Northern China has long been the center of Chinese population, industry, and agriculture. In order to sustain its numerous farms and massive cities, northern China consumes enormous amounts of water each year. However, due to the fact that the majority of China’s great rivers lie in the south, the north has been forced to rely primarily on groundwater. Over the last few decades, as the population and infrastructure of China has grown, it has become apparent that aquifers alone cannot meet the water needs of the north.
China has foreseen this problem for quite some time. Former Chairman Mao Zedong was one of the first to propose a river diversion project that would take water from the south and bring it to the north. In 2002, 50 years after Mao, the project was approved by the state and work was begun on it (1).
Named the “South-to-North River Diversion Project”, this project is the largest river diversion attempt the world has ever seen. Set to finish in the year 2050, this massive $62 billion project aims to move 44.8 billion cubic meters of water per year from the Yangtze River to the barren Yellow River Basin in northern China (2).
China hopes that this project will put an end to water shortages in the north; however, it is far from ideal. Many believe that this entire project is only a temporary solution to a major problem and will have major environmental consequences in the near future. Perhaps the greatest concern amongst environmentalists is the possibility for water pollution on an enormous scale. China has dealt with major water pollution issues ever since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 2012. Because this endeavor will require connecting multiple rivers, pollution could possibly become even more widespread, resulting in less drinkable water for millions of people.
Another issue this project faces is the relocation of millions of Chinese people. Similar to what happened during the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, an estimated 330,000 individuals have already been forcibly moved from their homes to make room for the Danjiangkou reservoir (2). This number will only rise over the coming decades as the project expands.
It seems China’s “Grow first, clean up later” mentality for much of last few decades may finally be coming around to bite them in the rear. Many agree that China will only hurt themselves in the long run, and that more internal changes need to occur. China must become more efficient with their water use if they plan on continuing to expand their population and industry even further.
Only time will tell whether or not the South-to-North River Diversion Project will be a success for China. In the best case scenario, China will be able to sustain its cities and agriculture in the north with the “new” water. Worst case could mean a giant environmental disaster that would leave China cleaning up the mess for years to come.
(1) "South-to-North Water Diversion Project." Water Technology, n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2016.
(2) "South-North Water Transfer Project." International Rivers, n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Wuwei1970 | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-dujiangyan-reservoir-city-sichuan-province-china-city-has-famous-water-conservancy-engineering-system-system-image34646764#res14972580">Dujiangyan Reservoir</a>
Even in this day and age, the earth’s water, carbon, and energy cycles are not fully understood by the scientific community. Although they might not seem particularly influential, these three natural cycles have a profound impact on the prosperity and survival of human civilization as a whole. To further understand these processes, NASA launched the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite in January of 2015 (1).
The primary purpose of SMAP is to measure soil moisture and freeze-thaw data on a global scale. This information garnered by SMAP directly benefits science, agriculture, and environmental management.
The first, and possibly most important, benefit provided by SMAP is the improved ability to predict crop yields. Soil moisture data from SMAP is able to help determine the expected quality and quantity of crops seasonally. This information is then used to adjust irrigation and improve crop yield predictions on a global scale. Humanitarian food assistance will likely benefit the most from the data collected by SMAP. The new information will allow for more accurate distribution of food to those in greatest need. This comes as good news because by the year 2080, the number of undernourished individuals worldwide is estimated to rise anywhere from 5% to 26% due to various factors (2).
SMAP also possesses the capability to help forecast weather along with natural occurrences such as droughts, floods, landslides and even famine. This works because the given soil moisture content of an area shows how much water is able to evaporate into the atmosphere, and therefore influence local weather. Knowing this information, meteorologists are then able to more accurately forecast weather than when using radar alone.
This same data can also allow for more accurate prediction of floods and drought. For example, if the soil in a given area is already highly saturated with water before a rainstorm, then the chances of flooding in said area will be relatively high. Flooding already accounts for 40% of all natural disasters worldwide, resulting in thousands of deaths and billions of dollars’ worth of damage each year (2). An improved early warning system in place, with the help of SMAP, could help save countless lives and millions of dollars from flooding.
Similarly, tracking the change in soil moisture over time can help predict the location and severity of a drought. Considering drought often leads to crop failure, livestock death, and sometimes the loss of human lives, this information will be crucial to many. Knowing when and where a drought is likely to occur will give people much needed time to prepare and possibly mitigate the effects of the drought; saving lives and money in the process.
Perhaps the greatest challenge humanity will face over the coming century is the changing environment. As the climate and temperature on earth changes, humans must adapt. Through soil moisture data, SMAP will allow scientists to further understand the link between the earth’s carbon, water, and energy cycles. These three cycles alone influence global temperatures and climate more than any other earthly event. As science learns more and more about these systems, changes to our civilization can be made. The changes to how we live will hopefully allow for humanity to prosper well into the future.
(1) "Soil Moisture Active Passive." Jpl.nasa.gov. Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(2) "SMAP: Why It Matters." Smap.jpl.nasa.gov. Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Chon Kit Leong | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/editorial-stock-image-nasa-command-center-oct-california-oct-jpl-california-image72670039#res14972580">The Nasa command center</a>
The concept of a “space elevator” has existed since the beginning of the Space Age, some sixty years ago. The idea is rather simple; a vessel is transported to and from space via a cable attached to a satellite stationed outside of the atmosphere. The most important feature of this method of space travel is the absence of rocket engines. Rocket engines – the primary means by which materials are transported into space today – require immense amounts of fuel, time, and money. In theory, a tether that stretches all the way from earth to space would not suffer from these shortcomings. However, applying this theory to a working physical model is rather daunting.
Japanese researchers based out of Shizuoka University's Faculty of Engineering have taken the first step to make this dream a reality. Labeled by its creators, the STARS-C (Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-Cube) experimental microsatellite is the first of its kind.
The STARS-C is rather small in size, weighing in at just 2.66 kilograms (5.86 pounds), and consisting of two 10 centimeter (3.9-inch) cubes that are connected by a 100 meter long (328-foot-long) tether made from Kevlar (1). The $98,000 orbiter will be sent into space from the Kibo module aboard the International Space Station. From there the STARS-C will be launched into orbit and the two cubes will separate in order to test the strength and durability of the tether (2).
The purpose of the test is to determine feasible materials and methods by which a tether for a future space elevator could be made from. If successful, this would mean that science is on the right track to making a working model.
Although an actual space elevator is decades away from becoming a reality, the STARS-C represents a significant leap forward in space tether technology, with major implications for the future.
(1) "University Orbiter Set to Lift Space Elevator Technology：The Asahi Shimbun." The Asahi Shimbun. N.p., 06 July 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
(2) Patel, Neel V. "Japanese Scientists Will Test Out." Inverse. N.p., 06 July 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Tomas Griger | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-morning-over-japan-early-japanese-islands-viewed-space-highly-detailed-planet-surface-clouds-city-lights-elements-image36777777#res14972580">Morning over Japan</a>
At the moment, nearly 800 million individuals worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment (1). This number will more than likely rise as the global population hits 10 billion by the year 2050 (2). Worse yet, the 3 billion additional people are estimated to require an astounding 109 hectares of land for food alone (3). As available farmland shrinks one innovative style of farming could help solve this daunting issue. This style is referred to as “vertical farming”.
Simply put, vertical farms are indoor farms that grow their crops in vertically stacked trays. The plants in these trays do not receive light from the sun, but from LEDs placed directly overhead. In addition, these plants are not grown in soil but in nutrient rich water, a method commonly referred to as hydroponics (4). Growing plants in this manner offers numerous benefits when compared to traditional farming.
