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Gizmorama - June 1, 2016

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They're turning human waste into biofuel! Well, it's about time!

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

Until Next Time,

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* Scientists turning human waste into biofuel in South Korea *

ULSAN, South Korea - Researchers in South Korea have turned a bathroom into a laboratory for sustainable energy. They're turning human waste into biofuel.

The experimental bathroom features a waterless toilet system that breaks down human waste into a dehydrated and odorless compost-like material. The material is transported to a digestion tank, where a community of microbes convert the waste product into carbon dioxide and methane.

A combination of intense pressure and membrane film help scientists capture the CO2, which is used to feed green algae for biofuel production. The methane is reserved for use as a heating fuel.

Researchers hope to make the system efficient enough to produce a biofuel that is economically competitive.

"Our ultimate goal is not only for the new toilet system to save water and operational costs for wastewater treatment plants, but for us to establish an ecosystem that supports technology innovation and drives economic diversification where human waste literally has a financial value," Jaeweon Cho, a professor of environmental engineering at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, said in a news release.

The researchers recruited artists and architects to make their experimental bathroom more inviting, designing and installing a "futuristic toilet," rain garden roof and other aesthetic flourishes.

"This is a very exciting project for us," said Cho. "We expect that this will become a pivotal stepping stone in the developing future of many countries facing dangerous sanitation issues and a lack of reliable, affordable energy."

*-- New study implies existence of fifth force of nature --*

IRVINE, Calif. - A team of Hungarian physicists published a paper last year hinting at the possibility of a fifth force of nature. It escaped publicity, but a recent analysis of the data by researchers at the University of California, Irvine has brought the paper back into the limelight.

The Standard Model of particle physics -- a model that helps scientists explain all the physics we can observe -- features four main forces: gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Scientists have long searched for -- and offered circumspect proof of -- a fifth force. The reason scientists continue to search for alternate forces is that the Standard Model fails to explain the existence and behavior of dark matter.

The Hungarian team, led by physicist Attila Krasznahorkay, was looking for dark matter by firing protons at a thin slice of lithium-7. Their experiments produced a different sort of anomaly.

The collision produced beryllium-8 nuclei, which emitted pairs of electrons and positrons as they decayed. According to the Standard Model the number of observable pairs should drop as the angle of the trajectory of the diverging electron and positron gets larger.

Instead, the number of pairs jumped at 140 degrees -- creating a slight hiccup or bump before the pairs again dropped off as the angle continued to increase.

The Hungarian team cited the bump as evidence of a new particle with a unique force.

"We are very confident about our experimental results," Krasznahorkay told Nature.

Researchers at UC-Irvine say the analysis of Krasznahorkay's team is congruous with previous experiments and theoretical results. In their own paper, the UC-Irvine scientists suggest the bump is evidence of a protophobic X boson, which may indeed be carrying a fifth force acting across just the width of the atomic nucleus.

The recent discovery was unexpected, and many particle physicists remain understandably skeptical. The research has yet to be replicated, and finding the same particles again will be quite difficult, but the science world is now paying attention.

"Perhaps we are seeing our first glimpse into physics beyond the visible Universe," said skeptic Jesse Thaler, a theoretical physicist at MIT.


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