GRAPHENE THE WONDER ‘WOMAN’

Ever since University of Manchester scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov first isolated flakes of graphene in 2004 using that most high-tech pieces of equipment – adhesive tape – the one-atom sheet of carbon has continued to astound researchers with its remarkable properties. Now Professor Sir Andre Geim, (he’s now not only a Nobel Prize winner but also a Knight Bachelor), has led a team that has added superpermeability with respect to water to graphene’s ever lengthening list of extraordinary characteristics.

Graphene has already proven to be the thinnest known material in the universe, strongest material ever measured, the best-known conductor of heat and electricity, and the stiffest known material, while also the most ductile. But it seems the two-dimensional lattice of carbon atoms just can’t stop showing off.

Stacking membranes of a chemical derivative of graphene called graphene oxide, which is a graphene sheet randomly covered with other molecules such as hydroxyl groups OH-, scientists at the University of Manchester created laminates that were hundreds of times thinner than a human hair but remained strong, flexible and were easy to handle.

When the team sealed a metal container using this film, they say that even the most sensitive equipment was unable to detect air or any other gas, including helium, leaking through. The team then tried the same thing with water and, to their surprise, found that it evaporated and diffused through the graphene-oxide membranes as if they weren’t even there. The evaporation rate was the same whether the container was sealed or completely open.

“Graphene oxide sheets arrange in such a way that between them there is room for exactly one layer of water molecules. They arrange themselves in one molecule thick sheets of ice which slide along the graphene surface with practically no friction, explains Dr Rahul Nair, who was leading the experimental work. “If another atom or molecule tries the same trick, it finds that graphene capillaries either shrink in low humidity or get clogged with water molecules.”

Professor Geim added, “Helium gas is hard to stop. It slowly leaks even through a millimetre -thick window glass but our ultra-thin films completely block it. At the same time, water evaporates through them unimpeded. Materials cannot behave any stranger. You cannot help wondering what else graphene has in store for us.”

Although graphene’s superpermeability to water makes it suitable for situations where water needs to be removed from a mixture without removing the other ingredients, the researchers don’t offer ideas for any immediate applications that could take advantage of this property. However, they did seal a bottle of vodka with the membranes and found that the distilled solution did indeed become stronger over time. But they don’t foresee graphene being used in distilleries.

However, Professor Geim adds, “the properties are so unusual that it is hard to imagine that they cannot find some use in the design of filtration, separation or barrier membranes and for selective removal of water.”

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

RUSSIAN SPACE SHIP TO MARS CRASHES INTO PACIFIC OCEAN

Russia believes fragments of its Phobos-Grunt probe, which spiralled back to Earth after failing to head on a mission to Mars, has crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

“According to information from mission control of the space forces, the fragments of Phobos-Grunt should have fallen into the Pacific Ocean at 17.45pm GMT (4.45am AEDT on Monday),” space forces spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin told the Interfax news agency.

There was no immediate comment from Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, which throughout the day, as the probe approached Earth, had given wildly different predictions about where it could land.

Zolotukhin said that the space forces had closely followed the probe’s course.

“This has allowed us to ascertain the place and time of the fall of the craft with a great degree of accuracy,” he told Interfax.

According to the ITAR-TASS news agency, the probe should have splashed down 1250 kilometres west of the island of Wellington off the coast of Chile.

A landing in the ocean would be a huge relief for Russia after earlier reports suggested it could crash into the territory of South America, possibly Argentina.

The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft should have been on an expedition to Mars’ largest moon but instead became stuck in an Earth orbit that has become lower and lower as it becomes increasingly tugged by the Earth’s gravity.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

A DIY WEATHER BALOON COMES BACK WITH SOME GREAT SNAPS

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand and his 9-year-old son Jason recently launched a high-tech weather balloon a quarter of the way to space, retrieving images and flight data to help school children get a better understanding about space.

Mr Brand, of Dulwich Hill, has a history with space – at age 17 he wired up some of the Apollo 11 communications gear in Sydney during his term break from college. He was also stationed at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales at the request of the European Space Agency for spacecraft Giotto’s encounter with Halley’s comet in 1986 and Voyager’s encounter with Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and ’89. Also under his belt is an award from NASA for support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program, presented personally by the commander and moon walker John Young.

