April 20, 2007

Another plastic solar cell efficiency gain this time from baking

The best plastic solar cells are made from a light-absorbing polymer containing soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules called fullerenes. The fullerenes provide stepping stones in the plastic film for charge to hop across. By carefully heating finished cells to around 150ºC, Carroll and colleagues made the fullerene molecules form whiskers of crystal. These trigger crystallisation in the surrounding polymer as well. The fullerene-and-polymer crystal creates a network across the cell, allowing charge to move easily and preventing space charge blockages.

"Getting around space charge is a big step," says Carroll. The heating process can increase efficiency from 5% to 6%. "Some performed as well as 7%," Carroll told New Scientist. "We think we can probably push it up to 10%."

Further reading on a couple of other improved solar power technology.

The first six hours of world war III

Space Wars by William Scott, Michael Coumatos, and William Birnes, Forge Books (April 17, 2007) describes how the first hours of World War III might play out in the year 2010. While fiction, it's based on real-world military scenarios and technologies, dramatically highlighting the West's vulnerability to destruction of its space-based commercial and military communications infrastructure.

From the KurzweilAI interview with author William Scott:
Are there any other recent technical, military, political, and other developments that tie in with the book or that were predicted in the book?

The Iranian political situation today is playing out largely as we anticipated. Technologies for "operationally responsive space" — smallsats and quick-response launchers — are evolving quickly. Autonomous on-orbit servicing of satellites is being demonstrated now by the Orbital Express spacecraft, a feature that plays more dramatically in our sequel, Space Wars II (now being written by the same coauthors). The Chinese ASAT test has awakened Congress and American citizens to the potential threats facing our space infrastructure, but I don't think our political leaders fully appreciate what impacts those threats could have on the U.S. national security posture and citizens' activities.

The vehicle on the bottom is the rumored Blackstar spaceplane

The Blackstar spaceplane features prominently in the world war III story

XB-70 at takeoff, an XB-70 derivative the SR3 was thought to be the mothership for the blackstar spaceplane

Current and projected carbon nanotube business market

US-based BCC Research is forecasting the global market for carbon nanotubes to reach $79.1m in 2007.

This is up by 55% from the $50.9m that BCC estimates the global market was worth in 2006 and the group predicts even stronger growth ahead.

At a compound annual growth rate of 73.8%, the booming market for carbon nanotubes will reach $807.3m by 2011, according to a report by the group.

Composites held the largest share of the market by a wide margin. In 2006 they were worth more than $43m, more than 80% of the total global industry. By 2011, this sector will be worth $451.2m, BCC said.

The carbon nanotube companies are consolidating. Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc. and Unidym to merged into a nanotube blockbuster company—patents were key to the deal. The resulting company will be the first "vertically integrated" carbon nanotube electronics company, both manufacturing the material and using it in an electronics application.

"We believe this deal is transformational for the industry and will enable more rapid commercialization of products incorporating nanotubes, since so much of the intellectual property can now be licensed from one company," says R. Bruce Stewart, chairman of Arrowhead Research, the majority owner of Unidym. The deal is expected to close in April. The combined company will retain the Unidym name.

Unidym is developing a technology to replace indium tin-oxide (ITO) as the transparent conductor that forms the wires in flat panel displays and solar cells. The overall market for the material is thought to be worth $1 billion per year.

Unidym's solution is a mesh of randomly oriented conductive carbon nanotubes. According to the company, the nanotube mesh is more flexible, more transparent, easier to apply, and more conductive than ITO. Unidym also plans to construct nanotube-based electrodes for fuel cells. The company, whose work is based largely on the research of University of California, Los Angeles, physicist George Grüner, is also developing nanotube-based thin-film transistors, which would compete with organic semiconductors to form the pixel control elements in future flexible displays.

CNI, a Houston-based firm spun out of Rice University, is the largest manufacturer of carbon nanotubes in the world. But its patent portfolio, comprising about 100 patents, goes beyond manufacturing nanotubes to include methods for making nanotube ropes and fibers, as well as supercapacitors.

Even after the merger, though, Unidym will be one of a few big IP holders, including IBM, NEC, Intel, and Stanford University. Some legal advisors suggest a forum where major patent holders, universities, seekers of licenses, and the Justice Department could examine the nanotube patent problem and perhaps work out a solution.