First, due to the fact that vertical farms are based inside buildings, nearly all environmental factors are able to be controlled. This means that temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and light intensity can all be altered in order to optimize plant growth and maximize crop yield (5). Controlling environmental conditions also means that resources such as water and fertilizer can be used more efficiently when compared with traditional farming. Better yet, environmental control also negates the need for the vast amount of pesticides typically used when farming outdoors. Additionally, growing indoors allows for any crop to be produced year-round, even in non-tropical areas.
Perhaps, the most attractive aspect of vertical farming is the efficient use of land. According to Gene Giacomelli, the director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, indoor farming is capable of producing 20 times the amount of food per unit area when compared to farming outdoors (4). This aspect may prove crucial over the next few decades as less and less land is able to be farmed.
Vertical farms have already become relatively common throughout cities across America. These farms are rather minor and are owned either by small companies, or individuals. Generally these farms are based in larger buildings such as warehouses or old factories; however, some people have even started farms in spare bedrooms and garages. Most, if not all, of these farms came to be because of crowdfunding. In 2015 alone food and agriculture startups raised $4.6 billion, nearly double from the year before (4). Local food, grown in vertical farms, generated $11.7 billion in sales as of 2014 and is expected to balloon to $20 billion by the year 2019 (4).
The sudden popularity of these farms is quite understandable as farming in the city certainly has its upsides. The most apparent benefit is the proximity to potential buyers. Because a vertical farm resides inside a building that lies across the street from a restaurant, shipping costs are negligible. Additionally, the produce sold would be freshly picked and would stay fresh longer. These are factors that traditional farms that ship produce from hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away simply cannot match. In the future, some restaurants could potentially include vertical farms inside their own buildings. Not only would this guarantee absolute freshness of the produce, but it could be less expensive than purchasing from farmers.
Despite the many advantages of vertical farming, it is not perfect. The biggest obstacle is, without a doubt, energy use. Traditional farming methods use sunlight to power their plants. Sunlight is free, effective, and requires no maintenance on the part of the farmer. The LEDs used by vertical farms are far from that. Although the technology is improving, at this point in time even the most advanced LEDs are only 50% efficient, meaning that half of the electricity is lost as heat energy (4). This factor alone has been a governor on the vertical farming industry’s progress over the last few years. If LED technology improves in the coming years, the industry can expand even further.
It is unlikely that vertical farming will solve the current, and impending, world hunger crisis by itself. Nonetheless, it certainly possess the potential to forever change the way we look at farming.
(1) "2015 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics - World Hunger." World Hunger. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
(2) "World Population Projected to Reach 9.7 Billion by 2050 | UN DESA | United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs." UN News Center. UN, 29 July 2015. Web. 27 July 2016.
(3) "The Problem." Vertical Farm RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
(4) Zimmerman, Eilene. "Growing Greens in the Spare Room as ‘Vertical Farm’ Start-Ups Flourish." The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(5) "Glossary for Vertical Farming." Association for Vertical Farming. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.
Image: © Dutchscenery | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-led-lighting-used-to-grow-lettuce-image26268905#res14972580">LED lighting used to grow lettuce</a>
The People’s Republic of China is home to nearly 1.4 billion individuals, it should not come as a surprise that maintaining such a massive population requires an equally enormous supply of food. In the past, this was not a problem, as a large percentage of the Chinese populace lived and worked on farms. Commercial farming was uncommon as the majority of agriculture was dominated by small, independent farmers.
However, during the latter half of the 20th century this all began to change. As China’s infrastructure and industry modernized, people left the toil of the fields to pursue new lives in the city. In fact, from 1982 to 2010 the Chinese population increased by nearly a third; yet, the rural population of 790 million decreased to around 710 million (1). The Chinese government is currently struggling to garner enough manpower to support their agricultural industry.
Guaranteeing stable food supply for its people is one of the top goals of the current Communist Party in China. This begs the question of whether or not China should attempt to remain self-sufficient, or keep playing a major role in international grain trade. If China is to remain primarily self-sufficient, then the continued mechanization of their agriculture is a must. Due to the fact that the majority of farm land in China is owned by small farmers, this task is rather difficult. These farmers are often hesitant to sell their land even though they can find better work elsewhere. To tackle this issue, the government has issued $3.7 billion in subsidies for agricultural machinery in 2016 (2). These actions by the government are to ensure that modern farming machines are affordable for all farmers across the country.
As of 2015 mechanization of wheat and rice harvesting increased to 90% and 60% respectively, leading to record amounts in both grains (2). Total wheat production in 2015 reached 126.2 million tons, up from 121.9 million tons the year before (3). Additionally, rice totals were measured at 144.5 million tons, up from 142.5 million tons the year prior (3).
However, despite the mechanization of corn harvesting and near record yields in 2015, China is still a net importer of the crop. Similarly, China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans at 74.5 million tons in 2015 and has seemingly given up on being independent in that regard (3).
The Chinese government’s end goal is for all domestic grains, excluding soybeans, to account for at least 95% of its people’s consumption (4). This means that China’s wheat and rice production will continue to modernize over the coming years in order to meet the expanding domestic need for those grains. As for corn, it seems as if China will likely not be able to produce enough corn for itself and will remain a major player on international grain market into the future. The Chinese government is attempting to avoid a repeat of what has happened in the soybean trade over the last decade or so. To counteract this, China is trying to become drastically less dependent on imports, especially from the United States. In 2010, the United States accounted for 97% of all Chinese corn imports; currently, the United States accounts for under 4% (5). Soybeans will likely stay China’s largest import as the government has embraced the global market for the grain.
For a country as large as China, complete self-sufficiency is nothing more than a pipe dream. Today, the international market is much friendlier towards Chinese interests than it was thirty years ago and China is looking to take advantage of this. However, at the same time, China is trying to remain as self-reliant as possible. If China continues to expand and modernize its agricultural industry at this rate, it could possibly replace the United States as the global leader in agriculture over the coming decades.
(1) Stanaway, D., & Shuping, N. (2012, November 14). Analysis: China turns to machines as farmers seek fresh fields. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-agriculture-mechanisation-idUSBRE8AC15P20121114
(2) Increasing Demand for High-Capacity Machinery Predicted to Augment the Global Haying and Forge Machinery Market Until 2020, Says Technavio. (2016, July 7). Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.businesswire.com/news/financialpost/20160707005021/en/Increasing-Demand-High-Capacity-Machinery-Predicted-Augment-Global
(3) Lyddon, C. (2015, April 9). Focus on China 2015 | World Grain. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.world-grain.com/Departments/Country-Focus/Country-Focus-Home/Focus-on-China-2015.aspx
(4) Yap, C. (2014, February 13). China Sees a Worrying History Lesson in Corn. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/02/13/china-sees-a-worrying-history-lesson-in-corn/
(5) Yap, C. (2015, July 21). China’s Corn Strategy Turns Bear Market on Its Ear. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/07/21/chinas-corn-strategy-turns-bear-market-on-its-ear/
Image: © Chinahbzyx | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-celery-cultivation-plantation-china-qinhuangdao-image30707791#res14972580">Celery cultivation in a plantation, China</a>
Lasers, and other Directed Energy Weapons (DEW), have long been relegated to the realm of science fiction. However, this technology is soon becoming a reality.
Directed Energy Weapons offer numerous benefits over their conventional projectile-based counterparts. A laser is inherently faster, more accurate, and possess a longer range than a bullet or missile. Additionally, lasers do not need to be stored like conventional ammunition. For example, a naval vessel would only need a generator to produce the energy needed for the laser. This not only eliminates the chance of a magazine explosion, while freeing up valuable space aboard the ship. Another benefit of this technology is the relative cost of use. A single guided missile can cost millions of dollars, while a single bolt from a laser would only cost as much as the energy used to produce it (1).
Though this all looks good on paper, it is difficult to duplicate in practice. For decades, science has been working on ways to bring a functional laser weapon to life. In the past there existed a handful of successful prototypes, but they were often massive in size and required enormous amounts of power. Only a handful of practical DEWs have been produced at this point in time.
One such system is the Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS). This 30-kilowatt laser is currently being used aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, with great success. The LaWS has shown the ability to engage a multitude of targets including drones and small boats, all while operating at a relatively low cost per engagement. The Navy has been so impressed with the performance of this weapon that it plans to test a 150-kilowatt variant later this year (2).
The Navy is not the only branch of the military implementing DEWs. The Air Force’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) is another interesting prospect. This system is fixed onto an aircraft and is designed to deal with ground-based threats such as surface-to-air missiles, rockets, mortars, and possibly even other aircraft. HELLADS is able to engage multiple threats within a short period of time; and, although it is designed as a defensive weapon, it has near limitless potential to be used for offensive purposes as well. Though this technology is still being finalized, the military is looking to implement HELLADS by 2018 (3).
In the ever-advancing world of military technology, the United States Military is always looking to be ahead of the game. Over the coming years, all branches of the Armed Forces will be using Directed Energy Weapons. Soon, battlefields will resemble something straight out of science fiction film.
(1) "Energy Weapon Sidearms." Atomic Rockets. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2016.
(2) McCaney, Kevin. "Navy Cranks up the Power on Laser Weapon -- Defense Systems." Defense Systems. N.p., 28 June 2016. Web. 07 July 2016.
(3) Burlacu, Alexandra. "DARPA And Air Force To Equip War Planes With HELLADS Combat Lasers By 2020." Tech Times RSS. N.p., 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 July 2016.
Image: © Mariusika11 | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-optical-target-aquisition-system-modern-military-acquisition-united-states-flag-background-image54881313#res14972580">Optical target aquisition system</a>
For decades, satellites and interplanetary probes have been sent into orbit via the Space Transportation System (STS), known more commonly as the Space Shuttle. Despite its fame and success, the Space Shuttle is far from perfect. To start, the shuttle is incredibly expensive to fly; on average, each flight costs NASA a staggering $1.5 Billion (1). Additionally, due to the inherently dangerous nature of space travel, two shuttles — Challenger and Columbia — have been lost over the course of the program, resulting in the death of fourteen astronauts (2). Fortunately, at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) researchers are working on an improved alternative to replace the Space Shuttle.
Referred to as the XS-1, this new unmanned shuttle would be smaller, less expensive, and more reliable than its predecessor. According to DARPA, a typical mission would look like this: The XS-1 takes off and reaches its desired speed and altitude; from there, a detachable pod launches the cargo into orbit; after this is complete, the XS-1 would be able to safely return to its base within a few hours (3).
The most important aspect of this process lies in the fact that the shuttle operates completely in a sub-orbital environment. The XS-1 could launch a large satellite into orbit for an estimated $5 million, a drastic improvement from current methods (4). Additionally, due to the fact that the XS-1 never leaves the atmosphere, it could complete missions in less than a day. Compared to previous shuttles or rockets, which required years’ worth of planning for a single launch, the difference is astounding. DARPA is planning for the prototype to fly ten missions in ten days to showcase this ability (4).
For now, a flying prototype is years away; however, DARPA has contracted a handful of companies for this job. Boeing, Northrup Grumman, and Masten Space Systems are currently in competition to design a prototype for the program (4). DARPA will then select one of the designs from the three companies for an actual prototype. It is only when the actual prototype is built that more details on the project will be known. As of now, we are currently relegated mostly to speculation. Despite this, the project is exciting as it could lead to a renewed space effort by the United States in the coming decades.
(1) Pielke, Jr. Roger A. "The Rise and Fall of the Space Shuttle." Amer. Scientist American Scientist Amer. Sci. Am. Sci. Am. Scientist 96.5 (2008): 432. Web.
