Higher Energies, Faster Batteries, and the Return of the Brontosaurus | Vol. 2 / No. 24

ATLAS at the LHC; Photo: CERN, CC BY 2.0
ATLAS at the LHC; Photo: CERN, CC BY 2.0

LHC “Season 2”

After roughly two years of refurbishing and rebuilding, the Large Hadron Collider is back online, using its magnets to whip a stream of protons around its seventeen mile track at breakneck speeds. While it won’t reach its new souped-up peak energy levels until mid-June, it won’t take all that time before the LHC is treading new ground. That’s because its new power levels are roughly twice what they were in “season 1”: 6.5TeV per beam, or 13TeV per collision. Expect a couple of months of silence while they get things up and running, and after that? What’s most exciting about season 2 is that they aren’t sure exactly what they’ll find: dark matter, supersymmetry, extra dimensions, antimatter? It’s going to be an exciting few years. The Verge has more on the story.

In related news, remember the Tevatron? Fermilab’s now shut down particle accelerator? Turns out that they collected so much data they’re still going over it even now. And the things they’re finding are helping us to pin down the Higgs Boson. Now if only we could get reporters to stop calling it the “god” particle.

Brontosaurs or Apatosaurs? Photo: Flickr user Jonathan Lin, CC BY 2.0
Brontosaurs or Apatosaurs? Photo: Flickr user Jonathan Lin, CC BY 2.0

Back to Brontosaurus

Maybe you’re not aware, but until recently the Brontosaurus wasn’t actually a thing. That is, it wasn’t really a real dinosaur. One gentleman, Othniel Charles Marsh, had collected and named a dinosaur Apatosaurus ajax. Then he found another one, and called it Brontosaurus excelsus. A few years later another gentleman, named Elmer Riggs, decided that Brontosaurus was just an Apatosaurus of a different age. Since Apatosaurus was named first, Brontosaurus was renamed Apatosaurus excelsus. But now, a team of paleontologists have looked at the evidence and think maybe, just maybe, Brontosaurus might be different enough to warrant changing its name back. At this point its unclear whether it’ll stick or not, but many people on the internet are celebrating the return of a dinosaur they grew up (erroneously) knowing. Check out the Smithsonian article for the details, or, if you’d like a closer look at the data, check out the publication in PeerJ.

Lithium Ion cellphone battery, Photo: Flickr user Uwe Hermann,  CC BY 2.0
Lithium Ion cellphone battery, Photo: Flickr user Uwe Hermann, CC BY 2.0

Li-ion’s Successor

When it comes to batteries, there are a few measurements that matter: energy density, charging time, and cost. Right now, lithium ion batteries are the top of the pile in energy density and cost — that is, for their weight, they hold the most power for the least money. But in the third category, charging time, things are really changing. A team at Stanford has designed a new aluminum ion battery that’s showing a lot of promise: instead of a couple of hours to charge, it’s more like a minute or two. And the cost is going to be better, too. Not only is aluminum cheap and easy to work with, but the cathode material is graphite, and they can be recharged 7500 times (vs. 1000 for li-ion) without losing any capacity. These are going to be cheaper. So why aren’t we all using these batteries? Right now their energy density is roughly a quarter that of lithium ion, so unless you want your device with a battery three to four times the size, you’ll have to wait for their design to improve. Still, in the electric car world of the future, we’re going to need all the batteries we can get. Check out the press release for more, or if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the article published in the journal Nature.

Blue Origin Taking Off

Remember Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos? He runs Amazon, wants to deliver things to you via drone, owns the Washington Post, and — oh yeah, he also owns a rocket company with the goal of sending humans into space. And Blue Origin is not only still around, they’re doing well: in September of last year, they signed a deal with ULA to produce the rockets that will replace the dwindling supply of Russian RD-180s. The new engine, called the BE-4, is well underway, but in the meantime the company reports that it is ready to test the BE-3, which will be used to power the upper stage of rockets. Except that’s not what they’ll be using it for this time. Instead, they’ll be using the liquid hydrogen engine to take the New Shepard 62 miles up and back. In a press release this week, Bezos announced the company would begin unmanned tests this year. The plan is to send a capsule up that comes down after five minutes in microgravity, but while the capsule itself will parachute down, the booster will try to do what Elon Musk’s SpaceX will be trying to do tomorrow: come back and land vertically for re-use. Check out the article at Spaceflight Now for more.

Floating Solar

Want to keep your reservoir from evaporating, slow algae growth, and make a buck on the side? Sure you do, and so does Brazil, which is now building a floating solar array on top of a reservoir to do just that. It’s going to be the biggest solar farm yet — 350MW compared to the next biggest at 13.7MW on the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Japan. The US is also installing some — but right now the totals are only aiming for 50MW between several projects. Nevertheless any solar is good solar. Check out Clean Technica for more.

Best of the Rest

There were a lot of other things to see this week. Here are some of them:

That’s all for today. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Have a great week.