Tiny fibers create unseen plastic pollution

Tiny fibers create unseen plastic pollution

While the polyester leisure suit was a 1970s mistake, polyester and other synthetic fibers like nylon are still around and are a major contributor to the microplastics load in the environment, according to a Penn State materials scientist, who suggests switching to biosynthetic fibers to solve this problem.

“These materials, during production, processing and after use, break down into and release microfibers that can now be found in everything and everyone,” said Melik Demirel, Lloyd and Dorothy Foehr Huck Endowed Chair in Biomimetic Materials.

Unlike natural fibers like wool, cotton and silk, current synthetic fibers are petroleum-based products and are mostly not biodegradable. While natural fibers can be recycled and biodegrade, mixed fibers that contain natural and synthetic fibers are difficult or costly to recycle.

Islands of floating plastic trash in the oceans are a visible problem, but the pollution produced by textiles is invisible and ubiquitous. In the oceans, these microscopic plastic pieces become incorporated into plants and animals. Harvested fish carry these particles to market and, when people eat them, they consume microplastic particles as well.

Demirel suggested four possible approaches to solving this problem, today (Feb. 16) at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. The first is to minimize the use of synthetic fibers and switch back to natural fibers such as wool, cotton, silk and linen. However, synthetic fibers are less expensive and natural fibers have other environmental costs, such as water and land-use issues.

Because much of the microfiber load that ends up in water sources comes from laundering, he suggests aftermarket filters for washing-machine outflow hoses. Clothes dryers have filters that catch lint — also microfiber waste — but current, front-loading washing machines usually do not.

“Capturing the microplastics at the source is the best filtering option,” said Demirel.

He also notes that bacteria that consume plastics do exist, but are currently at the academic research phase, which takes some time to gain industrial momentum. If bacteria were used on a large scale, they could aid in biodegradation of the fibers or break the fibers down to be reused.

While these three options are possible, they do not solve the problem of the tons of synthetic fibers currently used in clothing around the world. Biosynthetic fibers, a fourth option, are both recyclable and biodegradable and could directly substitute for the synthetic fibers. They could also be blended with natural fibers to provide the durability of synthetic fibers but allow the blends to be recycled.

Derived from natural proteins, biosynthetic fibers also can be manipulated to have desirable characteristics. Demirel, who developed a biosynthetic fiber composed of proteins similar to silk but inspired by those found in squid ring teeth, suggests that by altering the number of tandem repeats in the sequencing of the proteins, the polymers can be altered to meet a variety of properties.

For example, material manufactured from biosynthetic squid ring-teeth proteins, called Squitex, is self-healing. Broken fibers or sections will reattach with water and a little pressure and enhance the mechanical properties of recycled cotton as a blend. Also, because the fibers are organic, they are completely biodegradable as well.

The Army Research Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research supported the squid-inspired biosynthetic material. Demirel is the co-founder of a company planning to commercialize Squitex.

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Air Hogs’ new racer is the Spider-Man of remote-controlled cars

Air Hogs’ new racer is the Spider-Man of remote-controlled cars

Spin Master’s AirHogs brand is, like it says in the name, primarily a toy aircraft line today. Remote-controlled planes, helicopters and, of course, drones. But occasionally it will hit the ground with some cool land vehicles like race cars, tanks or even the Batmobile. However, this year the company is bringing back a four wheel hit from a few years ago that, while it may not fly, is decidedly not confined to the ground. The AirHogs Zero Gravity Laser Racer is a car that can ride on the floor, then climb up the wall and even take a shortcut across your ceiling.

Gallery: Air Hogs Zero Gravity Laser Racer | 5 Photos

This wall-crawling magic is achieved by a small suction fan on the undercarriage that has just enough pull to keep the very lightweight car moving around on flat surfaces. You can also turn the fan down a notch if you want to drive it around on the ground and really pick up some speed.

The “laser” part of this product comes from its control scheme. Instead of messing around with a joystick or gamepad, there’s an included laser gun that you point at where you want the car to go, and it will follow like an overeager house cat. It’s not flawless — sometimes it can be a bit slow to turn — but it certainly gets the job done.

Air Hogs Zero Gravity Laser Racer

It’s actually the perfect method for something that will be changing direction constantly, as steering a remote car can often be tricky if the car is facing in a different direction from the person controlling it: We’ve all had those moments playing with an RC car where we forget that our left isn’t actually the vehicle’s left, and then we’ve steered into a wall by accident. (Oops.) With the laser pointer, the car’s relative direction doesn’t matter since you’re showing it where to go with a flickering red dot. In addition to the new vehicle frame the gun also got a redesign, with a much smaller, more lightweight build that doesn’t feel like you’re holding a power drill.

The original Zero Gravity Laser Racer cars used AA batteries, but the new model charges via USB, which is a lot cheaper in the long run. It takes about 25-30 minutes to charge for 15 minutes of play time, which isn’t exactly long, but at least you won’t have any frantic scrambles for fresh Duracells (and it’s also a lot cheaper). It’s still plenty of time to get in a few races and impress your friends over drinks — it’s certainly a great party trick. The new and improved Zero Gravity Laser Racer will be available in red and blue, and it comes out in August for a nice tidy $40.

Check out the rest of our coverage from Toy Fair 2019 here.

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High-tech Pictionary is more challenging than using a pen

High-tech Pictionary is more challenging than using a pen

Pictionary seems like one of those perfect games that doesn’t really need an upgrade. You draw on a piece of paper, and people guess what you’re trying to show them. Sure, you can put the game on a phone or tablet, but the basic concept remains the same no matter where you play. However, this weekend at Toy Fair Mattel is unveiling Pictionary Air, which takes away the paper — or any other drawing surface, really — and asks to you draw in the empty space in front of you.

Gallery: Pictionary Air | 8 Photos

I tried it out at the show, and it turns out a lot of the game is still the Pictionary we all know and love: You take a paper card with a list of things on it, and once the timer is started you draw those items, one at a time, moving on to the next as the other players successfully guess each one. But the timer has been moved to the app and the drawings will only appear on its screen. The game can be broadcasted to a nearby TV via Chromecast or Airplay, so the entire room can join in on the fun from the couch, rather than everyone crowding around a small tablet or phone display. One person will still need to hold the device to manage the timer and point the camera at the current artist.

Instead of a pencil, the artist has a wand they wave in the air, sketching out the card prompts as best they can without the ability to see what they’re drawing. It’s tough, but it turns out I’m pretty good at it — I managed to successfully sketch out a camel, a baseball and eyelashes, though I was a bit less successful with more complex ideas like “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s sort of weird to see the finished drawings at the end though: turns out I didn’t really attach a pair of wings too well on my fairy, and her wand looked more like a sparkler. You’re gonna need good spatial recognition for this, and people who are usually excellent at drawing may find it a real challenge.

It was a lot of fun to play, and will probably be a crowd pleaser at my next family gathering. Fortunately, it won’t be too long a wait — the $20 Pictionary Air set, which includes the wand and cards, will hit Target stores June 1 and other retailers a month later.

Check out the rest of our coverage from Toy Fair 2019 here.

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Unboxing Nike’s self-lacing Adapt BB sneakers is like opening a smartphone

Unboxing Nike’s self-lacing Adapt BB sneakers is like opening a smartphone

It was exactly a month ago that Nike took the wraps off of Adapt BB, its latest pair of shoes with power laces, and now the company is finally ready to bring them to the masses. The Adapt BB will launch globally on February 17th, although some lucky people have already been able to get them through Nike’s SNKRS app. Unlike the HyperAdapt 1.0 from 2017, which were more of a concept project, the Adapt BBs are intended to be performance shoes for basketball players. They’re also smarter than the HyperAdapts, thanks to a mobile app that pairs with the shoes via Bluetooth and lets users adjust how the laces fit. You can also use the Adapt application, available for iOS and Android, to change the two LED colors on the shoes.

But, perhaps the craziest difference between Nike’s two self-lacing models is the price: the HyperAdapt 1.0 cost $720 at launch, whereas the Adapt BB are priced for less than half that, at $350. That’s still a lot of money for shoes, sure, but Nike hopes that all the tech inside them will be enough to appeal to many consumers — not just sneakerheads. Dubbed FitAdapt, the BB’s auto-lacing system consists of a custom motor that senses the tension needed by your feet and adjusts itself accordingly to keep each foot snug in the shoes. If you need to tweak the comfort levels, you can do so with the companion Adapt app or the two physical buttons on the BB’s midsole.

Nike is calling FitAdapt its “most advanced fit solution to date,” adding that it is designed to provide a “truly customized fit for every basketball player.” As someone who has worn the Adapt BBs before, I can definitely say that they are more comfortable than I expected them to be. They feel like normal sneakers, which wasn’t the case for the HyperAdapt 1.0. Those felt clunky and, in my case, I had to get a bigger size than I normally would in order to feel comfortable wearing them.



So what are you getting for your $350, you ask? Well, I had the chance to check out a retail version of the Adapt BBs at a Nike event in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the 2019 NBA All-Star game is taking place.

When I opened the package, it actually felt as if I was unboxing a smartphone, not a pair of shoes. That’s namely because of the included QI wireless charging pad, the USB cable/wall charger combo and the starting guide that shows you how to use the Adapt BBs. It’s just not something I’m used to when buying sneakers; if I’m lucky, I’ll get an extra pair of shoelaces in the box, and that’s usually as exciting as it gets.

