Authors Posts by Anna LeMind

Anna LeMind

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Anna is the owner and lead editor of the websites Learning-mind.com and Lifeadvancer.com, and staff writer for The Mind Unleashed. She is passionate about learning new things and reflecting on thought-provoking ideas. She writes about technology, science, psychology and other related topics. She is particularly interested in topics regarding introversion, consciousness and subconscious, perception, human mind's potential, as well as the nature of reality and the universe.

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Art is often used as a means to raise awareness of the acute problems humanity faces today. Environmental issues, being one of the most significant of them, inspire illustrators and graphic designers all over the world to address these matters in their artwork. From drawings that show the damage the human race has done to each sphere of Earth to the illustrations that reveal a true face of war, all these stunning pieces of art serve the same purpose – to expose the absurdity of what’s happening in the world today and to encourage people to be the change.

Today, we are featuring a series of thought-provoking images titled “Destroying Nature is Destroying Life.” This awareness campaign was created by designer Surachai Puthikulangkura and agency Grabarz & Partner for German environmental activist group Robin Wood.

The title of the campaign speaks for itself, and the pictures convey a powerful message: if humans continue to destroy Earth’s natural habitats, constantly exhausting their resources, life on the planet, including our own species, will eventually be wiped out.

To demonstrate the detrimental effects of human activity on the natural world, the images depict three different landscapes that have undergone most of the damage. Each of those is represented by an animal that comes from the respective habitat.

Thus, in the pictures below, you can see the icy landscape of the Arctic with melting glaciers, which is caused by the climate change. Factors like greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation make average atmospheric temperatures constantly increase. As a result, polar bears and other Arctic animals are being threatened.

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life arctic

The effects of deforestation

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life forest

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life deforestation

The catastrophic consequences of fires, associated with human activity, on tropical rainforests

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life rainforest

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life forest fires

There is real scientific evidence behind the striking images of this awareness campaign, as a recent study concluded that our planet is now entering the sixth mass extinction. It is estimated that due to the human impact on the natural environment, the vertebrate species are now disappearing up to 100 times faster than the normal. At the same time, the loss of habitat, caused by human industrial activities, has, in fact, lead to the extinction of 52% of wildlife in the world. It seems that we humans have reached the point where the deadly consequences of our actions are no longer reversible.

These powerful images demonstrate that we are the reason for all the problems that plague our planet today. Yet, they also remind us that we are the only ones who can do something about it and save life on Earth while it’s still possible.

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All kinds of electrical devices we have today are made to have a limited lifetime, which perfectly serves the interests of the consumerist society we live in. Just think about it: if all home appliances and electronic devices we use daily were designed to last, would we need to constantly buy new ones?

Batteries are no exception to this. Even the best-performing lithium batteries can work efficiently up to 500 charge cycles, after which they lose their capacity and need to be replaced. Now, researchers led by doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai of the University of California seem to have created a battery with a lifespan of over 200,000 charge cycles, which is 400 greater than that of the batteries currently available in the market! Moreover, this remarkable invention was made as a result of an accident in the lab.

“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” Reginald Penner of the University of California said in a press release. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”

The initial goal of the research was to develop a solid-state battery using gold nanowires instead of lithium and an electrolyte gel instead of liquid. In fact, lithium batteries have some major drawbacks: the liquid they contain makes them combustible and sensitive to temperature while lithium inevitably corrodes inside the battery over time. Thus, using nanowires and gel, the researchers were seeking to create an improved version of the conventional battery.

Nanowires are highly conductive but also extremely fragile. However, when they were coated in manganese dioxide with the addition of electrolyte gel, the system was found to be far more resilient than any other known battery systems.

“That was crazy,” Penner said, “because these things typically die in dramatic fashion after 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 cycles at most.”

Of course, this new battery would still have to be recharged, but the point is that its impressive lifespan of 200,000 charge cycles is more than enough to cover the lifetime of most devices, including computers, smartphones and even vehicles. And the best part is that it doesn’t lose its capacity as quickly as conventional lithium batteries, which become less and less efficient as you charge and recharge them. The researchers have been testing the new battery for three months and it was found to have lost only 5% of its capacity! Just imagine if your 5-year-old laptop held a charge the same well as if you bought it just yesterday.

The problem is that the researchers haven’t fully understood the mechanism of the system yet. Also, the battery hasn’t been tested with some kind of device to make sure that it can potentially be used in consumer electronics and have the same impressive efficiency. Another challenge is a high cost of gold nanowires – even despite the fact that they are thousands of times thinner than a human hair, their use would significantly increase the market price of the battery. For this reason, the team is now conducting new experiments with nickel to see if they can achieve the same (or similar) level of efficiency.

