Carbon-rich exoplanets may be made of diamonds

As missions like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, TESS and Kepler continue to provide insights into the properties of exoplanets (planets around other stars), scientists are increasingly able to piece together what these planets look like, what they are made of, and if they could be habitable or even inhabited.

In a new study published recently in The Planetary Science Journal, a team of researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Chicago have determined that some carbon-rich exoplanets, given the right circumstances, could be made of diamonds and silica.

“These exoplanets are unlike anything in our solar system,” says lead author Harrison Allen-Sutter of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Diamond exoplanet formation

When stars and planets are formed, they do so from the same cloud of gas, so their bulk compositions are similar. A star with a lower carbon to oxygen ratio will have planets like Earth, comprised of silicates and oxides with a very small diamond content (Earth’s diamond content is about 0.001%).

But exoplanets around stars with a higher carbon to oxygen ratio than our sun are more likely to be carbon-rich. Allen-Sutter and co-authors Emily Garhart, Kurt Leinenweber and Dan Shim of ASU, with Vitali Prakapenka and Eran Greenberg of the University of Chicago, hypothesized that these carbon-rich exoplanets could convert to diamond and silicate, if water (which is abundant in the universe) were present, creating a diamond-rich composition.

Diamond-anvils and X-rays

To test this hypothesis, the research team needed to mimic the interior of carbide exoplanets using high heat and high pressure. To do so, they used high pressure diamond-anvil cells at co-author Shim’s Lab for Earth and Planetary Materials.

First, they immersed silicon carbide in water and compressed the sample between diamonds to a very high pressure. Then, to monitor the reaction between silicon carbide and water, they conducted laser heating at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, taking X-ray measurements while the laser heated the sample at high pressures.

As they predicted, with high heat and pressure, the silicon carbide reacted with water and turned into diamonds and silica.

Habitability and inhabitability

So far, we have not found life on other planets, but the search continues. Planetary scientists and astrobiologists are using sophisticated instruments in space and on Earth to find planets with the right properties and the right location around their stars where life could exist.

For carbon-rich planets that are the focus of this study, however, they likely do not have the properties needed for life.

While Earth is geologically active (an indicator habitability), the results of this study show that carbon-rich planets are too hard to be geologically active and this lack of geologic activity may make atmospheric composition uninhabitable. Atmospheres are critical for life as it provides us with air to breathe, protection from the harsh environment of space, and even pressure to allow for liquid water.

“Regardless of habitability, this is one additional step in helping us understand and characterize our ever- increasing and improving observations of exoplanets,” says Allen-Sutter. “The more we learn, the better we’ll be able to interpret new data from upcoming future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope to understand the worlds beyond on our own solar system.”

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California offshore winds show promise as power source

As California aims to provide 60% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2045, a study from California Polytechnic State University provides some good news. Offshore winds along the Central Coast increase at the same time that people start using more energy — in the evening.

One of the challenges of moving toward fully renewable energy is matching production to demand. Though the state has high existing solar energy capacity and the potential for even more, the supply of solar power peaks in the middle of the day and ends when the sun goes down. Consumer demand, on the other hand, peaks in the evening when people return from work around or after sunset.

Because storage of solar energy on a large scale is not yet practical, other renewable sources are needed to meet the Golden State’s environmental milestone of going fully renewable.

The Cal Poly research team found that offshore winds are strongest when demand is greatest, making it an ideal candidate to fill the gap left by solar and on-shore wind energy production. The team was led by research scientist Yi-Hui Wang and included biology professors Ben Ruttenberg and Crow White and physics Professor Ryan Walter.

“The alignment between potential offshore wind power production and demand highlights the important role that offshore wind energy could play in meeting California’s ambitious renewable energy goals,” Wang said.

Even more promising, offshore winds reach their peak during the hot summer months when state energy use is highest due to the use of air conditioning. Offshore wind energy offers several other advantages over land-based wind and solar energy, including stronger and more consistent winds and less impact on other land uses.