Hypersonic progress to better experimental model

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has demonstrated a simplified hypersonic engine that could enable near-term development of a high-speed strike weapon. Tests included ground runs of a flight-weight, actively fuel-cooled engine at Mach 5. It is an engine design using existing materials, established manufacturing processes and conventional JP10 hydrocarbon fuel. It is tuned to run at a specific mach number. Since it only can run at one mach number it does not need to be reconfigurable. It is smaller than the existing demonstrator engines, so it leaves room for a recovery parachute.

Ground testing of the new engine

The TTRJ (thermally throated ramjet) is scalable to higher Mach numbers, with supersonic combustion, different inlets and advanced materials.

Further reading on hypersonic research and development:
A hypersonic development study

A Mach 10 test vehicle is planned for 2008

HiPER Laser fusion project

The European Union and other countries are discussing the funding of a 1 billion laser fusion project as a backup to the ITER fusion project. The bid to the European Union is to build an international laboratory, called “HiPER”, to run in parallel with the ITER machine. Bureaucrats in Brussels are interested. Canada and Russia have become involved and talks are under way with America, China, Japan and South Korea.

HiPER would use a promising new “fast ignition” technique. This laser-fusion technique was achieved in 2001 by Ryosuke Kodama and colleagues at Osaka University in Japan. The standard approach, being pursued in America and France, works like a diesel engine by compressing the fuel until it ignites. This calls for the lasers to be very finely tuned and the fuel pellet to be perfectly smooth, so that the implosion is symmetrical and fusion occurs. The fast-ignition technique is more like a petrol engine: first the fuel is compressed and only then is it ignited by a second laser pulse—acting as a spark plug—that is fired through a hole in the pellet.

HiPER nuclear fusion can happen using rough-and-ready lasers and rough-and-ready fuel. Fast ignition also takes less powerful lasers, because the reaction rides on the energy contained in the pellet after the first pulse. So it is more efficient, too.

Japan's laser-fusion programme is like the proposed European one, but is smaller in scale. It does, however, have the advantage of already having started, so future upgrades will give a chance to compare results from the Japanese machine with the American and French results, which are expected in the next few years

In the USA, the national labs have been working on the Z-pinch system for igniting targets for fusion.

Zyvex's Nanosolve additive and other products

Zyvex is the first company that has had the creation of a molecular assembly capability as a goal. Here is a review of recent progress and developments.

This is a depiction of the non-covalent Nanosolve “bridge”, which contains two major components. One component adheres to the nanomaterials; the other easily customizes to any application. This technology allows Zyvex to quickly adapt to our customer’s needs, providing early adopters with rapid time to market — and a very unique product.

Carbon nanotubes have exceptional intrinsic physical and mechanical properties, but incorporating them into other materials has previously been inhibited by the chemical nature of their surface.
Zyvex has overcome problems such as phase separation, aggregation, poor dispersion within a matrix, and poor adhesion to the host in order to enhance material properties with carbon nanotube properties.

Zyvex has overcome these restrictions by developing a new surface treatment technology allowing excellent dispersion of CNTs in various polymers and solvents (including water) as well as enhancing the interaction between CNTs and the host matrix. Zyvex creates a multi-functional “bridge” between the CNT sidewalls and the host material or solvent.

Zyvex process for adding nanotubes to materials that leads to a better than 50-fold enhancement of solubility compared to other leading functionalization schemes. This method enables superior control of the relative placement of functionalities on the nanotube surfaces and does not degrade the nanotubes as other methods do. In addition, our technology works with virtually any diameter nanotube and is integrated into the backbone of the rigid conjugated polymers.

Zyvex is splitting into four companies and one of them will be focused on the opportunity for widespread use of their system for generally improving material properties. They can adjust how much improvement to the strength of a material is made to ensure the maximum affordability for sufficient improvement for an application. Pay X amount and get double strength aluminum, or pay 2X and get four times the strength aluminum.

Zyvex has developed key breakthroughs in robustly assembling NanoLock™ Structures, heterogeneous components smaller than 1 mm in physical size. They have leveraged ways to make MEMS components Lego®-like by using their MechTile technology to assemble and plug components into their target locations.