(2) "Space Accidents." Infoplease. Infoplease, n.d. Web. 28 June 2016.
(3) Eaton, Kit. "DARPA Dreams Of The Shuttle's Successor: An Experimental Spaceplane." Fast Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 June 2016.
(4) "DARPA Is Moving Ahead with Plans to Build Its XS-1 Spaceplane." 3GBM. N.p., 22 June 2016. Web. 27 June 2016.
Image: © Bambi L. Dingman | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-dream-chaser-crewed-suborbital-orbital-vertical-takeoff-horizontal-landing-vthl-lifting-body-spaceplane-being-image32128847#res14972580">The Dream Chaser</a>
Despite the United States Military’s ability to engage and destroy targets from hundreds of miles away, there is still a need to put boots on the ground in hostile areas. In 2011, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan fired around 250,000 bullets for every enemy combatant killed (1). So much ammunition is being used that manufacturers can barely keep up with the demand. This number is astoundingly high considering that frequent skirmishes happen in areas densely populated by civilians.
Researchers at DARPA are hoping to increase the efficiency of the average soldier, as well as to reduce collateral damage, with the new EXACTO laser guided bullet. EXACTO, standing for Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance, is a bullet containing a guidance system that allows for in-flight changes to be made to the bullet’s trajectory. Although the details of the technology are currently classified, it is known that the guidance system accounts for weather and wind, even after the bullet has left the barrel. Even more impressive, the new technology allows for the bullet to track and hit a target that is on the move (2).
The system is described as “fire and forget”, meaning that once the operator has pulled the trigger, the bullet will trace the target on its own. Additionally, the EXACTO boasts a range of 2,000 meters, regardless of environmental conditions. To put this in perspective, with current technology, marksmen are generally limited to a range of well under 1,000 meters in perfect weather conditions.
Another attractive prospect of the EXACTO is that it is not limited strictly to large caliber “sniper” rifles. Although current tests have only been performed with .50 caliber rifles, the system can be easily modified to fit the carbines and smaller caliber rifles of the average foot soldier (2). This means that at some point in the near future the entirety of the United States military could possess self-guided small arms.
A recent video shows a live fire demonstration of the EXACTO; in the video, the bullet completely changes its trajectory mid-flight to hit a moving target. The showing is certainly impressive and has generated extreme interest from the United States military. The interest stems from the fact that snipers and designated marksmen have become a vital part of the war in the Middle East over the past few years. The military is hoping that the EXACTO can help immediately expand and improve the role snipers currently play on the battlefield.
Although no date is set, the EXACTO will likely make its way onto the battlefield within the next few years. It is exciting to say technology like this, once thought to be limited to science fiction, is now a reality.
Watch the demonstration video here: https://youtu.be/TwinHU4iDmo
(1) Turley, Jonathan. "GAO: U.S. Has Fired 250,000 Rounds For Every Insurgent Killed." Jonathanturley.org. N.p., 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 23 June 2016.
(2) "ADVANCED LASER GUIDED BULLET Technology for US Military - MilitaryHit.com - Military News." Militaryhit.com. N.p., 12 June 2016. Web. 23 June 2016.
Image: © Darko Draskovic | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-bullet-image8766456#res14972580">Bullet</a>
Currently, an estimated 728 million people worldwide do not have access to water deemed ‘clean’ by the United Nations. This results in around six to eight million deaths each year from water borne disease (1). It is no secret that over the coming years clean water will likely become one of the world’s most valuable resources.
To solve this issue, science is looking towards utilizing the world’s oceans, earth’s largest reservoir of water. This seems quite the obvious choice as salt water from the ocean accounts for nearly 97% of all water on earth; while, on the other hand, accessible fresh water occupies less than 1%. However, the process of turning seawater into water that can be used by humans is expensive and inefficient with current technology.
Thankfully, due to its vast potential, several companies and organizations are working on improved desalination methods. One of the most intriguing and promising new methods comes out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Researchers there have developed a new means to desalinate water through a process referred to as ‘shock electrodialysis’.
