TTI/Vanguard Newsletter: April 28, 2023

They’re not called “forever chemicals” for nothing: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) just don’t break down in nature. They are used in many kinds of coatings, including for raingear, cookware, and stain repellents. When they find their way into the environment, they stay, and they have been linked to a range of significant health concerns in humans. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a means to trap a broad spectrum of PFASs from the water supply using a regenerable adsorbent and then destroy them using a combination of electro- and photochemical techniques. Click here to see the article.

Japanese aerospace firm ispace got its start as White Label Space in 2010 to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize. The firm’s goal is to build and deploy both lunar landers and rovers. Its first mission launched on a Falcon 9 rocket last December for an energy-efficient but slow voyage to the Moon, where, on April 25, it deployed what was expected to be the first lunar landing by a private company. Alas, something went awry in the final moments of descent to the surface of the Moon, leading to loss of communication with the module and a presumed crash landing of the spacecraft. (Dennis Wingo, San Francisco, Dec 2014) Click here to see the article.

The lowly tongue depressor is a single-use and single-purpose device that assists clinicians when they ask patients to open their mouths and say “aah.” Researchers from the University of Athens have upped the game by using a laser engraver to print conductive graphite electrodes directly on the wooden blade to transform it into a biosensor capable of detecting nitrite and glucose biomarkers in saliva to indicate the presence of oral diseases and diabetes, respectively, all in a disposable, low-cost, field-appropriate device. (Michael McAlpine, Washington, D.C., Sep 2018) Click here to see the article.

Advances in batteries do not follow the exponential laws associated with silicon-based technologies; instead, innovations rely on the careful engineering of new chemistries. Nevertheless, this article highlights the accelerating pace of battery energy density—one of several criteria, along with safety and cycle performance, for a battery to be well-suited to transportation applications like electric cars, trucks, and planes. The latest benchmark achieved is a whopping 711 Wh/kg, and researchers anticipate 1000 Wh/kg to be commonplace by 2030 and 1500 Wh/kg to be right around the corner by then. Note that the price of a high-performance battery has yet to be mentioned here; that will remain a barrier to widespread deployment of high-density products. (Paul Braun, San Francisco, Dec 2015; Yet-Ming Chiang, Montreal, Apr 2004; Sanjiv Singh, Pittsburgh, Jun 2019; Sebastian Thrun, virtual meeting, Dec 2020)

Both Russians and Ukranians rely on offensive drones in the ongoing war, but GPS spoofing is proving an effective defense against DJI-based attacks. (Eric Cheng and Mike Hawley, San Francisco, Dec 2014; Per Enge, Phoenix, Dec 2003; Charlie Trimble, Toronto, Apr 2002) Click here to see the article.

Food crops are pretty great: Not only do they feed us, but plants also pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during their energy production process of photosynthesis. A necessary enzyme in the process of converting CO2 into energy is rubisco, which in its native state is inefficient and serves as a rate-limiting component of photosynthesis. Researchers at the University of Liverpool have used synthetic biology to insert a bacteria-derived form of rubisco into tobacco plant cells that enable the plant to more efficiently utilize CO2 and, indeed, to absorb more of it—a win–win. (USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center field trip, Sep 2018) Click here to see the article.

When your newsletterer built her home a decade ago, instead of sodding the yard, she painstakingly seeded it with region-appropriate wildflowers to encourage pollinators. It worked: Now bees, butterflies, and all manner of songbirds frolic; her peach trees and blueberry bushes thrive; and as a bonus she doesn’t need to mow. Still, the pollinators had to find her, not the other way round. In contrast, in response to reports of colony collapse disorder (Paulo de Souza, San Francisco, Dec 2014), many urban dwellers have decided to do their part in saving the honeybees by establishing city-bound hives. Bees have been living it up in urban settings, often, unfortunately, to the exclusion of native insects. There can be too much of a good thing. Click here to see the article

“If the bee disappeared from the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”—Albert Einstein​​​