10.01.20

How 3D-printing creates body parts on-demand

BY farah khalfe 5 MINUTE READ

In the age of advancing technology, newfound inventions are continuously changing the world as we know it, revolutionising entire industries – and oftentimes saving lives in the process.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the medical fraternity. Biomedical technology is a niche field of innovation that encompasseses elements of information technology, engineering principles and natural sciences, with an emphasis on sustaining human life and health care.

One such invention that’s been adopted – and adapted – in medical use today, is 3D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is considered as one of the most disruptive technologies of modern society. Sitting at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it has unsurprisingly opened up immense possibilities for future development in all spheres of life.

3D printing is the process of creating a three-dimensional solid object from a digital file, which functions as the 3D model or “blueprint.” The object is created by laying down successive layers of thinly-sliced material until it is fully formed (hence the term “additive manufacturing). Each layer is essentially a horizontal cross-section of the item itself.

But what makes it so revolutionary? 3D printing enables us to produce complex shapes and items using substantially less material. In fact, it has changed the way we manufacture almost everything, while using a variety of materials, including metal, concrete, polymer, plastic – and even substances deemed inconceivable before, such as living organisms and human cells.

With this in mind, 3D printing has enabled humans to produce replicas of natural, living things and, being an early adopter of most technological innovation, the medical field today is one of the most robust arenas when it comes to the use of this invention.

More specifically, the term “bioprinting” refers to 3D printing that uses viable living material to create tissue-like structures that imitate natural human tissue.

Since the mid-1990s, surgical uses for 3D printing have been on the rise. Starting with anatomical modelling for bone reconstructive surgery, it then developed into personalised, patient-specific 3D-printed orthopaedic metal implants. These implants were printed on a porous surface to facilitate osseointegration (the connection between living bone and the artificial implant).

Since then, there have been many notable procedures made possible by the contributions of 3D-printed parts.

Just last year, doctors at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Tshwane, South Africa, successfully completed a groundbreaking surgery of the world’s first middle ear transplant, using 3D-printed middle ear bones. The 35-year-old male patient, who severely damaged his ear in a car accident, was able to fully regain his hearing after the procedure. The surgeons reconstructed the broken bones of his middle ear using 3D-printed bones made from titanium. These were then replaced endoscopically.

According to Prof Tshifularo, head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the University of Pretoria Steve Biko Academic Hospital, his search to find the right prosthesis for this type of surgery was a 10-year journey. He believes that this breakthrough can now function as a long-term solution for curing patients, including babies, from loss of hearing caused by damage, disease or infection of the inner ear. In fact, hearing is restored less than two hours after the operation.

In addition to breakthrough procedures and the possibilities for new life-enhancing operations, bioprinting holds a number of other benefits that can transform entire sectors of the surgical and pharmaceutical industries.

One of the most prominent among these is the fact that bioprinting could eliminate the need for organ donors in the near future. On average, there are approximately 4300 people in South Africa in need of organs at any given moment. Unfortunately, the country is facing a massive organ donor shortage and patients in need of livers, kidneys, lungs or hearts have to wait many years to receive the life-saving transplant – if they’re lucky enough to get one at all.

To combat this issue, scientists are now developing techniques to produce living vital organs through bioprinting technology – using the patient’s own cells. The most common way in which this is done is through 3D-printed scaffolds made of biodegradable collagen on polymers. The scaffold is a replica of the organ’s unique dimensions in the patient. Researchers then place cells from the patient on to the scaffold, and a bioreactor creates the optimal environment for the cells to grow into a fully formed organ. Once the organ is finally placed into the patient, the scaffold has usually disintegrated or does so soon after the surgery.

This phenomenal process means patients could receive their organs in a matter of days or weeks instead of years. It drastically reduces the demand for organ donations on a global scale and allows everyone an equal opportunity for a second chance at life. It also leads to another major benefit of bioprinting in the medical field: cell compatibility.

Organ transplants can be tricky in that it is common for a body to reject the organ coming from a donor. Incompatibility can activate the immune system to attack the body if a foreign cell is detected. The body will reject the new addition, leading to complications that cause the patient to require a new transplant (which means another long and painful waiting time),  or they may have to live on immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives. It is recorded that approximately 50% of organ transplants are rejected within the first 10 to 12 years.

With 3D bioprinting, the cultured cells are taken from the patient themself, thus ensuring the transplant won’t be rejected after the operation.

This ability to grow human tissue through bioprinting also presents an alternative for cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies when it comes to the practice of animal testing. Every year, millions of animals suffer and eventually end up dying as a result of the testing. However, as tissue production becomes more common and accessible, companies have the option of testing their products on such printed organisms as opposed to live animals, eradicating the suffering that they endure.