The MEMS nanolocks are on the development pathway to nanoblocks

Zyvex also has innovative manipulation tool systems and microscope enabled probe and manipulation systems.

April 19, 2007

Making nearly diamond hard metals

The end product of a hard material is interesting but it is the understanding of how to tune materials to make them superhard that is more impressive and even more interesting.

Researchers have designed and created superhard materials that can be made without using high pressure. There are two ways to make super-hard materials that are "ultra-incompressible,” meaning they are resistant to shape deformation, which is a necessary condition for hardness: One is to imitate diamond by using carbon and combining it with boron or nitrogen to maintain short bonds; the other is to look for metals that are already incompressible and try to make them hard, said Kaner. He and his colleagues are developing the second approach.

"Our idea is to combine an incompressible metal, which happens to be soft, with short covalent bonds to make it hard,” said Kaner, who is a member of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCLA, which encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration to solve problems in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

They made Rhenium diboride. It is as incompressible as diamond in one direction, and in the other direction, just slightly more compressible.”

Rhenium is a fairly dense, soft metal, which is next to osmium on the periodic table of chemical elements. "We formed short covalent bonds, pushing the rheniums apart by just 5 percent from where they were in rhenium metal, making it both incompressible and very hard. The rhenium-rhenium distance expanded by only 5 percent from the metal — that's the key to this Science paper.

At low applied forces, the hardness of rhenium diboride is equivalent to cubic boron nitride, the second-hardest material known, Kaner said. At higher applied forces, rhenium diboride is a little bit below that.

"Our material is hard enough to scratch diamond, and much harder than osmium diboride,” he said.

100% efficient lighting

Researchers have developed an organic lighting device with “100 percent internal quantum efficiency” by employing newly designed host materials coupled with optimized device architecture. What's particularly significant about the researchers' work is that their optimized device adopts an even simpler structure than any yet reported by other research groups.

“There is no waste of electricity,” Jabbour says. “All the current you are putting into the device is being used to produce light. It's the first time something like this has been demonstrated. Nobody else has shown a 100 percent internal quantum efficiency for lighting devices using a single molecular dopant to emit white light.”

The achievement promises significant progress in the development of solid-state lighting based on OLED technology that can be manufactured at low costs.

Wikipedia discusses the efficiency of lighting and alternatives
Quality halogen incandescents are closer to 9% efficiency.
An incandescent light bulb, with 5% efficiency, is less efficient than fluorescent lamp (7%-15% efficiency)
A table of luminous efficacy is here

An average of 8.8% of electricity used in a home in the USA is for lighting. So replacing all incandescent lights with this lighting would save 8.4% of our electricity usage.

Status of nuclear breeder reactors and reprocessing

There is a lot of reprocessing of nuclear waste (unburned uranium fuel). More in the UK according to wikipedia. Japan will be reprocessing at about half of the French rate this year. The Russians have an operating 560MW fast breeder and will complete an 800MW fast breeder in 2012. The Russians want to capture a lot of the nuclear reactor construction business and seem willing to build FBR for China, Japan and others.

COGEMA La Hague site, France1700 tonnes/year
Thorp nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield, United Kingdom 900 tonnes/year
Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, Japan 800 tonnes/year
Mayak, Russia 400 tonnes/year
B205 at Sellafield, United Kingdom 1500 tonnes/year
Kalpakkam Atomic reprocessing plant, India 275 tonnes/year

About 8% of the nuclear waste (66000 tons/year) that is generated in the world each year is or can be reprocessed.

France's plutonium is shipped to the 120 t/yr Melox plant at Marcoule for prompt fabrication into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, which can be used in about 30 reactors in Europe.

Japan had a pilot reprocessing of 90/t year and this year starts up the 800t/year plant.

Japan has 6400 tonnes of uranium recovered from reprocessing and stored in France and the UK, where the reprocessing was carried out. In 2007 it was agreed that Russia's Atomenergoprom would enrich this for the Japanse utilities who own it.

At Tokai-mura, in Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo, Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel Co Ltd operates a major fuel fabrication facility, which started up in 1972. Further fuel fabrication plants are operated by Nuclear Fuel Industries (NFI) in Tokai and Kumatori, and JAEA has some experimental mixed oxide (MOX) fuel facilities at Tokai for both the Fugen ATR and the FBR program, with capacity about 10 t/yr for each.

