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Showing posts from October, 2010

News Flash: German Electric Vehicle sets every-day driving record of 372 miles

It's been interesting to observe how news of a EV from Germany has slowly spread across the ocean. Recently, according to a Deutsche Welle article, a modified Audi A2 which is all-electric, successfully completed 372 mile journey from Munich to Berlin on a single electric charge.



This is very significant because the range of electric vehicles has always been the Achilles heals of the technology. Electric vehicles in the past have been limited by the low energy densities of the battery making EVs of the past very heavy and limiting their range to about 60 miles. The upcoming Nissan Leaf which will rely on a compact Lithium Ion battery can reach distances of 62-138 miles depending on the driving style. Although a significant improvement good enough to satisfy the needs of 80% of US drivers, the range is still significantly shorter than what a typical car using the combustion engine can do (about 300-400 miles). The Audi A2 is the first vehicle that can produce these ranges under re…

R&D News: Bio-Based Arsenic Sensors

Recently, “Forschung Aktuell”, a science news radio show on Deutschland Radio, highlighted some interesting research by the German scientist Hauke Harms on his approach to affordable solutions to detect arsenic in drinking water which is a common problem in some parts of the world.

I was interested to learn how arsenic is sometimes found in drinking water. According to the show, arsen naturally exists in the environment as arsenopyrite. Natural processes can erode these layers and transport them down the river. There, arsen can react with organic matter that is commonly dumped into the river in heavily populated areas without proper waste water treatment to form arsenic. These arsenite containing waters can sink all the way into the ground water. Arsenite is a big problem because it is a non-biodegradable toxin which can cause cancer and other serious diseases as it accumulates in our bodies.

To address this problem, one needs to have means to measure the presence of arsenite. Using …

Permaculture: nature is still smarter than us

PermacultureIn the year 2010, there are many aspects of humans' daily life that would lead us to believe that we have dominated nature. Unlike the thousands of other species that have gone extinct, we have settled and thrived in almost every environment and every continent on this planet, aside from Antarctica. We have eradicated diseases like smallbox and subdued other diseases which previously decimated our populations on a massive scale (see The Black Death in the 1300s and Columbus' “discovery of the Americas in 1492). We have created chemicals that allow us to blast weeds and insects into submission and thereby cultivate thousands of acres of the same species on farmland; an environment that would be impossible in nature.But nature is still smarter than us. A lot smarter. And we still have much to learn from its processes. Permaculture is the idea of mimicking the ways that ecosystems work in the context of essential human activities: house and settlement design, farming,…

Journal Club: Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes

I recently read an article titled  “Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes” that appeared Science (Vol. 329, 559, 2010) was published by Andreas Schirmer et. al. By comparing nine cyanobacteria known to produce hydrocarbons (alkanes, and alkenes) to one species known not to produce any hydrocarbons, genes that exist only exist in the 9 other species. The genes that were identified this way became likely candidates for the alkane biosynthesis pathway. Two classes of proteins were identified: short-chain dehydrogenases or reductases, and the ferritin-like or ribonucleotide reductase-like proteins. Previously, it was predicted that alkane biosynthesis happens by decarbonylation of fatty aldehydes. The authors speculated that the dehydrogenase-like gene could encode a protein that initiates the reduction of a fatty acid intermediate while the ribonucleotide reductase-like protein could complete the decarbonylation reaction.  The authors noted that the gene pair classes described above often o…