team is developing new paradigms‚ working in a blended space between practices of data sonification and computer-assisted composition to create a conversation between traditional practices‚ contemporary digital music and working with new mediums‚ new methods‚ and new theories.

The interaction system they are creating will represent the diversity of the dataset with diversity in sound. For instance‚ as they collect statistical metadata about the stars‚ the INSTRUMENT team
determines how to use those statistics to drive the system’s audio‚with human interaction as a medium.



The Data Wranglers: Cataloging the Night Sky

INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic Night obtained more than one million data files and optical data images of the night sky over the South Pole‚ and the team is building an interactive‚ immersive art + science experience that allows people to interact with star data through sound‚ movement‚ and visuals. To make the data readable‚ the team must map parameters of the data onto various parts of interaction. That means the more data they can obtain about each star‚ the richer the context for the sonification and experience design.



The Father of Artificial Intelligence: Remembering Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky, computing pioneer, cognitive scientist, and a founding father of artificial intelligence known for his relentless ambition and forward thinking, died in late January of this year at age 88, leaving a legacy.

Minsky lived his life on the cutting edge of computer technology, trailblazing the path to discovery and embracing humor in his quest to elucidate the mysteries of the human brain in order to make better machines.


Augmenting NASA’s Mars Simulation for the Health of Astronauts

Eight-thousand, two-hundred feet above sea level on the northern slope of Mauna Loa in a place surrounded by the barren, lava-rock landscape of an abandoned quarry, six scientists are living in isolation for 365 days in a roughly 1,000 sq. ft. dome.

That’s tight quarters. That’s a year stuck in a space not much larger than a racquetball court.

The domed habitat is called HI-SEAS, the Hawai’I Space Exploration Analog and Simulation.


Coding: The Creative Medium of Our Time

Ira Greenberg treats himself like a computer. His is the art + science of using coding as a paintbrush and exploring the iterative process of creation. Working generatively, Ira creates art using code and algorithms that are art themselves. The self-dubbed “coding evangelist” believes that coding is the creative mode of our time.

While he has two degrees in painting Greenberg decided he wanted to start working with software for art-making. But he found the shrink-wrapped variety wouldn’t do, and he decided to teach himself coding so he could work creatively at the level of math and algorithms. Now, he’s spent 25 years working to figure out the physical disconnect of the computational medium versus painting.

Read More–>


Art + Science. Cool! But what is it?

The intersection of art + science is not a place to which a map can be drawn. Its practitioners won’t give you a neat definition of the field or summarize the nut graph of its literature.

They will tell you that it’s not about answering the question, “What is art + science?” It’s about asking it. And then immersing yourself in the virtual space of discovery that follows. Taking notes on the journey between the asking and the answering. It’s also about learning to ask really good questions…

Read More–>


The Most Pressing Problem in VR

If you’re following VR, you’re probably hearing a lot about presence. But what is it?

The definition is elusive. Presence in virtual environments has been described, measured, and theorized in all kinds of ways. Whether they have dedicated decades of their lives to the subject or they are part of today’s new generation with a fresh take on VR, researchers are still struggling to come up with a unified conception of presence.

As a huge new wave of presence-inducing technologies hits the market this year, for the first time many people will experience presence and broken presence in virtual environments, so understanding what works and doesn’t is important.


A Delicate Dance between East and West

This BBC report live from Kirkenes in the High North of Norway talks about Russia-NATO relations, hundreds of refugees on bicycle entering Norway, the firing of an editor reporting on cross-border relations, and points to an uncertain but hopeful future for Arctic border life in a place called a test of east-west relations.

BBC Assignment on Kirkenes


BBC’s Discovery Podcast Features Sonified Star Data

The soundtrack of the BBC World Service Discovery podcast episode “Sounds of Space: Deep Space” uses data from CSTAR telescopes that has been sonified, or made audible, as part of the data-sound project, INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic Night, an interactive artwork under development by a team of national and international artists, scientists, and Antarctic researchers (including the author).

The BBC segment features the techno-musical beat of pulsars spinning and other audio data from across the universe alongside NASA Voyager recordings, Carl Sagan’s message to deep space lifeforms, and interviews with several scientists working to understand deep space.

INSTRUMENT:One Antarctic Night is an interactive artwork that will use 287,800 images of the universe captured by the CSTAR robotic telescope in Antarctica to help people experience and understand data. The installation will allow participants to interact with telescope data through remixing it into sonic and visual creations – a video and musical jam session occurring in the gallery, on large scale displays, on mobile devices, and online simultaneously.



The History Behind Texas Coal Power

ANDERSON — Straddling a dammed-up creek 20 miles east of College Station squats the Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station, a massive coal-fired power plant supplying the city-owned utilities of Denton, Bryan, Garland and Greenville.

In the plant, a boiler is suspended from a steel beam like a glowing bee’s nest hanging from a giant tree limb. A conveyor feeds the boiler finely ground coal, fueling a fireball hotter than flowing lava. . . The control room on top of the plant is aglow with computer screens where workers in overalls press buttons to control feeders, fans and flow rates, and monitor the behavior of the fireball inside the boiler. Good behavior is determined by how much and what form of sulfur, carbon, mercury, nitrogen, particulates and other contaminates the burning coal produces.

“All this is just a giant chemistry experiment,” said Jan Horbaczewski. 

Read More–>


Cosmic Correspondent Profile Wins SPJ Mark of Excellence

Amelia Jaycen was awarded the Society of Professional Journalists Region 8 Mark of Excellence Non-Fiction Magazine Article category, announced Mar. 30. Her article “Mr. Universe. Lonely Hearts and Einstein in Love: The Personal Side of Science” is a feature-length profile of former New York Times science editor and now self-dubbed “cosmic correspondent” Dennis Overbye.

Read More–>


Embodied Information Behavior, Mixed Reality, and Big Data

Professor Ruth West, together with two students and a University of Tasmania collaborator, published in the proceedings of the SPIE, The Engineering Reality of Virtual Reality 2015. West presented the paper to an enthusiastic audience at the conference held in San Francisco Feb. 8-12, 2015, followed by a lively question-and-answer session.

The paper “Embodied Information Behavior, Mixed Reality and Big Data” is a snapshot of the current renaissance in virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality technology and the promissory contexts in which those systems are developed.

Written with two xREZ Art + Science Lab students – psychology senior Max Parola and journalism graduate student Amelia Jaycen – the study outlines the process of innovation as it unfolds in developers’ laboratories and the consumer marketplace, where a narrative about a hybrid physical-digital future affects how the Internet of Things will become a part of our human lives.

Read More–>