Also at Tokai, JNC (now JAEA) has operated a 90 t/yr pilot reprocessing plant which has treated 1116 tonnes of used fuel between 1977 and its final batch early in 2006. It will now focus on R&D, including reprocessing of MOX fuel. JAEA operates spent fuel storage facilities there and is proposing a further one. It has also operated a pilot high-level waste (HLW) vitrification plant at Tokai since 1995. Tokai is the main site of JAEA's R&D on HLW treatment and disposal.

Japan is in the final commissioning and commercial operation of JNFL's Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant. Some 430 tonnes of used fuel will be put through the plant to test all aspects of its operation.

JNFL has applied for a licence to build and operate the 130 t/yr MOX plant. Construction of the US$ 1.2 billion plant is expected to begin in 2007 with operation about 2012.

The Rokkasha Maru 800 t/yr reprocessing plant will go into full production this year.

Fast Breeder Reactors(FBR)
The Russians have a functioning FBR of 560 MW. Beloyarsk 3.

The BN-800 Beloyarsk-4 fast reactor designed by OKBM is intended to replace the BN-600 unit 3 and the US$ 1.22 billion project may become international, with Japanese and Chinese involvement. Construction had been delayed by lack of funds, but the project resumed with adequate funding (of US$ 2.12 billion) for 2012 start-up and the foundations have been poured. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor being built by OKBM at Beloyarsk is designed to supersede the BN-600 unit there and utilise MOX fuel with both reactor-grade and weapons plutonium. Further BN-800 units are planned and a BN-1800 is being designed for operation from 2020. This represents a technological advantage for Russia and has significant export or collaborative potential with Japan.

Russia is plan and goal is to get 25-30% of the global nuclear power plant construction business.

Russia has the Mayak 400 t/yr RT-1 plant at Ozersk (Chelyabinsk-65) in the Urals.

Here is a European study of advanced nuclear reactor development activity. Pages 40-48 discuss the Renaissance of the Fast Sodium reactor.

India has a 1200MWth fast breeder which began construction in 2004 and should be done in 2010. It is first in a series of 3 identical reactos.

China has a 75 MWth FBR under construction scheduled for divergence in 2010. A large commercial reprocessing plant based on indigenous advanced technology is planned to follow and begin operation about 2020.

Solar power Progress

Semiconductor for splitting CO2 powered by sunlight
Kubiak and Sathrum initially used a silicon semiconductor to test the merits of their device because silicon is well-studied. However, silicon absorbs in the infrared range and the researchers say it is "too wimpy" to supply enough energy. The conversion of sunlight by silicon supplied about half of the energy needed to split carbon dioxide, and the reaction worked if the researchers supplied the other half of the energy needed.

They are now building the device using a gallium-phosphide semiconductor. It has twice the band gap of silicon and absorbs more energetic visible light. Therefore, they predict that it will absorb the optimal amount of energy from the sun to drive the catalytic splitting of carbon dioxide.

Graphic depicting steps in solar splitting of CO2. Credit: Aaron Sathrum, UCSD

Plastic solar cells from Wake Forest are now 6% efficient. They were less than 5% efficient last year and were 3% the year before In order to be considered a viable technology for commercial use, solar cells must be able to convert about 8 percent of the energy in sunlight to electricity. Wake Forest researchers hope to reach 10 percent in the next year, said Carroll, who is also associate professor of physics at Wake Forest.

Because they are flexible and easy to work with, plastic solar cells could be used as a replacement for roof tiling or home siding products or incorporated into traditional building facades. These energy harvesting devices could also be placed on automobiles. Since plastic solar cells are much lighter than the silicon solar panels structures do not have to be reinforced to support additional weight.

Hopefully plastic can scale up through 2009-2015 after the initial technical challenges have been overcome. These are two promising developments that hopefully can help prevent environmental damage from energy and repair some of the damage.

Centauri Dreams expands upon my Space bubble article

Centauri Dreams discusses how applying Devon Crowe space bubble ideas with nanotechnology could fully enable the ideas of Robert Forward for interstellar solar sails.