In any case, the results of this research are promising and could revolutionize the market. However, I’m not sure if electronics giants of the world will be the same enthusiastic about a battery that could last a lifetime as we are.

Meanwhile, check out this documentary that perfectly explains why products we can’t imagine our life today (such as light bulbs or fridges) are made to last much less than their actual technical capabilities:

 Image source: Steve Zylius / UCI 

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The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most remarkable natural wonders.

With the impressive overall length of 1,430 miles, it is not only the most extensive coral reef ecosystem but also the largest living structure on the planet. Unfortunately, this natural masterpiece may soon disappear as the findings of a recent study suggest that the reef is on the brink of extinction.

A report from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies reveals a terrifying fact that 50% of corals in the Great Barrier Reef have already died or are dying while 93% are suffering from bleaching.

How does coral bleaching occur?

Affected by increased sea temperatures and extreme weather conditions, corals expel the microalgae that live inside them. In fact, these microalgae are what gives the corals such vivid colors, so when they are expelled, the corals turn white. This is what is called bleaching.

In this state, the marine organisms are at the risk of dying but at the same time, have a chance to recover if the environmental conditions stabilize soon enough. However, when the stressing factor persists for too long and the consequences of bleaching are not reversed quickly, the corals become victims of opportunistic species that exploit them to form their own ecosystems.

The scale of the problem

Scientists say that this is the most severe coral bleaching event ever recorded.

As Prof. Terry Hughes, convener of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, said in a press release, “We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once. Our estimate at the moment is that close to 50 percent of the coral is already dead or dying.”

According to the results of aerial surveys that were focused on 911 individual reefs out of the total 3,000, only 68, or 7%, were not affected by bleaching. At the same time, from 60 to 100% of corals suffer from a severe bleaching on 316 reefs.

This has been the saddest research trip of my life,” said Prof. Hughes. “Almost without exception, every reef we flew across showed consistently high levels of bleaching, from the reef slope right up onto the top of the reef. We flew for 4000km in the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef and saw only four reefs that had no bleaching.”

While winter in the southern hemisphere is expected to bring some relief, it is unlikely that it will have a significant effect on the state of the reefs. The only thing that can save the corals is an action from our side. Scientists say that reducing pollution, sedimentation and unsustainable fishing practices in local communities can partly reverse the detrimental changes in the Great Barrier Reef.

However, the problem is bigger than that and can’t be solved on the local level. CO2 emissions and other consequences of human activity are the cause of this and many other devastating phenomena that plague the natural environment of our planet. Unless we do something about it soon, we will see more and more living creatures suffer and die.

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An intriguing discovery was just made – our Milky Way appears to be orbited by a huge galaxy we had no idea was there. Crater 2, as it was named, is a dwarf galaxy located 400,000 light-years away from the Milky Way.

A group of astronomers from the University of Cambridge analyzed images taken by the Very Large Telescope in Chile with the help of a computer algorithm. Then, regions with a clustering of stars were identified, one of which appeared to be Crater 2. Moreover, according to the paper the research team published in the Monthly Noticed of the Royal Astronomical Society, there is also a possibility that our newly discovered galactic neighbor belongs to a small cluster of galaxies.

Why “invisible,” you may ask? In reality, Crater 2 is just extremely dim (one of the dimmest galaxies ever found) because its stars are too far apart from each other. This is the reason why astronomers didn’t know anything about this galaxy until now – it was simply hiding behind its brighter counterparts in the galactic neighborhood.

“A galaxy like Crater 2 is a sort of invisible object.” Dr. Vasily Belokurov of the University of Cambridge said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “We have found many similar objects in the last 10 years, but never such a large beast. It is orders of magnitude less luminous compared to most objects of similar size. It is extremely diffuse.”

Belorukov and his colleagues have also estimated what Crater 2 would look like if it was a thousand times more luminous than it actually is. You can see the result in the illustration below (Moon is added to demonstrate the scale of the galaxy):

giant invisible galaxy moon
Image credit: Vasily Belokurov

Thus, Crater 2 becomes the fourth largest known galaxy orbiting our own. In fact, the Milky Way has 49 satellite galaxies, but just imagine how many other “dark neighbors” may be hidden from us. With the progress of technology, however, the chances to spot new galaxies will be only growing. Just in the course of the past 10 years, the number of detected galaxies circling our own has doubled.

Last year, the same research team spotted nine new dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way.

“The discovery of so many satellites in such a small area of the sky was completely unexpected … I could not believe my eyes,” said study author Dr. Sergey Koposov from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.