The greatest wind speeds, which would produce the most energy, are found farther from the coast. Most existing offshore wind farms are installed close to shore in shallow water less than 160 feet deep. However, several floating wind farms in deeper water farther from shore are now in operation in Europe, with more in the planning stages.

“Floating offshore wind farms are now a proven technology and game-changer in many respects,” Walter said. “These floating platforms make offshore wind farms a new reality in many locations, with a single turbine having the potential to power more than 10,000 homes.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which funded the study, is considering the Central Coast as a location for California’s first offshore wind farm and has proposed priority areas for leasing by energy companies. The Cal Poly study provides crucial information that, along with other studies on economic, cultural and environmental factors, will help guide the evaluation and planning of offshore wind energy.

“Looking at this wind data in relation to maps of fisheries, whale and seabird activity will help identify locations where offshore wind farms could add the most value and yet have the least impact on local economies and marine wildlife,” White said.

The Cal Poly team is working on the next steps, which include estimating the total amount of electricity wind farms in the area could produce and how these wind farms might affect the broader economy of San Luis Obispo County.

“Ultimately, we hope this information and our ongoing work will inform the conversation, helping the policymakers and citizens of California decide if, how and where to prioritize renewable offshore wind energy,” Ruttenberg said.

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Materials provided by California Polytechnic State University. Original written by Rachel Henry. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Scientists take new spin on quantum research

Army researchers discovered a way to further enhance quantum systems to provide Soldiers with more reliable and secure capabilities on the battlefield.

Specifically, this research informs how future quantum networks will be designed to deal with the effects of noise and decoherence, or the loss of information from a quantum system in the environment.

As one of the U.S. Army’s priority research areas in its Modernization Strategy, quantum research will help transform the service into a multi-domain force by 2035 and deliver on its enduring responsibility as part of the joint force providing for the defense of the United States.

“Quantum networking, and quantum information science as a whole, will potentially lead to unsurpassed capabilities in computation, communication and sensing,” said Dr. Brian Kirby, researcher at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. “Example applications of Army interest include secure secret sharing, distributed network sensing and efficient decision making.”

This research effort considers how dispersion, a very common effect found in optical systems, impacts quantum states of three or more particles of light.

Dispersion is an effect where a pulse of light spreads out in time as it is transmitted through a medium, such as a fiber optic. This effect can destroy time correlations in communication systems, which can result in reduced data rates or the introduction of errors.

To understand this, Kirby said, consider the situation where two light pulses are created simultaneously and the goal is to send them to two different detectors so that they arrive at the same time. If each light pulse goes through a different dispersive media, such as two different fiber optic paths, then each pulse will be spread in time, ultimately making the arrival time of the pulses less correlated.

“Amazingly, it was shown that the situation is different in quantum mechanics,” Kirby said. “In quantum mechanics, it is possible to describe the behavior of individual particles of light, called photons. Here, it was shown by research team member Professor James Franson from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, that quantum mechanics allows for certain situations where the dispersion on each photon can actually cancel out so that the arrival times remain correlated.”

The key to this is something called entanglement, a strong correlation between quantum systems, which is not possible in classical physics, Kirby said.

In this new work, Nonlocal Dispersion Cancellation for Three or More Photons, published in the peer-reviewed Physical Review A, the researchers extend the analysis to systems of three or more entangled photons and identify in what scenarios quantum systems outperform classical ones. This is unique from similar research as it considers the effects of noise on entangled systems beyond two-qubits, which is where the primary focus has been.

“This informs how future quantum networks will be designed to deal with the effects of noise and decoherence, in this case, dispersion specifically,” Kirby said.

Additionally, based on the success of Franson’s initial work on systems of two-photons, it was reasonable to assume that dispersion on one part of a quantum system could always be cancelled out with the proper application of dispersion on another part of the system.

“Our work clarifies that perfect compensation is not, in general, possible when you move to entangled systems of three or more photons,” Kirby said. “Therefore, dispersion mitigation in future quantum networks may need to take place in each communication channel independently.”

Further, Kirby said, this work is valuable for quantum communications because it allows for increased data rates.

