AltaSea: Trending – February 3, 2016 Edition
A biweekly round-up of news and trends important to the AltaSea community.
Water and electricity sound like a bad combination, but maybe it’s not. Desalination is one possible solution to dealing with drought; however, the traditional methods of filtering or boiling saltwater both have challenges. A professor at MIT has developed a new, potentially better way to desalinate water — by shocking it. The system uses electricity to create a shockwave that slams the salt out of the water as it flows past a membrane. Right now the system is best suited for small-scale cleanup, but in the future, after more testing, it could rival conventional desalination systems.
We all know there’s a problem with plastic in the ocean, but a new study from the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by the year 2050 fish be officially out-populated by plastic waste (by weight). While many people in the US recycle, 95% of plastic worldwide is lost to the economy after a single use, likely because the low price of oil discourages reclamation efforts and recycling. The full report provides strategies for rethinking the future of plastics, with a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste.
Soft robotic grippers are lending a hand to researchers doing underwater exploration, allowing gentle handling of fragile specimens like coral and sponges. Previously, researchers were using strong grippers that would destroy samples. The new tools were developed with a focus on simple construction, inexpensive materials and a modular design to make them easy to reproduce, repair and configure.
Old Nuclear Fallout Proves Useful for Sea Turtle Clues (The New York Times)
Sea turtles are a mystery: how long they live, how fast they grow and other basic questions have been stymieing researchers for years. Now, marine biologists in Hawaii may have a tool to find some answers using an environmental marker: nuclear fallout. The bomb radiocarbon, from open-air nuclear testing conducted by the United States and other countries in the mid 20th century, ends up in turtles’ shells through their diet and can be used by researchers to estimate time. The results are already shedding new light on the health of the Hawksbill turtle and why their population has been declining.
Sustainable and Innovative Business
Bioinspired Technology at UC Santa Barbara (University of California)
The next technological advance in your smartphone screen may come from an unexpected source in the sea: giant clams. The clams produce their white coloration via color-mixing techniques like those used in reflective displays. Iridescent cells on the clams produce an array of colors. “If we could create and control structures similar to those that generate color in the clams, it might be possible to build color-reflective displays that work with ambient light sources such as sunlight” said lead author of the study, Amitabh Ghoshal.
This Fish Slime Could Help Scientists to Develop Super Hydrogels (Science Alert)
Hydrogels are a super-absorbent polymer that can hold large amounts of water. They are useful for things like tissue engineering, drug delivery, disposable diapers and farming irrigation systems. A defense mechanism secreted by hagfish to immobilize enemies when they are in peril might be the key to developing super hydrogels. Researchers in Switzerland are studying just how this slime works in the hopes of replicating it, though they recognize that it won’t be an exact copy because “this natural system is far too complex.”
The Irony of STEM Funding (The Atlantic)
The news is inundated with articles about recent funding decisions that impact education, including this: a $1.5 trillion spending measure that helped replenish the budgets of the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), both of which previously saw budget cuts. Those cuts led to the elimination of over 1,000 research grants, which in turn led to schools accepting fewer graduate students and researchers being poached by universities in other countries. The irony the title refers to is that, despite the budget cuts, the Obama administration simultaneously made a push for greater investment in STEM education, and called upon universities to graduate 1 million more STEM majors. The new budget provides hope though; the NIH director called it “the most encouraging budget outcome in 12 years.”
Marine Biologist Rewrites Science for Children (Voices of America)
Instead of simply publishing a paper to share her research results, Danielle Dixson, assistant professor at the University of Delaware, has come up with a new way: writing children’s books. Dixson did her post-doctoral research on the deterioration of coral reefs in Fiji and was inspired to write stories about her findings. She has written nine books, including Goby Fights Seaweed, which introduces readers to her scientific findings — about how goby fish help fight seaweed that kills coral, their home — in a way that is fun and easy to understand.
El Nino is finally here! Or is it? Southern California has been spared big storms this month, leaving many wondering what is going on. Experts say it’s too early to be concerned. Recent high-pressure systems over Southern California and Nevada have been keeping the weather warm, but fear not, bigger storms are predicted for February and March.
The LA Waterfront: Past, Present and Future (The Port of Los Angeles)
The Port of Los Angeles released this video, highlighting how the waterfront, which is home to AltaSea, has changed over the last decade and what is to come. See if you can spot your favorite waterfront landmark.