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Nobel prize honours breakthroughs on lithium-ion batteries – CTV News

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David Keyton and Jamey Keaten, The Associated Press


Published Wednesday, October 9, 2019 3:07AM EDT


Last Updated Wednesday, October 9, 2019 11:31AM EDT

STOCKHOLM — If you’re reading this on a mobile phone or laptop computer, you might thank this year’s three laureates for the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on lithium-ion batteries.

Yet the batteries developed by the British, American and Japanese winners that make those devices possible are far more revolutionary than just for on-the-go computing and calling. The breakthroughs the three achieved also made storing energy from renewable sources more feasible, opening up a whole new front in the fight against global warming.

“This is a highly-charged story of tremendous potential,” said Olof Ramstrom of the Nobel committee for chemistry.

The prize announced Wednesday went to John B. Goodenough, 97, a German-born American engineering professor at the University of Texas; M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a British-American chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Akira Yoshino, 71, of chemicals company Asahi Kasei Corp. and Meijo University in Japan.

The honour awarded to the three scientists is a capstone of a truly transformative technology that has permeated billions of lives across the planet, including anyone who uses mobile phones, computers, pacemakers, electric cars and beyond.

“The heart of the phone is the rechargeable battery. The heart of the electric vehicle is the rechargeable battery. The success and failure of so many new technologies depends on the batteries,” said Alexej Jerschow, a chemist at New York University, whose research focuses on lithium ion battery diagnostics.

Whittingham expressed hope the Nobel spotlight could give a new impetus to efforts to meet the world’s ravenous — and growing — demands for energy.

“I am overcome with gratitude at receiving this award, and I honestly have so many people to thank, I don’t know where to begin,” he said in a statement issued by his university. “It is my hope that this recognition will help to shine a much-needed light on the nation’s energy future.”

Goodenough, who is considered an intellectual giant of solid state chemistry and physics, is the oldest person to ever win a Nobel Prize — edging Arthur Ashkin, who was 96 when he was awarded the Nobel for physics last year. Goodenough still works every day.

“That’s the nice thing — they don’t make you retire at a certain age in Texas. They allow you to keep working,” he told reporters in London. “So I’ve had an extra 33 years to keep working in Texas.”

The three each had unique breakthroughs that cumulatively laid the foundation for the development of a commercial rechargeable battery, to replace alkaline batteries like those containing lead or zinc, which had their origins in the 19th century.

Lithium-ion batteries — the first truly portable and rechargeable batteries — took more than a decade to develop, and drew upon the work of multiple scientists in the U.S., Japan and around the world.

The work had its roots in the oil crisis in the 1970s, when Whittingham was working on efforts to develop fossil fuel-free energy technologies. He harnessed the enormous tendency of lithium — the lightest metal — to give away its electrons to make a battery capable of generating just over two volts.

By 1980, Goodenough had doubled the capacity of the battery to four volts by using cobalt oxide in the cathode — one of two electrodes, along with the anode, that make up the ends of a battery.

But that battery remained too explosive for general commercial use. That’s where Yoshino’s work in the 1980s came in. He substituted petroleum coke, a carbon material, in the battery’s anode. This step paved the way for the first lightweight, safe, durable and rechargeable commercial batteries to be built and enter the market in 1991.

“We have gained access to a technical revolution,” said Sara Snogerup Linse of the Nobel committee for chemistry. “The laureates developed lightweight batteries with high enough potential to be useful in many applications — truly portable electronics: mobile phones, pacemakers, but also long-distance electric cars.”

“The ability to store energy from renewable sources — the sun, the wind — opens up for sustainable energy consumption,” she added.

Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, Yoshino said he thought there might be a long wait before the Nobel committee turned to his specialty — but he was wrong. He broke the news to his wife, who was just as surprised as he was.

“I only spoke to her briefly and said, ‘I got it,’ and she sounded she was so surprised that her knees almost gave way,” he said.

The trio will share a 9-million kronor ($918,000) cash award. Their gold medals and diplomas will be conferred in Stockholm on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

On Tuesday, Canadian-born James Peebles won the Nobel physics prize for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology together with Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, who were honoured for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a solar-type star.

Americans William G. Kaelin Jr. and Gregg L. Semenza and Britain’s Peter J. Ratcliffe won the Nobel prize for advances in physiology or medicine on Monday. They were cited for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.”