But this is the thing about the Adapt BBs, that it has the potential to appeal to a lot of people because it combines performance and lifestyle gear with technology. And the same can be said about Puma’s own auto-lacing Fi sneakers, though those won’t arrive until 2020. As for the Adapt BBs, we’ll see if they have sufficient appeal to make them as popular as some of Nike’s analog shoes.

Gallery: Nike Adapt BB unboxing | 9 Photos

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JPMorgan is creating its own cryptocurrency

JPMorgan is creating its own cryptocurrency

Dubbed JPM Coin, the cryptocurrency has a fixed value redeemable for one US dolllar. It won’t trade freely like bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies.
JPMorgan believes JPM Coin can help lower its clients’ costs and risks, by making money transfers instantaneous and by reducing the amount of capital they need to hold onto. JPMorgan moves trillions of dollars around the world every day on behalf of customers.
JPM Coin is designed to be used, at least initially, by major institutional customers, not individuals, although JPMorgan expects to roll it out to a broader range of customers later this year.
JPMorgan (JPM) says it is the first American bank to create and successfully test this kind of digital coin. CNBC first reported JPM Coin.
Cryptocurrencies are not issued by governments. Their blockchain technology quickly transfers payments with a clear record of the transactions.
In 2017 JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon described bitcoin as a “fraud,” “stupid” and “far too dangerous” to people who traded it. Bitcoin, the best known cryptocurrency, has lost more than 80% of its value since its peak.
Dimon said that he supported blockchain technology for tracking payments, his company would fire anyone at the bank that traded in bitcoin “in a second.” He soon after backed off of that harsh assessment, saying that he regretted his comments, adding that he believes cryptocurrencies are real and had to be examined individually.
Bitcoin is 10 years old. But it won't go mainstream until it's regulated
The bank issued a further clarification Thursday on its position on cryptocurrencies.
“We have always believed in the potential of blockchain technology and we are supportive of cryptocurrencies as long as they are properly controlled and regulated,” said the bank “As a globally regulated bank, we believe we have a unique opportunity to develop the capability in a responsible way with the oversight of our regulators.”

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Lego’s newest playsets are haunted by AR

Lego’s newest playsets are haunted by AR

As much as we like to shake our metaphorical canes at kids and lament how they’re all about Minecraft and Fortnite these days, the truth is that they’re still really big into physical play too. Children still love Lego, both the plastic bricks and the worlds they can create with them. However, the company is now going to try to unite all these different aspects — building, video games and storytelling — with its new AR-based line, Lego Hidden Side. Kids can construct sets and bring them to life using their phones, with a continuing narrative to keep them coming back for more.

Gallery: Lego Hidden Side | 10 Photos

Hidden Side wouldn’t be Lego’s first foray into augmented reality. In the past it’s experimented with letting you use AR to preview toys in the store, and last year the Lego Playgrounds app used ARKit2 to add animation and other flourishes to existing sets. Hidden is the first line designed around the tech, with a storyline that’s only fully accessed through the app.

Lego Hidden revolves around two students, Parker and Jack, who end up investigating the supernatural in their small town of Newbury. The initial building sets include locations that would be instantly familiar to any kid with a penchant for urban fantasy: A high school and a graveyard. Once assembled, each kit has secrets that can be unveiled by pulling and pushing different parts, like the school will sprout evil eyes and claws when you turn the clock attached to the front of the building. But the real surprises come when kids point a phone camera at it and look through the app. Now the set will be infested with ghosts that they need to investigate, zap, and send data about them back to their Professor, J.B..

Lego Hidden Side

What’s especially cool though, is that the kids aren’t done with the physical set just yet. Their investigation requires them to open doors, turn knobs and even open up graves. Just tapping on a screen isn’t going to cut it. The actions can all be done one-handed for those playing solo, but children playing together might choose to delegate each task instead.

The app recognizes each set by its general shape; while it doesn’t have to match exactly, the app looks for a unique profile so it knows what activities it needs to load. This means that kids can’t go rearranging things willy-nilly like they would with other Lego sets, building the model on the box and then deconstructing it and creating something entirely new. In order to keep playing, they need to leave the sets in their standard configuration. This obviously seems very limiting — in fact, a constant criticism of Lego’s licensed sets is that they limit kids’ imaginations by discouraging them from making freeform constructions, so this would be the pinnacle of that.

Lego Hidden Side

However, instead of limiting the sets’ replayability the app actually just replaces the standard types of play with something different. Lego wants Hidden Side to be a service rather than a standalone game, so it’s going to be constantly updated with new missions for kids to take on. That way they can keep coming back to find something new to do. For now there’s no push notifications, so Lego is relying on curiosity and word of mouth for youngsters to find out that there’s new content to check out. To keep the entire thing compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Act (COPA), the app doesn’t save any information in an account: Everything stays on the device, which is a real bummer if they have to switch phones or tablets. However, Lego hasn’t ruled out the possibility of syncing Hidden Side up with the Lego Life app, which would allow some data to be maintained while still protecting kids’ privacy.