The prior article about Devon Crowe's space bubble concepts.

Prior article on the state of solar sails

Prior article on putting the brakes on laser mirror solar sails

Article on laser mirror solar sails for going to Mars

Article on laser mirror solar sails and photonic propulsion

Another way to deploy quite large solar sails is with magnetic inflation but the bubble system seems able to go larger.

April 18, 2007

Bussard Fusion Navy contract renewed

As of April 2007, Dr. Robert Bussard, stated that due to the publicity from his 11/9/2006 talk at Google and the 2006 Outstanding Technology of the Year Award, the U.S. Navy sent him a contract extension to continue his fusion research.

UPDATE FROM TOM LIGON: Evidently somebody got carried away with some fairly routine bookkeeping. The contract still exists, and there is still the same un-spent money on the books. Evidently, what happened is a "no-cost extension". That is, the period of the contract has been extended, but they're not sending any checks.

Bussard Electrostatic Fusion concept was covered here twice

This is good news as this is a highly promising concept that should be relatively cheap and quick to test out. 4 years and 200 million dollars versus many decades and tens of billion for the Tokomak.

A presentation on Bussard Fusion will be made by Tom Ligon at ISDC 2007 (International Space Development Conference) Tom Ligon is a former employee of Robert Bussard's Energy Matter Conversion Corporation, and now works for Athena Controls.

Power and Control: Good News - Fusion Project Funded

Printing electronics from an ordinary ink jet printer

From New Scientist, A standard office printer loaded with silver nitrate and vitamin C can print electronic circuits Printing conductive polymer ink or pastes containing graphite or metal particles are two existing options.

A standard office printer loaded with silver nitrate and vitamin C can produce (clockwise from top-left) mobile phone antennas, circuits, RFID chips and inductive coils on a range of surfaces (Image: IOP/University of Leeds)

Cluster State Quantum Computers

There has been a proof of concept using lasers to enable the first use of Deutsch's Algorithm in a cluster state quantum computer.

Cluster state quantum computers or one-way quantum computer are a scheme of quantum computation that consists entirely of one-qubit measurements on a particular class of entangled states, the cluster states. ("A One-Way Quantum Computer", Oct 2000, Robert Raussendorf and Hans J. Briegel Theoretische Physik, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany). The measurements are used to imprint a quantum logic circuit on the state, thereby destroying its entanglement at the same time. Cluster states are thus one-way quantum computers and the measurements form the program.

The Irish and Austrian group’s quantum computer makes use of four entangled photons in a cluster state. Tame explains how it works:

“Our setup is completely based on light, where quantum information is encoded on each photon. The information is in the polarization of each photon, horizontal or vertical, and superpositions in between. An ultra-violet laser pumps a crystal and produces an entangled pair of photons in one direction. The laser beam then hits a mirror and bounces back to form another pair of entangled photons on its second passage through the crystal. These four photons are then made to interact at beamsplitters to form the entangled cluster state resource on which we perform the quantum computation.”

Next, Tame says, come the calculations. “We perform Deutsch’s Algorithm as a sequence of the measurements. When you measure in a specific basis, you can manipulate the quantum information in the photons using their shared entanglement.” He continues with an illustration related to classical computing: “You can think of the cluster state as the ‘hardware’, and the measurements as the ‘software’.”

AGI could achieve singularity within 10 years

Interesting article about Artificial General Intelligence and the Singularity. The article is by Ben Goertzel who is the CEO and Chief Scientist of AI firm Novamente LLC and bioinformatics firm Biomind LLC.

He mentions an AI Manhattan project could achieve success withing 5 years. However, I believe his Venture funded company could get more funding and revenue if it hits various milestones so that if his designs are viable that they would not be significantly slower than an AI Manhattan project. Two more increasing rounds of investment and then a buyout by Google or Microsoft to get the rest of the way.

April 17, 2007

Rejuvenation of bodies, disease elimination and life spans

Robert Freitas had a very interesting essay a few years back called "Death is an Outrage", which discusses how long life spans could be extended if our bodies could be rejuvenated and maintained without aging as a factor.

If we cure diseases but do not have effective rejuvenation then we get less overall life extension because more age related diseases and degeneration continue to cause more deaths as we age. The problem of "if one thing does not kill you then something else will".