Two Nobel literature laureates are to be announced Thursday — one for 2018 and one for 2019 — because last year’s award was suspended after a sex abuse scandal rocked the Swedish Academy. The coveted Nobel Peace Prize is Friday and the economics award will be announced on Monday.

——  Keaten reported from Geneva. Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo; Jill Lawless in London and AP Science Writer Christina Larson in Washington contributed to this report.

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Interstellar visitor is reddish, new study finds – CBC.ca

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In a new study published in Nature Astronomy on Monday, astronomers are pulling back the curtain on some of the mysteries behind our solar system’s first confirmed interstellar comet.

The comet, 2I/Borisov, was discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov on Aug. 30, though its orbit was unknown.

But by the end of September, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center confirmed that the comet came from beyond our solar system

Because Borisov is so distant — 420 million kilometres from Earth — it’s difficult to determine a lot of its characteristics. However, this new study, the astronomers were able to determine a few of its interesting qualities.

Using two telescopes, the Gemini North Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the William Herschel Telescope in La Palma, Spain, they were able to determine that the nucleus, or core, is roughly one kilometre in diameter. 

They also identified a short tail and an extended coma, or cloud of debris that gives comets their fuzzy appearance. And they determined its colour.

“We found this colour of the comet is almost the same as other colour of the typical comets in our solar system,” said co-author of the paper Piotr Guzik, an astronomer at the Astronomical Observatory at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. “It’s not red like Mars … it’s just a bit more red light in its spectrum than the blue light.”

In another study, researchers also found that Borisov contained cyanogen, which is made up of a carbon atom and a nitrogen atom that are bonded. It is a poisonous gas to us, but commonly found in comets.

Second interstellar visitor

Borisov is the second known object to come from another star system.

The first was 1I/’Oumuamua. It’s believed that it was an asteroid, however, it’s also been hypothesized that it did have some activity — called outgassing — that is similar to a comet’s.

This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar object, 1I/’Oumuamua. It was discovered two years ago by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. (M. Kornmesser/ESO)

While ‘Oumuamua was detected on its way out of the solar system, Borisov was detected on its way in, which means astronomers will be able to study this one for some time.

“The next year is going to be extremely exciting, as we will be able to follow 2I’s evolution as it zooms through our solar system,” said Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, in a statement. “In comparison, we had only a few weeks to study ‘Oumuamua before it became too faint.”

So far, the Borisov findings suggest it isn’t very different from our own local comets, something that Guzik believes could shed light on exoplanets, which orbit other stars.

“Such objects are just part of other planetary systems. It was not until, I guess, around 1990 that we found the first planet systems around other stars, and now part of such a system is here,” Guzik said. “So we can investigate some material that left some planetary system and compare it to what we see here and probably learn something about the formation of other planetary systems.”

Though the recent study found cyanogen, Guzik said that he’s hopeful that, as the comet gets nearer the sun, astronomers will discover more about its composition.

“It will be very interesting to find out more, especially what’s driving its activity,” he said.

Borisov will reach perihelion — its closest approach to the sun — on Dec. 7, when it will be roughly 300 million kilometres away. 

Guzik also hopes that, eventually, astronomers will be able to determine its home star system.

“It would be really nice to know where it originated,” Guzik said. “If we could point to the star and say, ‘This is the star.'”

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Asteroid news: Did alien space rock dust cloud spark new life on Earth? – Express.co.uk

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Scientists have now posited an asteroid disintegration once blanketed Earth with dust millions of years ago. It is thought the cosmic event dramatically cooled Earth, triggering an ice age followed by significant increases of new animals. The work, led by Professor Birger Schmitz of Sweden’s Lund University, provides new insight into the impact of extraterrestrial events on Earth’s evolution.

The asteroid expert told the Observer: “We know about the 6 mile (10km) asteroid that crashed on Earth 67 million years ago and killed off the dinosaurs, but this event was very different.

“It occurred about 470 million years ago when an asteroid 3,000 times bigger than the dinosaur-killer was destroyed during a collision with another asteroid beyond the orbit of Mars.

“It filled the solar system with dust and caused a major dimming of sunlight falling on Earth.”

The theory is a reduction in radiation made the planet’s temperatures drop significantly.

READ MORE: Dashcam fireball footage shows space rock hurtle above Alberta

This triggered a succession of ice ages, meaning water froze, ice caps spread and sea levels dropped.

This created isolated shallow seas which were an ideal breeding ground for generating new species.

Cold water also holds more dissolved oxygen, which would also have boosted speciation.

Scientists are already aware ice ages appeared around this time and life underwent a spike in biodiversity, particularly in the oceans.

READ MORE: This is what would happen if an asteroid hits Earth

The first coral reefs began to grow then and peculiar tentacled predators called nautiloids first appeared.

This is called as the great Ordovician bio-diversification event (GOBE).

Scientists have argued over GOBE’s cause but now Professor Schmitz, who studying space dust particles in seabed sediments, believes it was triggered by asteroid dust clouds.

He said: “The sediments laid down at this time are rich in the isotope helium-3 – which they could only have picked up travelling through space. It is a crucial clue.”

READ MORE: NASA chief reveals nuclear ‘game changer’

Professor Rebecca Freeman, of the University of Kentucky, told Science how she agreed with the idea.

She said: “Other scientists have backed his idea. “It isn’t necessarily the answer to every question we have about GOBE, but it certainly ties together a lot of observations.”

Professor Schmitz’s research has also caused interest for another reason.

As the world warms dangerously, some scientists have proposed spreading a veil of dust hovering in space over the Earth, reflecting sunlight away from our overheating planet.

But the idea is controversial with critics because it could have unexpected side-effects.

Now evidence shows such an experiment occurred naturally 470 million years ago.

The result was a major change in our meteorology and the evolution of life here.

Professor Schmitz added: “It is certainly worth bearing in my mind in coming years.”

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Alien life possibly found on Mars in 1970s, ex-NASA scientist says – Fox News

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In a stunning op-ed, a former NASA scientist says he is convinced that the space agency “found evidence of life” on Mars in the 1970s.

In the article, Gilbert Levin, who worked on the Viking missions to the Red Planet during that decade, makes it clear that he believes data from the Labeled Release (LR) in 1976 was supportive of finding life.

“On July 30, 1976, the LR returned its initial results from Mars,” Levin wrote in the op-ed, entitled “I’m Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s.”

“Amazingly, they were positive. As the experiment progressed, a total of four positive results, supported by five varied controls, streamed down from the twin Viking spacecraft landed some 4,000 miles apart.”

This artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about 4 billion years ago when almost half the planet’s northern hemisphere could have been covered by an ocean up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep in some places.
(ESO/M. Kornmesser)

NASA: ANCIENT MARS OASIS COULD HAVE SUPPORT LIFE

He continued: “The data curves signaled the detection of microbial respiration on the Red Planet. The curves from Mars were similar to those produced by LR tests of soils on Earth. It seemed we had answered that ultimate question.”

The LR, which was led by Levin, took samples of Martian soil that contained organic compounds and looked for carbon dioxide. Astonishingly, the results seemed to indicate that the carbon dioxide was “being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as on Earth.”

Fox News has reached out to NASA for comment for this story.

However, Levin seemed to criticize the space agency for not following up on the LR findings, even if NASA concluded that it “found a substance mimicking life, but not life.”

“Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA’s subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results,” he continued. “Instead the agency launched a series of missions to Mars to determine whether there was ever a habitat suitable for life and, if so, eventually to bring samples to Earth for biological examination.”

NASA has made subsequent visits to Mars, including the InSight lander, which landed in November 2018. The Curiosity rover, which has been on Mars since August 2012, detected a surprising spike in the level of methane that it has not yet been able to explain.

Last November, NASA announced that it had picked a landing spot for its upcoming Mars 2020 mission, a rover that will not include “a life-detection test,” Levin wrote.

“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in a June statement. On Earth, methane is produced both biologically and geologically.

Levin pleaded for the space agency to put “life detection experiments on the next Mars mission possible” to be more precise in their hunt for life, but in also keeping “with well-established scientific protocol.” He also wants an independent group of scientists to review the Viking LR data.

“Such an objective jury might conclude, as I did, that the Viking LR did find life,” Levin concluded. “In any event, the study would likely produce important guidance for NASA’s pursuit of its holy grail.”

The newly published op-ed is not the first time Levin has suggested that life was found on Mars. In 1997, he published “his conclusion that the LR had, indeed, discovered living microorganisms on the Red Planet,” according to his website.

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