A new instrument made a short jaunt to space on the weekend, as part of a mission to measure the total light ever emitted over the universe’s history. The CIBER-2 project will search for stray stars hiding between galaxies by monitoring the cosmic background glow of infrared light.
The Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment-2 (CIBER-2) is designed, as the name suggests, to measure the cosmic infrared background. This patchy pattern of radiation pervades the universe, highlighting where galaxies cluster together, and analyzing it can teach astronomers plenty about the distribution of stars and other objects in space.
On Sunday June 6, CIBER-2 made the first of five trips to space to study this phenomenon. The instrument was launched on a NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket from New Mexico, reaching an altitude of around 300 km (186 miles) for 10 minutes, before being brought back to Earth.
During its time aloft, CIBER-2 scans a patch of sky equivalent to about eight times the full Moon. It takes measurements of the cosmic infrared background in six wavelengths, allowing scientists to later analyze the data to learn about the stars or other objects that produced it.
This could help answer some major questions. It’s believed that the vast majority of stars reside in galaxies, but data from the Spitzer Space Telescope found that there was more light in the cosmic infrared background than expected, based on known galaxy populations.
Two explanations for that were put forward by different teams. One suggested that the extra light was coming from the very first stars and black holes that ever formed. The original CIBER mission, meanwhile, found evidence that there might be more free-roaming stars outside of galaxies than we thought.
CIBER-2 could help solve the problem by scanning the sky in more wavelengths than either Spitzer or the original CIBER, allowing it to analyze the spectra of light from different sources. For instance, the very first stars and black holes would be enveloped in a fog of hydrogen, which pervaded the early universe, and that would affect the spectrum of colors in their light. But stars that formed more recently don’t pass through this hydrogen, so their light looks different.
“This background glow is the total light produced over cosmic history,” says Jamie Bock, lead scientist on the CIBER missions. “Our method measures the total light emitted over cosmic history, including any sources astronomers might have missed.”
Following last weekend’s successful flight, CIBER-2 will launch four more times over the next five years for further scans. Data gathered over the course of the mission will help inform the design of a future telescope, called the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx). Due to launch in 2024, SPHEREx will scan the sky in an astonishing 102 wavelengths over two years, for a truly deep look at the cosmic infrared background.
Liquid metal mirrors switch reflectivity on and off with a zap
Engineers have found a way to make liquid metals switch between reflective surfaces or those that scatter light. The transition only requires a small zap of electricity and could be used to make mirrors that can be switched on or off.
Liquid metals conduct electricity and interact with heat and light in the same ways as their solid forms, but the added fluidity opens up a range of new devices that weren’t previously possible. In recent years the slippery shiny stuff has been used to make morphing electronics, stretchable wires, and better batteries.
And now, liquid metals might be able to add switchable reflectivity to their repertoire. Researchers from Kyushu University and North Carolina State University found that changing the voltage of electricity applied to liquid metal can make its surface change from reflective to scattering.
The electricity is oxidizing the metal, which causes its volume to change. That in turn produces a series of tiny “scratches” to appear on the surface, scattering the light randomly. To undo the changes and return the liquid metal to a reflective state, the magnitude of the voltage can be switched from negative to positive.
The switching can be done with a low voltage of just 1.4 V, on par with that used to power an LED. It can be done at room temperature and pressure too, all of which helps make it potentially useful for commercial applications, such as new electronic and optical components.
“In the immediate future this technology could be used to create tools for entertainment and artistic expression that have never been available before,” says Yuji Oki, lead researcher on the study. “With more development, it might be possible to expand this technology into something that works much like 3D printing for producing electronically controlled optics made of liquid metals. This could allow the optics used in light-based health testing devices to be easily and inexpensively fabricated in areas of the world that lack medical laboratory facilities.”
The research was published in the journal Optical Materials Express. The switching can be seen in action in the video below.
Dynamic Control of Reflective/Diffusive Optical Surfaces on Liquid Metal
Source: The Optical Society
Vitamin D deficiency linked to opioid addiction
Fascinating new research led by scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital has found a strong link between opioid addiction and vitamin D deficiency. The research indicates subjects with low vitamin D levels may experience heightened euphoric effects from opioids, making them more susceptible to addiction.
Back in 2007 an intriguing study found when ultraviolet light hit the skin it triggered the production of a hormone called beta-endorphin. This endogenous hormone is known to stimulate opioid receptors and is responsible for, among other things, the high one feels following exercise.