There was an analysis that if cardiovascular disease (all major forms of heart and blood vessel disease were eliminated), U.S. life expectancy would rise by almost seven years and the nation would be more than $300 billion richer.

However, if we cured cardiovascular disease and had powerful rejuvenation therapies then the overall benefit of curing the disease would be an extension of life expectancy by closer to 20 years.

Curing heart disease and cancers would provide a combined elimination of about 50% of medically preventable disease. Combined with effective rejuvenation techniques would provide a 151 year life expectancy. Eliminating 90% of disease deaths along with effective rejuvenation would provide lifespans of 512 years.

Curing Heart disease strategy :
early detection of the soft blisters that burst which then lead to plaque formation (pre-blockage detection) and then treatment.
More aggressive monitoring of risks and indicators (getting on top of higher cholesterol and other problems before it results in heart and arterial diseases / failures)
Stem cell treatments
Effective Lifestyle mitigation therapies

Curing Cancer strategy
Effective early detection
Understanding the processes in molecular detail and the pathways
Developing interventions against it at key stages
Effective tumor treatments
Some cancers that are not cured could become manageable conditions like aids or diabetes now.

Progress is being made with stem cells, organ and tissue regeneration and replacement. These things have the potential to provide a powerful rejuvenation capability.

Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence also continues to get more funding and is making some progress. It has its own scientific projects funded and is influencing more researchers to work towards the goals that they have defined, which is life extension escape velocity.

MIT nanotube-based ultracapitors may be demonstrated in a few months' time

Ultracapacitors have advantages over batteries - a 10-year-plus lifetime, indifference to temperature change, high immunity to shock and vibration and high charging and discharging efficiency. However, Physical constraints on electrode surface area and spacing have limited ultracapacitors to an energy storage capacity around 25 times less than a similarly sized lithium-ion battery.

MIT Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES) carbon nanotube ultracapacitors reportedly permit ultracapacitors to give a car a 160 km range on electric power, and reduce energy storage units by two thirds in weight and 75% in size by comparison with existing nickel-metal hydride units as used by Toyota’s Prius.

The lab is also working on 42 volt systems and other components

Intel confirms programmable, multi-core chip

Intel's Larrabee chip will be a multi-core, programmable part that will use a tweaked version of the x86 instruction set and will have at least one teraflop of processing power. Intel expects software developers to craft specialized applications for the processor, giving them a boost on some of the most demanding workloads. Intel expects to demonstrate a Larrabee chips, likely with tens of cores, next year. Intel is also working to advance similar types of accelerators that will connect to systems via PCI Express. In addition, it's hyping FPGA co-processors that slot into Xeon sockets.

Some more details are provided at Ars Technica. The chip will likely be produced about 2009.

The part appears to be an offshoot of Intel's terascale processor labs project. The company today demonstrated a non-x86, 80-core chip reaching 2 teraflops, while consuming 191 watts of power. The same chip hit one teraflop at 46 watts and 1.5 teraflops at 93 watts.

Larrabee looks set to compete against so-called GPGPUs or general purpose graphics processors. AMD has been touting the GPGPU concept (AMD plans the Fusion processor) as a way for a broader set of software developers to take advantage of the strong performance demonstrated by graphics chips from Nvidia and ATI (now part of AMD).

Prostate cancer cured in mice using gene therapy and viruses

A research team at Columbia University has designed a novel viral-based gene therapy they say blasts through a body, targeting both primary and distant tumors, while leaving normal cells untouched. In the 15 mice they tested, injections of the therapy in tumors on one side of the mouse eliminated those cancers as well as tumors on the other side of the animal’s body, producing a cure in all of the mice.

Note: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (33% of male cancer cases) and 10% of male cancer deaths. Cancer is presently responsible for about 25% of all deaths in the USA. Curing all prostate cancer would prevent 2.5% of deaths in men.

"The beauty of this approach is that two methods are being used to destroy a tumor," said Devanand Sarkar, M.B.B.S, Ph.D., the study’s primary author, associate research scientist at Columbia. "The virus we designed replicates within a tumor, and at the same time produces a massive amount of a cancer killing compound. Either action alone is damaging and potentially deadly, but together they are lethal."