Lego Hidden Side will launch this summer, with the graveyard going for $20 while the school (complete with spooky claws) will run $30. The app will launch around the same time for Android and iOS at no cost — not even in-app purchases. Lego knows it’ll make more than enough money in building sets as parents struggle to keep up with their kids’ new Lego addiction.

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Apple concedes to Qualcomm to escape German iPhone ban

Apple concedes to Qualcomm to escape German iPhone ban


Chris Velazco/Engadget

It sounds like Apple is done trying to fight an injunction in Germany brought about by its legal battle against Qualcomm. According to Reuters, the tech giant will resume selling the older iPhone models that were banned in the country after a Munich court sided with the chipmaker. Apple isn’t defying the court order, though: it said that going forward, it will only use Qualcomm modems for the iPhone 7 and 8 devices it’s going to sell in the European nation.

See, Apple uses either Qualcomm’s or Intel’s telephony technologies for the disputed iPhones. But in order to be able to bring them back to Germany, the company is leaving Intel’s modems out in the cold and swapping them with Qualcomm parts.

Qualcomm filed the lawsuit that spawned the injunction over a patent violation around envelope tracking, which is a feature that helps phones preserve battery while sending and receiving wireless transmissions. To be clear, Intel’s modems aren’t directly involved in the lawsuit. Qualcomm specifically named Apple supplier and semiconductor-maker Qorvo as the one that infringed on its intellectual property. It just so happened that Qorvo’s chips are only present in iPhone devices with Intel modems.

The German court that sided with Qualcomm ordered the injunction in December 2018, so Apple hasn’t been able to sell iPhone 7 and 8 devices in the country for almost a couple of months. Apple tried to fight the decision, but the chipmaker paid security bonds worth a whopping $1.5 billion to make sure the ban is enforced. The company is completely at Qualcomm’s mercy in this particular case, and it might have decided to back down after an earnings miss due to selling fewer iPhones than expected.

Even though the tech giant is playing Qualcomm’s game in the European country, it’s far from being back on friendly terms with the equipment-maker. It once said that Qualcomm is involved in illegal patent licensing practices to maintain a monopoly on mobile modem chips, and the statement a spokesperson gave Reuters shows that there’s still no love lost between the two:

“Qualcomm is attempting to use injunctions against our products to try to get Apple to succumb to their extortionist demands.”

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Canon’s next full-frame mirrorless camera is the EOS RP

Canon’s next full-frame mirrorless camera is the EOS RP

Well, it looks like the recent rumors were spot on: Canon is getting ready to launch a compact version of its EOS R camera. And here it is. Meet the EOS RP, a full-frame mirrorless shooter that costs a reasonable $1,299 (body-only). For those of you keeping track at home, that’s $1,000 less than the EOS R, which just arrived in October of 2018.

As you might expect, the EOS RP comes with a smaller 26.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, compared to the 30.3-megapixel found on the EOS R. That said, there are features shared between the two cameras, such as the Digic 8 image processor, accurate Dual Pixel autofocus and that fully articulating 3-inch touchscreen.

The new EOS RP is all about being compact and portable, weighing roughly 17 ounces (485 grams) without a lens attached. That’s about 5 and 7 ounces less than the EOS R and Nikon’s Z6 full-frame mirrorless, respectively. Like the R, the RP features a built-in, 2.36-million-dot electronic viewfinder, has an ISO range of 100- 40,000 (expandable to 50-102,000) and shoots 4K video at up to 24 frames per second. It’s worth noting that 4K video on the RP still doesn’t support a full sensor readout, similar to the R, though Canon says that 1.8x cropping has to happen to prevent overheating issues on such a small body.

Gallery: Canon EOS RP hands-on | 20 Photos

If you want to control the camera remotely or share pictures wirelessly, the EOS RP has Bluetooth and WiFi support. There’s also a USB Type-C port for charging, a single UHS II SD card slot, HDMI out, plus 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks. Design-wise, the EOS RP is nearly identical to the R, save for a couple of ergonomic details. The RP doesn’t have the wonky touchpad that was on the back of the R, nor the tiny LCD screen next to the mode dials that let you view information like ISO and aperture. Instead, there’s a more traditional dial in place, akin to what you would find on Canon’s DSLR cameras such as the 5D Mark IV or 6D Mark II.

When it comes to specs, the EOS RP has exactly what you would want from $1,200 camera: a big sensor, solid AF and 4K video. But the first thing that caught my attention when I picked it up is how light it felt, even when compared to the EOS R, which itself isn’t a heavy camera. Sure, it gains a bit of mass when you put on the 24-105mm RF lens, but the RP is still a light system. Canon says it designed its latest mirrorless for people who want a small camera with great picture and video quality at an affordable price, and there’s plenty to like here. Nikon’s cheapest full-frame mirrorless camera (the Z6), for comparison, costs $2,000 — although it is better-specced than Canon’s offering.