All this evidence suggests that we know so little about our cosmic neighborhood. Now, the astronomers are continuing to study the Very Large Telescope images with the help of a new galaxy-spotting technique. Who knows what they may find and how many galaxies and other space objects are yet to be discovered.

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General Electric (GE) Global Research has just announced the development of a prototype turbine which converts carbon dioxide into electricity. While the size of the turbine does not exceed that of a desk, the inventors say it could actually power a town of 10,000 homes!

This sounds really promising, given that this innovation has the potential to help solve two critical issues of the modern world – CO2 pollution and energy crisis – at the same time.

As Doug Hofer, GE steam turbine specialist who is leading the development of the carbon dioxide turbine technology, said in a press release, “the world is seeking cleaner and more efficient ways to generate power. The concepts we are exploring with this machine are helping us address both.”

carbon dioxide turbine hofer
Doug Hofer demonstrates a 3D-printed model of the carbon dioxide turbine.

Unlike conventional turbines which convert the thermal energy of pressurized steam into mechanical energy, GE’s turbine uses CO2 in the form of a supercritical fluid to operate. This state is what gives the turbine some truly remarkable properties. A supercritical fluid is basically an intermediate state between a gas and a liquid, which is reached thanks to the incredibly high temperatures and/or pressures at which the substance is maintained. Thus, supercritical fluids can both move through solid matter like gases and dissolve materials like liquids.

According to GE, these exceptional properties of supercritical fluids significantly increase the efficiency of their prototype turbine in comparison with steam turbines, along with the advantage in compactness (steam turbines are normally about 10 times bigger). Moreover, carbon dioxide is capable of absorbing, storing and releasing heat much quicker than water, which further increases the turbine’s energy efficiency.

Let’s take a closer look at how the carbon dioxide turbine works. First, heat from the sunlight is harvested in the form of molten salt, which is then used to superheat dry ice and extract the CO2 it contains. As a result of this process, CO2 becomes a supercritical fluid and can be utilized to power the turbine, which in turn, can produce enough electricity for 10,000 homes.

Thus, it’s a great way to utilize the harmful CO2 which otherwise would be released into the atmosphere and wasted. According to GE specialists, the turbine could enhance the energy efficiency of solar energy farms and traditional gas turbine stations. They have estimated that if the carbon dioxide turbine technology is integrated into a CSP plant, up to 68% of the stored energy could be transferred back to the grid. And most importantly, this technology would provide a greener energy solution and help solve the environmental problems that plague our planet.

Hofer told Mail Online: “With energy demand expected to rise by 50 percent over the next two decades, we can’t afford to wait for new, cleaner energy solutions to power the planet. We have to innovate now and make energy generation as efficient as possible.”

Image credit: GE Global Research

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Japan has traditionally been a leading country in technological progress and innovation. This time, a Japanese architect has unveiled a truly futuristic concept. Following the introduction of bullet trains that reach the speed up to 580 km (360 miles)/hour, an invisible train will be carrying passengers in Japan as early as in two years from now.

Pritzker Prize (which is often referred to as the Nobel Prize in architecture) winner Kazuyo Sejima has unveiled the concept of a chameleon-like train that blends into the surrounding landscape thanks to the incredible reflective property of its mirrored surfaces. The invisible train is scheduled to go into service in 2018 and is expected to cover more than 178 km (111 miles) across the country.

While this is Sejima’s first train design, she says that it’s both challenging and fascinating to design an object that should move through different environments rather than be located in a single spot, reports Fast Company. She envisions her futuristic train to be equally fun to ride as it is to watch how it blends into the surrounding scenery.

The limited express travels in a variety of different sceneries, from the mountains of Chichibu to the middle of Tokyo, and I thought it would be good if the train could gently co-exist with this variety of scenery,” Sejima is quoted from the official press release.

Till now, there is not much information about the details of this innovative design, but it is already known that it will have the potential to be applied to already existing trains. In fact, Sejima was recruited by railway company Seibu Railway Co for the project to redesign their Red Arrow trains that are used for commuter services in the Tokyo area. The company plans to celebrate its 100th anniversary, which falls in 2018, with this new line of invisible trains.

Thus, the old trains will be covered in mirrored panels and their unattractive boxy shape will be molded into a silver bullet. At the same time, the interior of the trains will be redesigned to offer the passengers a maximum level of comfort and feel like “a living room.”

“I also would like it to be a limited express where large numbers of people can all relax in comfort, in their own way, like a living room, so that they think to themselves ‘I look forward to riding that train again,” the architect said.

