Category Archives: Nature

Are We Living Through Climate Change’s Worst-Case Scenario?

By Robinson Meyer – The year 2018 was not an easy one for planet Earth.

In the United States, carbon emissions leapt back up, making their largest year-over-year increase since the end of the Great Recession. This matched the trend across the globe. According to two major studies, greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide shot up in 2018—accelerating like a “speeding freight train,” as one scientist put it.

Many economists expect carbon emissions to drop somewhat throughout the next few decades. But maybe they won’t. If 2018 is any indication, meekly positive energy trends will not handily reduce emissions, even in developed economies like the United States. It raises a bleak question:

Are we currently on the worst-case scenario for climate change?

When climate scientists want to tell a story about the future of the planet, they use a set of four standard scenarios called “representative concentration pathways,” or RCPs. RCPs are ubiquitous in climate science, appearing in virtually any study that uses climate models to investigate the 21st century. They’ve popped up in research about subjects as disparate as southwestern mega-droughts, future immigration flows to Europe, and poor nighttime sleep quality.

Each RCP is assigned a number that describes how the climate will fare in the year 2100. Generally, a higher RCP number describes a scarier fate: It means that humanity emitted more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the 21st century, further warming the planet and acidifying the ocean. The best-case scenario is called RCP 2.6. The worst case is RCP 8.5.

“God help us if 8.5 turns out to be the right scenario,” Jackson told me. more>

The Future of Machine Learning: Neuromorphic Processors

By Narayan Srinivasa – Machine learning has emerged as the dominant tool for the implementation of complex cognitive tasks resulting in machines that have demonstrated, in some cases, super-human performance. However, these machines require training with a large amount of labeled data and this energy-hungry training process has often been prohibitive in the absence of costly super-computers.

The ways in which animals and humans learn is far more efficient, driven by the evolution of a different processor in the form of a brain that simultaneously optimizes energy of computation with efficient information processing capabilities. The next generation of computers, called neuromorphic processors, will strive to strike this delicate balance between efficiency of computation with the energy needed for this computation.

The foundation for the design of neuromorphic processors is rooted in our understanding of how biological computation is very different from the digital computers of today (Figure).

The brain is composed of noisy analog computing elements including neurons and synapses. Neurons operate as relaxation oscillators. Synapses are implicated in memory formation in the brain and can only resolve between three-to-four bits of information at each synapse. It is well known that the brain operates using a plethora of brain rhythms but without any global clock (i.e., clock free) where the dynamics of these elements operate in an asynchronous fashion. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Growing Pile of Human and Animal Waste Harbors Threats, Opportunities
By Josh Brown – As demand for meat and dairy products increases across the world, much attention has landed on how livestock impact the environment, from land usage to greenhouse gas emissions.

Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are highlighting another effect from animals raised for food and the humans who eat them: the waste they all leave behind.

In a paper published November 13 in Nature Sustainability, the research team put forth what they believe is the first global estimate of annual recoverable human and animal fecal biomass. In 2014, the most recent year with data, the number was 4.3 billion tons and growing, and waste from livestock outweighed that from humans five to one at the country level.

“Exposure to both human and animal waste represent a threat to public health, particularly in low-income areas of the world that may not have resources to implement the best management and sanitation practices,” said Joe Brown, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “But estimating the amount of recoverable feces in the world also highlights the enormous potential from a resource perspective.” more>

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Air Gaps Key to Next-Gen Nanochips

By Kenny Walter – A new type of transistor—which uses air gaps to eliminate the need for semiconductors—could help scientists produce more efficient nanochips.

RMIT University researchers have engineered a new type of transistor that send electrons through narrow air gaps where they can travel unimpeded, rather than sending electrical currents through silicon.

“Every computer and phone has millions to billions of electronic transistors made from silicon, but this technology is reaching its physical limits where the silicon atoms get in the way of the current flow, limiting speed and causing heat,” lead author and PhD candidate in RMIT’s Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group Shruti Nirantar said in a statement.

“Our air channel transistor technology has the current flowing through air, so there are no collisions to slow it down and no resistance in the material to produce heat.”

While the power of computer chips has doubled about every two years for decades, recently the progress has stalled as engineers struggle to make smaller transistor parts.

However, the researchers believe the new device is a promising way to create nano electronics that respond to the limitations of silicon-based electronics. more>

How the Incas governed, thrived and fell without alphabetic writing

By Christopher Given-Wilson – Between the 1430s and the arrival of the Spanish in 1532, the Inkas conquered and ruled an empire stretching for 4,000 kilometers along the spine of the Andes, from Quito in modern Ecuador to Santiago in Chile. Known to its conquerors as Tahuantinsuyu – ‘the land of four parts’ – it contained around 11 million people from some 80 different ethnic groups, each with its own dialect, deities and traditions. The Inkas themselves, the ruling elite, comprised no more than about one per cent.

Almost every aspect of life in Tahuantinsuyu – work, marriage, commodity exchange, dress – was regulated, and around 30 per cent of all the empire’s inhabitants were forcibly relocated, some to work on state economic projects, some to break up centers of resistance. Despite the challenges presented by such a vertical landscape, an impressive network of roads and bridges was also maintained, ensuring the regular collection of tribute in the capacious storehouses built at intervals along the main highways. These resources were then redistributed as military, religious or political needs dictated.

