BBC News: Why Guyana’s rainforests are a scientist’s dream

Why Guyana’s rainforests are a scientist’s dream – and how indigenous people are the first scientists of the forest. Scientists rely on tribal knowledge of the land and species within, then simply promote themselves using or knowledge. Then they leave us forgotten, no acknowledgement, not resources to protect the land, not to become university trained scientists. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-42492619

Solar sidewalks and roadways could generate more electricity than US consumes

https://futurism.com/?p=43014

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Historical Route to the Future
Solar Roadways has ambitious plans to turn all of America’s roads a shade “greener.” The company is partnering with Missouri’s Department of Transportation to install a test version of the startup’s solar road tiles in a sidewalk at the Historic Route 66 Welcome Center in Conway.

The state will be installing Solar Roadway’s unique brand of tiles that combine a solar cell with LED lighting, a heating element, and tempered glass. Tiles are strong enough to support the weight of a semi, can illuminate roads, and make them safer in dangerous weather. All of this is possible while also feeding the electrical grid.

Officials plan for testing to begin at the end of the year. It is part of Missouri’s “Road to Tomorrow” initiative, which focuses on improvements like smart highways and incorporating renewable energy. Funding for the project partially comes from crowdfunding sources. This is done to assuage any concern that these pilot projects will redirect funds from traditional transportation infrastructure.

The initiative’s director, Patrick McKenna, believes “together, we will find innovative and creative ways to fund transportation while ushering in the information age of transportation and creating economic prosperity for Missouri.”

Upping the Energy
Curbed reports Solar Roadway’s founders, Scott and Julie Brusaw, claim lining the country’s roads and parking lots with their product will produce three times the amount of energy that the U.S. consumes. In turn, this could also help to proliferate a trend toward more electric cars.

“If [Solar Roadway’s] version of the future is realistic, roadways can begin paying for themselves,” says Transportation Department’s Tom Blair. Even with all the excitement, Blair admits that all of these great hopes should be tempered since the final product is still a few years down the line.

Despite the excitement, some scientists continue to question the validity of solar roads. The project isn’t cheap. In fact, replacing all of the existing roads with solar-powered hexagons could cost upwards of one trillion dollars.

“There’s currently a virtually endless supply of places you could install solar panels that DON’T have cars driving over them and, as such, don’t require fancy high-tech glass covering them. Or, for that matter, don’t mean you have to worry about the long-term wear-and-tear of millions of tons of steel and rubber driving over them at high speed every year,” reads a 2014 blog post from Equities. The roadways could end up paying for themselves over time, but it would be a long time. Think decades.

In addition to not being overly sustainable, LED road lighting would most likely result in poor visibility. Essentially, unless the cost can be reduced, you won’t be seeing solar roadways (especially on a larger scale) in person anytime soon.

China’s solar powered highway

https://futurism.com/?p=116485

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Solar Roadways Are Now Open
Roofs and windows of buildings aren’t the only surfaces that can be used to generate solar power. In China, construction has begun of the country’s first solar highway, in which solar panels are placed underneath transparent concrete.

As reported by Electrek, the solar highway is a 2 km (1.2 mile) stretch of road located on the Jinan City Expressway, and it’s divided into three layers. The see-through concrete shields an array of solar panels of two sizes. Beneath the solar panels is a layer that will keep them isolated from the damp ground. The road itself has already been completed, and now it’s only a matter of connecting the grid, which is expected to be finished by the end of the year alongside the completion of the Jinan Expressway’s south section.

Overhead shot of China’s solar highway. Image Credit: People’s Network
This isn’t the first solar road China has worked on. Earlier this year, the Qilu Transportation Development Group — which is also handling the Jinan Expressway solar road — built a 160 meter (0.09 mile) long solar road in the city of Jinan itself. It’s capable of heating up to keep the highway clear of snow and ice, and may one day be able to wirelessly charge electric vehicles. The new solar highway is expected to one day be equipped with the same features.

Solar Roads Around the World
Outside of China, solar roads are nothing new. In 2014, the Netherlands built a bike path fitted with solar panels to generate electricity; a village in the north of France opened a km (0.62 mile) long solar road in 2016. In the U.S. the Missouri Department of Transportation agreed to begin testing solar sidewalks near Route 66.

Solar roadways may have their critics (they are susceptible to being covered by dirt and other debris), but as their efficiency and applications improve, they’re sure to prove their value. And with EVs becoming more popular, the world’s going to need more ways to keep their vehicles charged and ready to go.

new study has overturned a hundred-year-old assumption on what exactly makes a neuron ‘fire’

https://futurism.com/?p=116607

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The human brain contains a little over 80-odd billion neurons, each joining with other cells to create trillions of connections called synapses.

The numbers are mind-boggling, but the way each individual nerve cell contributes to the brain’s functions is still an area of contention. A new study has overturned a hundred-year-old assumption on what exactly makes a neuron ‘fire’, posing new mechanisms behind certain neurological disorders.

