Microwave-Powered Spacecraft

A group of researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Nagoya, Japan, is experimenting with ground-centered microwave pillars for controlling rockets with an aim to make the spacecraft lighter, as a significant portion of a rockets weight is taken by its fuel.

Technological advancements helped engineers.

A study published in the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets says that during recent tests, the engineers managed to assign a tiny gliding four-rotor drone with a versatile microwave. This test was implemented for making sure that their idea was viable.

According to the engineers, they weren’t certain about the flexibility of their idea regarding the experiment, but these adjustments were made so that the microwave beams might not only enable the upgrading of an aircraft but also take a rocket into orbit someday.

Former experiments:

These researchers weren’t the first ones who implemented versatile spacecraft with a microwave beam. However, this latest attempt by researchers in Japan had stronger beams and advanced tracking systems, which made this experiment succeed where the former ones failed.

According to the head author and Tsukuba engineer Kohei Shimamura, the team of engineers used a futuristic beam tracking system for ensuring that the drone received maximum power. Furthermore, for improving the transmission efficiency, they carefully rearranged the microwave phase utilizing an analog phase sifter, which was integrated with a GPS. The propulsion technique might appear a bit unusual, but it was enough to maintain a four-engine drone upwards.

However, the technology is still quite premature, and it’s unlikely that we’ll get to witness microwave-powered NASA rockets going to space anytime soon. Presently, a huge obstacle is the energy that’s lost during the procedure. According to the examiners, the comprehensive energy efficiency obtained in the experiments was relatively low, reaching just a rate of 0.43%.

Currently, it’s still low, but more feasible than the 0.1% achieved in former experiments. Further work to tackle the problem of energy efficiency continues.

Shimamura evaluated that this outcome shows that more improvement is expected to further develop the transmission effectiveness and success for aircraft, space apparatus, and rockets of the future.

Even though microwave-controlled rocket propulsion is still in the initial phases, one day it could potentially be a better way of dispatching rockets into space without the massive fuel demands currently being used by conventional spacecraft.

Reengineering the Wooly Mammoth

Ever thought the giant sized tusked wooly elephants who went extinct some 10,000 years ago and only recently seen in animated movies & ancient history programs will come to life on this earth again? That’s exactly what US based startup Colossal Biosciences has announced and already secured funding of $15 million.

The project spearheaded by Harvard geneticist George Church aims to use CRISPR gene editing technology to engineer Asian elephant embryos with characteristics closest to the now extinct Wooly Mammoths. The idea is to create and then release these giants in the Arctic Tundra region in a bid to positively impact the ecosystem and play their role in environmental conservation. The scientists at Colossal Biosciences also believe that if they are successful in recreating the Wooly Mammoths, they might even be able to prevent the extinction of other endangered species.

Possible Hurdles that Scientists Face in Reengineering Mammoths

While it all sounds pretty fascinating, the whole idea or reintroducing the Wooly Mammoths into the wild will need a lot of thinking. There’s a lot that needs to be addressed before the scientists in George Church’s team attempt to recreate the giants. For instance, scientists are already questioning how will these giant Mammoths be gestated? While there is no mature technology for artificial wombs which could be used to gestate the Mammoth embryos, scientists around the world are quite skeptical about using an Asian elephant as the mother, which are listed as endangered species themselves.

Also, it must be considered that the present day human race knows very little about the Wooly Mammoths. With such little knowledge, releasing these giants into the Arctic Tundra is another point of concern.

Real Mammoths or Hybrids

Another big question being raised by scientists is that whether or not these Wooly Mammoths will be what Colossal Biosciences claims them to be. Asian elephants generally share 99% of their DNA with this particular mammoth species but with smaller ears and a stark shaggy coat, this animal will most likely be an elephant-mammoth hybrid and not the real ancient mammoths.

While researchers have previously discovered calves of wooly mammoths in the permafrost, scientists at Colossal Biosciences agree that it might be really hard to study the properties of the mammoth and that it is highly likely this project might very well be impossible to successfully complete.

What Does this Mean for Biosciences?

Church’s cofounder at Colossal, software entrepreneur Ben Lamm, said “I hope the tech could prevent the extinction of endangered mammals like elephants and rhinoceroses, or even let conservationists tinker with the genetic code of existing creatures to help them survive a changing climate.”