Watch the video below to learn more about the invisible train:

Image credit: Seibu Railway Co

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Till recently, plastic was thought to be resistant to all known species of bacteria due to its chemical structure. Plastic consists of so-called polymers, or large chains of repeating molecules. Their size is far greater than the one of an individual bacterium, which makes it impossible for the microbes to metabolize plastic.

Yet, researchers have recently detected a bacterium that can actually consume plastic, in particular, polyethylene terephthalate or PET, one of the most popular types of plastic that is widely used in bottles, food packaging and clothing. This new species of bacteria was called Ideonella sakaiensis, after the Japanese city of Sakai where it was found.

A group of Japanese researchers looked through numerous debris fields with PET pollution and eventually discovered a colony of bacteria growing on plastic waste and using it as a food source.

It’s the most unique thing. This bacterium can degrade PET and then make their body from PET,” Shosuke Yoshida, a microbiologist at Kyoto University and lead author of the study, told NPR.

How is this even possible, considering the above-described difference in the size of bacteria and polymers? The trick is that Ideonella sakaiensis has two enzymes capable of breaking the molecular bonds in the plastic polymer so that the bacterium can then metabolize the pieces and convert them into water and carbon dioxide.

Sounds really promising, doesn’t it? Why not spray these plastic-eating bacteria around debris fields and let them eat all these horrific mountains of plastic waste? Well, it could be done, but the problem is that Ideonella sakaiensis eats too slowly. For the purpose of the study, which was published in the journal Science, Yoshida and his team conducted an experiment in which the isolated bacterium almost completely degraded a plastic film in around six weeks.

It seems that nature itself is working on finding a way to neutralize the pollution caused by human activity and is evolving microorganisms capable of that. Scientists believe that such rapid evolution takes place thanks to the incredible ability of microbes to adapt to the surrounding conditions. As Enzo Palombo, a professor of microbiology at Swinburne University, told The Guardian, “If you put a bacteria in a situation where they’ve only got one food source to consume, over time they will adapt to do that.”

Moreover, there may already exist newly evolved species of bacteria that are yet to be discovered. In fact, Ideonella sakaiensis is not the first living organism that was found to feed with plastic. In 2014, a group of researchers detected a plastic-eating species of fungi in the rainforest of Ecuador.

“I would not be surprised if samples of ocean plastics contained microbes that are happily growing on this material and could be isolated in the same manner,” Palombo said.

Whether scientists will ever use Ideonella sakaiensis to neutralize the existing plastic pollution or not, it is obvious that the Mother Nature is actually starting to fight back against all this harm we have done and are still doing to it. Considering the millions of years of evolution and adaptation of life on Earth, it has all the chances to win this battle. And if we don’t change our attitude towards other living creatures and our planet as a whole, one day nature may find a way to neutralize us.

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The Vikings were Germanic Norse seafaring traders and raiders who conquered vast territories in Scandinavia, Northern and Central Europe, as well as European Russia, in the period from the late 8th to the late 11th century.

It was long believed that their influence was limited to these regions, apart from the periods when they extended to the Mediterranean along with North Africa and settled on the eastern coast of Greenland. However, in the 1960s, when the discovery of an archaeological site at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada, pointed to a possible Viking activity, it was suggested that the ancient seafarers had actually reached North America. At that time, there was not enough evidence and no technical means to determine whether the Vikings settled the region or only briefly visited it.

Today, archaeologists take advantage of modern technological advances and track chemical changes in the soil, caused by human activity, using infrared satellite images. This is how space archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak managed to identify a previously unknown Norse settlement on the southern tip of Newfoundland, 400 miles away from the L’Anse aux Meadows site. While analyzing satellite images, she saw the signs of changed chemical composition of the soil at a place called Point Rosee.

Dr. Parcak then traveled to the site with her team and started excavations. As a result, they unearthed something that seemed to be a hearth filled with piles of charcoal and bits of cooked bog iron.

viking settlement point rosee
Roasted ore found at Point Rosee. Image credit: Greg Mumford

This indicated metallurgy techniques that were not associated with native people of the area and shared similar characteristics with the L’Anse aux Meadows site. Moreover, the hearth was surrounded by a turf wall, which resembled the structure of other Norse settlements across the North Atlantic. Thus, the discovery clearly points to the Viking culture.

“Either it’s … an entirely new culture that looks exactly like the Norse and we don’t know what it is,” Dr. Parcak told The Washington Post. “Or it’s the westernmost Norse site that’s ever been discovered.”

Further research is now required to establish the age and cultural affiliation of the finds. If this newly found site is confirmed to be a Viking settlement, it will mean that the Vikings were the first Europeans to settle the North America around 1,000 years ago. Just like the Roman sword found on Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, this is a piece of evidence suggesting that the New World was not actually “discovered” by Christopher Columbus, as school history books tell us. This is another find that shutters the mainstream history we are taught in school and reminds us that there are so many hidden truths that are yet to be revealed.

