Category Archives: Science

Updates from Georgia Tech

New Projects Create a Foundation for Next-Gen Flexible Electronics
By Josh Brown – Four projects set to move forward at the Georgia Institute of Technology aim to lay the groundwork for manufacturing next-generation flexible electronics, which have the potential to make an impact on industries ranging from health care to defense.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are partnering with Boeing, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, General Electric, and DuPont as well other research institutions such as Binghamton University and Stanford University on the projects.

Flexible electronics are circuits and systems that can be bent, folded, stretched or conformed without losing their functionality. The systems are often created using machines that can print components such as logic, memory, sensors, batteries, antennas, and various passives using conductive ink on flexible surfaces. Combined with low-cost manufacturing processes, flexible hybrid electronics unlock new product possibilities for a wide range of electronics used in the health care, consumer products, automotive, aerospace, energy and defense sectors.

“Flexible electronics will make possible new products that will help us address problems associated with food supply, clean water, clean energy, health, infrastructure, and safety and security,” said Suresh Sitaraman, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, who is leading Georgia Tech’s flexible electronics activities. more>


The body is the missing link for truly intelligent machines


Basin and Range, Author: John McPhee.
Descartes’ Error, Author: Antonio Damasio.

By Ben Medlock – Things took a wrong turn at the beginning of modern AI, back in the 1950s. Computer scientists decided to try to imitate conscious reasoning by building logical systems based on symbols. The method involves associating real-world entities with digital codes to create virtual models of the environment, which could then be projected back onto the world itself.

In later decades, as computing power grew, researchers switched to using statistics to extract patterns from massive quantities of data. These methods are often referred to as ‘machine learning’. Rather than trying to encode high-level knowledge and logical reasoning, machine learning employs a bottom-up approach in which algorithms discern relationships by repeating tasks, such as classifying the visual objects in images or transcribing recorded speech into text.

But algorithms are a long way from being able to think like us. The biggest distinction lies in our evolved biology, and how that biology processes information. Humans are made up of trillions of eukaryotic cells, which first appeared in the fossil record around 2.5 billion years ago. A human cell is a remarkable piece of networked machinery that has about the same number of components as a modern jumbo jet – all of which arose out of a longstanding, embedded encounter with the natural world.

We only have the world as it is revealed to us, which is rooted in our evolved, embodied needs as an organism. Nature ‘has built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from it and with it’,

In other words, we think with our whole body, not just with the brain. more>

America Needs a Crash Course in Critical Thinking

By Tom Jacobs – Newly published research suggests we need to develop an often-overlooked but vitally important skill: critical thinking.

Two North Carolina State University scholars report that, once students learned to apply healthy skepticism to one realm of knowledge, they were less likely to accept questionable claims in an unrelated field.

The history class “contained direct instruction on critical thinking,” including the use of famed astronomer Carl Sagan’s “baloney detection kit.”

“Students also learned common logical fallacies, fallacies of rhetoric, tropes in historical myths, and then applied them to course topics,” the researchers write.

At the end of the semester, all students were again tested on their belief in scientifically unproven claims. While attitudes did not significantly change among those who took the research methods course, those in the history course were less likely to support baseless assertions. more>

Updates from GE

Charged Up: GE Shows Investors Its Energy Playbook
By Tomas Kellner – The acquisition of Alstom’s energy assets delivered $1.5 billion in synergies in 2016, $300 million above GE’s original five-year target for Alstom synergies, GE’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein told investors at a conference in New York held by GE’s Power and Renewable Energy businesses last week. “Alstom makes us more competitive,” Bornstein said. “It broadens the service base and creates long-term incremental value.”

Jobs, cash, costs and software were the key themes at the conference. Bornstein said GE Oil & Gas was now “applying the same methodology” to its planned merger with Baker Hughes. “The businesses are very complementary,” he said. “It’s going to be a merger of equals.” Bornstein said he was “highly confident” the deal would “deliver a lot more value than $1.6 billion” in synergies by 2020, the target the companies released when they announced the deal last October.

Bornstein also talked about the need to speed up the shrinking of GE’s $25 billion in “structural costs,” which are funding support functions, R&D, corporate operations and other expenses. more>

A Brief History of the Grand Unified Theory of Physics

By Lawrence M. Krauss – Each time we peel back one layer of reality, other layers beckon. So each important new development in science generally leaves us with more questions than answers. But it also usually leaves us with at least the outline of a road map to help us begin to seek answers to those questions.

The successful discovery of the Higgs particle, and with it the validation of the existence of an invisible background Higgs field throughout space (in the quantum world, every particle like the Higgs is associated with a field), was a profound validation of the bold scientific developments of the 20th century.

As elegant as this idea might be, it is essentially an ad hoc addition to the Standard Model of physics—which explains three of the four known forces of nature, and how these forces interact with matter. It is added to the theory to do what is required to accurately model the world of our experience. But it is not required by the theory. The universe could have happily existed with massless particles and a long-range weak force (which, along with the strong force, gravity, and electromagnetism, make up the four known forces). We would just not be here to ask about them. Moreover, the detailed physics of the Higgs is undetermined within the Standard Model alone. The Higgs could have been 20 times heavier, or 100 times lighter.

