Category Archives: Science

Water-Repelling Coating Made by Wingate Student

Fun with Science

Oystein Fjeldberg, Staff Writer

As part of his internship with United Protective Technologies, senior Sam Efird of Wingate University has developed a superhydrophobic coating that can be easily applied onto a surface in order to make it perfectly water-repelling.

For a little over a year, chemistry business major Sam Efird has worked as an intern at United Protective Technologies (UPT). UPT is a research and development company that specializes in thin layer coatings, and has helped the United States military solve several costly issues.

Before he started his internship, the company had already developed a superhydrophobic (water-repelling) coating called FAFS. The coating is based on the lotus leaf, a plant that has inspired scientists for decades to mimic its curiously water-repelling properties.

It is also self-repairing; if any damage is afflicted to the coating, it will repair itself through a chemical process known as osmosis (local fluctuations in the chemical concentration of the coating are smoothed out as chemicals move to eliminate the deviations).

As part of his internship, Sam was challenged to modify the coating in order to see if it could be improved in any way. He worked on this on his own and was free to do whatever he believed was best in order for the research to succeed. The experience was undoubtedly very different to what he had been exposed to as a student.

“You do a lot of research with a lot of trial and error, until you find out what works,” Sam said of the process. “It’s very different from the labs we do as part of a class, where you’re told ‘Here’s an experiment, here’s what to do’, and then you do it, whereas in an internship you’re told ‘here is what we got, figure out how to get it to work’. The boss doesn’t tell you what to do, he just tells you what to accomplish.”

Through independent research Sam successfully developed another superhydrophobic coating, given the acronym CAFS. This coating differs from the FAFS coating mainly in that it is safe for food contact, which opens up new possibilities for the applications of the water-repelling coating.

The product will be sold as a liquid mixture; the superhydrophobic chemicals that will make up the coating float around in liquids that evaporate in room temperature. This mixture can then be sprayed onto the surface that is to be coated, and once the liquids evaporate, the surface is left with only the hydrophobic chemicals, which form the coating.

The coating has wide-ranging applications, and companies in various sectors have contacted UPT about the product.

“One of them wished to put it on the surface of their boats so that they resist biofouling,” Sam said. Since the water-repelling coating would minimize the amount of direct contact between ocean water and the surface of the boats, it would also reduce drag and thus preserve fuel.

A multinational household product corporation has shown interest in using the coating for the containers of their detergents and fabric softeners. By applying the coating on the inside of the containers nothing would stick to the surface, and retrieving all of the cleaning product from the container would be as simple as letting it pour out from the opening. Consumers would then easily be able to use all of the cleaning product that they paid for.

Sam believes that, if everything goes right, the coating could get into the market in about half a year to one year from now.

Going forward, Sam and the company will attempt to refine their formula so that the coating becomes more transparent. This would give the product even more possibilities.

“It could give us windows that never get wet, fog, or ice over, and there would be no need for windshield wipers in cars,” Sam said.

As an undergraduate student approaching the conclusion of his studies, the internship has provided Sam with valuable experience.

“The best thing about the internship,” he said, “is the actual stuff that I created.”

Sam will complete his undergraduate degree this spring, and he is hopeful that his internship will be expanded into a full-time position following graduation.

Advertisements

Three scientists receive Nobel Prizes for their work developing ‘world’s smallest machines’

The Road to Molecular Machines

Oystein Fjeldberg, Staff Writer

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be awarded to three scientists who have developed molecules that can be controlled in unique ways, according to the prize announcement by the Nobel Committee for Chemistry on October 5. Their efforts may lead to the advent of sophisticated molecular machines, which could be the next great technological revolution.

In the molecular world, everything is chaos. Molecules behave in unpredictable ways, as their movements are governed by randomness. Making a machine within this seemingly untamable realm might appear like an unsurmountable task, because with any functional machine the parts that make it up must be possible to control.

Before a molecular machine can be built, the chaos of the molecular world has to be overcome. Furthermore, molecules are normally held together through strong rigid bonds, which leaves little room for movement within the structure of the molecule. This is a poor starting point for making a machine, which depends on movable parts in order to work. The awardees of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry are scientists who took important steps in overcoming both of these challenges.