All this suggests that the Sapa Inka (emperor) governed Tahuantinsuyu both efficiently and profitably. What’s more, he did so without alphabetic writing, for the Inkas never invented this. Had they been left to work out their own destiny, this state of affairs might well have continued for decades or even centuries, but their misfortune was to find themselves confronted by both superior weaponry and, crucially, a culture that was imbued with literacy. As a result, not only was their empire destroyed, but their culture and religion were submerged. more>

Negative capability

By Paul Tritschler – The unconscious can perform astonishing feats of memory, but it can also play a remarkable role in creativity: sudden insights, solutions and life-enhancing ideas sometimes surface unbidden when the mind is adrift in unconscious reverie. If such chance awakenings are possible, how can you replicate those conditions to become more the author, and less the reporter, of your own meaningful life story? To find that elusive voice, we’ve got to search in the ‘now’, in the moment of true, lived experience that fleetingly exists between past and future. It is within that space that we must seek the locus of personal transformation and change.

But being in the moment, developing an awareness of ‘now’, means gaining control over our thoughts and the unconscious patterning of memory so that they don’t intrude. If we can’t wrestle control over things, then something has gone awry in the master-servant relationship – there is truth in the old aphorism: ‘The mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master.’

To overcome this complex bind, we must identify how the mind constrains us, and then we must break free. Among the traps of the mind, there is preoccupation with the past (including attachment to intrusive memories) and preoccupation with the future (including continual desire). By definition, these lures are incompatible with being in the moment. We must offload this excess baggage to glimpse what we are and what we might become. more>

Updates from Siemens

Multi-Discipline Data Management for Electronics
Siemens – Integrated hardware and software design and testing on electronic products are now part of a system of delivery needs, which can only be enforced by a tightly integrated and unified multi-discipline platform.

Manage multi-disciplinary engineering teams with an integrated approach to engineering lifecycle management that leverages integrated requirements management, secure supplier collaboration and an engineering management platform that combines mechanical, electronic and software co-design and co-simulation in a single collaborative environment.

Today’s electronic devices are a synthesis of multiple designs—mechanical, electrical, electronics, embedded software and application software. In addition, because of rapid development, many hardware features remain unexplored and under-managed resulting in sub-optimal integration between hardware and software.

The disadvantages of operating in different single-discipline platforms and the increasing role of global suppliers in early stages of design are driving engineering organizations to invest in multi-domain integration strategies to ensure the system works flawlessly. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Finally, a Robust Fuel Cell that Runs on Methane at Practical Temperatures
By Ben Brumfield – Fuel cells have not been particularly known for their practicality and affordability, but that may have just changed. There’s a new cell that runs on cheap fuel at temperatures comparable to automobile engines and which slashes materials costs.

Though the cell is in the lab, it has high potential to someday electrically power homes and perhaps cars, say the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology who led its development. In a new study in the journal Nature Energy the researchers detailed how they reimagined the entire fuel cell with the help of a newly invented fuel catalyst.

The catalyst has dispensed with high-priced hydrogen fuel by making its own out of cheap, readily available methane. And improvements throughout the cell cooled the seething operating temperatures that are customary in methane fuel cells dramatically, a striking engineering accomplishment. more>

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Updates from Siemens

Equipment Design
Siemens – Deliver greater innovation in equipment design at higher quality and lower cost with comprehensive 3D product design capabilities for all Energy & Utility industry verticals. Our 3D CAD solutions provide a fully integrated and intuitive solution suite of broad and deep, best-in-class capabilities.

We enable your design teams to explore multiple design approaches so you can stay ahead of customer demands in rapidly changing industries like shale oil and renewable power generation. Quickly arrive at the most cost-effective, innovative and functional products that today’s Energy & Utility Owner-Operators demand to keep their operations both competitive and compliant.

The Energy & Utilities industry is accustomed to technical innovation and change. However, global megatrends such as the rise of alternative energy and prolonged low commodity prices are having a disruptive effect on the entire industry.

For energy equipment OEMs, changes in the competitive landscape and more demanding customer requirements are forcing improvements in functionality and performance while driving down the total cost of ownership. Equipment designs must be smarter, more responsive, and economical, in addition to exceeding durability requirements under more demanding conditions and operating environments. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Looking Back in Time to Watch for a Different Kind of Black Hole
By John Toon – Black holes form when stars die, allowing the matter in them to collapse into an extremely dense object from which not even light can escape. Astronomers theorize that massive black holes could also form at the birth of a galaxy, but so far nobody has been able to look far enough back in time to observe the conditions creating these direct collapse black holes (DCBH).

The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2021, might be able look far enough back into the early Universe to see a galaxy hosting a nascent massive black hole. Now, a simulation done by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has suggested what astronomers should look for if they search the skies for a DCBH in its early stages.

DCBH formation would be initiated by the collapse of a large cloud of gas during the early formation of a galaxy, said John H. Wise, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics and the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics. But before astronomers could hope to catch this formation, they would have to know what to look for in the spectra that the telescope could detect, which is principally infrared.

Black holes take about a million years to form, a blip in galactic time. In the DCBH simulation, that first step involves gas collapsing into a supermassive star as much as 100,000 times more massive than our sun. The star then undergoes gravitational instability and collapses into itself to form a massive black hole. Radiation from the black hole then triggers the formation of stars over period of about 500,000 years, the simulation suggested. more>

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