The MacGuffin

Archive for December, 2009

Targeting Genes Could Remove the Fungus Among Us

Posted by Lauren Rugani on December 30, 2009

New research that investigates how fungi infect host organisms on genetic and molecular levels could one day lead to anti-fungal drugs that are far more efficient than current treatments. Scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts have begun to understand not only how fungi infect an organism but how the host fights back – and whether or not it works.

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Posted in Medicine | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Putting the Heat on Inefficient Electronics

Posted by Lauren Rugani on December 28, 2009

New research suggests a ten-fold improvement in how efficiently devices can convert waste heat into usable electricity.

Most of you have probably heard somewhere or another that light bulbs release 90 percent of their energy as heat and only 10 percent as light. Considering that the primary purpose of light bulbs is to provide light, not warmth (with the exception of the Easy Bake Oven), Edison’s claim to fame seems to be appallingly inefficient. There are, of course, more efficient alternatives to lighting – fluorescent bulbs, LEDs and even quantum dot lighting – but these aren’t relevant to the rest of the modern technologies that lose large amounts of energy as excess heat.

One solution lies in a phenomenon known as the thermoelectric effect, or converting a temperature difference between two surfaces into electricity. Scientists and product manufacturers are no strangers to the idea, however. Thermoelectric devices exist in the form of portable refrigerators and electronic component coolers, and the technology is gaining traction in the transportation and power plant industries. There is a theoretical limit to just how efficiently a machine can convert heat to electricity, but current applications reach only about ten percent of this limit – faring no better than the 130 year-old light bulb.

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Saving Solar for a Rainy Day

Posted by Lauren Rugani on December 2, 2009

Solar-powered devices come with a slew of technological hurdles – the power conversion efficiencies of solar panels have improved only incrementally, while the materials for even the most efficient devices remain costly – but engineers and scientists continue to work diligently toward harnessing one of the earth’s most abundant renewable energy resources.

One problem, however, still casts a shadow on the dawn of a new energy era, one that not even the most sophisticated technologies of the future can change (well, the near future anyway): it’s not always sunny.

But it is possible to provide solar power in the absence of sunlight, as two companies demonstrated last month when they announced separately two kinds of solar-powered chargers.

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Posted in Energy | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »