Monday, July 25, 2011

Richmond puts on charm offensive to woo Berkeley Lab

"Renaissance" was the watchword Thursday at a packed reception for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. About 700 residents packed into the Richmond Auditorium to help convince lab representatives that this city is in the midst of a turnaround, and urge them to build their planned second campus here. The new campus, which is expected to accommodate more than 800 workers and generate more than $200 million in spending impacts, is the first project in recent memory to unite all corners of the city in support. Richmond leaders took advantage of its town hall meeting, a requirement for each of the six finalists, to tout the city's successes in luring green industry and restoring local landmarks such as the Richmond Plunge. More>

Pull the Plug on Home 'Energy Vampire' Appliances and Electronics to Stop Standby Power Use

How high is your monthly electricity bill? With the kind of summer we've had, your power consumption has probably gone through the roof if you've kept the fan and air conditioner on to keep you cool during the ongoing wave of oppressive heat. There are ways that you can cut back, though. Did you know that certain appliances and electronics will continue to use power even when they're switched off? It's estimated that 10 percent of the average home electricity bill comes from the energy used by these products, which are popularly called energy vampires." But an aggressive campaign, armed with knowledge about which products draw standby, can cut total standby by as much as a third, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. More>

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A sand box for low energy building tech

For most people, the images below look like just another building on the UC Berkeley campus. But for tech firms, construction companies, architects and utilities that are interested in low energy building design, Building 90, and its accompanying structures, look like a little slice of heaven. The planned building, which will go under construction in the Spring of 2012 with a $15.9 million grant from the stimulus program, is a comprehensive test bed for low energy building tech, like electrochromic windows, smart lighting systems or connected efficient HVAC systems. In conjunction with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, researchers and partners can test out building technology in real world conditions at the site, and with the ability to control the settings and study the results. More>

Indoor or out, heat hurts work productivity

Productivity suffers in the heat, whether you are working outside or indoors, experts say. It’s brutal to work outdoors during a heat wave, but even workers in air conditioned offices lose their edge. Office workers’ productivity peaks at 71 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, said William Fisk, a senior scientist Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In a study published recently in “Indoor Air,” a journal about indoor health and environment, Fisk and two colleagues found that office buildings often have poorly controlled temperatures. More>

Alameda Maneuvers for Coveted Lab

When the Naval Air Station closed here in 1997, the city predicted the sprawling waterfront base would become a budding community, filled with housing, businesses and open space. Fourteen years and a handful of developers later, some of the most prime real estate in the Bay Area remains mostly undeveloped and underused. Twice, Alameda worked closely with outside developers to craft plans aimed at rebuilding the entire 918 acres in one go. Each time, the plans faltered. This time, a new city staff is working on a plan, and at least one big-name potential tenant has shown interest. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a federally funded lab run by the University of California, is searching for a site to build a second campus. It has named Alameda Point, as the former air base is now dubbed, one of six finalists. More>

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Shelters That Clinton Built

When Demosthene Lubert heard that Bill Clinton 's foundation was going to rebuild his collapsed school at the epicenter of Haiti's January 12, 2010, earthquake, in the coastal city of Léogâne, the academic director thought he was "in paradise." The project was announced by Clinton as his foundation's first contribution to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which the former president co-chairs. The foundation described the project as "hurricane-proof...emergency shelters that can also serve as ensure the safety of vulnerable populations in high risk areas during the hurricane season," while also providing Haitian schoolchildren "a decent place to learn" and creating local jobs. However, when Nation reporters visited the "hurricane-proof" shelters in June, six to eight months after they'd been installed, we found them to consist of twenty imported prefab trailers beset by a host of problems, from mold to sweltering heat to shoddy construction. Most disturbing, they were manufactured by the same company, Clayton Homes, that is being sued in the United States for providing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with formaldehyde-laced trailers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Randy Maddalena, a scientist specializing in indoor pollutants at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, characterized the 250 parts per billion finding as "a very high level" of formaldehyde and warned that "it's of concern," particularly given the small sample size. More>

No Eureka Moments in Long U.S. Campaign to Crack Cellulosic Code

From a series of low-slung buildings in Walnut Creek, Calif., east of Oakland and nestled at the base of Mount Diablo, the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI), fresh from sequencing the human genome, has pursued for the past half-decade the DNA of microbes known to unwind these barbed wires. Marshaling these genetic resources is one of the institute's top priorities, on parallel with its cancer research. It may sound strange, but the cellulose work is like Lewis Caroll's "Through the Looking-Glass," said Eddy Rubin, JGI's director and Hess' former boss. At one point, Alice hustles after the Red Queen, but she never gains any ground. Likewise, plants have kept their lead over all comers, Rubin said. More>

Edison’s 123-year-old talking doll recording could be oldest surviving commercial audio