The process starts when water flows through a frit, a porous material made of small glass particles, with electrodes and a membrane lining the sides. An electric current is then sent through the entire system; as a result, the salt water divides into areas where the concentration is either high or low. Next, “When that current is increased to a certain point, it generates a shockwave between these two zones, sharply dividing the streams and allowing the fresh and salty regions to be separated by a simple physical barrier at the center of the flow (2).” Though this process may seem complex at first glance, it is actually rather straightforward and will be relatively easy to implement.
The most important aspect of this new technology is the efficiency and cost at which it will run. Current methods of desalination, such as reverse osmosis, require expensive filters that are prone to clogging after some time. With shock electrodialysis, the water is not run through a filter, but through cheap porous material made of small glass particles. Additionally, the material and infrastructure required for this process is much simpler than with traditional desalination. This means that large scale use of this method could be done with relatively low operating costs; good news for impoverished countries in need of clean water.
Another benefit lies in the diversity of this process. Shock electrodialysis also excels in purifying potentially dangerous contaminants from water, not just salt. This means that not only could this method treat seawater, but it could also clean toxic ions in groundwater that has been contaminated. This would be useful for the wastewater generated by fracking; a popular method of natural gas extraction in the United States.
At this time, this technology is in its infant stages as researchers have yet to move the experiment past a relatively small scale. However, in the future, shock electrodialysis could help provide millions with clean, affordable, potable water.
(1) Facts and figures. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.unwater.org/water-cooperation-2013/water-cooperation/facts-and-figures/en/
(2) Chandler, D. L. (n.d.). Shocking new way to get the salt out. Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://news.mit.edu/2015/shockwave-process-desalination-water-1112
Image: © Izanbar | Dreamstime.com - <a href="http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-desalination-plant-hamburg-port-harbor-metallic-eggs-image57833775#res14972580">Desalination plant in hamburg port</a>
About one out of every two deaths on the battlefield is due to blood loss from wounds (1). Until this point in time, all field medics had to stop hemorrhaging in a wounded soldier were gauzes and tourniquets. However, these two methods could not address all injuries that soldiers sustained. For instance, a wound in the pelvis or armpit is near impossible to place a tourniquet around, and applying pressure with gauze is incredibly difficult.
This is where the XStat injectable wound-plugging sponge comes into play. Developed in response to requests from field medics during the Iraq War, the XStat is, in simplest terms, a large syringe filled with small compressed sponges. The sponges are made from cellulose and are coated with coagulant along with a radiopaque marker, which allows the sponges to be detected by X-ray if left in the body.
The XStat is simple to use, the syringe is slid into the cavity left by the wound and the sponges are released inside. Upon contact with blood, the sponges expand, soaking up to 300 mL of blood while also placing pressure from inside the wound. The whole process stops bleeding in under twenty seconds, compared to three to five minutes from traditional methods (2).
The United States Military is hoping to drastically reduce the number of deaths from blood loss with this invention. Fortunately, in December of 2015 the XStat was approved for use by the FDA and it was just recently successfully tested in the field (3). The XStat could also make its way into civilian markets later this year as paramedics and first responders are interested in carrying the product.
(1) Smith, O. (2016). Amazing wound-plugging syringe saves first life by using tiny sponges to stop bleeding. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/676107/XSTAT-injection-seals-wound-seconds-save-thousands-gunshot-victims-soldiers
(2) This innovative, wound-filling sponge just saved its first soldier. (2016, May 31). Retrieved June 03, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/this-innovative-wound-filling-sponge-just-saved-its-first-soldier/
(3) U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved June 06, 2016, from http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm475810.htm
Image: © Oleg Zabielin | Dreamstime.com - <a href="http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-battlefield-medicine-united-states-army-ranger-medic-treating-wounds-his-injured-fellow-arms-mountains-image60779851#res14972580">Battlefield medicine</a>