Already in the 1950s scientists had managed to create molecules which allowed for the movement of loose parts within the molecular structure. The problem was that they were made in so small quantities and with so unreliable methods that they had no practical use. It was not until decades later that molecules like these could be made in exploitable amounts.

The first major breakthrough came in 1983, when Jean-Pierre Sauvage of the University of Strasbourg successfully intertwined two molecules rings. Each ring was free to twist and spin on its own, but was at all times locked in together with the other ring.

The rings were not connected by the kind of rigid bond that is prevalent in nearly all molecules; with this bond, each ring could move independently of the other whilst staying interlocked with the other ring. The bond that binds the molecule together is mechanic, which means that the rings are interlocked without them interacting chemically with one other; molecules with this kind of bond have subsequently been classified as catenanes. With the creation of catenanes, scientists could for the first time envision the possibility of making a molecular machine.

“It took us five years to do it,” Sauvage said of the research in an interview with Le Monde. “We kept learning from our mistakes as we went on, but it was depressing at times; there is little joy when things don’t work.”

Attempting to do something that no-one had done before meant that there was no past research for the scientists to rely on. “It is much harder to draw on a blank sheet of paper than if there already are lines,” Sauvage said.

Another important breakthrough came in 1991, when Sir James Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University thread a molecular ring onto a molecular rod. The structure was assembled by taking advantage of a small opening in the ring that allowed it to be “clipped” onto the molecular chain (the rod). The rod had a big bulky molecule group on each end, which prevented the ring from sliding off.

Through continued research, Stoddart improved this technique to the point where he could fully control the position of the ring on the rod. The “dumbbell”-shaped molecule, which was given the name rotaxane, proved to be another important tool in the assembly of molecular machines.

By utilizing rotaxanes Stoddart went on to create simple molecular machines, such as a lift that could lift itself 0.7 nanometers above a surface, an artificial muscle that could bend a thin layer of gold, and a computer chip with 20 kB of memory (made from transistors much smaller than the ones used in computers today).

“The miracles that are happening now or are about to happen in nanotechnology have not happened overnight,” Stoddart said of the advances at a presentation at Northwestern University. “They may have for some people, but for me it’s been 40 years in the making.”

He has great faith in the technology, and believes that “it will be mind-blowing what can be done even in 10 years’ time, let alone 50.”

Bernard L. Feringa of University of Groningen, the final awardee, made another important contribution when he made the first molecular motor in 1999. Under normal circumstances a molecule will spin in random directions and never move predictably in any distinct direction. Feringa’s motor was a molecule that spun continuously in a single direction, which marked the first time that a scientist was able to control the rotation of a molecule. By 2014, Feringa had increased the spinning speed of the motor to 12 million revolutions per second.

In 2011 he utilized this technique to build a nano-car, which used four molecular groups spinning in the same direction (the “wheels”) to move the “chassis” of the molecule forward. He also used the motors to spin a glass cylinder 10,000 times the size, demonstrating their strength. The potential applications of these curiosities are numerous, according to Feringa himself.

“Think about tiny robots that the doctor in the future can inject into your blood veins and that go to search for a cancer cell, or go in to deliver drugs,” Feringa said in an interview with Elsevier Journals. “We recently developed an antibiotic that we can switch on and off; once it has been active in your body at a certain spot of an infection it will automatically switch off.”

As they all have made important contributions on their own to the field, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard Feringa will share the 2016 Nobel Prize, and the monetary award of $930,000 will be split evenly between the three of them. The Prize ceremony will take place in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10.

Although there already has been a lot of talk about molecular machines’ future applications, like the prospect of nano-robots, smart materials, and molecular computers, the Nobel Prize Committee emphasized in their own press release the fact that no-one knows yet how significant of an impact molecular machines will end up having.

It should be kept in mind, according to the press release, that “in terms of development, the molecular motor is at about the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s, when researchers proudly displayed various spinning cranks and wheels in their laboratories without having any idea that they would lead to washing machines, fans, and food processors.”