Scientists using advanced imaging technology have recovered a 123-year-old recording made by Thomas Edison that is believed to be the world’s first attempt at a talking doll and may mark the dawn of the American recording industry. Yet almost 80 years after the mystery woman lent her voice to Edison, the recording showed up in 1967 in the archives of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, having been recovered from a secretary’s desk drawer in Edison’s laboratory. More than four decades later, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., used image analysis in May to create a digital model of the record’s surface. That model was then used to reproduce the recording as a digital file, not unlike the modern technology behind the voice that emerges from today’s talking dolls. More>

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Berkeley Labs announce public meetings in Bay Area

A schedule of public meetings for the proposed sites of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's second campus were announced Monday. The meetings will include presentations from lab representatives and recommendations from community members. They will also examine the potential each site has for the development. The finalists in the running for the second campus are Alameda Point in Alameda; Berkeley Aquatic Park West in West Berkeley; Brooklyn Basin in Oakland; Emeryville/Berkeley, on property occupied by the Berkeley Lab; Golden Gate Fields, spanning Berkeley and Albany; and Richmond Field Station, a site owned by the University of California, which runs the Berkeley Lab. The second campus is intended to consolidate existing laboratory programs around the East Bay. More>

Monday, July 11, 2011

Future of Electric Cars Hinges on Better Batteries

Electric cars are a game-changing technology with an Achilles’ heel — the battery. Current batteries are expensive and have limited range, making it hard to drive from San Jose to San Francisco and back without stopping to recharge. Experts agree consumers will never fully embrace electric vehicles until they can travel as far as a gas-powered car on a single charge. The Bay Area — home to Tesla Motors, Berkeley Lab and two-dozen battery startups — has emerged as one of the nation’s leading hubs of battery innovation. More>

Magnetic Microprocessors Could Enable Most Efficient Computers Possible

Electron-free magnetic microprocessors would use 1 million times less energy per flop than today’s computers, according to researchers. They would be so efficient they would consume the least amount of energy allowed by the second law of thermodynamics. For now, computers run on electricity, which means electrons moving around and generating waste heat. But a magnetic microprocessor would not need any electrons. Berkeley Lab materials scientist Jeffrey Bokor and his UC Berkeley grad students are trying to develop these magnetic computers. Their goal is a computer that operates at the Landauer limit, which at room temperature equates to a loss of 18 millielectron volts of energy per operation. More>

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wrinkles Rankle Graphene

Using scanning transmission X-ray microscopy and near edge X-ray absorption fine structure (NEXAFS) spectroscopy, a team of researchers led by the University at Buffalo (part of the State University of New York) have found that folds and ripples in a graphene sheet and/or chance contaminants from processing—possibly hiding in those wrinkles—disrupt and slow electron flow across the sheet, impairing its conductive properties. This means simple processing flaws can seriously degrade graphene, according to a study published June 28 in Nature Communications. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) Under ideal conditions, an electron "cloud" lines the surface of graphene samples that enables the high-speed transit of electrons. Wrinkles and imperfections in these samples, however, distort the cloud and create bottlenecks, according to the team, which also included scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the SEMATECH research consortium. More>

Thursday, July 7, 2011

123 year-old talking doll record speaks again

You can now listen to the oldest known American recording of a woman's voice that time and technology had left mute. The recording of the first stanza from the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, believed to have been produced for a talking doll sold by Thomas Edison, was rediscovered in 1967. But age had taken its toll. The ring-shaped cylinder phonograph record, which was made in 1888, was bent to the point where it no longer worked with a conventional stylus that required physical contact. However, a group of scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used a new imaging technique to play the 12-second clip without needing to actually touch the record. More>

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Microbe could make biofuels hot

A record-breaking microbe that thrives while munching plant material at near boiling temperatures has been discovered in a Nevada hot spring, researchers announced in a study published today. Scientists are eyeing the microbe's enzyme responsible for breaking down cellulose — called a cellulase — as a potential workhouse in the production of biofuels and other industrial processes. Cellulose is a chain of linked sugar molecules that makes up the woody fiber of plants. To produce biofuels, enzymes are required to breakdown cellulose into its constituent sugars so that yeasts can then ferment them into the type of alcohol that makes cars (not people) go vroom. At the industrial scale, this process is done most efficiently at high temperatures that kill other microbes that could otherwise contaminate the reaction, Berkeley Lab's Douglas Clark told me today. More>

What Went Wrong In Fukushima: The Human Factor

Japanese officials are still trying to understand all the factors that contributed to the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Officials already have concluded that the plant was not designed to withstand the 40-foot tsunami that hit it on March 11. But it is also likely that workers at the plant could have reduced the severity of the accident if they had made different decisions during the crisis. One critical decision was whether to pump seawater into the reactors. That would certainly ruin them, but it could also keep them cool and prevent meltdowns. It appears that the engineers on site hesitated for some hours before they went ahead and did that. Berkeley Lab's Per Peterson says that was a questionable decision. More>