World’s lightest material


Credit: CHAO GAO

Chinese scientists have created the world’s lightest material: A graphene aerogel that is seven times lighter than air, and 12% lighter than the previous record holder (aerographite). A cubic centimeter of the graphene aerogel weighs just 0.16 milligrams. The graphene aerogel is so light that an cube inch of the stuff can be balanced on a blade of grass, the stamen of a flower, or the fluffy seed head of a dandelion.

Most aerogels are produced using a sol-gel process, where a gel is dehydrated until only the aerogel remains. Some aerogels are also produced using the template  method — aerographite, for example, is created by growing carbon on a lattice (template) of zinc oxide crystals — and then the zinc oxide is removed in an oven, leaving just the carbon aerogel. To create the graphene aerogel, however, researchers at Zhejiang University use a novel freeze-drying method. Basically, it seems like the researchers  create a solution of graphene and carbon nanotubes, pour it into a mold, and then freeze dry it. Freeze drying dehydrates the solution, leaving single-atom-thick layers of graphene, supported by carbon nanotubes. The researchers say that there’s no limit to the size of the container: You could make a mini graphene aerogel using this process, or a meter-cubed aerogel if you wish.


Credit: CHAO GAO

Source (Sebastian Anthony, “Graphene aerogel is seven times lighter than air, can balance on a blade of grass”, ExtremeTech, 10.04.2013)


Meet Leka, a rolling robot that can be programmed to engage with children that have developmental disabilities.


Credit: Leka

Described by its designers as “a robotic companion,” the roly-poly Leka robot is shaped like a ball, has an endearing “face” that changes expressions, and uses sound, light and colors to interact with users through customizable games that improve cognitive and motor skills. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), connecting with others and interpreting social cues can be enormously challenging. ASD describes a collection of neurodevelopmental disorders relating to communication difficulties and characterized by repetitive behaviors, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

To determine how interactive technology might help children with ASD and other developmental disabilities, Leka’s creators worked closely with educators, parents and children to determine their needs, researching in particular the role that robotics could play.

Source (Mindy Weisberger, “Robotic Toy ‘Leka’ Designed for Kids with Autism”, LiveScience, 13.05.2016)

Second skin

Scientists have developed a new material that can temporarily protect and tighten skin, and smooth wrinkles. With further development, it could also be used to deliver drugs to help treat skin conditions such as eczema and other types of dermatitis.

The material, a silicone-based polymer that could be applied on the skin as a thin, imperceptible coating, mimics the mechanical and elastic properties of healthy, youthful skin. In tests with human subjects, the researchers found that the material was able to reshape “eye bags” under the lower eyelids and also enhance skin hydration. This type of “second skin” could also be adapted to provide long-lasting ultraviolet protection.

Source (Anne Trafton, “New material temporarily tightens skin”, MIT News, 09.05.2016)

Earth’s Largest Solar Power Plant in Dubai


Credit: First Solar

The Emirate of Dubai set a new world record for the cost of solar power on May 1, 2016 with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) receiving bids for the 800 MW Sheikh Maktoum Solar Park Phase III as low as 3.00 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Dubai has now firmly established itself as the forerunner of solar energy in the Gulf region. As part of its program to reach energy diversification goals by 2030, Dubai launched the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in 2012. The park is located on 40 square kilometers of land south of Dubai city and is planned to eventually host 5 GW of solar projects. In 2013, a 13 MW PV power plant was commissioned as phase I of the project. In 2014, DEWA tendered a 100 MW PV power plant on an IPP basis as phase II, with stunning results at the time. Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power bid a low tariff of 5.98 cents/kWh, already lower than DEWA’s cost of gas-fired power plants.

Source (Apricum Group, “Dubai Shatters all Records for Cost of Solar with Earth’s Largest Solar Power Plant”, 02.05.2016)