In 2015, cosmetics conglomerate L’Oreal became the first company to test its products on bioprinted human-skin instead of animals, setting a precedent for the rest of the industry to follow suit.

While the field of bioprinting still requires a lot more development, particularly when it comes to laboratory testing, there are also aspirations for bioprinting to replace the need for human volunteers in drug testing facilities, reducing the numerous health and safety risks it poses. Thus, 3D bioprinting could be the safest and most practical way to test newly developed drugs before they are made available to the mass market.

Although bioprinting has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past few years of its existence,  there is still a long way to go in terms of development. This is especially true for multi-layer organisms or more complicated tissues such as eye tissue.

One of the keys to moving the industry forward is developing technology that is not only capable of constructing delicate living tissue, but is also made accessible and affordable to hospitals on a wide scale. Imagine a world where organs and other body parts can be printed on demand, a liver transplant can be conducted without the need for a donor or a face can be reconstructed without the use of plastic surgery. When bioprinting first emerged on the scene, it’s unlikely that scientists could envision just how far technology would take it.

And while researchers already have their eyes on extraterrestrial uses, such as using it as a tool to colonise other planets, where hospitals and organ donors will not be accessible, only time will tell how far this niche field of 3D printing will evolve. As for now, the benefits and medical advances it provides are nothing short of remarkable.


Author: Farah Khalfe

Google’s new 5G phone gets a transformation – but not the kind you would expect

BY farah khalfe 4 MINUTE READ

Google has decided to stop trying so hard with its latest smartphones.

The company’s newest Pixel phones are adding next-generation 5G connectivity and, in an unusual move, downgrading some flashier features on all models. This year’s phones include a slower processor and do away with the ability to unlock by scanning users’ faces.

The good news: Google also dropped its prices. While last year’s Pixel 4 started at US$800, this year’s Pixel 5 starts at $700, and new budget model called the Pixel 4a 5G ranges from $500 to $600 depending on how much 5G speed you want.

Google unveiled the phones on Wednesday in a live-streamed video with big working-from-home vibes. The Washington Post did not have the opportunity to get hands on the new gear at the online-only event. But The Post came away from the announcement and conversations with Google executives with a slightly clearer view on what Google’s hardware stands for: The middle market.

Google competes with companies such as Samsung, maker of the $700-and-up 5G Galaxy S20, that also sell phones running Google’s Android operating system. Without much success, previous Pixel phones have tried on different personalities: An iPhone-killer that shows Android at its best. A photographer’s dream phone. The experimental future of artificial intelligence. A cheap Android phone with superclean software.

Everything about Wednesday’s announcement was about finding a comfortable middle. There were lots of sofas and loungewear, unobjectionable celebrity cameos, and pastel-coloured products designed to “live naturally in their surroundings,” in Google’s words. It felt like a high-end infomercial and smartly coasted over nitty-gritty details about the products, such as how there are different types of 5G, which would have upset the reassuring feel of the event. The takeaway was that these are products for this pandemic moment, when we spend much of our time watching TV or listening to music at home and might not feel the need for an expensive new phone.

“The world doesn’t need another $1,000 phone right now,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s hardware head, told reporters.

Along with the phones, there was a new rounded-rectangular (do you call that roundtangular?) smart speaker called the Nest Audio and an updated Chromecast streaming dongle that runs Google TV, the company’s latest software for watching movies and shows on existing televisions or computers.

Of course, Google probably did not know there was a pandemic coming when it started planning this lineup. But with this update, Google is making a refreshing admission: Smartphones have gotten mostly as good as they need to be. Instead of trying to make one that bends or hype up questionable new capabilities, Google is just saying, Here’s what we think you might actually need.

Compared with last year’s Pixel 4, the Pixel 5 is two steps forward – and two steps back. Let’s start with what you lose on this year’s model:

– There’s no XL model, just one with a six-inch screen.

– The phone’s main brain is a downgrade to a slower Qualcomm processor, and there’s also no longer a dedicated chip for the camera.

– Also gone is the radar technology, dubbed Solis, that was a star addition to the Pixel 4 and let the phone detect whether you were waving your hand over it or reaching to pick it up.

– There’s no more telephoto, or zoom, lens. It’s been replaced with an ultrawide lens, like on Apple’s iPhone 11.

Google is mostly right: Those aren’t things most people need. But it is risking alienating the photography buffs who were among the first to champion Google’s smartphone. Samsung and other phone makers have pushed into new camera sensors that power ultrahigh-resolution photos and crazy 100x zooming. And industry watchers expect Apple to add a new depth sensor to its next top iPhone, which could power new augmented reality and photo capabilities.

