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Dawn: all systems go

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is traveling to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to study Ceres, a dwarf planet that has remained intact since Earth’s solar system was formed. Dawn, which is scheduled to reach Ceres in February 2015, will transmit images and data to scientists who will attempt to answer questions such as how size and water affect a planet’s evolution. Currently located approximately 400 million kilometers (248 million miles) from earth, the latest readings confirm Dawn is on track for its mission.


Walking biological robots

Engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA) have developed a walking 3D-printed bio-bot powered by skeletal muscle cells stimulated by electric pulses. The bio-bot mimics the human body’s muscle-tendon-bone system, but is less than one centimeter (0.4 inches) long and made of 3D-printed hydrogels and living cells. Bio-bots are the first step in developing biological machines for medical and environmental applications.


Clean water for everyone

780 million people do not have access to clean water. A team of engineering students at ETH Zürich, Switzerland, hope to change this with DrinkPure, a water filter that is compatible with any standard PET water bottle. The filter purifies water with a prefilter that removes plants and dirt; then activated carbon blocks out chemicals, odors and heavy metals; and finally, the filter’s membrane blocks bacteria. The students have already raised more than US$74,000 to mass-produce and deliver DrinkPure to those in need.


Smog-eating clothes

British designer and artist Helen Storey from London College of Fashion, and University of Sheffield (UK) Vice Chancellor and science professor Anthony Ryan, founders of Catalytic Clothing, are collaborating on a laundry detergent that transforms everyday clothing into air purifiers. The detergent coats fabrics with titanium dioxide, which transforms pollution into a harmless byproduct. Its inventors are collaborating with Ecover, a Belgium-based manufacturer of eco-friendly cleaning products, to help with mass-market production.


From sun to steam

Transforming sunlight into steam is now more efficient thanks to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), who have developed a disc-shaped, sponge-like structure made of graphite flakes that overlap a layer of carbon foam. When the floating disc absorbs the sun’s rays, it causes the water to pass through the pores and evaporate as steam. The new material converts 85% of incoming solar energy into steam – a large improvement over conventional solar-powered steam generators, which have at best a 31% efficiency rating, according to a study by US-based Sandia National Labs.


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