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Gizmorama - December 14, 2016

Good Morning,

A finger swipe could hold the key to creating usable energy. Somehow I knew this day would come!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Flexible device harvests energy from basic motions -- like a finger swipe --*

LANSING, Mich. - Engineers at Michigan State University of developed a flexible, film-like device capable of turning simple human motion into usable energy.

The movement of a finger across a smartphone screen could soon keep that very device running indefinitely. Keyboards could render power from typing fingers and feed it to laptop batteries; fitness trackers could be powered by the kinetics of jogging feet.

"We're on the path toward wearable devices powered by human motion," lead researcher Nelson Sepulveda, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan State, said in a news release.

The device consists of a silicone wafer, the layers of which are interspaced with thin slices of silver, polyimide and polypropylene ferroelectret. The layers are infused with ions. When compressed, the film-like substrate generates electric energy.

Researchers described the new technology -- called a biocompatible ferroelectret nanogenerator, or FENG -- in the journal Nano Energy. The study's authors believe the device's potential is aided by its light weight, simplicity and scalability.

Impressively, the device's power-generating potential doubles each time it is folded.

"Each time you fold it you are increasing exponentially the amount of voltage you are creating," Sepulveda explained. "You can start with a large device, but when you fold it once, and again, and again, it's now much smaller and has more energy. Now it may be small enough to put in a specially made heel of your shoe so it creates power each time your heel strikes the ground."

Sepulveda and his colleagues are now working on technology to wirelessly transfer energy generated from the power device to wearable technologies -- from the heel of a running shoes to headphones or fitness tracker, for example.

*--- New global map reveals effects of wet and dry climates on soil pH ---*

SANTA BARBARA - Scientists already knew soil in wet climes is generally acidic, while soil in dry climes is generally alkaline. But in the process of creating a global soil pH map, scientists realized the distinction was surprisingly stark.

"Our analysis was able to confirm that the transition between those two zones is very abrupt," Eric Slessarev, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in a news release. "It only takes a small change in climate to achieve the switch from that acid zone to the alkaline zone and there are fewer soils with an intermediate pH."

Slessarev and his fellow researchers found -- less surprisingly -- the few regions of soil featuring an intermediate pH, places like Iowa and the Ukraine, are areas of intense agricultural production. Soil with a neutral pH is conducive to farming.

The new map is the result of a meta-analysis of data from soil surveys in the United States, China, Canada, Australia and Brazil, with additional data points provided by the International Soil Research Information Center.

The map and related findings were published in the journal Nature this week.

"One thing that we can draw from our analysis is that the parts of the world that humans depend upon the most for agriculture sit on an edge between wet and dry climates and between acid soils and alkaline soils," Slessarev said. "What's more, our work demonstrates that soil pH -- and therefore soil fertility -- is tightly linked to climate."

The findings are particularly relevant to farmers living and working in regions of transition.

"In fact, it's linked in a way that looks like a staircase, where a step exists between one space and another," Slessarev added. "For the parts of the world on the edge of that step, this means a very small change in climate could make a big difference in how the system functions."


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