But the Pixel 5 adds a few things that most people might find more valuable and are standout features in phones from archrival Samsung. At the top of the list is a physically larger battery and a new ultralow-power mode that lets the phone run for up to 48 hours on a single charge. The screen now goes closer to the edges and lets you wirelessly charge other devices such as headphones just by laying them on the back of the phone.

The biggest Pixel addition is compatibility with 5G cellular networks. But it’s also likely to be confusing for shoppers who have new decisions to make – and might rightly be wondering: What good is 5G anyway?

Google executives tried to set low expectations, highlighting just a few nonessential apps and services that might benefit from next-generation networks. One is the ability to do high-definition video chats and screen sharing using Google’s Duo video chat software. Another is the ability to stream games on Google’s Stadia service with low latency, or delay.

A test we conducted in September using 5G phones from Samsung found that the “nationwide” 5G networks offered by AT&T and T-Mobile hardly felt like a speed boost. In some important places, like home and along the California highway, we got download speeds that were actually slower than on 4G phones. Verizon’s 5G network is faster, but so far available in less than 1% of America.

To make matters more complicated, not all of Google’s new phones work on all of the networks. The Pixel 4a 5G, which ships on Nov. 19, comes in two versions: A $500 model that supports a slower version of 5G known as “sub-6” or low and medium band. The $600 model also supports the faster networks known as “millimeter wave” or ultra-wideband that Verizon has most built out in the United States.

Anyone who wants their next phone to be future-proof should opt for the more expensive version. The $700 Pixel 5, which arrives Oct. 29, supports both kinds of networks and adds waterproofing and wireless charging capabilities not available in the 4a 5G.

Wednesday’s event was not all about the Pixel. Google announced a few other upgraded homebody gadgets that kept it simple. The $100 Nest Audio is the latest Google smart speaker that the company claims has better audio quality than previous iterations.

Chromecast, the company’s $50 small device that plugs into existing TVs, will now come with a remote control, just like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. It’s also the debut of Google TV, which takes the existing Android TV operating system and reorganizes it so you see shows and movies based on categories instead of siloed in their various streaming apps.


The Washington Post
09.28.20

3 ways to effectively communicate your potential in a job interview

BY farah khalfe 4 MINUTE READ

In the spring of 2019, I interviewed a job candidate with no software sales experience for a software sales position. She had scored some impressive sales wins at two national restaurant chains over the course of her career, but I had to figure out if she had what it took to succeed at a growing HR tech start-up.

The story she proceeded to tell gave me goosebumps.

January is typically one of the slowest months for restaurants, especially those that generate a lot of business from large groups of business travelers. Since this woman’s main role was selling private event space at a steakhouse in the US (and there are no big industry conferences in January), she knew she would have to get creative to hit her quota. After doing some research, she found that professional basketball games were the only events happening downtown in the frigid weeks following New Year’s. But NBA teams need to eat too, right?

After several weeks of phone calls and emails to team managers, she finally got a “bite” from the travel manager for San Francisco’s NBA team. But there was a catch. He wanted a catered meal delivered to the stadium in Indianapolis before a game happening the very next day. She had never arranged a catered steak dinner before, much less to the stadium with less than 24 hours notice. But thanks to her hustle, she not only pulled it off and met her January sales quota, but also made a repeat customer out of the Golden State Warriors.

Needless to say, she got the job.

Potential is something most hiring managers look for when filling a position. Sometimes, a candidate’s potential is even more important than experience. But “potential” can be hard to define. The dictionary definition—the capacity to become or develop into something in the future—rings hollow compared to the experience of interviewing a job candidate that radiates potential.

I’ve found that people with potential are people in motion—those who aren’t content maintaining the status quo and seek continual growth and improvement. Potential says, “I’m not a finished product.”

But having potential and being able to communicate that potential are two different things. Here are three ways to ensure that your potential shines through in your next job interview.

FIND THE COMMON THREAD
I believe everyone has a “thread” that has been constant throughout the fabric of your career. This thread is what drives and motivates you—what you feel you were put on this earth to do—that’s been present in every role you’ve held. My common thread is unlocking people’s potential. I’ve occupied some very different roles in my career—I’ve been a pastor, a professor, a vice president of sales, and a human resources chief—but my core motivation has been the same through them all.

Find that common thread in your career and give it a tug. Think about how it aligns with the role you’re applying for. And consider how to convey that the open position is the next logical step in your career journey. Most modern companies want to hire people with momentum—people who know where they’re going in life or at least have a vague idea of an ultimate career goal. I want to know the direction people are growing in, and understand why they think the open role is their next step.

TELL A STORY
Telling stories is the most powerful way to communicate information. According to famed author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, “The power of a single story goes far beyond simply relaying facts and data. Stories emotionalise information. They give colour and depth to otherwise bland material and they allow people to connect with the message in a deeper, more meaningful way.”

To communicate your true potential in a job interview, consider preparing a few stories that give “colour and depth” to your professional experiences. Think about a time when you demonstrated creative problem-solving, your biggest professional achievement, or an instance when you had a tough decision to make.

Next, run the story through the STARL framework. STARL stands for situation, task, action, results, and learning. To really shine a spotlight on your potential, spend plenty of time on the “L” and refine the lessons you learned. In interviews, I love asking questions like, “what would you do differently?” and “name an opportunity that you could have handled better.”

These questions open the floor for the candidate to showcase their ability to critically assess the past and imagine a different future. That’s a foundational aspect of a growth mindset. It’s tempting to go into an interview and try to cast an aura of perfection, as opposed to sharing what you learned and what they would have done differently. But sharing those insights, while it may feel vulnerable, takes a lot of self-awareness and shows that the candidate is willing to learn.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
At the end of the day, the candidate is responsible for making the interview a positive experience. Only you can control what it feels like to talk to you. Consider practicing your stories on a friend to get some feedback, or recording a video of yourself answering some common interview questions. Both of these approaches may feel wildly uncomfortable, but will help you understand how you “show up.” Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal, after all, so if your body language is at odds with what’s coming out of your mouth, you may want to break some bad habits before the interview. But, above all else, remember to be yourself.

Companies want to hire humans with breadth and depth of experiences, perspectives, attitudes, and opinions. It’s okay to show your personality in an interview. In fact, I encourage it because you will never bore someone into hiring you.

At the end of the day, communicating your potential starts with believing in your potential. Establish the right balance between confidence and humility, and you’ll leave the hiring manager thinking, “equipped with the right resources, this person could accomplish something truly great for our organisation.”


Article originally published on fastcompany.com

Apple to release iPhone 12 in South Korea sooner than planned

BY farah khalfe < 1 MINUTE READ

Apple is expected to launch its new iPhone 12 series in South Korea earlier than its usual schedule, sources said this week.

According to officials at South Korean telecom operators, they are preparing to sell the iPhone 12 in late October or early November.

Usually, Apple has been releasing its new smartphones in South Korea about one month after it launched the first batch of products in select countries, reports Yonhap news agency.

For instance, the iPhone 11 hit local shelves on October 25 last year after the smartphone went on sale in the United States and other countries on Septomber 20.

Industry insiders said Apple is apparently looking to release its first 5G-supporting iPhone family in South Korea early since the country already offers various 5G services.

Apple is expected to release four models of the iPhone 12 — the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 Mini, the 6.1-inch iPhone 12, the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro and the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Recently, it was revealed that the upcoming iPhone 12 could cost somewhere between approximately R12 000 to R13 000 while the iPhone 12 Max could be priced around R12 800-R 14 500. The Pro and Pro Max models are expected to be priced between R 18 800 to R20 500.


Author: IANS

8 ways to speed up your Chrome browser

BY farah khalfe 6 MINUTE READ

When’s the last time you used a Windows PC or Mac without launching a web browser? Sure, there are still some old-school, offline apps like Microsoft Word and Photoshop. But today the bulk of our computing happens inside the browser–be it emailing, chatting, surfing social media, watching videos, or listening to music. For many of us, browser-based apps such as Google Docs and Sheets have even taken over for traditional productivity software like Microsoft Office.

1. UPDATE YOUR BROWSER

Start by making sure you have the latest software. “Because we are always updating Chrome and evolving it, this is the simplest thing people can do,” to improve performance, says Christoff. Chrome automatically downloads updates, but it needs a restart to install them. Make sure your Chrome is up to date by clicking the three-dot “More” icon in the upper right of the browser window. (Or type “chrome://settings/” in the address bar.) Then click Help>About Google Chrome. The About screen will show if Chrome is up to date. If it’s not, relaunch your browser.

You need to periodically restart Chrome for updates to take effect.

2. GET TO KNOW THE TASK MANAGER

Chrome has a built-in tool to show how much of your computer resources–RAM, processor, and networking–are consumed by components such as open tabs and browser extensions. You can access this information by clicking the three-dot “More” icon, then selecting More Tools>Task Manager. We’ll use Task Manager later on to diagnose problems.