Why, then, does the Higgs exist at all? And why does it have the mass it does? (Recognizing that whenever scientists ask “Why?” we really mean “How?”) If the Higgs did not exist, the world we see would not exist, but surely that is not an explanation. Or is it? Ultimately to understand the underlying physics behind the Higgs is to understand how we came to exist. When we ask, “Why are we here?,” at a fundamental level we may as well be asking, “Why is the Higgs here?” more>


Updates from Aalto University

Launch times draw near for Aalto satellites
By Jaan Praks – The Aalto-2 satellite, designed and built by students, is ready and waiting to be launched inside the Cygnus space shuttle at the Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex in the US.

On 22 March, the shuttle will be launched with an Atlas V booster rocket up to the orbiting international space station, where the astronauts will release it later to orbit independently.

Aalto-2 will take part in the international QB50 Mission, the aim of which is to produce the first ever comprehensive model of the features of the thermosphere, the layer between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. Dozens of satellites constructed in different countries will also be part of the mission.

Construction of the Aalto-2 satellite began in 2012 as a doctoral project when the first students graduated as Masters of Science in Technology after working on the Aalto-1 project.

Since the start of the Aalto-1 project in 2010 and the Aalto-2 project two years later, around a hundred new professionals have been trained in the space sector. The impact is already visible in the growth of space sector start-up companies. more>


How Does Solar Photovoltaic Energy Work?

Evergreen Solar – The solar photovoltaic cells in your solar panels are the mechanisms which convert sunlight into energy. When you install solar panels on your house, the PV cells convert sunlight into direct current (DC) and an inverter connected to the system is what converts direct current into alternating current (AC) – which is the type of current needed to power your household appliances. This power runs through your electrical panel box, just like electricity you get from the grid, and you can potentially run your entire house on solar power than power taken from the grid.

Most residential solar energy systems are still connected to the grid. This is to allow for uninterrupted electricity in occasions when you don’t have enough solar energy to continue to power your house (e.g., on cloudy days or during the night).

If you generate enough energy from your solar panels such that you have “extra” energy left over, it will get fed back to the grid and you will get credit for this contribution of energy. Termed “net metering,” this transfer of electricity allows some customers to still maintain a $0 electric bill even when using the utility company’s energy from the grid. more>

The Electric Car Rush Started Too Early

By Leonid Bershidsky – The hyped-up electric vehicle revolution, driven by a fear of being left behind and overzealous regulation, may be forcing car companies to make expensive mistakes. The modern electric vehicle is conceptually inconsistent with how people want to use cars, and in many countries the environmental effect of switching to EVs is negligible.

To spend heavily on electrification, companies have to believe forecasts from experts who don’t have skin in the game. McKinsey, for example, recently put out a report arguing that consumer interest in electric cars is growing. All automakers need to do is keep up incremental improvements and advertising more to increase awareness.

That could turn out to be wishful thinking, because the modern EV caters to a specific-use scenario that increasingly doesn’t work for today’s consumers. more>

The Future of Growing Cities Rests in Smart Transit

By Robert Garcia – Transportation isn’t just about moving people around; it’s also about moving goods. As home of the nation’s largest port complex, Long Beach has made significant strides to transport goods in more efficient and environmentally sustainable ways, and we are quickly becoming a model for ports across the globe.

Long Beach is now ranked in the top 10 cities nationally for walkability and bike-ability. And we have even used technology to make it easier for those who elect to drive, with apps like EZParkLB, which shows parking availability and pricing in real time. In addition, we have partnered with Mercedes Benz to launch an electric vehicle charger giveaway program to encourage more people to adopt sustainable technology.

Through the Green Port Policy, the Port of Long Beach has successfully introduced smart technologies over the past twenty years, bringing us closer to our goal of becoming a zero-emissions facility. We have reduced greenhouse gases significantly by using electric equipment on the docks and are currently in the process of converting existing vehicles to clean cargo-handling technologies. Other advances include providing shore power for ships, allowing engines to be shut down, and on-dock rail that shifts more than 30 percent of the cargo shipments from trucks to trains. And our newest terminal, Middle Harbor, uses the most advanced automated technology available to move containers from ships and into economic markets throughout the country. more>


Updates from Boeing

737 MAX 9 Factory Rollout
Boeing – Following on from 737 MAX 8 rollout and flight test, we are now rolling out the first new 737 MAX 9, right on schedule.

737 MAX 9 is the perfect answer to the need for growth while maintaining maximum airline profitability. As well as 16 more seats than the incredibly popular 737 MAX 8, it offers lower trips costs than the competition, the lowest trip costs, which minimizes the risk airlines take on as they grow. And yet provides more than enough additional seats to deliver consistently higher profits through all market conditions.

What’s more, 737 MAX 9 enables airlines to reach farther than almost every single-aisle route they operate today. It has the longest range in its sector without the investment in any auxiliary fuel tanks, and with one auxiliary tank, matches the versatility of the 737 MAX 8 with a range of 3,515 nautical miles. more>