Science & Technology News Bulletin

Every week, we editorially select the best S&T stories released from major news outlets. These stories are then ranked and posted (with appropriate credit and references to the originals) on our Blog by Friday afternoon. Hema Viswanath curates this content and has been doing so for ASDR&E's Office of Net Technical Assessments and Office of Technical Intelligence for over seven years before performing the same work for us. Currently, we are experimenting with distributing this content through a free, advertising-supported model. We intend to continue experimenting using paywalls, direct e-mail subscriptions and donations. Hosting this content is important to us and we would like to retain it on at least a revenue-neutral basis. We are also experimenting with enriching the content to make it more relevant to our Government clients.

Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 15, 2021

And others…

Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 8, 2021


And others…

Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 1, 2021

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Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of September 24, 2021

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Scientists still don’t know how far melting in Antarctica will go, or the sea level rise it will unleash


Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 15, 2021

And others…

An electrolyte design strategy for making divalent metal batteries  October 8, 2021
Rechargeable magnesium and calcium metal batteries (RMBs and RCBs) are promising alternatives to lithium-ion batteries because of the high crustal abundance and capacity of magnesium and calcium. But they are plagued by sluggish kinetics and parasitic reactions. A team of researchers in the US (USA – University of Maryland, US Army, China) found a family of methoxyethyl-amine chelants that greatly promote interfacial charge transfer kinetics and suppress side reactions on both the cathode and metal anode through solvation sheath reorganization, thus enabling stable and highly reversible cycling of the RMB and RCB full cells with energy densities of 412 and 471 watt-hours per kilogram, respectively. The work provides a versatile electrolyte design strategy for divalent metal batteries…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE  2

Battery electrolytes using amine-based chelants solvating divalent cations demonstrated stable and highly reversible plating/stripping of Mg metal… Credit: Nina Borodin, Singyuk Hou, Xiao Ji

The discovery of red blood cells acting as micro-electrodes opens new doors in medical research  October 8, 2021
Through intricate experiments with red blood cells an international team of researchers (UK, France) has shown that the voltage appears outside the cell as well. This means that cells effectively act as tiny transmitters, electrically changing the environment around them. Similar results in other types of biological cells could play a significant role in determining new types of medical treatment. They demonstrated that the electrical characteristics of red blood cells exhibit circadian rhythms with peaks coinciding with the time of day when most cardiovascular disease events occur, such as heart attacks and strokes, presenting an important area for further research. Since this voltage impacts how cells interact with their environment, including the way cells stick to one another, this has significant potential implications for future medical treatments…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Energetic ferroelectrics

Nanowerk  October 14, 2021
A team of researchers in the US (SUNY Buffalo, University of Maryland, US Army Aberdeen Proving Ground) tested if two dissimilar materials – molecular energetic materials and ferroelectrics – can be combined to obtain a chemically driven electrical energy source with high-power density. They designed energetic molecular ferroelectrics consisting of imidazolium cations (energetic ion) and perchlorate anions (oxidizer) and described its thermal wave energy conversion with a specific power of 1.8 kW kg−1. They showed that chemically driven energy generator is a result of the coupling between energetic thermal and shock waves and a pyroelectric effect in molecular ferroelectrics and the polarization of molecular energetic ferroelectrics can control the energy density and energy release rate of the available chemical energy. The technique is a promising strategy for emerging energy applications demanding high power density. Such a power source could potentially be employed for on-demand energy sources, propulsion, or thermal batteries…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE 

Chemical driven electricity in EIP. Credit: Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 5696 (2021) 

First-in-Class Nerve Agent Antidote Crosses Blood-Brain Barrier to Aid Central Nervous System

Global Biodefense  October 12, 2021
Chemical weapon nerve agents like Sarin or Novichok typically function by blocking the transmission of messages from the central nervous system to the peripheral nervous system, which controls many processes, including respiration. Historically countermeasures cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and only protect against damage to the peripheral nervous system. After laboratory and computational testing, a team of researchers in the US (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense (USAMRICD) ) has a compound called “LLNL-02” that protects both the central and peripheral nervous systems against the effects of the nerve agent Sarin. LLNL-02 does cross the blood-brain barrier to confer protection to the brain. The team has shown that the compound is nontoxic to human cell lines in biochemical assays conducted at the USAMRICD. The next step was to evaluate LLNL-02 in an animal model. They continue the research into LLNL-02’s effectiveness against VX and newer agents like the Novichoks…read more

LLNL-02 can pass through the blood-brain barrier (pictured), making it more effective in protecting the central nervous system. Credit: Liam Krauss/LLNL

