Glow-in-the-Dark Spray Could Make Night Driving Safer


How can you make roads safer for drivers? One company, known as Pro-Teq, is testing glow-in-the-dark material that can be sprayed onto roadways to help illuminate the way for night drivers.

The U.K.-based company developed a waterproof photoluminescent coating, called Starpath, which absorbs light during the day and gives off an ethereal glow at night, according to Treehugger. The coating is non-reflective and has anti-slip properties, which could reduce the number of accidents on motorways, reported Treehugger. Starpath-covered roads could also help communities save money and energy, since they are bright enough without street lamps.

The technology is currently being tested on walking paths in Christ's Pieces park in Cambridge, England. Applying the spray coating took only 30 minutes, and the walking paths were open to the public four hours later, reported Treehugger.



Longer Life for Humans Linked to Further Loss of Endangered Species

As human life expectancy increases, so does the percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals, according to a new study by the University of California, Davis.

The study, published in the September issue of Ecology and Society, examined a combination of 15 social and ecological variables -- from tourism and per capita gross domestic product to water stress and political stability. Then researchers analyzed their correlations with invasive and endangered birds and mammals, which are two indicators of what conservationist Aldo Leopold termed "land sickness," the study said.

Human life expectancy, which is rarely included among indexes that examine human impacts on the environment, surfaced as the key predictor of global invasions and extinctions.

"It's not a random pattern," said lead author Aaron Lotz, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology when the study was conducted. "Out of all this data, that one factor -- human life expectancy -- was the determining factor for endangered and invasive birds and mammals."

The study analyzed data from 100 countries, which included roughly 87 percent of the world's population, 43 percent of global GDP per capita, and covered 74 percent of Earth's total land area. Additional factors considered were agricultural intensity, rainfall, pesticide regulation, energy efficiency, wilderness protection, latitude, export-import ratio, undernourishment, adult literacy, female participation in government, and total population.

The findings include:

 •New Zealand, the United States and the Philippines had among the highest percentages of endangered and invasive birds.

• New Zealand had the highest percentage of all endangered and invasive species combined, largely due to its lack of native terrestrial mammals. The study said that in the past 700 to 800 years since the country was colonized, it has experienced massive invasion by nonindigenous species, resulting in catastrophic biodiversity loss.

• African countries had the lowest percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals. These countries have had very little international trade, which limits opportunities for biological invasion.

• As GDP per capita -- a standard measure of affluence -- increased in a country, so did the percentage of invasive birds and mammals.

 •As total biodiversity and total land area increased in a country, so did the percentage of endangered birds. (Biodiversity in this context is not a measure of health but refers to the number of species in an area.)

Lotz said the study's results indicate the need for a better scientific understanding of the complex interactions among humans and their environment.

"Some studies have this view that there's wildlife and then there's us," said Lotz. "But we're part of the ecosystem. We need to start relating humans to the environment in our research and not leave them out of the equation. We need to realize we have a direct link to nature."

Source: Science Daily


New Fossils Push the Origin of Flowering Plants Back by 100 Million Years to the Early Triassic

Drilling cores from Switzerland have revealed the oldest known fossils of the direct ancestors of flowering plants. These beautifully preserved 240-million-year-old pollen grains are evidence that flowering plants evolved 100 million years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study in the open-access journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

Flowering plants evolved from extinct plants related to conifers, ginkgos, cycads, and seed ferns. The oldest known fossils from flowering plants are pollen grains. These are small, robust and numerous and therefore fossilize more easily than leaves and flowers.

An uninterrupted sequence of fossilized pollen from flowers begins in the Early Cretaceous, approximately 140 million years ago, and it is generally assumed that flowering plants first evolved around that time. But the present study documents flowering plant-like pollen that is 100 million years older, implying that flowering plants may have originated in the Early Triassic (between 252 to 247 million years ago) or even earlier.

Many studies have tried to estimate the age of flowering plants from molecular data, but so far no consensus has been reached. Depending on dataset and method, these estimates range from the Triassic to the Cretaceous. Molecular estimates typically need to be "anchored" in fossil evidence, but extremely old fossils were not available for flowering plants. "That is why the present finding of flower-like pollen from the Triassic is significant," says Prof. Peter Hochuli, University of Zurich.

Peter Hochuli and Susanne Feist-Burkhardt from Paleontological Institute and Museum, University of Zürich, studied two drilling cores from Weiach and Leuggern, northern Switzerland, and found pollen grains that resemble fossil pollen from the earliest known flowering plants. With Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy, they obtained high-resolution images across three dimensions of six different types of pollen.

In a previous study from 2004, Hochuli and Feist-Burkhardt documented different, but clearly related flowering-plant-like pollen from the Middle Triassic in cores from the Barents Sea, south of Spitsbergen. The samples from the present study were found 3000 km south of the previous site. "We believe that even highly cautious scientists will now be convinced that flowering plants evolved long before the Cretaceous," say Hochuli.

What might these primitive flowering plants have looked like? In the Middle Triassic, both the Barents Sea and Switzerland lay in the subtropics, but the area of Switzerland was much drier than the region of the Barents Sea. This implies that these plants occurred a broad ecological range. The pollen's structure suggests that the plants were pollinated by insects: most likely beetles, as bees would not evolve for another 100 million years.

Source:Sience Daily


Chasing the 'Black Holes' of the Ocean

According to researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Miami, some of the largest ocean eddies on Earth are mathematically equivalent to the mysterious black holes of space. These eddies are so tightly shielded by circular water paths that nothing caught up in them escapes.