Columbia researchers built the therapy around their earlier, pivotal discovery of a cytokine (a signaling protein) called melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24). A technology developed in the Fisher laboratory, "subtraction hybridization," applied to human melanoma, induced the cancer to revert to a more normal state, allowing comparison of genes expressed in both states. They discovered mda-7/IL-24 was progressively down-regulated as melanoma developed. In its normal state, the cytokine may affect growth and immune regulation, whereas expression at high levels kills cancer cells.

The investigators altered an adenovirus to carry the mda-7/IL-24 into tumors that normally did not express the gene, and based on successful animal studies, this cytokine was tested for safety in patients with advanced melanoma and other solid cancers. "Interestingly, this phase I clinical trial produced a significant clinical response," Fisher said.

To make the treatment more potent, they then paired the mda-7/IL-24 gene with a "replication competent" adenovirus, a virus that can multiply within cells. After such a microbe enters a cell, it can reproduce and cause the cell to burst, releasing more viral particles. During replication, the mda/IL-24 gene is also reproduced and then expressed, delivering huge quantities of active mda/IL-24 locally and systemically.

Finally, the researchers worked out a strategy to ensure that the loaded virus would only replicate within cancer cells. They manipulated the viral genome again, and substituted its normal promoter (E1A) with a promoter (PEG-3) that they discovered could only be activated by transcription factors found in cancer cells. That means that if the virus may enter a normal cell, it won’t replicate and the cell will not die, the researchers say. It also suggests that the therapy will work in a variety of cancers "because virtually all cancers we have tested contain the necessary transcription factors that activate the PEG-3 promoter," Fisher said.

April 16, 2007

Possibly the last NIAC studies are being released

The most interesting study released from the March 2007 meeting is Devon Crowe of PSI corporation for making large space structures from bubbles that are made rigid using metals or UV curing

A single bubble can be 1 meter in earth gravity, 100 kilometer in low earth orbit or 1000 kilometers in deep space. Foams made of many bubbles could be far larger in size.

NOTE: the size of a 1000 kilometer bubble is nearly the size of Charon, the moon of Pluto. Charon is 1200 kilometers in diameter. Saturn's moon Tethys is 1050-1080 kilometers in diameter Ceres the largest object in the asteroid belt is 970 kilometers in diameter. A single tesselation foam (like in the picture) of 1000 kilometer bubbles would be about the size of Earth's moon. A Penrose tesselation like the one in the picture of 1000 kilometer bubbles would be in between the size of Neptune or Saturn. A Tesselation foam of 100 kilometer bubbles in earth orbit could form an object the size our existing moon or larger.

Metal can be evaporated to coat the inside of the bubble for reflective sails and telescopes.

The bubble system for making structures is compatible with the hypertelescope, New Worlds Imager and Maxim x-ray telescope and solar sails.

Large structures can make telescopes that are millions of times more powerful than the Hubble Space telescope and solar sails that are light weight and fast.

Extreme Expeditionary Architecture: Lightweight Lunar RVs that can be connected into a larger mobile base camp. Let 8 move around many miles and explore a lot of the moon. the two RV's could be deployed in one launch payload.

Two mobile rovers with inflated sections and built with composites can be 40% lighter and provide mobile base camps on the moon.

Hopefully NASA's Innovative Partnership program can pick up where the Nasa Institute for Advanced Concepts left off and continue this kind of innovative work.

Further reading on space propulsion and colonization on advancednano:

The prior article about Devon Crowe's space bubble concepts.

Prior article on the state of solar sails

Prior article on putting the brakes on laser mirror solar sails

Article on laser mirror solar sails for going to Mars

Article on laser mirror solar sails and photonic propulsion

Another way to deploy quite large solar sails is with magnetic inflation but the bubble system seems able to go larger.

Colonizing space going slower and closer

Colonizing space going lighter

Building new worlds become the greatest generation

Zyvex has carbon nanotube reinforced aluminum

Zyvex is working on prototypes of aluminum reinforced with carbon nanotubes, making the metal two or three times stronger than traditional aluminum.