Aside from the 24-105mm RF lens, I used the EOS RP with the 35mm RF, and the camera performed quite well with both. Most of the sample images I took came out sharp and with accurate colors; flowers looked vivid, skin tones were satisfactory. Now, if what you want is a fast shooter, the EOS RP isn’t it. The camera’s continuous shooting mode is limited to 5 frames per second, which is definitely going to discourage some potential buyers. Canon says it has a professional full-frame mirrorless model in the works, one that will complement both the EOS R and the EOS RP, though it’s unclear when that camera will arrive.


Canon’s EOS RP (bottom) and EOS R (top).

While I was pleased with the results from the EOS RP after a spending a day with it, I won’t be completely sold on it until we test its low-light and full 4K video performance. After all, 24 hours isn’t enough to discover any hidden flaws. For now, however, I think Canon is onto something with the EOS RP — and it shows that the company is finally getting serious about mirrorless cameras. We all know Sony needs some competition in that space, which it has basically owned since the introduction of its A7 full-frame mirrorless in 2013, so having more choices is always great for consumers.

Canon is aware of that, too. That’s why it plans to bring five more RF lenses to its EOS R and EOS RP by the end of 2019. That includes a 15-35mm f/2.8, a 24-70mm f/2.8, a 70-200mm f/2.8, an 85mm f/1.2 and a 24-240mm f/4-6.2, which will bring the total number of RF lenses to nine. The more glass it has for its full-frame mirrorless system, the better chance it has to lure in photographers and videographers. Although the EOS R and RP are compatible with Canon’s EF lenses via an adapter, you’ll need the native RF glass for the mirrorless systems’ autofocus to be fully accurate and to keep your optical quality from dropping a bit.

The EOS RP will be available in March starting at $1,299 for just the body, or $2,399 for a kit with a 24-105mm RF lens. As part of its efforts to get the camera into as many hands as possible, Canon is running a promo through next month that gives EOS RP buyers a free grip and EF mount adapter. During that time, you can also get the EOS RP with the 24-105mm RF lens for $2,199. Or, if you don’t mind using non-native glass with the camera, you’ll have the option to get a kit with a 24-105mm EF lens and an adapter for $1,699.

Gallery: Canon EOS RP sample images | 15 Photos

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Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

The Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when it is hit by strong impulses, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

As an impulse strikes the outer boundary of the shield, known as the magnetopause, ripples travel along its surface which then get reflected back when they approach the magnetic poles.

The interference of the original and reflected waves leads to a standing wave pattern, in which specific points appear to be standing still while others vibrate back and forth. A drum resonates like this when struck in exactly the same way.

This study, published in Nature Communications, describes the first time this effect has been observed after it was theoretically proposed 45 years ago.

Movements of the magnetopause are important in controlling the flow of energy within our space environment with wide-ranging effects on space weather, which is how phenomena from space can potentially damage technology like power grids, GPS and even passenger airlines.

The discovery that the boundary moves in this way sheds light on potential global consequences that previously had not been considered.

Dr Martin Archer, space physicist at Queen Mary University of London, and lead author of the paper, said: “There had been speculation that these drum-like vibrations might not occur at all, given the lack of evidence over the 45 years since they were proposed. Another possibility was that they are just very hard to definitively detect.

“Earth’s magnetic shield is continuously buffeted with turbulence so we thought that clear evidence for the proposed booming vibrations might require a single sharp hit from an impulse. You would also need lots of satellites in just the right places during this event so that other known sounds or resonances could be ruled out. The event in the paper ticked all those quite strict boxes and at last we’ve shown the boundary’s natural response.”

The researchers used observations from five NASA THEMIS satellites when they were ideally located as a strong isolated plasma jet slammed into the magnetopause. The probes were able to detect the boundary’s oscillations and the resulting sounds within the Earth’s magnetic shield, which agreed with the theory and gave the researchers the ability to rule out all other possible explanations.

Many impulses which can impact our magnetic shield originate from the solar wind, charged particles in the form of plasma that continually blow off the Sun, or are a result of the complicated interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field, as was technically the case for this event.

The interplay of Earth’s magnetic field with the solar wind forms a magnetic shield around the planet, bounded by the magnetopause, which protects us from much of the radiation present in space.

Other planets like Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn also have similar magnetic shields and so the same drum-like vibrations may be possible elsewhere.

Further research is needed to understand how often the vibrations occur at Earth and whether they exist at other planets as well. Their consequences also need further study using satellite and ground-based observations.

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Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

The Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when it is hit by strong impulses, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

As an impulse strikes the outer boundary of the shield, known as the magnetopause, ripples travel along its surface which then get reflected back when they approach the magnetic poles.

