Archive for January, 2014

Cygnus reaches International Space Station

NASA had reason to celebrate this month as the Orbital Cygnus reached the International Space Station safe and sound with all the cargo loaded into it. The Cygnus supply spacecraft carried many new science experiments from across the country and the world to the orbiting space laboratory.

What made this delivery to the ISS special was that it was  the first successful contracted cargo delivery by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., for NASA. The space station crew  used a robotic arm to capture and attach the Cygnus supply spacecraft to the ISS at its Harmony Node. The 2,780 pounds (1,261 kilograms) of supplies aboard the spacecraft seem to have survived the ride well,

The cargo is made up of vital science experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and other hardware.Cygnus was launched on the company’s Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  It took roughly three days to reach the ISS.

The different science projects that it carried will have some time in space to materialize. These include experiments sent in by 23 students. Cygnus will remain attached to Harmony until a planned unberthing in the month of February  will send the spacecraft toward a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere.

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Potable Lights – What makes them work?

Potable light refers to a source of lighting that can be moved from one place to another. Carrying a flashlight is the simplest example of a potable light. However there is a major drawback to the flashlight : it won’t work once the battery runs out. This makes it unsuitable to take out in the field for long periods of time.

Here are some other kinds of potable lights which tend to fare better. The Boston-based architecture firm KVA MATx launched a Potable Light project in which they provide a kit that allows you to design your own light. The kit includes a textile reflector, a photovoltaic material, a battery case with a USB port and an LED light. The flexible photovoltaic cells can be woven into a fabric. Now you can use the fabric in any way you like to harvest the solar power. Once the battery is charged it will provide 20 hours of light.

In case sunlight is not quite so easy to access, you can use gravity to power your potable light. The GravityLight as it is called, uses solar as backup rather than a primary energy source. How it works is that  a ballast bag  is filled with rocks, sand or soil, and hung from the lamp to create energy, lighting the GravityLight for 30 minutes. You can recharge it using a built-in solar panel.

The GravityLight is currently in testing but will be available later in 2014 for $5 a light! That will be a tough science project to beat!


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Innovation at its Best

Power is the difference between dreams and reality. You may want to do a lot of things, but due to the lack of power you are unable to do them. In some cases it is quite literally electric power, or the lack of it, that stands in the path of progress in an area. To beat this deficiency a number of innovative technologies have been developed over the years. Here we take a look at a few such science projects that have helped humanity.

If plants can create energy why can’t we? Daniel Nocera, a biochemist, invented the “artificial leaf” to help generate power supply using water and sunlight. It is essentially a silicon wafer that splits the hydrogen and oxygen when placed in water. The hydrogen is collected in a fuel cell and put to good use. Initially there was a problem with the “leaf” using dirty water, but now that too has been overcome.

Solar energy when harvested correctly can light up a home for many hours. However the solar panels get charged correctly only when the rays of the sun fall on them directly. As the sun’s rays keep shifting angles all through the day a lot of potential solar energy goes waste. The solution to this was brought in by 21 years old, Princeton undergrad Eden Full who invented the SunSaluter.

This device rotates solar panels toward the sun throughout the day that too without a motor. It works on a water clock-esque design. By merely using this device in connection with solar panels the energy output increased by 40%. Now that truly is innovation at its best in the simple design of this science project.

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Lighting Lives with Solar Energy

The redesigning of an existing concept can take as much innovation as designing the original idea. We all use mobile phones and are well aware of the necessity of keeping them charged to be of use. Now imagine a situation where you need to keep in touch with people but are unable to because the battery runs out.

Sun King

The Sun King products from innovative company Green Planet allow you to keep your mobile charged even if you are in the middle of a disaster zone with no electrical connection available. The solar power based mobile charger is useful not just to juice up your mobile battery but also as a night light. The solar cells of the product work problem free for close to five years. All you have to do is ensure that the gadget soaks up sunlight during the day to work all night.

Panasonic Solar LED Lantern

Similar to the Sun King solar products, the Panasonic Solar LED lantern also is able to provide both light and mobile charging facilities using solar power. The solar panel requires 6 hours to charge and can provide 360 degrees of light. It can charge USB enabled mobile phones and shields itself against water and dust.

Follow the blog to find out about more innovative science projects that have been recently worked on.

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Technology to Help the Poor

Many of us living in good homes with proper amenities tend to take energy needs for granted. However in third world countries the demand for such amenities is barely met and can be the cause of great conflict. This is why certain more altruistic members of the scientific community spend time and money in developing technology which can help to improve the lives of the poor. Here are some inventions of recent times that have been hailed by the scientific community and the non profit organizations around the globe.

The Eliodomestico Solar Sill

Designed by Gabriele Diamanti this household sill converts sea water to drinking water using solar power. The award winning design has made it possible for villagers in areas with drinking water shortage to obtain close to five liters of drinking water using this device. The device works sort of like a reverse coffee maker. You pour in the sea water which is then boiled using solar energy and the steam is collected in the lid. This salt free water is then distilled and used for drinking.

The LuminAID light

Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta developed this solar-inflatable light for use in Haiti’s disaster hit areas. The flat light pack takes hardly any space in storage and can be inflated to use as a lantern. The LED based LuminAID light has been used in humanitarian relief aid in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy. It is also an easy illumination for people living away from power lines in remote regions.

We will look at a few more similar science projects that have ended up being helpful to humanity at large in the next blog post.

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