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Gizmorama - August 7, 2017

Good Morning,

Those high school kids are smart. They're so smart they have invented a water filtration system that removes 99 percent of heavy metals. That's definitely extra credit!

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- Water filter invented by high school student removes 99 percent of heavy metals --*

A new type of water filter is proving remarkably effective at removing heavy metals -- it can remove 99 percent of heavy metal toxins.

Perhaps equally impressive, the record-breaking filter was invented by a high-school student.

Perry Alagappan, now an undergraduate at Stanford University, was initially inspired to develop a more effective water filter after learning about the problems of water contamination on a trip to India.

Upon his return home, Alagappan teamed up with researchers at Rice University and began testing filters. Alagappan and his research partners settled on a design featuring carbon nanotubes grown on cotton ball-like tufts of quartz fiber. The tufts of nanotube-enriched fibers undergo an acid-triggered chemical reaction called epoxidation, which encourages the formation of ringed, three-atom structures.

Tests revealed the filter's remarkable ability to absorb heavy metal toxins. A single gram of the filter material can clean 83,000 liters of contaminated water. The filter removes cadmium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel and lead.

When the filter is saturated, it can be rinsed with vinegar and reused.

"Every culture on the planet knows how to make vinegar," Rice chemist Andrew Barron said in a news release. "This would make the biggest social impact on village-scale units that could treat water in remote, developing regions."

Despite their potential for water-purifying in remote locations, researchers believe the "supported-epoxidized carbon nanotube" filters, or SENT filters, can be scaled-up for industrial use -- like to clean water contaminated by mining operations.

The research has earned Alagappan a number of awards, including the top environmental prize at the Stockholm Junior Water Prize in 2014 and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Los Angeles in 2015.

"It's been a tremendous honor to be recognized on an international level for this research, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work on this project alongside such a talented group of individuals," Alagappan said. "I also especially appreciated being able to meet with other young researchers at the Intel International Science Fair and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, who inspired me with their firm commitment to elevate society through science and technology."

Researchers detailed the filter's scientific bonafides in a paper published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

* Scientists consider 'cloud brightening' to slow global warming *

Scientists at the University of Washington are considering the prospects of a controversial climate change solution called "marine cloud brightening."

Most agree the best solution to climate change is the curbing of carbon emissions -- by reducing the burning of fossil fuels, as well as increasing the adoption of renewable energy sources.

But if efforts to curb emissions fall short or prove insufficient, emergency solutions may be necessary to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of global warming. Enter marine cloud brightening, a climate engineering solution.

Clouds form when water droplets condense on particles in the air and coalesce in the atmosphere. Higher concentrations of particulates allow smaller water droplets to form clouds, yielding bigger, whiter clouds that reflect sunlight instead of absorbing heat.

Researchers at the University of Washington have proposed spraying particulates over the ocean to encourage the formation of solar energy-reflecting marine clouds. They published their proposal this week in the journal Earth's Future.

Some climate scientists believe marine cloud brightening is already happening as a result of an increase in air pollution since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The phenomenon may be offsetting a small percentage of the greenhouse gas effect, but measuring how much has proven difficult.

"Testing out marine cloud brightening would actually have some major benefits for addressing both questions," Rob Wood, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Washington, said in a news release. "Can we perturb the clouds in this way, and are the climate models correctly representing the relationship between clouds and aerosols?"

Wood and his research partners are currently seeking public and private fundings for their work.

Their team aims to develop an efficient aerosol spraying device and test its ability to eject particles in the lab. The researchers must also find an ideal place to test their marine cloud brightening technology -- somewhere without significant pollution and sufficient rates of marine cloud formation.

"We're talking about some kind of new world in terms of the ethical issues," said Thomas Ackerman, also a professor of atmospheric sciences. "But for climate, we're no longer in an era of 'do no harm.' We are altering the climate already. It's now a case of 'the lesser of two evils.'"

Ackerman and his colleagues aren't yet endorsing large-scale marine cloud brightening. They just want to test the solution's potential.

"There's a science question about can we do it, but there's also an ethical question about should we do it, and a policy question about how would we do it," Ackerman said. "I'm an agnostic on this. I want to test geoengineering and see if it works. But the whole time we're working on this, I think we need to still be asking ourselves: 'Should we do it?'"


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