While it may seem counter-intuitive for an organism to evolve a mechanism that rewards exposure to cancer-causing UV radiation, the researchers hypothesize this alteration may have helped our ancient ancestors move out of caves during cold times and maintain consistent sun exposure. UV light of course is vital for vitamin D production, so in order to maintain good health and bone strength this specific adaptation helped reward those exposed to the sun.
Initially the discovery helped offer insights into those individuals seemingly addicted to tanning beds. If UV light triggered natural endorphins then it was unsurprising some people would become addicted to sunbathing or artificial UV exposure. But in this new study the researchers set out to investigate whether vitamin D deficiency could play a role in opioid addiction, perhaps by making a person more sensitive to the effects of opioids.
“Our goal in this study was to understand the relationship between vitamin D signaling in the body and UV-seeking and opioid-seeking behaviors,” explains lead author Lajos Kemény.
The first step was to investigate the effect of morphine on mice deficient in vitamin D. One experiment found vitamin-D-deficient mice exposed to frequent doses of morphine exhibited greater drug-seeking and addictive behaviors compared to mice with healthy levels of vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels in the animals also correlated with heightened affective responses to opioids and greater withdrawal symptoms when the drug was withheld.
The researchers then looked to human health records to see if the associations detected in animal studies held up in the real-world. A correlation was indeed found, revealing those with low vitamin D levels were more likely to use opioids. And analyzing records from patients with a diagnosed opioid use disorder (OUD) found they were more likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency compared to the normal population.
David Fisher, a researcher who has for years been investigating the link between low vitamin D, UV light and natural endorphins, says some of the animal findings from this new study point to a novel pathway for future researchers. Could vitamin D supplementation reduce the risk of addiction in patients prescribed opiates or help amplify the effectiveness of current opioid addiction treatments?
“When we corrected vitamin D levels in the deficient mice, their opioid responses reversed and returned to normal,” notes Fisher. “Our results suggests that we may have an opportunity in the public health arena to influence the opioid epidemic.”
A lot more work is needed to directly test some of these therapeutic hypotheses but the implications of these preliminary findings are certainly compelling. Fisher and his team argue the toll of the current opioid epidemic demands timely clinical research investigating these potential new approaches.
“Our results imply that [vitamin-D]-deficient individuals may be at risk for developing tolerance and physiologic opioid dependence more rapidly, experiencing more significant withdrawal, and experiencing greater reward from opioid exposure,” the researchers conclude in the new study. “[Vitamin D] supplementation might have a preventative benefit by decreasing opioid reward and possibly diminishing the risk of OUD.”
The new study was published in the journal Science Advances.
Adorable Beachy camping trailer roams like a motor-less VW surf van
Bringing to mind a classic Volkswagen camper van lurking quietly behind a rocky oceanside outcropping, the new Beachy caravan adds a fresh injection of retro, laid-back sand-and-surf vibes to the modern camper market. In place of a ground-down, tattered 1960s interior, though, the new small trailer hides a surprisingly warm, modern interior inside its crisp, clean shell. No matter if your destination is the sunny coast or the deep, light-deprived forest, the Beachy’s every feature inspires relaxation and revelry.
The Beachy debuts as more than just a new trailer, becoming the entry-level caravan brand of German trailer and motorhome group Hobby. The minute you see the trailer’s distinctive dual-door exterior or simple, versatile interior, it’s clear the new brand is designed to attract youthful, design-minded buyers looking for products that are as fresh and aesthetically focused as they are functional.
We’re quite accustomed to seeing brand-new small trailers draw inspiration from classic teardrops, but the Beachy has more of a modernized canned ham look to it, carrying a bit of extra curvature at the rear-end, where the design swings side-to-side rather than downward like a classic ham can. The sleek, modern design effectively catches one’s attention without any bright colors, flared fenders or kitschy accessories. The closest modern design with which we can think to compare it is the Coco Lounge from fellow German brand Dethleffs.
The Beachy exterior is pure and pretty, but what really makes the trailer is an interior that appears uncommonly homey and cozy for an entry-level offering. The cold white of the exterior melts away into a warmer cabin that brings on fabric wall paneling, dangling pendant lamps, ambient area lighting and the outer glow of porthole windows.
The #vanlife-inspired rear hatch that teams with the main side door isn’t quite as large as those on other versatile small trailers like the Happier HC1 or Knaus Deseo 400 TR, but it’s equally functional, providing a split entry with upper lift-gate and lower half-door. Campers can easily load in long gear like surfboards or bikes or keep the interior empty and uncluttered to enjoy the local scenery and fresh breezes. Just inside the rear hatch, the two side benches flank the dual folding indoor/outdoor dining tables, converting at night into a 200 x 180-cm (79 x 71-in) bed fit for a couple or small family of three.