The mild winters experienced in Northern Europe are thanks to the Gulf Stream, which makes up part of those ocean currents spanning the globe that impact on the climate. However, our climate is also influenced by huge eddies of over 150 kilometres in diameter that rotate and drift across the ocean. Their number is reportedly on the rise in the Southern Ocean, increasing the northward transport of warm and salty water. Intriguingly, this could moderate the negative impact of melting sea ice in a warming climate.

However, scientists have been unable to quantify this impact so far, because the exact boundaries of these swirling water bodies have remained undetectable. George Haller, Professor of Nonlinear Dynamics at ETH Zurich, and Francisco Beron-Vera, Research Professor of Oceanography at the University of Miami, have now come up with a solution to this problem. In a paper just published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, they develop a new mathematical technique to find water-transporting eddies with coherent boundaries.

The challenge in finding such eddies is to pinpoint coherent water islands in a turbulent ocean. The rotating and drifting fluid motion appears chaotic to the observer both inside and outside an eddy. Haller and Beron-Vera were able to restore order in this chaos by isolating coherent water islands from a sequence of satellite observations. To their surprise, such coherent eddies turned out to be mathematically equivalent to black holes.

No escape from the vortex

Black holes are objects in space with a mass so great that they attract everything that comes within a certain distance of them. Nothing that comes too close can escape, not even light. But at a critical distance, a light beam no longer spirals into the black hole. Rather, it dramatically bends and comes back to its original position, forming a circular orbit. A barrier surface formed by closed light orbits is called a photon sphere in Einstein's theory of relativity.

Haller and Beron-Vera discovered similar closed barriers around select ocean eddies. In these barriers, fluid particles move around in closed loops -- similar to the path of light in a photon sphere. And as in a black hole, nothing can escape from the inside of these loops, not even water.

It is precisely these barriers that help to identify coherent ocean eddies in the vast amount of observational data available. According to Haller, the very fact that such coherent water orbits exist amidst complex ocean currents is surprising.


Eddies as water taxis

Because black-hole-type ocean eddies are stable, they function in the same way as a transportation vehicle -- not only for micro-organisms such as plankton or foreign bodies like plastic waste or oil, but also for water with a heat and salt content that can differ from the surrounding water. Haller and Beron-Vera have verified this observation for the Agulhas Rings, a group of ocean eddies that emerge regularly in the Southern Ocean off the southern tip of Africa and transport warm, salty water northwest. The researchers identified seven Agulhas Rings of the black-hole type, which transported the same body of water without leaking for almost a year.

Haller points out that similar coherent vortices exist in other complex flows outside of the ocean. In this sense, many whirlwinds are likely to be similar to black holes as well. Even the Great Red Spot -- a stationary storm -- on the planet Jupiter could just be the most spectacular example of a black-hole type vortex . "Mathematicians have been trying to understand such peculiarly coherent vortices in turbulent flows for a very long time," explains Haller.

Notably, the first person to describe ocean eddies as coherent water islands may well have been the American writer, Edgar Allan Poe. In his story "A Descent into the Maelstrom," he envisioned a stable belt of foam around a maelstrom. This served as inspiration for Haller and Beron-Vera, who went on to find these belts -- the oceanic equivalent to photon spheres -- using sophisticated mathematical formulas. Their results are expected to help in resolving a number of oceanic puzzles, ranging from climate-related questions to the spread of environmental pollution patterns.

Eddy in the Gulf of Mexico

Just after the publication of Haller's and Beron-Vera's results, Josefina Olascoaga, also a Professor of Oceanography in Miami, tested their new mathematical method. She unexpectedly found a large, black-hole type eddy in the Gulf of Mexico.  Olascoaga now uses her finding to assess the coherent transport of contamination from a possible future oil spill.

 Source:Science Daily


Controlling Wettability: 'Sticky Tape' for Water Droplets Mimics Rose Petal

A new nanostructured material with applications that could include reducing condensation in airplane cabins and enabling certain medical tests without the need for high tech laboratories has been developed by researchers at the University of Sydney.

"The newly discovered material uses raspberry particles -- so-called because of their appearance -- which can trap tiny water droplets and prevent them from rolling off surfaces, even when that surface is turned upside down," said Dr Andrew Telford from the University's School of Chemistry and lead author of the research recently published in the journal, Chemistry of Materials.

The ability to immobilise very small droplets on a surface is, according to Dr Telford, a significant achievement with innumerable potential applications.

Raspberry particles mimic the surface structure of some rose petals.

"Water droplets bead up in a spherical shape on top of rose petals," Dr Telford said. "This is a sign the flower is highly water repellent."

The reasons for this are complex and largely due to the special structure of the rose petal's surface. The research team replicated the rose petal by assembling raspberry particles in the lab using spherical micro- and nanoparticles.

The result is that water droplets bead up when placed on films of the raspberry particles and they're not able to drip down from it, even when turned upside down.

"Raspberry particle films can be described as sticky tape for water droplets," Dr Telford said.

This could be useful in preventing condensation issues in airplane cabins. It could also help rapidly process simple medical tests on free-standing droplets, with the potential for very high turnover of tests with inexpensive equipment and in remote areas.

Other exciting applications are under study: if we use this nanotechnology to control how a surface is structured we can influence how it will interact with water.

"This means we will be able to design a surface that does whatever you need it to do.

"We could also design a surface that stays dry forever, never needs cleaning or able to repel bacteria or even prevent mould and fungi growth.

"We could then tweak the same structure by changing its composition so it forces water to spread very quickly.

"This could be used on quick-dry walls and roofs which would also help to cool down houses. 

"This can only be achieved with a very clear understanding of the science behind the chemical properties and construction of the surface," he said.

Source:Science Daily