Task Manager shows how much resources different processes, such as individual tabs, are consuming.

3. KEEP TABS IN CHECK

Browser tabs are incredibly handy for tasks such as opening multiple product reviews when you’re shopping online. But they can easily get out of control. Within a few minutes, I might have three browser windows running, each with a half-dozen or more open tabs. Each tab runs as its own process, consuming your computer’s resources. If your system suddenly slows down or the fan kicks in, check Task Manager to see if one or two open tabs are the culprits. (Often, issues will stem from a streaming media site such as YouTube.) You can highlight an individual tab in Task Manager and click the End Process button to immediately take the load off.

If you know you will have tabs open for a while, you can suspend them so the URL is saved but the pages consume virtually no resources. To set that up, install an extension called The Great Suspender. You can use it to immediately suspend all tabs in a browser window. Or they will automatically suspend after an amount of time that you can set. (The default is 30 minutes.) “It’s certainly an effective technique because by essentially suspending the tabs that you’re not using, it’s akin to closing them,” says Christoff. You can unsuspend individual tabs, or all the tabs at once, when you want to go back to those web pages. The extension is highly customizable. For instance, you can set it to never suspend a tab that is playing audio, so your background music continues to stream.

Suspending tabs allows you to conserve resources without losing that page.

 

4. BLOCK VIDEOS FROM AUTOPLAYING

Google’s Christoff and I part ways on this topic. Google generally allows videos and other animated content to autoplay on sites that choose to enable it. “A lot of times the web page that you’re looking at will have animations and experiences that the site designer actually wants to get across,” says Christoff. “We want you to have that type of experience without you having to press play.”

But since those videos and animations—many of which may not even interest me—suck up resources, I’d rather that I have to press play. A free extension called AutoplayStopper grants me my wish, and saves a lot of my computer’s resources.

AutoplayStopper prevents videos and animations from running on their own. You can create exceptions for specific sites.

5. MANAGE BROWSER EXTENSIONS

Extensions can add very handy capabilities to your browser. (I’ve just recommended two great ones.) But they also consume resources. It’s good to periodically review your extensions. Click on the three-dot More button and select More Tools>Extensions for an overview of every one you have installed. Here you can easily remove old extensions you are no longer using. If you’re not sure you want to get rid of an extension for good, just toggle the switch to the right of the Remove button to disable it. One way to decide whether an extension is worth keeping is to check the Task Manager and see if it’s a major resource hog when enabled.

You can remove or disable extensions to lighten the load on Chrome.

6. USE HARDWARE ACCELERATION FOR VIDEO

Video is generally the most demanding task for your browser. And in the COVID-19 era, we’re streaming a lot more of it for online education, conferencing, and binge watching. To keep video from hogging resources, make sure that hardware acceleration is turned on in Chrome. This offloads video tasks to your computer’s graphics processor. Click the three-dot More button, then click Settings>Advanced>System to ensure that “Use hardware acceleration when available” is turned on. (This setting option isn’t available in the Chrome browser on Chromebooks.)

Insure hardware acceleration is on so that video plays more efficiently.

7. RUN THE CHROME CLEANUP TOOL (WINDOWS ONLY)

There is a lot of malware that hijacks the browser experience, such as changing your default search engine and home page or launching obnoxious popup ads. And most of this malware is written to run on Windows, the dominant operating system around the world. So Google created an anti-malware utility just for Windows users. Access it by clicking the three-dot More button and then Settings>Advanced. Under Reset and clean up, click “Clean up computer” to run a scan.

The Cleanup tool scans for Windows malware that messes with Chrome.

8. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, RESET CHROME

If you’ve taken all these steps and Chrome still feels sluggish, reset the program to its defaults. A reset will not get rid of important elements such as bookmarks, history, saved passwords, and extensions. However it will disable all extensions, so you’ll have to go back and re-enable the ones you want to use. It also resets your startup page, new tab page, search engine, and pinned tabs. So you will have a little work to do to get your browser customized again. To run a reset, click the three-dot More button, then Settings>Advanced>Reset settings, and press “Restore settings to their original defaults.”

Try a reset to get a fresh start with Chrome.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com

The Infonomist: It’s time for Africa to eat from big tech’s pie

BY farah khalfe 2 MINUTE READ

There would be no social network or search engine without users.

At the same time, the users would not be as connected online or experience the ease of access to information as they do now due to services offered by the major social network and search engine.

The freemium model that is the foundation of major tech giants works on this basis.

Tech giants offer something for free in return for connection and ease of access to information. In turn, they monetise user data, although without much transparency with users.