It is hard to tell what will eventually become possible with molecular machinery, and it may revolutionize today’s technologies in unprecedented ways.

Donna Nelson, the president of the American Chemical Society, said that “this perhaps will be an area in which most of the applications will follow the award, rather than precede it. Given the attention that comes with a Nobel, perhaps this is going to come along faster than we anticipated.”

Edited by: Sara Gunter

 

 

Students are encouraged to take Astronomy class offered next semester

Faculty Profile – Dr. Grant Thompson

Oystein Fjeldberg, Staff Writer

Dr. Grant Thompson teaches the popular astronomy class at Wingate University, where students learn how to tell the time by the phase of the Moon, how stars move across the sky during the year, how our Solar System is held together, and why stars have different colors, along with an introduction to how the Universe works in general.

Dr. Thompson’s passion for astronomy developed early in his life. He grew up on a farm under clear skies, and what he saw during the nights fascinated him.“It was a combination of awe and ‘what’s going on?’” Dr. Thompson said. That awe has persisted to this day. “Astronomy is seemingly never-ending; you can always learn something that you didn’t already know.”

As a student he pursued this interest, and wrote his dissertation at the University of Kentucky on the center of galaxies, called Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). He wrote his dissertation there on the center of galaxies, called Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN).

These centers, AGNs, are usually extremely powerful black holes that the rest of the galaxy revolves around, and are among the most energetic things in the Universe. By studying how a galaxy as a whole and its central black hole impacts one another scientists can learn about how galaxies changed over time, and this gained knowledge can help us better understand how the Universe works.

Although there has been a good amount of research on AGNs in the last two decades, there are still unanswered questions. In his research, Dr. Thompson compared the light emitted from different types of AGNs. The project earned him his Ph.D. in astrophysics in 2012.

A few years later, during the summer of 2015, Dr. Thompson continued his research work on AGNs with the assistance from senior Alex Manzevitsch. They eventually found that the two types of AGNs actually seem to be the same, as the differences between them are merely caused by which way you’re looking at them; while we may have looked at one AGN from the side, we had looked at the other one head-on, which would give different results even if they were identical.

Dr. Thompson and Alex presented their results at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Orlando in January this year, and even though the research was “basic for an undergraduate project,” according to Dr. Thompson, their findings were “eye-opening for professional astronomers.”

Research has, however, not been the main focus of Dr. Thompson’s career. Ever since he graduated, Dr. Thompson has taught astronomy as a professor, trying to help students see how it affects their lives.

“I am so inspired by astronomy that I want other people to appreciate the science,” he said. “Everyone is looking down these days, looking at their phones, but I want them to look up at the sky.” As a teacher, his knowledge has come to good use. “Lots of people come into astronomy with misconceptions; I enjoy the wow-moments of students, when they begin to understand [something] for the first time,” he said.

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Thompson is always looking for ways to improve himself as a teacher. He goes to state and national meetings in science education, where he seeks to pick up new teaching techniques to bring to the classroom.

Techniques that he has already incorporated into his astronomy class include computer simulations, quick response multiple choice quizzes, simple experiments to illustrate concepts, and handing out whiteboards to pairs of students who will use them to solve a problem.

The desire to teach astronomy also extends beyond his class, as he arranges public astronomy nights at least once each semester, typically at Campus Lake. He brings with him binoculars and telescopes for people to use, which are powerful enough to allow them to see the full shape of the planets in our Solar System, the moons and bands of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, nearby nebulae, and, if the conditions are good enough, certain galaxies (such as the Andromeda galaxy).

During the event he is available to whoever has questions, and he will often talk about the constellations spread across the night sky. “It’s more about just watching the sky, not lecturing,” Dr. Thompson said.

Anyone is welcome to join, and the attendance has normally been in the range of fifteen to twenty people; mostly students, but some non-student community members as well.

Edited by: Sara Gunter

Space Travel becomes reality

Better get your rockets ready…..its time for a space mission. 