So when it came time for Mr Brand to launch his own gear towards space he was well prepared, documenting his do-it-yourself journey on his personal blog wotzup.com for other space enthusiasts to watch and track.

“[The balloon launch] was being done to help science education in the Sydney area and anywhere else in fact because we were publishing [on the internet] all of the information and data that we got from the balloon launch,” said Mr Brand, 59.

Launch day was December 28, 2011 from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in Central NSW. As the balloon got up to about 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) above Earth before it burst, Mr Brand and his son tracked it using amateur radio.

“During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going,” Mr Brand said. “We were getting back a lot of comments on some of the social media [services] such as Facebook just really helping us understand what they were sort of getting out of the whole project. People were sort of yelling loudly if you could put it that way, on the [wotzup] website claiming ‘Hey, they’ve reached this height and that height’, and so there was a lot of really great audience participation in this.”

The data being sent back from the balloon – which was later recovered about 50 kilometres away from where it was launched – tracked altitude, position, rate of climb, payload temperature, payload voltage and air pressure, Mr Brand said. The balloon also has a camera on board that captured still images. “We could actually see as [the balloon] hit different wind levels in the atmosphere and eventually we got up into a jet stream and actually found that we had two jet streams,” Mr Brand added.

When the balloon finally popped it came hurtling back towards Earth at about 40 metres per second, according to flight data.

“So this thing was falling a bit like a brick would fall at ground level but it slowed down and eventually the parachute dropped it on the ground at about six metres per second,” Mr Brand said.

What's in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon's payload.What’s in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon’s payload. Photo: Supplied 

The balloon was put together with the help of senior students at Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay, who Brand sought to get involved with the project and tasked them with doing a whole stack of materials testing. They tested the styrofoam and how it reacted in zero atmosphere as well as the glue, ensuring it would hold throughout the flight. “The students were putting these materials in a bell jar and sucking the air out of it . . . and checking all of the materials held together – and to protect some of the electronics from the very cold temperatures of about minus 50 Celsius we simply used bubble wrap. … You’d be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn’t explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere.”

The photos that came back from maximum altitude look “pretty much like that taken from a space shuttle”, Mr Brand said.

“So very dark skies looking at this very thin blue line around the Earth which is our atmosphere and protective layer. It’s a bit scary when you see that photo and realise how thin the Earth’s atmosphere really is.”

When it came time to recover the balloon it was tracked to landing on a field near the small town of Weethalle in NSW, Mr Brand said. “There was nothing growing on it. It seemed to have been abandoned.”

After knocking on a farm door to no avail, he and his son entered the field to locate the balloon. After driving “pretty much right on top of it” it was recovered, allowing for the father and son duo to publish the photos it captured that weren’t sent back live but stored on the camera attached to the balloon.

Mr Brand hopes to do more balloon launches and get schools involved.

“I’ll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I’m very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved.”

twitter This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Check this out here as MakerBot unveils its new 3D printer, the Replicator


The folks at MakerBot Industries have not exactly been resting on their laurels since causing a stir at CES last year with the Thing-o-Matic 3D printer. Even though the original small object creation device would still see the jaws of most people dropping in wonder, the company has now unveiled a new model at CES 2012 called the Replicator that is not only capable of fabricating much bigger objects than its predecessor, but can also do so in two colors at the same time.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

DATA STORAGE HAS BECOME EVEN SMALLER

World’s smallest magnetic data storage unit created
If you’re impressed with how much data can be stored on your portable hard drive, well … that’s nothing. Scientists have now created a functioning magnetic data storage unit that measures just 4 by 16 nanometers, uses 12 atoms per bit, and can store an entire byte (8 bits) on as little as 96 atoms – by contrast, a regular hard drive requires half a billion atoms for each byte. It was created by a team of scientists from IBM and the German Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL), which is a joint venture of the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY research center in Hamburg, the Max-Planck-Society and the University of Hamburg.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

 

GETTING TOWARDS A SUPER SMALL SUPER ELECTRON MICROSCOPE

Scientist closes in on creating a superlens
Some day, you may have a microscope on your smartphone camera that’s as powerful as a scanning electron microscope. If you do, it will likely be thanks to research presently being conducted by Durdu Guney, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Technological University. He is working on creating a metamaterial-based “superlens” – a long sought-after optically-perfect lens, that could use visible light to image objects as small as 100 nanometers across.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha