Science and Technology Links 5/18 – “Smells like…” Edition

Back from Maui with a fresh set.

Science and Technology Links 5/18 - "Smells like..." Edition


Fuzzy Dark Matter.  Can I pet it?  Can it be alive? (Last link courtesy of Will)

Virgin Galactic does it’s first feather flight with their new space ship (that’s the re-entry mode).

Self deorbiting method tested on small satellite that had completed its mission.  The method?  Drag sails.  This works because the satellite was in a low orbit where a sail could still catch some bits of atmosphere and slow the satellite down.  Slowing it down drops it into a lower orbit, where it can catch more atmosphere and slow down even more.  Slow it down enough and it begins re-entry.

Doing laundry in space is, well, pretty much impossible, which means astronaut clothing can get pretty ripe.  Hopefully some new threads, with some bits of silver, will allow astronauts to simply spritz a shirt with some hydrogen peroxide, and it’ll be fresh as a mountain spring day!


Using gene editing to cure diabetes, cancer, and HIV.  In mice, anyway.  Also, gene editing can produce easy to grow yeast cells that produce antibiotics (instead of difficult to grow fungi and bacteria that often produce our antibiotics).

Engineering bone marrow for safer transplants.

Your ColonDrone will soon be ready.

Microbe killing plasma paper, made with real paper.

Man, if this doesn’t get marijuana moved down the schedule a couple of spots…


Simple way to manipulate VR models with a plastic cube frame.

Nvidia has been binge watching “Person of Interest” lately.

Quantum Cooling on a chip.  The things we can do on chips these days.


Wave and wind energy, like chocolate and peanut butter.

Getting fuel from chicken farms and coffee shops.

Proving that genetically engineered algae can survive outside of a lab, but will not displace other algae.

Hydrogen from polluted air.

Converting hydrogen into a room temperature liquid for easy transport (aka ammonia), and back again at the point of use.  This is pretty smart, since ammonia is easy to make and trades globally, and converting it back to hydrogen only results in free Nitrogen.  My guess is that the ammonia will have to be under some amount of pressure to force it through the membrane, but as long as the pressure requirements are not extreme the energy cost of placing the ammonia under pressure would likely be far exceeded by the energy demands of cryogenic transport and storage for gaseous Hydrogen.  The only downside is that all our filling stations will smell like cat pee.

An electric car battery that can charge in 5 minutes could make electric cars damn attractive.


Moondust bricks made with the sun.

Recycling Carbon Fiber with low temperatures and mild chemicals.

Self healing water repellent materials.

Figuring out the secrets of Prince Rupert’s Drops (no, it’s not a new party drug, it’s a glass bead).


Biodegradable electronics for our ever growing stable of devices with planned obsolescence built in.

A faster bullet.

A fast 3D scanner that uses IR.

A faster (like, HOLY COW way faster) high speed camera.

Seeing a room through holography using WiFi radiation.  Coming to a police department near you.

A misty user interface.  Or how about a spray on one.

A speaker with no magnet, no coil, no membrane, and sound is produced by way of heat.  All in a package the size of your thumbnail.


Image by .RGB. Science and Technology Links 5/18 - "Smells like..." Edition


A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget. ...more →

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18 thoughts on “Science and Technology Links 5/18 – “Smells like…” Edition

  1. I’m not sure which is more distasteful for most people – the smell of ammonia, or the smell of gasoline.

    Mr. T can hardly change a litter box without gagging, and kind of likes the smell of gasoline.
    I’m not fond of the smell of cat pee, but it doesn’t bother me much either – I find filling the gas tank to be the more nasty smelling chore of the two.

    Also I notice it’s described as scaled for installation at or near fuel stations – so you wouldn’t be filling your car with ammonia.

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    • Personally, I’ll take ammonia over diesel over gasoline (I kinda like the smell of diesel, and I’ve lived with cats, ammonia only bugs me if I know that cat is mad at me, and the smell is coming from my pillow).

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          • Anhydrous ammonia is seriously toxic stuff. Easier than cryogenic hydrogen, but more complicated than gasoline or diesel. IIRC, standard procedure for any accident involving more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous — call it 1,750 gallons in liquid form — is to evacuate everyone within a one-mile radius. How many typical 3,500 gallon fuel tracks headed for local gas stations roll over or get hit in the US every day?

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            • Perhaps NH4 would be a better way to transport it…

              Unless there is an easy way to get NH3 out of the water it is so often dissolved in?

              Alternatively, if this works for NH3, I imagine it would also work for CH4.

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            • Anhydrous ammonia is also used to make crystal meth.

              A better solution would combine hydrogen with carbon from coal to make dimethyl ether, which can then be reacted with a zeolite catalyst to make octane (C8H18). Octane can be run in gasoline engines and the byproducts are water vapor and CO2, but the CO2 is consumed by strawberry plants to make strawberries.

              Would you rather have a trunk full of cheap strawberries in a Dodge Hellcat burning 100 octane racing fuel, or a neighborhood filled with gap-tooth acne-faced meth heads?

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              • If only gasoline engines burned with perfect efficiency, instead of suffering incomplete combustion and kicking out nitrogen and sulfur pollutants.

                Even a crappy hydrogen fuel cell still only exhausts water vapor.

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            • Anhydrous ammonia is also a widely used farm fertilizer – it’s injected directly into humid soil, where it’s captured by the water already present there.

              So there’s already a lot of anhydrous ammonia transport by truck going on, but we don’t seem to hear a lot of instances of transportation disasters from the stuff.

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              • Hard to make a straight up comparison. On the one hand, the US consumes more than an order of magnitude more petroleum than ammonia. Most of the ammonia is consumed in rural areas. Much of the rural transport is done in 1,000 gallon trailer-mounted tanks which roll over often despite being limited to 25 mph but are below the big evacuation size and out in the countryside where, as you note, there’s typically considerable water to which leaks can bind relatively harmlessly. OTOH, if ammonia-based energy transport were to replace petroleum, more than 10x as much stuff has to move, be transported in larger vehicles, and most importantly, be moved into urban/suburban areas.

                It’s easy to overlook just how easy it is to store/handle medium-length hydrocarbon chains.

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                • In a gasoline tanker spill, the benzene we add to gasoline makes the spill over a hundred times more toxic than the leaded gasoline it replaced.

                  Gasoline can contain up to 1.3% benzene, which is 13,000,000 parts per billion. The EPA’s benzene limit for drinking water is 5 ppb. So one gallon of unleaded gasoline in 2,600,000 gallons of drinking water (4 Olympic sized swimming pools) renders the water unsafe.

                  Prior to the phase out, leaded gasoline contained 1.1 grams per gallon of lead, or 291,000 ppb. The EPA’s lead limit for drinking water is 15 ppb. So a gallon of leaded gasoline would only render 19,000 gallons of water unsafe. It would take 34 gallons of leaded gasoline in to render an Olympic size pool unsafe due to lead content.

                  So in a spill, modern unleaded gasoline is 134 times as toxic as leaded gasoline, which was banned for being toxic.

                  So don’t wreck a tanker truck!

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                  • Benzene in fuel that is not spilled but burned in an engine as intended, burns up and is no longer benzene. Lead remains lead.

                    So, I guess there’s a crossover rate for which kind of fuel is safer to use overall – a rate of fuel loss to spillage of 1/134 of total production.

                    More than that, and you want leaded fuel (but you really want to figure out why you’re spilling so much of the stuff, and fix that). Less than that, and you want unleaded.

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