Asherel Kaseorg, Staff Writer

 

Have you ever wished you could just leave this planet and go be a hermit for awhile? Good news- according to President Barack Obama, NASA has plans to send humans to Mars. Obama says, “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030’s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

This is very exciting for anyone interested in space travel. Astrophysicist and Wingate University professor Dr. Grant Thompson says that while people used to be incredibly enthusiastic about the United States space endeavor, watching all the launches and landings, but many of the new generation have lost interest. Millions of people aren’t even aware that humans are in space right now, aboard the International Space Station.

The idea of traveling to Mars has gained more attention, though. Whether or not NASA will actually put humans on Mars in the 2030’s is arguable. Some people think there’s no way NASA can meet that deadline, while others say the deadline isn’t soon enough.

Dr. Thompson thinks we should return to the moon before we attempt to go to Mars. “It has been over four decades since we have set foot on the Moon, and we have so much to learn from our nearest astronomical neighbor.”

Thompson says. “Establishing a lunar base, an array of telescopes on the far side, and many other developments seem much more worth it than jumping the Moon to Mars.  At the same time, holding true to the 1960’s platform of showing great power and ability, perhaps we should shoot for more than the Moon, let’s shoot for Mars as a major goal to truly achieve interplanetary travel.”

Before arriving on Mars, NASA plans to test its systems on and around the moon, sending astronauts on spacewalks between 2018 and 2030. Along with NASA, there are several private companies also working to set foot on Mars. One of the more well-known programs is Mars One, which is based in the Netherlands and plans to begin unmanned robot setup missions to Mars in 2020, with one-way manned trips to Mars in 2027.

Another program, SpaceX, has even bigger plans. SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk announced that they aim to establish a million-person Mars colony in the next 50-100 years.

In September, they released their Interplanetary Transport System, which will be the most powerful rocket to date and will carry over 100 people. Not only is it extremely powerful and fast, making the trip in about 80 days, but it will also be a fun trip for the passengers.

It will have movie theaters, restaurants, and lecture halls. And unlike Mars One, there will be return trips. The ships will depart every 26 months, when Mars and Earth align near each other.

While it will certainly be a very long time before normal civilians are able to live on Mars, it will eventually be a necessity. “Humans need to be a multi planet species,”, says NASA. If humans only stay on Mars, we may follow the same fate as the dinosaurs.

Mars is a good planet to start with, because it is relatively similar to Earth. It has roughly the same day and night cycle, and it has water in the form of ice.

“I do think humans will get to Mars,” says Dr. Thompson. “How soon, I don’t know, but it will take centuries to develop and maintain living conditions suitable for extensive expeditions.” Hopefully, we’ll be able to watch the first flights happen with the same excitement that the moon landing gathered.

Edited by: Sara Gunter

 

Environmentally Friendly Plastics @ Wingate

Professor to Research an Environmentally Friendly Plastic Creation at Wingate 

Øystein Fjeldberg, Staff Writer

          This summer Wingate University professor Dr. Shakena Daniel started her work on a research project that could have a great impact. The goal is to create a kind of plastic that can be disposed with no harmful effects to the environment.

Plastics are widely used in the world today due to their strong durability, flexibility, and versatility, and are popular in packaging, furniture, toys, and buildings, only to mention a few. The durability comes from its structure; plastics are long molecule chains with repeating patterns. Breaking through a chain requires great force, as they are based on strong bonds, and the chain has to be broken apart all the way through before it is destroyed.

The strong durability is also the source of one of plastics’ biggest issues. The average plastic bottle takes 450 years to break down in nature; those made with a plastic material called PET can never break down naturally. Due to the widespread use, controlling the plastic waste has become necessary in order to prevent damage to the environment.

Plastics can cause harm to wildlife and ecosystems, as plastic debris can be ingested by animals, injuring or poisoning them. Over the years, currents in the Pacific Ocean have collected tons of plastics in a part of the ocean that has been nicknamed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Out on the open sea floating pieces of plastic are exposed to the sun, which breaks the plastics into tiny particles.