At the beginning of it all, there was a form of the social contract between users and tech giants that one will receive and the others will provide. This social contract, however, is now broken.

The data of users has been used in ways that users never imagined. Media companies have in the process lost revenues that have now been rechannelled to social networks such as Facebook and search engines such as Google.

Data has been proclaimed to have surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset. Companies such as Facebook and Google have built data-rich monopolies that remorselessly mine the digital assets and behaviours of their users.

They use their privileged access to user data to sell back to them, taking an increasing slice of the economic cake and accumulating disproportionate power and wealth. Facebook is now the world’s biggest data broker. Its business model is based solely on extracting value from user personal digital assets.

The media, a major user of tech giants in the form of being a distribution channel, has worked hard to produce content that has been a key part of search engines and social network giants.

Their ability to continue producing content is now shaky. In the long run, the media will no longer be able to become a protector of democracies without a sustainable business model, which has been disrupted by tech giants such as Facebook and Google. We are now witnessing the rise of fake news taking centre stage online. If this is allowed to continue, we are likely to get less quality news on search engines and social networks

The scale is no longer balanced. The producers of content are treated unfairly by tech giants. The major victim is the media industry.

The Australians are now working out a solution.

One of the country’s largest media companies, Nine, headed by a former federal treasurer, has suggested Facebook and Google should compensate media companies up to $432 million (about R7.3billion) for use of their content in Australia.

Both tech giants are unhappy about the move by Australians to demand fair compensation for news content.

There’s no doubt that there’s now a need for a new social contract between users, media companies, and big tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Attempts at correcting this situation in other parts of the world have failed and Australia has become the latest country to do so.

African media entities, however, have done nothing to challenge big tech giants to compensate them for the content they produce.

It is now time that African media entities begin a process of ensuring that there’s fair compensation for content produced by media companies. It is also time for content producers in Africa to be paid for their data online.


Author: Wesley Diphoko
09.25.20

These carbon-negative, ocean-degradable straws and forks are made from greenhouse gases

BY farah khalfe 3 MINUTE READ

At a new production facility in California, a 50-foot-tall stainless steel tank is filled with nearly 57 000 litres of salt water, and inside microbes are turning methane—a potent greenhouse gas—into a new material that could simultaneously help tackle the challenges of climate change and ocean plastic. If the material is made into a disposable fork and ends up in the ocean, it degrades as easily as cellulose, turning into a food source for microbes.

Newlight, the biotech company that created the material, began looking for ways to make use of greenhouse gas emissions more than a decade ago. “We asked the question, how can we take carbon that would otherwise go into the air, and turn it into useful materials,” says Mark Herrema, CEO of Newlight. “As we looked around nature, we discovered pretty quickly that nature uses greenhouse gas to make materials every day.”

The researchers were particularly interested in ocean microorganisms that can consume methane and CO2 as food. “After they eat that gas, they then convert that into a really special material inside themselves,” he says. “It’s a meltable energy storage material, which you can purify and then form into various parts and shapes and pieces.” The team decided to replicate the process on land, using a tank filled with saltwater and microbes, with air and methane added to start the process. (The methane comes from an abandoned coal mine and other sources, where it would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere.) When the microbes make the material—which Newlight calls Air Carbon—the company extracts those cells. Then it filters and purifies the material, drying it into a fine white powder that can be molded into objects. After years of development, the first offerings made from the material are coming to market.

The company has experimented with turning the material into everything from furniture to packaging but decided to focus first on products where it could have the most impact—including as a replacement for single-use plastic straws and cutlery. “Because it’s a material that’s grown by life and recognised by life, it’s ocean degradable,” says Herrema. “And if you look at ocean plastic pollution, a very large percentage of what ends up in the ocean comes from foodware and food-related applications.” Restore, the company’s new foodware brand, makes carbon-negative straws that look and feel like plastic. Unlike paper straws, they don’t get soggy. But like paper, the material will naturally break down over time if it happens to be littered in the ocean. The brand also makes single-use forks, spoons, and other items that are typically made from plastic.

To tackle another problem, Newlight is launching a separate brand called Covalent, which is making wallets and handbags from its material instead of leather. “I believe it’s the world’s first net carbon-negative leather,” Herrema says. The material is durable—it won’t peel or crack like real leather—and unlike synthetic leathers made from fossil fuels, it can easily be recycled. The brand is also using Air Carbon to make carbon-negative eyeglass frames. The products, available for preorder now, will come stamped with a “carbon date” that consumers can plug into a website to track how the carbon in that item moved through the production process.“You see at the end of that, the fact that you prevented, let’s call it, 100 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent gas from going into the air,” Herrema says. “I think that that tangible factor has the potential to get people excited about this. And also start asking questions about other materials in the industry.”