“We can leverage these genetic tools,” he further said, to “allow for species to not be isolated to one geographic location, but be adaptable to others.”

A Car That Collects Pollution

A London-based designer and architect, Thomas Heatherwick of the Heatherwick Studio has come up with a state-of-the art electric car concept that could clean air pollution as it drives around.

The concept car was introduced earlier in April 2021, after the designer was approached by a Chinese vehicle manufacturing company, IM Motors, to design the concept car, which is not only friendly to the environment, but also looks quite different.

The Airo, as it is being called, is a compact electric car, with its front grills containing air filters which could collect air pollutants amounting up to the size of a tennis ball in a year. The car uses the HEPA-Filter technology and doesn’t cause its own pollution but also actively contributes to vacuuming up all the pollutants from the cars driving alongside on the roads. If such a mechanism is introduced in all of the cars in China alone, it could create a significant change.

Talking to the BBC, the designer of the car said, “Think of a tennis ball in your lungs that is contributing to cleaning the air, and with a million vehicles in China alone that adds up.”

In addition to its pollutant collection functionality, the car looks nothing like your usual car. The interior of the car has more of a living room appeal with a table in the middle of four adjustable chairs, which can even be converted to a bed. The steering wheel of the car is hidden in the dashboard allowing extra room making it a good choice for sustainable living.

According to sources at the IM Motors, Heatherwick was approached intentionally knowing that he had no experience in designing cars and will come up with a novel idea, one that hasn’t ever been on the books before. Combining his knowledge of interior design with the blank canvas of eco-friendly car design, the London-based designer came up with the unique concept of Airo, which is now expected to go in production in China by 2023.

“Car manufacturers are falling over themselves to make electric cars, but a new electric car shouldn’t just be another one with a different look,” the designer of the car said.

While many welcomed the concept, the car has received a lot of criticism from automotive experts as well as environmentalists who are quite skeptic about the ability of the car to cut down pollution.

Peter Wells, a professor of business and sustainability at the Cardiff Business School’s Centre for Automotive Research believes that the car will not make any significant contribution towards eradicating environmental pollution. He also firmly believes that the car is not practical for most vehicle owners.

According to Peter Wells, since the car only gathers a tennis ball’s worth of pollutants in a year, it’s contribution in the urban areas of China alone will be insignificant and almost impossible to measure.

Scientists transform snails into Cyborgs

Scientists at Michigan University, USA, adopted an unfamiliar strategy to observe the behavior of a single species of snails by transforming them into “cyborgs” so they can keep a track of them and study their survival.

History of invasive snail:

Harnessing power from the living world has always been a dream for humans, and between geothermal, solar, and other sources, we’re getting a step closer every day. Shortly, there might be the availability of more power from the world of tiny shelled creatures.

In the 1970s, wildlife researchers presented an invasive snail, also known as the rosy wolf snail to the Society Island of French Polynesia. As a result the invasive snail has eliminated almost every existing snail species in the surrounding area, representing a destructive loss of biodiversity. However, five species somehow managed to survive, including the Particle hyaline.

Particle hyaline is significant for Polynesians because of its eccentric color, making it exceptionally attractive for use in jewelry. Tree snails are also of pivotal importance for the island forest ecosystems, being a dominant group of native grazers.

Usage of Micro Mote (M3) in solar snails:

With the alliance between the scientists of the University of Michigan and engineers of the world’s smallest computers, scientists acknowledged the reason why Particle hyaline can tolerate more sunlight than its invasive predator. The Particle hyaline crawls at the edges during the daytime while its predator is compelled to hide in the shade.

During the midday sun, the Particle hyaline is able to withstand 10 times more sunlight compared to the rosy wolf snails. The scientists suspect that the predator couldn’t crawl far enough into the forest edge to catch the Particle hyaline because they wouldn’t be able to look for shade if the sunlight became too hot.

In 2014 by the team of researchers at the University of Michigan, developed the world’s smallest complete computer – the Michigan Micro Mote (M3). The tiny computer was attached to the rosy wolf snail’s shell allowing them to wirelessly gather data never before observed, utilizing miniature electronics that could be the start of a new wave of cyborg technology.

Covid-19 Eliminates two flu strains

During the covid-19 pandemic, some scientists encouraged preventive measures against the coronavirus include wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, and social distancing, which could also have resulted or contributed to the elimination of multiple strains of flu.

According to Gizmodo, the researchers couldn’t discover two former usual strains of flu since March 2020. More precisely, the missing strains include the Yamagata strain of influenza B virus and the strain of influenza A virus H3N2.

Comparison of two viruses:

Amazingly, these two types of viruses haven’t shown up for more than a year anywhere in the world. Researchers are unaware if these viruses are truly eliminated, but at present they’re nowhere to found.

To evaluate which flu strains might have vanished, we have to understand how viruses are classified. Ever since the breakout, covid-19 has been compared to influenza because they similarly cause respiratory disease, yet there are apparent differences between these viruses and how they spread. Fortunately, there’s an availability of vaccines and antivirals for the treatment of influenza.

Eliminations of the flu strains:

The elimination of these flu strains is a beneficial effect during the pandemic. According to Gizmodo, many researchers and doctors are playing their valuable part in encouraging the usage of face-masks, social distancing, and quarantine. However, virologist Florian Krammer suggests that although the strains might not have been detected for over a year, we can’t be sure that they have been eliminated entirely. So, the viruses might be residing anywhere in our surroundings.

Even if the strains haven’t been fully eliminated their disappearance still makes the preparation of vaccines easier. Every year researchers are assigned the responsibility to make ‘high-tech guesses’ about which flu strains are more likely to prevail in the following months so that they can prepare preventive doses beforehand.

But, Krammer believes that less diversity among the flu viruses could be a possibility. Reduced flu virus diversity means a tiny pool of circulating viruses to choose from and a greater chance that the strains in an annual vaccine will be successful.

If the current covid-19 preventive measures are keeping us safe from other viruses as well, we might consider face masks, and social distancing even after the pandemic is over, particularly during the winter months when the flu virus is more prevalent.

Florida’s Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Released

British biotech firm Oxitec has successfully begun its experiment of releasing genetically hacked mosquitoes in open air to reduce the population of disease spreading mosquitoes in the Florida Keys region. According to Oxitec, these genetically engineered mosquitoes can become an alternative to pesticides, reducing and ultimately eliminating the species of disease carrying mosquitoes. But releasing an artificially engineered mosquito species in the air? Naturally, this controversial action came with lots of backlash and protests. Will it even work?

Oxitec’s Aim: Curbing The Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes

The Florida Keys is a strip of islands off the Southern tip of Florida. The Aedes aegypti mosquito species make up about 4% of all the mosquito species of Florida, and this is the species that is responsible for diseases like Zika and Dengue. What is interesting about these insects is that only the female mosquitoes bite; according to Oxitec, they plan to reduce the population of female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by releasing male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with an additional OX5034 gene. When these mosquitoes mate with wild female mosquitoes, this artificial gene will pass on to their offspring.

The special characteristic of this gene is that female mosquitoes cannot survive. Hence, only male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will survive, dramatically reducing the population of biting and disease transmitting female mosquitoes. While this experiment, if it works, may be a great chemical free way to solve the mosquito related diseases problem in Florida, many experts, activists, and locals are sceptical of it.

Controversies Regarding Oxitec’s Experiment

For starters, people have been highly doubtful of the success of Oxitec’s experiment because of the lack of information and proof regarding the method. In fact, Oxitec has been fighting controversies for the past decade, and has only now proceeded to finally release the mosquitoes. The main issue is that Oxitec has no proof that the experiment will even work! Instead of experimenting in controlled lab conditions, they are releasing the genetically hacked mosquitoes in Florida Keys directly. If their idea doesn’t work, that is if the female mosquitoes born from the gene hacked mosquitoes survive, Florida’s mosquito problem will not be solved and instead a new problem will be created; a new species of mosquitoes flying wild in Florida.

But that’s not all; the locals of Florida Keys have also complained that Oxitec has been invading their privacy during the experiments, which, according to them, are not even for the betterment of the community but for Oxitec to test if their methods work. Some citizens have stated that Oxitec employees tricked and bullied them into participating in the experiment, which they did not even agree with after finding out what it actually was.

Activists and experts also disagree with Oxitec sabotaging nature, especially because there have been no caged trials-the company never proved that the trials are even safe! Oxitec has denied any allegations against its project, and is still confident that the experiment will work. Only time can tell whether Oxitec is right or not.