Instinctively, this might sound like it eliminates the problem, but the plastic particles are often toxic, which poison the waters and the native wildlife, and their tiny size makes them almost impossible to control. For these reasons, there have been numerous attempts to create a plastic that break down naturally into harmless chemicals.

This is what Dr. Daniel is trying to accomplish. If her research project is successful, the plastic will still have the characteristics that make it so popular in use, but with the key difference being that it can easily be broken down into harmless chemicals. She will do this by changing the repeating pattern of the plastic chain slightly; the repeating links of carbon will be replaced with links of the element boron.

By doing this, the plastic will still be durable for what we use it for, but we will know how to easily and harmlessly dispose it once it is no longer needed. The creation of this kind of plastic has been attempted in different ways before, but the plastic has always ended up being unusable due to inherent brittleness.

Dr. Daniel will do it in a slightly different way than those before her. Her “recipe” for the plastic is more lenient and more allowing for mistakes, which could give her a higher chance of success. Dr. Daniel is assisted by undergraduate student Dan Freeman, who does the project as part of his “Introduction to Chemical Research” class.

The purpose of the class is to introduce students pursuing a chemistry major to research work by having them assist a professor with their research. During the summer Freeman and Dr. Daniel worked together to make one of the more expensive “ingredients” needed to make the plastic, a chemical called tetrol, from scratch. This fall Dr. Daniel will be assisted by Freeman again when she tries to create the actual plastic.

Edited by: Sara Gunter

Proxima B, Unknown Earth like Planet

Possibility of New Life

Christina Kroeger, Staff Writer

 Just recently, there has been findings and proof of an Earth-like planet orbiting a star about 4.22 light-years away. Astronomers call this planet, Proxima B.

Proxima B is measured to be one and a third times the size of earth and is surviving in a habitable zone where water and ice can exist. However, because it is orbiting so close to its star, it is experiencing 400 times more ultra violet rays compared to what we experience from our sun.

Can life really exist on this planet? Researchers say, we may find out in just a few decades.

Scientists haven’t actually seen the surface of Proxima B. Instead, it was discovered indirectly by an extensive technique. NASA’s Kepler space telescope assisted the observation of the planet’s tiny motions and gravitational effects.

Proxima B’s mass is 30% greater than earth’s mass and its orbit (one year) is equivalent to eleven days on earth. Because of its proximity to its star, there are spots on Proxima B where there is permanent light and permanent darkness.

If there is any possibility you and I could visit Proxima B we would only survive, if at all, in the complete darkness. The Planet is far too close to its sun so there’s far more radiation than we can tolerate.

It has been nearly fifty years since man has landed on the moon; it has been nearly fifty years since we, as a country, have been fully engaged with what has been going on in space. Is there a reason we have been kept in the dark?

Astronomy and Physics professor, Dr. Kroeger says, “Fifty years ago,  there was a lot of nationalism involved with the space race and the moon landing because of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now it’s “just” for science.” It seems like the only way to hear or read about anything going on in outer space is from voluntary research and curiosity.

In addition to the unknown of Proxima B, right now, there are 6 people in space. 2 of those 6 people are American. Kate Rubins is one of the Americans who has been in space for sixty two days and counting, Rubins was selected to be an astronaut in 2009 and this is her first space flight. She is in space participating in several science experiments including research into sequencing the 1st genome in microgravity.

Jeff Williams is the other American in space today. As of August 23 of this year, Williams holds the United States record of the most cumulative days in space (534 days). On his current mission, he has been in space for one hundred seventy-two days and counting. Williams is scheduled to return this month, completing his 4th space flight.

There could be life other than ourselves somewhere in our universe. Not only life, but there are an immense amount of things we do not know about our solar system and outer space in general. It is often taken for granted how vast outer space is and how unique it is to us on earth.

It is a shame that we are not informed about scientific findings from outer space. For all we know, these little details can change the rest of our lives forever. As we look up admiring the stars at night wondering what could be up there, there may be different forms of life looking up at us wondering the same thing.

For more information about Proxima B check out: http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2016/09/06/ten-ways-proxima-b-is-different-from-earth/#5673679b5dba

Edited by: Sara Gunter