Article originally published on fastcompany.com

This is how robots are tackling the coronavirus at a London train station

BY farah khalfe < 1 MINUTE READ

Robots that can kill the coronavirus with ultraviolet light have been brought in at one of London’s biggest train stations, St Pancras International, as it tries to restore customer confidence in the safety of travel hubs.

Stations suffered a blow on Tuesday when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to work from home again where possible and also ordered restaurants and bars to close early to tackle a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

St Pancras International saw 34.6 million entries and exits in the year to March 2019, the most recently available yearly data from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), making it the ninth busiest station in the country. The ORR has said the pandemic caused a dramatic fall in rail usage.

“The main thing for us is to get the confidence of customers,” said Jay Newton, Head of Stations Engineering and Operations for the High Speed One Channel tunnel rail link.

“We are the first train station to bring this type of technology in because we want to allow people to use a train station with confidence, use our retail units with confidence, and slowly get back to a normal way,” he told Reuters.

The robots use ultraviolet light to sweep large areas without the need for chemical disinfectant, the station said, adding the technology could kill nearly 100% of bacteria and viruses – including the coronavirus – on surfaces and in the surrounding air in minutes.

St Pancras International is the terminus of the Eurostar link to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and also shares links to six London Underground lines with neighbouring King’s Cross station.


Author: Reuters

09.23.20

Nokia launches two new smartphones to adapt to “transformational year”

BY farah khalfe 2 MINUTE READ

The HMD Global-owned smartphone maker Nokia has launched two new budget smartphones Nokia 2.4 and Nokia 3.4 in Europe.

The Nokia 3.4 comes with triple rear cameras as well as sport a hole-punch display design. The Nokia 2.4, on the other hand, comes with a waterdrop-style display notch and houses dual rear cameras.

“For us, it’s truly been a transformational year, and we’ve adapted to the changing times. I am extremely excited to broaden our value-add services for enterprise with the introduction of HMD Connect Pro, offering unprecedented levels of flexibility and security,” Florian Seiche, Chief Executive Officer, HMD Global, said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The Nokia 3.4 will be available globally from early October in 3/32GB, 3/64GB and 4/64GB memory and storage configurations, starting at an average global retail price of 159 euros.

The Nokia 2.4 will be also available globally from end of September and in 2/32GB and 3/64GB memory and storage configurations starting at an average global retail price of 119 euros.

Nokia 3.4 features a 6.39-inch HD+ (720×1,560 pixels) display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and 400 nits of peak brightness.

Under the hood, there is a octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 SoC, coupled with 3GB and 4GB RAM options.

The Nokia 3.4 comes in 32GB and 64GB storage variants both of which support expansion via microSD card (up to 512GB) through a dedicated slot.

The device houses triple rear camera setup that includes a 13MP primary sensor, 5MP ultra-wide-angle shooter, and a 2MP depth sensor.

For selfies, the phone comes with an 8MPselfie camera sensor at the front. The selfie camera is available under the hole-punch display design.

Connectivity options include 4G LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.2, GPS/ A-GPS, USB Type-C, FM radio, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The smartphone packs a 4,000mAh battery that supports 10W charging.

Nokia 2.4 features a 6.5-inch HD+ (720×1,600 pixels) display that has a 20:9 aspect ratio. The phone measures 165.85×76.30×8.69mm and weighs 189 grams.

The phone is powered by an octa-core MediaTek Helio P22 SoC, paired with 2GB and 3GB RAM options.

The smartphone houses dual rear camera setup that includes a 13MP primary sensor with an f/2.2 lens and a 2MP depth sensor. There is also a 5MP selfie camera sensor at the front.

Connectivity options include 4G LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth v5.0, GPS/ A-GPS, NFC, FM radio, Micro-USB, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

In addition, the Nokia 2.4 packs a 4,500mAh battery.

09.21.20

Shifting to plant-based plastic is a start—but it can’t be the only solution to plastic waste

BY farah khalfe 5 MINUTE READ

To solve our climate crisis, there’s no doubt that we need to change the way we create—and dispose—of everyday things. Nonrenewable fossil fuels are used to make a nearly endless list of items, from plastic forks to styrofoam packaging to synthetic fabrics to steel and concrete. Not only do these products require limited resources and significant amounts of energy to produce, they can be nearly impossible to get rid of. Our recycling system is inadequate, these materials take thousands of years to break down, and so our planet continues to fill up with trash.

