Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, to Be Warm in Summer’s Heat

Why are airports, shops, offices and homes in the United States and elsewhere chilled to sweater-weather temperatures in summer when the temperature outside rises? “Everyone asks the question, but no one has a good answer,” said Fergus Nicol, a cooling expert and professor emeritus of architecture at London Metropolitan University. “I think it’s because air-conditioners are supposed to produce cool, so it has become an expectation.” Maybe, he said, there’s also a bit of “conspicuous consumption.” ALAN MEIER, A SENIOR SCIENTIST AT LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY, said there was debate about whether people could acclimate to a new “comfort regime.” He noted that, just as in lighting, the attitude was “the more the better.” But lighting designers backed off that predilection; he said the same trend might follow in cooling. More>

Internet Could Run Ten Times Faster With Graphene

Internet connections could run ten times faster than current speeds, according to research published in the journal Nature Communication. University of Manchester and Cambridge scientists have discovered a key step in improving characteristics of graphene for use as photodetectors in high-speed optical communications. Graphene is a form of carbon just one atom thick and yet 100 times stronger than steel. Earlier this year, researchers discovered the new use for graphene. They suggested that a one-atom-thick layer of crystallised carbon could be used as a possible replacement for traditional transistors in the next generation of computer chips. Berkeley Lab's Ziang Zhang said: "Graphene enables us to make modulators that are incredibly compact and that potentially perform at speeds up to ten times faster than current technology allows. This new technology will significantly enhance our capabilities in ultrafast optical communication and computing." More>

Monday, August 29, 2011

New supernova is closest one to Earth in 25 years

Astronomy buffs, hold onto your telescopes. Scientists have discovered a new supernova, or exploding star, in the Pinwheel Galaxy. And, in a few weeks, you might be able to see it for yourself with nothing but a good pair of binoculars. Astronomers are especially excited about this newly discovered supernova -- although it's been given the decidedly unjazzy name SN 2011fe -- because it's a mere 21 million light-years away. In the language of astronomy, that puts it right in our backyard. Peter Nugent, the senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who originally spotted the exploding star, told the Los Angeles Times it has been 25 years since a supernova has occurred so close to Earth and that the last one was visible only in the southern hemisphere. More>

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Microbes' role in oil spills investigated

A report by researchers at a California lab has highlighted the critical role microbes played in mitigating the two worst oil spill incidents in U.S. history. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory studying last year's BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska two decades ago say oil-degrading micro-organisms played a significant role in reducing the overall environmental impact of both spills. More>

RichmondBUILD Awarded $115,000 for Green Workforce Training

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom spoke to the graduates of RichmondBuild at the recent graduation of "Cohort Fifteen" about how profoundly important choice is in shaping the future. "Fundamentally, it's decisions, not conditions that shape our future," said Newsom. He talked about the importance of building green jobs, about personal accountability and scaling successful programs that embody best practices at the August 19th, 2011 graduation held at RichmondBuild's training facility at 23rd Street. Chevron, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) contributed a combined $115,000 with Chevron handing out the largest check of $100,000 at the event. More>

Friday, August 19, 2011

Radiation From Japan Reached California Coast in Just Days

New research finds that radiation from the nuclear plant accident in Japan in March reached California within days, showing how quickly air pollution can travel, but scientists say the radiation will not hurt people. "It's not harmful at all," said study author Antra Priyadarshi, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at San Diego. The value of the study, Priyadarshi said, is understanding how fast the tiny particles of radiation traveled and how many particles made it to the United States. So, is the radiation in the air harmful? Not in this case, since the amount is small and the spike in radiation didn't last long, said Eleanor Blakely, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. More>

Leon Schipper, Physicist and Iconoclast, Dies at 64

Leon J. Schipper, a physicist whose passion for data led him to question the value of popular energy policies, like government subsidies for ethanol and for electric cars and the “cash for clunkers” program, died Tuesday in Berkeley, Calif. He was 64. The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he had worked for more than 20 years. More>

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Boxer: Climate-Change Legislation Still DOA

Sen. Barbara Boxer would like to see Congress take another stab at legislation to fight global warming. Just don't expect it to happen anytime soon. After touring part of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Wednesday morning, Boxer said federal climate-change legislation remains dead. Such legislation would be a big boost to many of the technologies under development at the lab, including advanced biofuels and artificial photosynthesis. But the current gridlocked Congress won't touch it. And she won't introduce such legislation herself until that changes. "Climate change doesn't have the votes," said Boxer, a Democrat. "I'm a pragmatic legislator. I'm not going to waste time on something that's not going to work." More>

Semen quality drops after age 35 in Chinese men

A new study of age-related changes in semen in Chinese men shows sperm health can start declining as early as age 30, with notable changes after age 35, although the research stops short of determining the effects on fertility. "The motility -- the ability of the sperm to move -- does change with age, and that probably will translate into a likelihood that, as a group, older men are going to have a harder time to fertilize," said Andrew Wyrobek, a sperm specialist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, who was not involved in this research. More>

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lab programs gives teens a jump on science

EMERYVILLE -- Deep within the Joint BioEnergy Institute, eight researchers are hard at work trying to find solutions to the growing global energy crisis. The team diligently researches renewable, carbon-neutral alternatives to fossil fuels in the hopes of finding a resource abundant enough to meet the world's demand. Eight sophomores and juniors are participating in the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology, or iCLEM, a summer science education program sponsored by the Joint BioEnergy Institute and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. The program provides opportunities to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and who come from families with little or no history of college attendance. More

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cooking up some chemistry inside a cell

There are, however, some brave chemists who are actively eschewing the comfort of simplicity. These scientists are developing chemical tools to craft new chemistry inside of cells. The cell is teeming with chemicals. The cell is the most complex collection of chemistry found anywhere on earth all bundled up in a teeny tiny little package. And these chemists are using the cell as their own personal test tube. A cell is like a bowl of vegetable soup. When you or I add salt to our soup it flavors the entire dish. The goal of bio-orthogonal chemists would be to salt only the peas in the soup. Likely, the chemist most responsible for popularizing the use of these bio-orthogonal techniques is Berkeley Lab's Carolyn Bertozzi. More>

Lawrence Berkeley Lab courted by East Bay cities

If the East Bay were a giant high school, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory would be, this summer anyway, the homecoming queen. Cities up and down the waterfront are ardently courting the federal research institution in hopes of winning the lab's nod for a sprawling second campus. "We love LBL" lawn signs and billboards have sprung up from Alameda to Richmond, and thousands have turned out for community meetings to woo lab officials. More>

Curbing Supercomputers' Growing Drain On Energy

Supercomputers have become a critical tool for scientists. Each year, they get bigger and faster — and use a lot more power. Soon, each one will need as much energy as a small city. That has researchers — like Berkeley Lab computing scientist John Shalf — looking to reinvent the supercomputer by using the technology inside cellphones. More>