With each step forward, the interior remains magnificently simple, stashing clothes and cargo in a combination of full-length overhead shelving with bungee retention, collapsible storage bins and under-bench open space. The kitchen block on the front wall brings a 38-L pull-out Dometic fridge and sink plumbed to 13-L fresh and waste water tanks.
The Beachy maintains a gas-free all-electric design out of the box by nixing the gas stove you find in other caravans, selling a portable as an accessory for use atop the counter. In contrast to the many off-grid campers we’ve seen of late, the Beachy is much more a “grid” camper, meant to be run via shore power. A leisure battery is available optionally for powering onboard essentials like the fridge and lights in outdoor spaces to which wires don’t run.
Instead of the corner bathroom occupants find in the similar layout of the higher-priced Dethleffs Coco Lounge, Beachy’s leftover front-corner space gets put to use as a walk-in wardrobe, adding even more storage space for the odds and ends of road life. A portable toilet can be added on as an option and stored in this front closet. Strangely, there’s no mention of a standard or available outdoor shower, which seems like a natural fit for this beach/watersport-inspired camper.
The specs mentioned above relate to the 508-cm (200-in) Beachy 360 base model, which will start just under €12,000 (approx. US$14,550) when it rolls out to German dealerships in autumn. The greater Beachy lineup will also include the 568-cm (224-in) family-of-three 420 and 598-cm (235-in) family-of-four-sized 450. The model designations relate to camper body lengths (tow bar excluded) of 366, 426 and 456 centimeters (144, 168 and 180 in), respectively. Base weights range from 741 to 823 kg (1,634 to 1,814 lb).
Check out the four-minute video below for more.
The Beachy Story
Self-healing concrete eats CO2 to fill its own cracks in 24 hours
Concrete has a massive carbon footprint, so technologies that boost its performance and enable it to last longer could have profound benefits for the environment. This has led to the development of self-healing concrete that can repair its own cracks, and scientists have now demonstrated an exciting new form of this that makes use of an enzyme found in human blood.
Tiny cracks that form in concrete mightn’t pose an immediate problem to the structural integrity of a construction, but as water gets in and the rupture spreads it can greatly compromise its strength. The idea with self-healing concrete is to intervene in this process while the cracks are still tiny, sealing up the material to prevent not just a catastrophic collapse, but expensive maintenance or a complete replacement of the structure.
This field of research has turned up all kinds of interesting potential solutions over the years. We’ve seen versions that pack their own sodium silicate healing agents, ones that feature bacteria that produce special glue to knit together these cracks, and others that fill up the gaps with fungus. While promising, scientists at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have conjured up what they believe is a cheaper and even more efficient solution.
The team sought inspiration from the human body; more specifically, from the way an enzyme in red blood cells called carbonic anhydrase (CA) is able to quickly transfer CO2 from the cells into the bloodstream.
“We looked to nature to find what triggers the fastest CO2 transfer, and that’s the CA enzyme,” says study author Nima Rahbar. “Since enzymes in our bodies react amazingly quickly, they can be used as an efficient mechanism to repair and strengthen concrete structures.”
The team put the CA enzyme to use by adding it to concrete powder before the material is mixed and poured. When a small crack forms in the concrete, the enzyme interacts with CO2 in the air to produce calcium carbonate crystals, which mimic the characteristics of concrete and promptly fill in the crack.
Through their testing, the scientists demonstrated their doped concrete can repair its own millimeter-scale cracks within 24 hours. The team says this is a marked improvement on some previous technologies that have used bacteria to self-heal, which are more expensive and can take up to a month to heal even far smaller cracks.
While the amount of CO2 the concrete gobbles up is likely to be negligible in the grand scheme of things, the real environmental potential of the material lies in its potential longevity. Rahbar predicts that this type of self-healing technology could extend the life of a structure from 20 years to 80 years, which reduces the need to produce replacement concrete in what is a notoriously carbon-intensive process.
“Healing traditional concrete that’s already in use is critically beneficial, too, and will help reduce the need to produce and ship additional concrete, which has a huge environmental impact,” says Rahbar.
The research was published in the journal Applied Materials Today, and the video below shows the self-healing concrete in action.
Self-Healing Concrete in Action
Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
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