But the surge of plant-based products can also feel like just another environmental trend. Can making everything plant-based really save us from climate catastrophe? The answer is a bit more complicated than making sure everyone chooses a compostable fork over a plastic one.

The wave of plant-based products is not purely greenwashing—it’s a necessary transition, says Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of Global Footprint Network, a sustainability research group that each year calculates Earth Overshoot Day, the date by which humanity has used up its annual allotment of Earth’s resources. “There is no other future than a regenerative future, whether we like it or not,” he says. By regenerative, he means we need to live off what we can renew, and we can’t renew fossil fuels. “Everything has to be plant-based in the end.”

But switching to a world of plant-based products won’t be easy. We can either make it a rapid transition, which Wachernagel says will come with “short-term pains,” but which will leave us with a bigger regenerative budget (as in, Earth will be able to produce more biological materials) for the future. Or we can slowly transition to plant-based products, take our time experimenting and perfecting them—but the more time we waste, the more dramatic climate change will be, and the less the Earth will be able to produce for us in the future.

Those short-term pains may be as innocuous as the inconvenience of your compostable spoon losing its integrity in your yogurt—but that’s a trade-off we need to live with. “Maybe [we] need to rejoice if the spoon gets a little wobbly,” says Wachernagel. “We need to get joy from the fact that I can put it in my own compost bin.”

Wanting a spoon made of plant material to be as durable as plastic is possible, but there’s another trade-off: It’s harder to compost. A more stable spoon is made out of bioplastic, and most compost facilities can’t handle bioplastics, says Ray Hatch, CEO of recycling services company Quest. They require high temperatures and expensive equipment, and there are only about 100 such facilities in the U.S.  “The perception of the bio-based form is that they’re all the same, and they’re truly not,” he says. “[Bioplastics] have to be separated and treated separately, and if they go to the landfill, they won’t compost. They’re just as polluting and they’ll sit there like any other type of plastic.”

Simply banning single-use plastics in favor of compostable or biodegradable packaging isn’t a complete solution to our waste problem without the waste infrastructure to take in those new materials. Switching what we make things out of also doesn’t address our issue of excess—that we are making so many things in the first place. In 2018, the world produced 359 million tonnes of plastics. Are we ready to handle that same volume of plant-made material? “As we go out of carbon, we will put much much more demand on the rest of the planet,” Wackernagel says. “There’s not an abundance of plant matter we can just tap into.”

Experts are already concerned about how we can adequately feed our growing population, especially if we can grow enough fruits and vegetables for everyone. Asked if we currently have enough space to grow all the plants we’d need to make everything out of biomaterials, plus to feed our world, Carson Meredith, director of the Georgia Tech Renewable Bioproducts Institute, says he’s not sure—but that doing so would come with other costs. One would be having to devote more of our land to agriculture, and that will most likely require taking away land from livestock. Land dedicated for pasture grazing and for crops for animal feed accounts for 77% of global farming land, yet livestock produces 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of its total protein.

If we grow more crops, we also need to be conscious of how we’re growing them. Does that farm operate off of renewable energy? What about all the emissions and other environmental effects of fertilizer, which is necessary to grow plants quickly but can, if made of nitrogen, deplete soil of nutrients and contaminate drinking water and damage aquatic life. This is another cost of that switch, Meredith says: changing our industrial agriculture infrastructure to best grow that many plants (though all that energy and fertilizer use does depend on what type of plant you’re growing).

Plant-based items are a welcome development as a transition away from plastic, Meredith adds, but we have to be careful about how we forge our vegetation-filled future. Transitioning to a world with more products made of plants has to happen alongside other initiatives, from innovations in circular production to how to best use bio-waste to making sure we have compost facilities to biodegrade these objects.

Instead of a one-to-one swap of plastics to plant-based materials, we need to change the entire processes for making and disposing all the products we use throughout our life. Our current waste stream is linear, meaning we take resources, convert them to a product, and then that product ends up in a landfill, and new products continually make that same, straight journey. “We need to make it circular,” says Meredith. If products were produced in a closed loop, where at their end of life they were reused, repaired, or repurposed rather than sent to a waste facility, those materials go further, potentially leading to less energy and CO2 than continually extracting and refining new raw materials—even if those raw materials are plants.

For consumers who want to buy plant-based items that have the biggest benefits for the planet, Meredith warns to watch out for clever labels—how much of that product is actually made of plants, and how were those plants sourced? “If it’s a forest-based material, you want to make sure it’s a sustainably managed forest,” he says. Some research may require a bit of work, but still, if given the choice between paper or plastic, he says, choose paper.


Article originally published in fastcompany.com