The interference of the original and reflected waves leads to a standing wave pattern, in which specific points appear to be standing still while others vibrate back and forth. A drum resonates like this when struck in exactly the same way.

This study, published in Nature Communications, describes the first time this effect has been observed after it was theoretically proposed 45 years ago.

Movements of the magnetopause are important in controlling the flow of energy within our space environment with wide-ranging effects on space weather, which is how phenomena from space can potentially damage technology like power grids, GPS and even passenger airlines.

The discovery that the boundary moves in this way sheds light on potential global consequences that previously had not been considered.

Dr Martin Archer, space physicist at Queen Mary University of London, and lead author of the paper, said: “There had been speculation that these drum-like vibrations might not occur at all, given the lack of evidence over the 45 years since they were proposed. Another possibility was that they are just very hard to definitively detect.

“Earth’s magnetic shield is continuously buffeted with turbulence so we thought that clear evidence for the proposed booming vibrations might require a single sharp hit from an impulse. You would also need lots of satellites in just the right places during this event so that other known sounds or resonances could be ruled out. The event in the paper ticked all those quite strict boxes and at last we’ve shown the boundary’s natural response.”

The researchers used observations from five NASA THEMIS satellites when they were ideally located as a strong isolated plasma jet slammed into the magnetopause. The probes were able to detect the boundary’s oscillations and the resulting sounds within the Earth’s magnetic shield, which agreed with the theory and gave the researchers the ability to rule out all other possible explanations.

Many impulses which can impact our magnetic shield originate from the solar wind, charged particles in the form of plasma that continually blow off the Sun, or are a result of the complicated interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field, as was technically the case for this event.

The interplay of Earth’s magnetic field with the solar wind forms a magnetic shield around the planet, bounded by the magnetopause, which protects us from much of the radiation present in space.

Other planets like Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn also have similar magnetic shields and so the same drum-like vibrations may be possible elsewhere.

Further research is needed to understand how often the vibrations occur at Earth and whether they exist at other planets as well. Their consequences also need further study using satellite and ground-based observations.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Queen Mary University of London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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3Doodler’s mobile app is like a coloring book for 3D printing

3Doodler’s mobile app is like a coloring book for 3D printing


3Doodler

3Doodler is finally launching a mobile app, and it’ll come with step-by-step instructions you can follow to hone your 3D-printing skills. The company will also roll out a new project every week to give you something fresh to work on after you’ve already gone through all the tutorials (over 10, the company said) featured at launch. But the best thing the application can offer if you truly can’t wield your 3D-printing pen properly even after loads of practice is stencils. You don’t even have to print out the stencils: you can literally just draw with a 3Doodler right on your mobile device while following the patterns on the screen — sort of like a paint by number coloring book.

In addition to the mobile app, the company has also announced new kits and the availability of EDU Learning Packs from various retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy, ahead of New York Toy Fair. The new $25 Robosumo activity kit includes activity guide and motors for mini sumo battle robots, while the $20 Alphadood character kit will make it easy to create action figures for stop-motion animation. 3Doodler has also announced two new Create+ Pen Sets that bundle various accessories together.

Company chief Daniel Cowen said that 3Doodler’s goal is to “become as ubiquitous as a Crayola or LEGO in terms of being synonymous with creativity and development from an early age.” He also said that 3Doodler will focus even more on education going forward to achieve that goal:

“Our mission is to inspire and enable everyone to create, and firmly believe that education is the proper vehicle for this mission. We’ve already seen countless examples of how 3Doodler can positively impact a classroom, and have now started to structure our company to meet that demand.”

3Doodler plans to release its mobile app for Android and iOS devices in the first quarter of 2019, so we’ll likely see it hit the platform’s app stores very soon.

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Like candlelight? Then you might love this floodlight LED

Like candlelight? Then you might love this floodlight LED

I’ve been covering the light bulb beat for about five years now, and I’ve seen LEDs come a long way. Just look at Philips’ newest BR30-shaped floodlight bulb. It’s as efficient as floodlights come, it’s near flawless on dimmer switches, it turns warmer and more candle-like in tone as you dim it down — and, at about $14 for a three-pack at Home Depot, it costs a fraction of what bulbs like this used to cost back when I started.

Along with best-yet brightness and efficiency and an improved lifespan of 22.8 years, the biggest step forward for Philips here might be the bulb’s warranty. Last time I tested floodlights in 2017, Philips was warranting its bulbs for three years. Now, in 2019, that figure is up to 10 years, which finally matches North Carolina lighting manufacturer Cree, a key competitor with Philips on those Home Depot shelves. 

Cree’s latest floodlight LED is an excellent pick, but the Philips 65-watt replacement floodlight is almost equally strong. In fact, it’s brighter and more efficient than Cree while still costing a quarter or two less per bulb. That makes it one of the strongest values in the lighting aisle, and a terrific choice if you’re in need of new overhead lights.

