Category Archives: Features

Blue skies open for solar innovation

The solar power industry has enjoyed an innovation boom over the last decade or so, with accelerating production capacity and matching price drops. Last year, the industry added some 133 gigawatts (GW) of capacity worldwide, which is almost 19 percent of the previously installed 710 GW of capacity. One GW of power equals the output of 3.125 million solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, according to the US Department of Energy.

Such leaps in global capacity reflect the fact that commercial solar panels are approaching 20 percent efficiency which is near the theoretical limits. What is more, manufacturers are consolidating production methods and creating standards that make it easier to share suppliers.

With such progress alight, it might seem like a time for blue-sky nanomaterials researchers to entrust their promising discoveries to tech transfer professionals and move on to the next theoretical challenge. But physicist Sajeev John of the University of Toronto, one of many materials scientists with a promising new solar cell trick up his sleeve, says, “I wouldn’t say I’m knocking on the door of existing industry. I want to keep the IP [intellectual property] and develop it, rather than just license it to existing solar cell companies.”

John and other researchers are betting that the nanomaterials they are developing, including reimagined silicon photonic crystals and organic photovoltaic materials, are different enough, and valuable enough, to merit new industrial production infrastructure.

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Europe Expands Virtual Borders To Thwart Migrants

IT WAS AFTER MIDNIGHT in the Maltese search-and-rescue zone of the Mediterranean when a rubber boat originating from Libya carrying dozens of migrants encountered a hulking cargo ship from Madeira and a European military aircraft. The ship’s captain stopped the engines, and the aircraft flashed its lights at the rubber boat. But neither the ship nor the aircraft came to the rescue. Instead, Maltese authorities told the ship’s captain to wait for vessels from Malta to pick up the migrants. By the time those boats arrived, three migrants had drowned trying to swim to the idle ship.

Read the rest of this feature at IEEE Spectrum: [html] [pdf].

Getting Value out of Virtual Conferences

Online conferences can be easier than in-person conferences to integrate into a busy schedule, but they still require some advance planning and thoughtful behavior throughout. If you’re attending the ACS Fall 2020 Virtual Conference & Expo or any professional meeting online for the first time, we’ve got advice to help you be a good virtual citizen and boost your chemistry career.

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Taming the genie in the forest of the devil’s trees

It wasn’t long after the cairns appeared in the forest that women from surrounding villages began using them in a purification rite that ended in leaving underwear on the stone mounds. The cairns were new to the forest, but the women’s purification rite was not. In the ritual, older Berber women guided younger women into the forest, and the younger women washed themselves under the open sky and prepared their spirits for finding a lover. Forest rangers had built the cairns to mark the borders of Morocco’s national forests. They were designed to protect argan trees – which some Berber call the “tree of the devil” ­– from use and harvesting. But the local women turned the cairns into something else.

When Morocco’s government established Souss-Massa National Park in 1991, the Berber people were already familiar with temporary prohibitions on forest use, says anthropologist Romain Simenel of the Institute of Research for Development in Marseille, France. But they were accustomed to setting the prohibitions themselves, through a system called agdal, which involves religious stories laden with mischievous genies who curse parts of the forest, and community rituals that reopen the way to harvesting or grazing among the argan trees.

Instead, national authorities were now insisting on prohibiting access to a core zone of the argan forest, allowing limited access to a second zone, and leaving a third zone to more community-led use. They sought to protect the forest from both desertification and local land management decisions. But the genies in the argan forest are not easy to tame.

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