A lab at UC Berkeley has developed a new technique using nanotechnology to create artificial photosynthesis. Why is this a big deal? Because in order for real plants to turn light into energy they use up carbon dioxide. In case you haven’t heard, carbon dioxide is a major green house gas contributing to climate change. Not only could this artificial photosynthesis help remove carbon dioxide from the air, but it can also be used to produce chemicals and even
Now, as psyched as I am that this could offer a huge help in the fight against climate change, I’m also a little freaked out by it. There is definitely a Soylent Green sort of feel to this type of technology. Because this is really a job that should be done by, you know, trees. But since we’ve been systematically removing all our forests it’s time to show nature that anything it can do we can do better. I don’t think any of the researchers who came up with this method are saying we should just replace all plants with it, but at the rate we’re going sometimes it feels like eventually that will be our only option. But I really hope not. I hope this just proves to be a useful tool that can help us slow down climate change while we find a renewable energy source that will get us off of fossil fuels. Hey, a girl can dream can’t she?
It’s a banner week for viruses in the news! Now, the word virus is not usually a good one. They cause the common cold, the flu, and lots of other less common but much deadlier illnesses. In fact, the idea of creating an alliance with these fiends seems just crazy enough to make a moderately successful rom-com. They seem like enemies at first, but find common ground and a respect that blossoms into love.
OK, maybe we can’t go that far, but there is one scientist who has come up with something of a truce with one faction of the virus coalition. Biological engineer Angela Belcher recently gave an interview with Slate about her “bio-batteries” that a run on viruses. But don’t worry, you are in no danger of using Ebola to power your cell phone. She is using viruses that only infect a certain type of bacteria (they’re called bacteriophages), and they don’t even kill the bacteria when they infect it. So don’t worry pacifists, these viruses are hippies too.
A separate article describes how the viruses are able to bind to wires and increase their surface area, which means there is more space for electrical activity inside the battery. This great because what many people may not know, is that our batteries kind of suck right now. Lithium batteries can be dangerous and alkaline batteries (like the AA batteries you put in your flashlight) are terrible for the environment, which is why they should always be recycled, never thrown away. But this bio-battery is safe and will hopefully someday be completely biodegradable. They are still in the developmental stage, so they might not be on the shelves for a while, but they are already able to power flashlights and watches.
So does this mean a peace agreement is forming between the humans and the viruses; are we heading towards a world where humans and viruses live harmoniously side by side? Unfortunately no, but at least now we’ve got some of them on our side!