A highly simplified way to predict quantum light-matter interactions  October 13, 2021
Calculating quantum light-matter takes enormous amounts of time and computing power—it also becomes very cumbersome. An international team of researchers (Germany, Sweden, Austria) has found a simple way to circumvent this problem by reshaping the equation so that the material part itself accounts for the quantum mechanical uncertainty of the light, far fewer additional photons are needed to describe the combined system of quantum light and matter. The new approach can capture most features of this extreme limit without the need to consider any photon at all. Adding just a few photons is enough to provide the full picture. The method yields considerable savings in computing time and provides a framework for scientists to predict the interplay between quantum light and matter for realistic systems in situations that were prohibitive to simulate. Their approach can serve as a solid foundation for future developments, providing a path to integrate quantum light more strongly into chemistry, material design and quantum technology…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE 

An illustration of the exponential increase in computational complexity: Credit: PNAS October 12, 2021 118 (41), e2110464118 

How to better identify dangerous volcanoes  October 12, 2021
Volcano eruption style is thought to be strongly controlled by fast conduit processes, limiting our ability for prediction. To understand if the eruptive behaviour is predetermined by the state of the magma in the subvolcanic reservoir an international team of researchers (Switzerland, USA – Brown University) analysed the pre-eruptive storage conditions of 245 units from volcanoes around the world. They showed that pre-eruptive crystallinity, dissolved water content and the presence of exsolved volatiles in the chamber exert a primary control on eruptive styles. Magmas erupt explosively over a well-defined range in dissolved water content (~4–5.5 wt%) and crystallinity (less than 30 vol%). All other conditions, such as higher crystallinity, dissolved water contents below 3.5 wt% and, counterintuitively, in excess of 5.5 wt%, favour effusive activity. Between these ranges, there is a narrow field of transitional storage properties that do not discriminate between eruptive styles, and where the conduit exerts the main control on eruptive behaviour. Their findings suggest that better estimates of crystallinity and water content in subvolcanic chambers are key to forecasting eruptive style…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE 

The distribution of crystallinity and storage temperatures with eruptive behaviours. Credit: Nature Geoscience volume 14, pages781–786 (2021) 

Lightning strikes may trigger short-term thinning in the ozone layer  October 11, 2021
An international team of researchers (USA – University of Colorado, Finland) used detailed computer simulations to follow what happened in the atmosphere after Hurricane Patricia that struck Texas and Mexico in 2015 and had more than 33,000 lightning strikes over the span of just two-and-a-half hours, the May 1917 storm in the Caribbean, and the 2013 storm over Nebraska. As the storms progressed, the electron energy raining down to Earth began to react with gasses high in Earth’s atmosphere, concentrations of certain molecules in the air, including hydrogen oxides and nitrogen oxides, shot up almost at once. Nitrogen oxides increased by as much as 150%. According to the researchers these gasses may mix deeper into the atmosphere, eventually reaching the ozone layer. The increase in nitrogen oxides can last for 24 hour or more and will slowly descend in altitude where they can destroy ozone. The team doesn’t expect that destruction to spread far away from the area just above the storm, creating a short-lived thin patch in the ozone layer. The next step is to say what’s the global, cumulative effect of lighting on the upper atmosphere…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Liquid metal proven to be cheap and efficient CO2 converter  October 13, 2021
An international team of researchers (Australia, USA – UCLA, North Carolina State University) has developed technology to capture carbon that uses suspensions of gallium liquid metal to reduce CO2 into carbonaceous solid products and O2 at near room temperature. The nonpolar nature of the liquid gallium interface allows the solid products to instantaneously exfoliate, hence keeping active sites accessible. The solid co-contributor of silver-gallium rods ensures a cyclic sustainable process. The overall process relies on mechanical energy as the input, which drives nano dimensional triboelectrochemical reactions. When a gallium/silver fluoride mix at 7:1 mass ratio was used to create the reaction material, the efficiency was 92% at a low input energy of 230 kW∙h for the capture and conversion of a tonne of CO2. The technology is scalable and economical…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE 

UNSW researchers have helped show how carbon dioxide can be broken down cheaply and efficiently via a process that dissolves captured CO2 gas… Credit: University of New South Wales

Mathematical model offers new insights into spread of epidemics  October 8, 2021
The complexity of real-world scenarios still poses new theoretical challenges for mathematical modeling of epidemic spreading. Existing network models of epidemic spreading often focus on contacts between pairs of individuals while co-location of individuals such as in the workplace, restaurants, or gym typically include more than two people. An international team of researchers (Canada, UK, USA – University of Vermont) has developed a new approach to epidemic modeling that considers interactions between two or more people in the same location and for different amounts of time and considered emerging evidence that suggests a minimal infective dose is required for an infection to occur. Their model reveals that infection kernels can be non-linear in these highly heterogeneous scenarios, meaning that if there are twice as many infected individuals visiting a given location the probability of infection can be also more than twice as big. These results shed new light on the very heterogeneous nature of super-spreading events in the context of COVID-19…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Modeling contagions and superspreading events through higher-order networks. Credit: Queen Mary, University of London