Vinod Khosla debates Herman Scheer on energy solutions

Vinod Khosla debates Herman Scheer about energy solutions at CNET Vinod says many things that are correct but is only half right on nuclear. He indicates that it was a mistake not to advanced nuclear power over the past 30 years, but then he says it is too late for nuclear to make an impact over the next 20 years. Vinod says that Nuclear cannot make a material difference in carbon emission in 20 years. This is not correct.

However, 29 nuclear plants are being constructed now around the world and they will be done in 4 years. They will add 23GW. This is a 6% increase in nuclear power. It moves the 16% of electricity provided by nuclear power up to nearly 17%. Another 66 plants are scheduled to be completed by 2017 for another 71GW. By 2027 (the 20 year timeframe) a total of 220GW of nuclear power is scheduled to be added including the 93GW mentioned in the first 10 years. this is a 4-5% reduction in global CO2. This seems like a material amount and does not include up-powering nuclear reactors by 50% over the next 10-15 years using donut shaped fuels and nanoparticles. The 50% increase (an MIT innovation) would move currently in motion plans to 6-7.5% CO2 reductions.

China is looking to add 100GW by 2030 and 300GW by 2050 of nuclear power.

India is also building a lot of nuclear and planning to add more.

Vinod indicates that he thinks nuclear is good but is just concerned about getting it implemented fast enough. Unless Vinod is indicating that his CSP and other solutions will eliminate all coal energy usage within 20 years, then it seems that we should hedge and continue to push ahead as fast as possible with nuclear power as well.

Vinod does not know for certain and does not seem to be even claiming that the CO2 problem will be completely solved by 2027 so continuing to use nuclear power as part of the solution makes sense until the CO2 problem is completely solved. This would be when there is no fossil fuel usage (coal or oil). They are also both ignoring the air pollution problems and deaths that occur every year, which puts a greater urgency on any steps to clean up and reduce fossil fuel usage.

Note: For nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is mostly (95%) unburned uranium. Japan and France reprocess their waste.

For proliferation. There are already 443 nuclear power plants. US, China, India all have nuclear weapons. 40 countries already have the knowhow and the material for nuclear weapons. Iran and N Korea were proliferated with knowledge to in the 1980s from Pakistan. What is the incremental risk from more nuclear power ? Nuclear material for nuclear weapons is better made from reactors that are not designed for nuclear power.

There are better nuclear plant designs such molten salt reactors.

Study Of Living Cells Could Revolutionize The Way We Test Drugs

An optical microscope image of a yeast cell (the round feature to the right) on top of the micron-sized detector used in the studies. The image is blurred because the cell is so small that large magnification is required in order to obtain the image. (Credit: Image courtesy of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)

Researchers have made a breakthrough by detecting the electrical equivalent of a living cell's last gasp. The work takes them a step closer to both seeing the 'heartbeat' of a living cell and a new way to test drugs.

To stay alive, individual biological cells must transfer electrically charged particles, called ions across their cell membranes. This flow produces an electrical current that could, in principle, be detected with sensitive enough equipment. The recognition of such electrical activity would provide a kind of 'cellular cardiogram', allowing the daily functioning of the cell to be monitored in a similar way to a cardiograph showing the workings of a human heart.

The team detected the smallest electrical signal yet detected from a living cell, around 100 times smaller than anything previously detected. It added up to an electrical current of just 10 moving electrons.

April 15, 2007

Tethered wind power

A tethered airship wind power system could tap into more consistent and more accessible winds at the 270 meter / 1000 foot level. This would increase capacity load to 40-50% and allow placement closer to population centers but 5 miles away from airports due to air traffic rules.

They are producing a prototype 4 kilowatt system this year.

Magenn Power's MARS claims the following advantages over existing Conventional Wind Turbines and Diesel Generating Systems including: global deployment, lower costs, better operational performance, and greater environmental advantages. MARS can complement a diesel generator by offering a combined diesel-wind power solution that delivers power below 20 cents per kWh. The initial target markets are developing nations where infrastructure is limited or non existent; off-grid combined wind and diesel solutions for island nations, farms, remote areas, cell towers, exploration equipment, backup power & water pumps for natural gas mines; rapid deployment diesel & wind solutions (to include airdrop) to disaster areas for power to emergency and medical equipment, water pumps; on-grid applications for farms, factories, remote communities; and wind farm deployments.