“Precise timing is required to correlate detection events at different nodes of a network,” Kirby said. “Conventionally the reduction in time correlations between quantum systems due to dispersion would necessitate the use of larger timing windows between transmissions to avoid confusing sequential signals.”

Since Kirby and his colleagues’ new work describes how to limit the uncertainty in joint detection times of networks, it will allow subsequent transmissions in quicker succession.

The next step for this research is to determine if these results can be readily verified in an experimental setting.

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Ultrafast lasers probe elusive chemistry at the liquid-liquid interface

Real-time measurements captured by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory provide missing insight into chemical separations to recover cobalt, a critical raw material used to make batteries and magnets for modern technologies.

Results published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, track the dynamics of molecules designed to grab cobalt from solutions containing a mixture of similar species.

“Understanding the molecular events that make it possible to separate elements is key to optimizing or creating new, tailored approaches for broad areas of materials recovery,” said Ben Doughty of ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division.

The study investigates the fundamental chemistry underlying solvent extraction, a method of separating elements using two liquids that do not dissolve into one another, namely oil and water.

When agitated, oil-and-water solutions will self-separate into distinct layers. The phenomenon can be used to transfer targeted materials dissolved in one liquid phase to another, allowing specific elements like cobalt to be separated from everything else in the mix.

“The catch is that you need to have molecules at the interface between these liquid layers that are poised to bind selectively with the materials you want to extract,” said Doughty. “But the complex chemistry happening at the surface has not been well understood.”

Insight into the chemical reactions that enable cobalt and other separations has eluded researchers for decades, owing to the challenges of probing the liquid-liquid interface where oil and water meet. The molecularly thin surface is akin to a needle in a haystack, tending to be obscured by the bulk solution when traditional spectroscopic methods are used. Adding to the difficulty are competing time scales of activity, ranging from femtoseconds — one quadrillionth of a second — to minutes, that conventional static measurements do not capture.

“This interface is essentially the gatekeeper between oil and water layers, where chemical bonds that facilitate extractions are made or broken. To fine-tune the separation process, you need to understand what is happening at this interface in real time,” Doughty said.

ORNL is one of a few groups specializing in techniques to probe a functioning liquid-liquid interface.

Building from previous work on polymers, the team looked at the ligand di-(2-ethylhexyl) phosphoric acid, or DEHPA, an industry-standard extractant that selectively binds with cobalt ions over similar metals such as nickel that often naturally accompany cobalt in solution.

DEHPA dissolved in oil was introduced to water-based solutions with and without cobalt and probed using vibrational sum frequency generation, an ultrafast pulsed laser technique that allowed researchers to home in on reactions taking place at the liquid-liquid interface.

What sets this technique apart from other experimental methods is the capability to track kinetics at the interface, or the changes taking place at the surface during a chemical reaction.

“Solvent extraction is designed to work within specific conditions for a given target, and pH is a commonly adjusted variable. So, our experiment was set up to observe the influence of pH ranges on DEHPA and understand what gives rise to the sweet spot for cobalt extraction,” Doughty said.

The oil-based ligand interacts with water to form aggregates, or groups of molecules that play an important role in extractions. Their job is to bind and transport cobalt, but they need to be the right size and structure to work effectively. The team discovered that hydrogen bonds influence the arrangement of these aggregates and are sensitive to pH changes.

“Our findings highlight the essential role hydrogen bonding plays in developing new extraction methodologies,” said Doughty. “Moreover, we observed that the pH of the bulk solution impacts hydrogen bonding and could potentially be adjusted to tune the liquid-liquid interface for peak performance.”

Understanding the design rules for extraction opens avenues for reducing the energy and environmental costs of processing cobalt and, in turn, securing ethically sourced supply chains.

Cobalt recovery is just one example of how fundamental insight into chemical separations could be beneficial. Informed strategies could be applied to broad areas of critical materials recovery and nuclear waste cleanup where solvent extraction methods are widely employed.