A team of physicists from Bar-Ilan University in Israel conducted experiments on rat neurons grown in a culture to determine exactly how a neuron responds to the signals it receives from other cells.

To understand why this is important, we need to go back to 1907 when a French neuroscientist named Louis Lapicque proposed a model to describe how the voltage of a nerve cell’s membrane increases as a current is applied.

Once reaching a certain threshold, the neuron reacts with a spike of activity, after which the membrane’s voltage resets.

What this means is a neuron won’t send a message unless it collects a strong enough signal.

Lapique’s equations weren’t the last word on the matter, not by far. But the basic principle of his integrate-and-fire model has remained relatively unchallenged in subsequent descriptions, today forming the foundation of most neuronal computational schemes.

Image credit: NICHD/Flickr
According to the researchers, the lengthy history of the idea has meant few have bothered to question whether it’s accurate.

“We reached this conclusion using a new experimental setup, but in principle these results could have been discovered using technology that has existed since the 1980s,” says lead researcher Ido Kanter.

“The belief that has been rooted in the scientific world for 100 years resulted in this delay of several decades.”

The experiments approached the question from two angles – one exploring the nature of the activity spike based on exactly where the current was applied to a neuron, the other looking at the effect multiple inputs had on a nerve’s firing.

Their results suggest the direction of a received signal can make all the difference in how a neuron responds.

A weak signal from the left arriving with a weak signal from the right won’t combine to build a voltage that kicks off a spike of activity. But a single strong signal from a particular direction can result in a message.

This potentially new way of describing what’s known as spatial summation could lead to a novel method of categorising neurons, one that sorts them based on how they compute incoming signals or how fine their resolution is, based on a particular direction.

Better yet, it could even lead to discoveries that explain certain neurological disorders.

It’s important not to throw out a century of wisdom on the topic on the back of a single study. The researchers also admit they’ve only looked at a type of nerve cell called pyramidal neurons, leaving plenty of room for future experiments.

But fine-tuning our understanding of how individual units combine to produce complex behaviours could spread into other areas of research. With neural networks inspiring future computational technology, identifying any new talents in brain cells could have some rather interesting applications.

This research was published in Scientific Reports.

Hidden in New Tax Bill is a Mandate to Drill the Artic

https://futurism.com/?p=116494

Open Season on Arctic Drilling
The GOP’s final tax plan was signed into law on December 22, 2017 after being passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The first overhaul in 30 years, the plan will provide fiscal relief to the biggest American corporations while delivering modest tax cuts to individual filers. But buried in the law is a stipulation seemingly irrelevant to economic policy — one that almost certainly spells disaster for one of the country’s most precious wildlife havens. It’s a go-ahead for Arctic drilling.

A provision snuck into the new legislation gives the okay to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). One of the U.S.’ largest natural reserves, the refuge is home to a jigsaw puzzle of biodiversity, from migratory birds to threatened polar bears and caribou. The new law also takes management of the area away from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The government believes that opening the reserve to oil and gas exploration could help plug the gap left by the tax cuts. But while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee expects drilling generate an additional $1 billion in revenue from oil leases, an analysis by the Center for American Progress found that the operation is likely to yield no more than $37.5 million.

And according to estimates from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, the law as a whole will leave the public purse short of $1.46 trillion over a decade.

“Even if that billion dollars were to materialize,” Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council told Futurism, “the annual income would not have paid a single day’s interest on the trillion and a half dollars [of debt] that this bill creates. The idea that this is a budgetary matter is a fiction pure and simple.”

Risky Investment
The refuge’s nearly 19.3 million acres have been a key battleground of party warfare for several decades, with the Republicans arguing for the economic promise of resources that may be buried underground. But nobody knows how much oil and gas are there, because the territory is still protected from seismic exploration.

“Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is a bad idea as a business proposition, almost as much as it is in terms of environmental impacts,” said Lawrence. He explained that because the refuge has been kept free from human presence, “there is no infrastructure in place, there are no pipelines, there are no roads, it would take years even before a potential oil company could start drilling on its own.” The expense, he said, would be so high that any potential investment would be extremely risky.

The idea of offsetting the costs of new tax breaks by drilling the Arctic comes despite dire warnings from the scientific community. The 2017 Arctic Report Card found that the polar region is warming so fast that it’s hard to estimate the environmental consequences for the coming years. And even if the climate pledges made under the Paris Agreement were improved enough to keep global warming under 2° C (35.6° F), the Arctic would still experience a 5° C (41° F) temperature increase.

Although this part of the law is in tune with the pro-fossil fuels agenda of many GOP members and President Trump, activists are ready to fight the provision every step of the way.

Critics of the law’s provision also argue that oil should be kept in the ground no matter the financial implications. Lawrence asserted that “the demand for oil will have to go down.” He said we’ve already discovered at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can burn over the next 30 years if we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.