If you’ll indulge me in a quick light bulb pun, the Philips floodlight really shines when you check the specs. Philips lists the brightness at 650 lumens, which is typical of the sort of 65-watt incandescent bulb it seeks to replace. I measured it much higher than that, with a final reading of 749 lumens. Along with being brighter than advertised, that’s about 17 percent brighter than the last generation of Philips floodlight LEDs from the same 9-watt power draw. 

It’s also a smidgen brighter and more efficient than Cree, and efficient enough that it takes just nine months for the bulb to pay for itself in energy savings if you’re using it to replace an incandescent. Even if you’re replacing a halogen or a fluorescent bulb, Philips’ floodlight will pay for itself before the warranty runs out — with years to spare.

The Philips floodlight lost less of its initial brightness to heat than any other bulb we tested.


Ry Crist/CNET

That ample brightness comes, in part, from a drastic improvement in the way this bulb handles heat. Like a lot of electronics, LED light bulbs heat up while in use, which in turn affects performance. Run them in front of a spectrometer, and you’ll see that their brightness dips slightly during the first 30 minutes or so of use. 

That dip was a worse-than-average 16.3 percent with the Philips floodlight LED I tested two years ago. Now, the new version dips by just 4.6 percent — a substantial advancement that lets the bulb put out much more light from the same power draw. It’s also a better result than any other 65-watt replacement floodlight I’ve ever tested.

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DOJ busts gang for allegedly sold fake cars on eBay

DOJ busts gang for allegedly sold fake cars on eBay

The Department of Justice has unsealed information about an organized crime ring that used online sites like eBay and Craigslist to defraud people. 20 people, including 16 people from Romania and Bulgaria, stand accused of RICO, wire fraud and money laundering offenses, as well as identify theft.

According to the documents, the Romanian team would create fake ads on websites like Craigslist and eBay for pricey goods. Apparently the common item would be a car, and interested buyers would be encouraged to pay before delivery.

In order to sell the scam, the profiles would claim that they were in the military, and needed to sell the car before being deployed. Images and names had been sourced from real people, and used faked emails from eBay and Aol Autos*, even going so far as to include fake customer service addresses.

When people paid up, the cash was quickly exchanged for cryptocurrency, which was then passed over to associates based overseas. That allegedly included the owners of Coinflux and R G Coins, a pair of Romanian exchanges.

If found guilty, the gang can expect up to 20 years in jail and hefty fines that range from $250,000 through to $500,000. And the DoJ has added that if you think you may have been caught in this scam, you can submit your information to help the case.

*Aol Autos is/was a property owned by Engadget’s current/former parent company, yadda yadda.

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Should you add Amazon’s light bulbs to your shopping cart?

Should you add Amazon’s light bulbs to your shopping cart?

AmazonBasics is the online megaretailer’s version of a store brand — and for the past year or so, just like the store brands at Walmart and at Target, the product lineup has included LED light bulbs.

Among those AmazonBasics-branded bulbs: a soft white, 65-watt replacement floodlight LED that sells in a two-pack for $12. Unlike a lot of store brand products, that’s actually more expensive than much of the name-brand competition. Run to the hardware store, and you’ll find some very good floodlight LEDs from names like GE and Cree all cost a bit less per bulb. With Amazon, you’re basically paying an extra buck or two not to need the hardware store at all.

And, in fairness, Amazon’s bulbs aren’t bad. With a brighter-than-advertised light output that measures in at 792 lumens, they’re some of the brightest 65-watt replacement floodlight LEDs I’ve tested. Drawing 9.5 watts at full brightness, they’ll each knock about $7 off of your energy bill every year if you use them to replace 65-watt incandescents. In that scenario, Amazon’s bulbs would pay for themselves within 11 months.

The problem here is the dimming. Though I didn’t see any noticeable flicker on any of the switches I tested them with, I did notice a persistent, audible buzz across all of them, especially with the bulb dimmed to medium settings. Buzzes like that typically happen when electromagnetic interference from the dimmer switch causes something inside the bulb to vibrate. It happened with both bulbs I tested, and is a recurring point of criticism in the Amazon user reviews, too.

In addition to that, Amazon’s floodlight LED was just a so-so performer in our heat tests, losing nearly 15 percent of its initial brightness over the first hour or so of use as the bulb heated up. GE and Cree each did significantly better, with brightness dips of just 7.1 and 6.3 percent, respectively.

All of that has me recommending that you skip Amazon’s bulb and go instead with the $5 Cree floodlight LED, our Editors’ Choice-winner in the floodlight category. It isn’t quite as bright as the Amazon bulb, but it’s cheaper, more efficient and much better on dimmer switches, plus it offers a longer lifespan and an industry-leading 10-year warranty. For even more of a value pick, you could also consider the also-great GE Basic LED, which costs just $3 in a six-pack at Lowe’s.

