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For the first time, researchers have developed a microchip that is powered by the same energy-rich molecules that fuel living cells, researchers say. Thisadvance could one day lead to devices that are implanted within cells and harvest biological energy to operate.

The molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) stores chemical energy and is used inside cells to ferry energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed. The new microchip relies on enzymes known as sodium-potassium ATPases. These molecules break down ATP to release energy the enzymes use to pump sodium and potassium ions across membranes, generating an electrical potential during the process.

“Ion pumps are electronics-like components in living systems,” says study senior author Ken Shepard, an electrical engineer at Columbia University in New York. Shepard and his colleagues detailed their findings in the 7 December edition of the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers embedded sodium-potassium ATPases taken from pig brains in artificial fatty membranes. There were more than 2 million of these molecules active per square millimeter of the membranes, about 5 percent of the density naturally occurring in mammalian nerve fibers.

In the presence of ATP, these ion pumps generated 78 millivolts. A “biocell” of two membranes provides enough of a voltage to operate a CMOS integrated circuit. The ion pumps have a chemical-to-electrical energy conversion efficiency of of 14.9 percent.

“These ion pumps generated an electrical field that we harnessed to power a solid-state system,” Shepard says.

Since ATP is only really found within cells and not in the bloodstream, Shepard cautions that this new system is not a way to power conventional implantable medical devices such as pacemakers.

“However, such a system might power an implant small enough to sit inside a cell,” Shepard says. “Solid-state materials are already used in nanoparticles for various therapeutic and imaging purposes in the body, but those are all just passive materials. Our idea is to make something that would have the ability to compute and act, to make decisions and then actuate in some way.”

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The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has just announced a long-term moratorium on new leases to mine coal on federal lands. While the 18- to 36-month moratorium is in place, the government will launch a suite of studies to determine how to make coal leases fair to U.S. taxpayers and consistent with the country’s commitment to climate change mitigation.

Given the beleaguered state of the U.S. coal industry, it’s probably inaccurate to call today’s announcement the beginning of the end. It’s more like the middle of the end. Or the end of the beginning of the end. Or … you get the idea. By the time the moratorium lifts, there may be little left of the coal industry.

The BLM’s move applies a set of pincers to coal, with economic challenges pressing in on one side and environmental ones tightening on the other.

 

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President Obama laid out four big questions the United States has to answer in his nearly hour-long final State of the Union address Tuesday night. One of those four points: How do we make technology work for us, and not against us, especially when it comes to solving urgent issues like climate change?

“Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there,” Obama said. “We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon … Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

The administration’s push to continue making new discoveries came in a speech optimistic about America’s destiny and referencing the president’s accomplishmentsin office the last seven years.

Obama also presented a vision for our energy future.

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Western European waters are a global hotspot for lingering toxic PCB pollution, research reveals, damaging the reproduction of orcas and dolphins

The UK’s last pod of killer whales is doomed to extinction, with new research revealing western European waters as a global hotspot for the lingering legacy of toxic PCB pollution.

The persistent chemicals, used in electrical equipment but banned in the 1980s, are still leaking into the oceans and were also found in extremely high levels in European dolphins, whose populations are in decline.

The new research analysed levels of PCBs, which are known to harm breeding success and immune systems, in the blubber of more than 1,000 dolphins and killer whales over the last 20 years. The levels found “greatly exceed concentrations at which severe toxic effects are known to occur,” the scientists found.

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The question of what to do is a moral one. What values will shape how we answer it?

 

Climate change presents a severe ethical challenge, forcing us to confront difficult questions as individual moral agents, and even more so as members of larger political systems. It is genuinely global and seriouslyintergenerational, and crosses species boundaries. It also takes place in a setting where existing institutions and theories are weak, proving little ethical guidance.intergenerational, and crosses species boundaries. It also takes place in a setting where existing institutions and theories are weak, proving little ethical guidance.

 

A central component of this perfect moral storm is the threat of a tyranny of the contemporary, a collective action problem in which earlier generations exploit the future by taking modest benefits for themselves now while passing on potentially catastrophic costs later.

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Jessica Ernst’s long fight to challenge legislation putting energy regulator above the law reaches top court.

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Long-term plans to bring renewable Canadian electricity to the power-hungry markets of southern New England got a big boost when Vermont utility regulators approved a plan to build a 1,000-megawatt transmission line down Lake Champlain and across the state to feed the regional power grid, experts say.

TDI New England is still awaiting its final federal permits before it can begin construction and contracts to deliver power, but the system could become the first piece of a system to supply renewable electricity to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Unlike the Northern Pass project proposed for northern New Hampshire, the $1.2 billion, privately funded TDI project faced no significant opposition in Vermont, something unusual for the state.

 

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Thousands of power plants around the world may face severe reductions in their ability to generate electricity by mid-century due to water shortages, according to new research.

Hydro- and thermo-electric (nuclear, fossil-fuelled, biomass-fuelled) power plants are vulnerable to dwindling rivers and reservoirs as the planet warms, a study published in Nature on Monday said.

These technologies, which provide 98% of global electricity supply, depend on abundant water to cool generators and pump power at dams.

Lower river levels and warmer water temperatures could reduce generating capacity by as much as 86% in thermo-electric- and 74% in hydro plants, according to researchers at Wageningen University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

 

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At the same time, business leaders are learning that clean operations and higher growth can go hand in hand. Now that customers, investors, activists, and even a company’s own employees are voicing concerns about environmental impact, a greener record does more than simply guard against public-relations disasters. It can bolster a firm’s reputation.

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Like in many of the world’s most densely populated nations, real estate in Japan is tough to come by. Many of its cities are filled with small, narrow lots, giving rise to the trend of designing and building kyosho jutaku (or micro-homes) that rethink traditional residential spaces through unconventional and striking architecture.

 

Jutaku, a new book from Phaidon by writer and architect Naomi Pollock, presents a photographic survey of over 400 of these futuristic structures built over the past decade that illustrate the popular, highly experimental nature of contemporary Japanese architecture that is continuously changing the nation’s landscape.

 

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