I am absolutely thrilled. Typically in archaeology, you only ever get to write a footnote in the history books, but what we seem to have at Point Rosee may be the beginning of an entirely new chapter,” Dr. Parcak told BBC.

You probably think that unicorns are fantasy creatures that exist only in the pages of children’s fairy tales, but wait! It seems that after all, they are quite real as a new study suggests that unicorn-like creatures lived on our planet as recently as 29,000 years ago (it may sound like a while, but in fact, it’s quite a short period in the history of the Earth).

However, these ancient unicorns were nothing like those from fantasy books. In reality, they resembled modern rhinos, only that they were covered in dense wool and had a long horn on their forehead.

Elasmotherium sibiricum, or the so-called “Siberian unicorn,” was approximately 2 meters (6 feet) tall and 4.5 meters (15 feet) long while its weight was about 4 tons (9,000 pounds). Thus, in terms of size, this animal was closer to a mammoth than a horse.

ancient siberian unicorns

Just like its modern-day counterpart, the Siberian unicorn was most likely a grazer and feasted with grass. Its natural habitat was the vast area that extends from the Don River to the east of modern Kazakhstan.

This ancient species has been long familiar to scientists; however, until now, it was thought that Siberian unicorns became extinct about 350,000 years ago. The recent discovery of a well-preserved skull in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan shed new light on this intriguing species.

Using radiocarbon dating techniques, researchers at the Tomsk State University managed to determine that the age of the skull was approximately 29,000 years. It was also found that it probably belonged to an old male, but there were not enough data to establish the cause of the animal’s death. The results of the research have been published in the American Journal of Applied Science.

These findings made the researchers wonder how it was possible that this creature survived for hundreds of thousands of years longer than most of its kind. Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at Tomsk State University who took part in the study, said in the press release:

“Most likely, in the south of Western Siberia, it was a refúgium, where this rhino had preserved the longest in comparison with the rest of its range. There is another option that it could migrate and dwell for a while on the more southern areas.”

The researchers now want to study other mammals that went extinct between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago to learn more about the role of the environmental conditions in species extinction. Moreover, further research could reveal valuable information not only about the past of our planet but also its future and possibly predict what awaits our own species.

“Our research makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general. Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future: it also concerns climate change,” Shpanski said.

Image credit: Wikimedia

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In 20 years from now, it may be possible to go on vacation to the Moon thanks to an ambitious plan recently announced by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, head of the ESA, has revealed a vision of an international lunar base dubbed Moon Village, which could become a reality as early as by 2030. In a recent video by ESA, Woerner says that the establishment of a permanent settlement on the Moon, which would require a joint effort of all spacefaring nations, would be humanity’s next big step in space exploration. The Moon Village could be used for various purposes, including business, science and even tourism.

The lunar settlement would be built at the poles or on the far side of the Moon, in the areas with continuous daylight. At the same time, the South Pole, which has constant darkness and numerous craters with vast reserves of water ice, could be used to access the water and produce hydrogen and oxygen. In the Moon’s shadow, settlers would be safe from solar and cosmic radiation and would be at a lower risk of micrometeorite impacts.

Since 2013, the ESA has been working with private construction companies on developing and testing different technologies that could be exploited to build a lunar base. As a result, it was determined that the best solution would be to use natural resources found on the surface of the Moon, such as metals, minerals and water ice. It could be done with the help of a rover that would 3D-print building elements and structures out of these materials. Then, the rover would land on the surface and inflate a dome, after which a building would be constructed around it.

“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with,” said Enrico Dini of the UK-based manufacturing company Monolite. “Then for our structural ‘ink’, we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 meters per hour while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 meters per hour, completing an entire building in a week.”

Woerner says that the Moon Village could open up lots of possibilities not only for space exploration but also for business, mining and even tourism. However, to make this project a reality, the collaboration of all spacefaring nations would be necessary so that each country can contribute with technology and knowledge. The Moon Village would engage space agencies from countries such as USA, Russia, China, India and Japan, as well as other countries.

It is estimated that it will take about 20 years to build the technology necessary for the implementation of the plan. With all these exciting developments and projects we have seen in the last few years, including the Moon Village and the upcoming manned missions to Mars, it becomes clear that humanity is on the verge of a new era in space exploration.

Learn more about the Moon Village in the video below:

Would you like to go on vacation to the Moon? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

References:

  1. BBC
  2. Science Alert

Image credit: ESA

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