AmazonBasics 65W Replacement Floodlight LED Cree 65W Replacement Floodlight LED GE Basic 65W Replacement Floodlight LED
Brightness (lumens) 792 732 659
Power draw (watts) 9.5 8.5 8.5
Efficiency (lumens/watt) 83.4 86.1 77.5
Yearly energy cost ($0.11 per kWh, 3 hrs of use per day) $1.14 $1.02 $1.02
Color temperature (degrees Kelvin) 2,972 K 2,646 K 2,659 K
Average dimmable range 12.0 – 92.8% 9.5 – 96.6% 1.7 – 99.8%
Flicker and buzz-free dimming? No (persistent buzz) Yes Yes
Brightness lost to heat 14.6% 6.3% 7.1%
Lifespan 13.7 years 22.8 years 6.8
Warranty 3 years 10 years 2 years
Retail price $11.99 (2-pack) $9.97 (2-pack) $16.98 (6-pack)
Price per bulb $5.99 $4.99 $2.83
Payback period (if replacing a matching incandescent) 0.9 years 0.74 years 0.42 years
CNET overall score 6.1 8.8 8.4

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Charting a path to cheaper flexible solar cells

Charting a path to cheaper flexible solar cells

There’s a lot to like about perovskite-based solar cells. They are simple and cheap to produce, offer flexibility that could unlock a wide new range of installation methods and places, and in recent years have reached energy efficiencies approaching those of traditional silicon-based cells.

But figuring out how to produce perovskite-based energy devices that last longer than a couple of months has been a challenge.

Now researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology, University of California San Diego and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have reported new findings about perovskite solar cells that could lead the way to devices that perform better.

“Perovskite solar cells offer a lot of potential advantages because they are extremely lightweight and can be made with flexible plastic substrates,” said Juan-Pablo Correa-Baena, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering. “To be able to compete in the marketplace with silicon-based solar cells, however, they need to be more efficient.”

In a study that was published February 8 in the journal Science and was sponsored by the U.S Department Energy and the National Science Foundation, the researchers described in greater detail the mechanisms of how adding alkali metal to the traditional perovskites leads to better performance.

“Perovskites could really change the game in solar,” said David Fenning, a professor of nanoengineering at the University of California San Diego. “They have the potential to reduce costs without giving up performance. But there’s still a lot to learn fundamentally about these materials.”

To understand perovskite crystals, it’s helpful to think of its crystalline structure as a triad. One part of the triad is typically formed from the element lead. The second is typically made up of an organic component such as methylammonium, and the third is often comprised of other halides such as bromine and iodine.

In recent years, researchers have focused on testing different recipes to achieve better efficiencies, such as adding iodine and bromine to the lead component of the structure. Later, they tried substituting cesium and rubidium to the part of the perovskite typically occupied by organic molecules.

“We knew from earlier work that adding cesium and rubidium to a mixed bromine and iodine lead perovskite leads to better stability and higher performance,” Correa-Baena said.

But little was known about why adding those alkali metals improved performance of the perovskites.

To understand exactly why that seemed to work, the researchers used high-intensity X-ray mapping to examine the perovskites at the nanoscale.

“By looking at the composition within the perovskite material, we can see how each individual element plays a role in improving the performance of the device,” said Yanqi (Grace) Luo, a nanoengineering PhD student at UC San Diego.

They discovered that when the cesium and rubidium were added to the mixed bromine and iodine lead perovskite, it caused the bromine and iodine to mix together more homogeneously, resulting in up to 2 percent higher conversion efficiency than the materials without these additives.

“We found that uniformity in the chemistry and structure is what helps a perovskite solar cell operate at its fullest potential,” Fenning said. “Any heterogeneity in that backbone is like a weak link in the chain.”

Even so, the researchers also observed that while adding rubidium or cesium caused the bromine and iodine to become more homogenous, the halide metals themselves within their own cation remained fairly clustered, creating inactive “dead zones” in the solar cell that produce no current.

“This was surprising,” Fenning said. “Having these dead zones would typically kill a solar cell. In other materials, they act like black holes that suck in electrons from other regions and never let them go, so you lose current and voltage.

“But in these perovskites, we saw that the dead zones around rubidium and cesium weren’t too detrimental to solar cell performance, though there was some current loss,” Fenning said. “This shows how robust these materials are but also that there’s even more opportunity for improvement.”

The findings add to the understanding of how the perovskite-based devices work at the nanoscale and could lay the groundwork for future improvements.

“These materials promise to be very cost effective and high performing, which is pretty much what we need to make sure photovoltaic panels are deployed widely,” Correa-Baena said. “We want to try to offset issues of climate change, so the idea is to have photovoltaic cells that are as cheap as possible.”

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