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ZenSports Debuts Open API for its Sports Betting Marketplace

ZenSports, a peer-to-peer sports betting marketplace, has debuted a new API to provide programmatic access to the company’s sports betting functionality that underlies the ZenSports mobile application. With this addition, ZenSports is hoping to provide developers and sports betters with a simplified method for handling betting at scale.

The newly announced ZenSports APITrack this API provides access to myriad sports betting data and functionality. Using the tool developers will be able to create, manage, and accept bets at scale, while also managing automatic deposits and withdrawals. Additionally, the company notes that the API will handle this functionality for all currencies. Mark Thomas, CEO & Co-Founder of ZenSports mentioned in the press release that they believe this API provides substantial value to the industry:

“We expect the open API to be perfect for market makers and bookmakers that are looking for an additional distribution channel to automatically add a lot of their bets to.”

ZenSports has launched the API with accompanying documentation and integration with Postman to simplify developer onboarding. This API is free for developers to use and is being offered alongside the company’s paid enterprise API. 

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Author: <a href="">KevinSundstrom</a>


New test of dark energy and expansion from cosmic structures

A new paper has shown how large structures in the distribution of galaxies in the Universe provide the most precise tests of dark energy and cosmic expansion yet.

The study uses a new method based on a combination of cosmic voids — large expanding bubbles of space containing very few galaxies — and the faint imprint of sound waves in the very early Universe, known as baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO), that can be seen in the distribution of galaxies. This provides a precise ruler to measure the direct effects of dark energy driving the accelerated expansion of the Universe.

This new method gives much more precise results than the technique based on the observation of exploding massive stars, or supernovae, which has long been the standard method for measuring the direct effects of dark energy.

The research was led by the University of Portsmouth, and is published in Physical Review Letters.

The study makes use of data from over a million galaxies and quasars gathered over more than a decade of operations by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

The results confirm the model of a cosmological constant dark energy and spatially flat Universe to unprecedented accuracy, and strongly disfavour recent suggestions of positive spatial curvature inferred from measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) by the Planck satellite.

Lead author Dr Seshadri Nadathur, research fellow at the University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG), said: “This result shows the power of galaxy surveys to pin down the amount of dark energy and how it evolved over the last billion years. We’re making really precise measurements now and the data is going to get even better with new surveys coming online very soon.”

Dr Florian Beutler, a senior research fellow at the ICG, who was also involved in the work, said that the study also reported a new precise measurement of the Hubble constant, the value of which has recently been the subject of intense debate among astronomers.

He said: “We see tentative evidence that data from relatively nearby voids and BAO favour the high Hubble rate seen from other low-redshift methods, but including data from more distant quasar absorption lines brings it in better agreement with the value inferred from Planck CMB data.”

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Materials provided by University of Portsmouth. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Multifunctional e-glasses monitor health, protect eyes, control video games

Fitness tracker bracelets and watches provide useful information, such as step count and heart rate, but they usually can’t provide more detailed data about the wearer’s health. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces have developed smart electronic glasses (e-glasses) that not only monitor a person’s brain waves and body movements, but also can function as sunglasses and allow users to control a video game with eye motions.

Devices that measure electrical signals from the brain (electroencephalogram; EEG) or eyes (electrooculogram; EOG) can help diagnose conditions like epilepsy and sleep disorders, as well as control computers in human-machine interfaces. But obtaining these measurements requires a steady physical contact between skin and sensor, which is difficult with rigid devices. Suk-Won Hwang and colleagues wanted to integrate soft, conductive electrodes into e-glasses that could wirelessly monitor EEG and EOG signals, ultraviolet (UV) intensity, and body movements or postures, while also acting as a human-machine interface.

The researchers built the glasses’ frame with a 3D printer and then added flexible electrodes near the ears (EEG sensor) and eyes (EOG sensor). They also added a wireless circuit for motion/UV sensing on the side of the glasses and a UV-responsive, color-adjustable gel inside the lenses. When the sensor detected UV rays of a certain intensity, the lenses changed color and became sunglasses. The motion detector allowed the researchers to track the posture and gait of the wearer, as well as detect when they fell. The EEG recorded alpha rhythms of the brain, which could be used to monitor health. Finally, the EOG monitor allowed the wearer to easily move bricks around in a popular video game by adjusting the direction and angle of their eyes. The e-glasses could be useful for digital healthcare or virtual reality applications, the researchers say.

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Materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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MRI scanning assists with next generation battery design

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide an effective way of supporting the development of the next generation of high-performance rechargeable batteries, according to research led by the University of Birmingham.

The technique, which was developed to detect the movement and deposition of sodium metal ions within a sodium battery, will enable faster evaluation of new battery materials, and help to accelerate this type of battery’s route to market.

Sodium batteries are widely recognised as a promising candidate to replace lithium ion batteries, currently widely used in devices such as portable electronics and electric vehicles. Several of the materials required to produce lithium ion batteries are critical or strategic elements and, therefore, researchers are working to develop alternative and more sustainable technologies.

Although sodium appears to have many of the properties required to produce an efficient battery, there are challenges in optimising the performance. Key amongst these is understanding how the sodium behaves inside the battery as it goes through its charging and discharging cycle, enabling the points of failure and degradation mechanisms to be identified.

A team, led by Dr Melanie Britton in the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemistry, has developed a technique, with researchers from Nottingham University, that uses MRI scanning to monitor how the sodium performs in operando.

The research team also included scientists from the Energy materials group in the University of Birmingham’s School of Metallurgy and Materials, and from Imperial College London. Their results are published in Nature Communications.

This imaging technique will enable scientists to understand how the sodium behaves as it interacts with different anode and cathode materials. They will also be able to monitor the growth of dendrites — branch-like structures that can grow inside the battery over time and cause it to fail, or even catch fire.

“Because the battery is a sealed cell, when it goes wrong it can be hard to see what the fault is,” explains Dr Britton. “Taking the battery apart introduces internal changes that make it hard to see what the original flaw was or where it occurred. But using the MRI technique we’ve developed, we can actually see what’s going on inside the battery while it is operational, giving us unprecedented insights into how the sodium behaves.”

This technique gives us information into the change within the battery components during operation of a sodium ion battery, which are currently not available to us through other techniques. This will enable us to identify methods for detecting failure mechanisms as they happen, giving us insights into how to manufacture longer life and higher performing batteries.

The techniques used by the team were first designed in a collaboration with researchers at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at University of Nottingham which was funded by the Birmingham-Nottingham Strategic Collaboration Fund. This project aimed to develop MRI scanning of sodium isotopes as a medical imaging technique and the team were able to adapt these protocols for use in battery imaging. The development of novel materials and analytical characterisation is a primary focus of the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage and Birmingham Centre for Critical Elements and Strategic Materials within the Birmingham Energy Institute.

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Materials provided by University of Birmingham. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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3D Printing Industry

3D-Fuel to provide Dow polyethylene filament in North America

3D-Fuel, a USA-based filament manufacturer, has partnered with multinational chemical company Dow to provide the latter’s IMAGIN3D Polyethylene Olefin Block Copolymer (OBC) product to the North America filament market.  Dow’s IMAGIN3D Polyethylene OBC is designed for the production of lightweight, durable 3D printed parts. Based on polyethylene, it retains the material’s inherent properties, while maintaining […]

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Author: Anas Essop


Nubentos Launches COVID-19 Monitoring API

Nubentos, the self-proclaimed API marketplace for health, has released a new API that aims to provide valuable resources for tracking the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The new API provides developers access to data collected from global health organizations and local administrations that are tracking the spread of the virus.

The Nubentos COVID-19 Tracking APITrack this API includes data from various organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), China’s National Health Commission, and the Chinese Website DXY. DXY is a lesser-known online community for medical providers that offers more rapid access to regional case estimates than national organizations.

Data provided by the API includes confirmed cases, deaths, and recovered cases. The API is RESTful and returns data in JSON. The company provides documentation for the API as well as SDKs to help developers get started. 

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Author: <a href="">KevinSundstrom</a>