Multiferroics: a discovery worth €750,000

The Körber Prize is awarded annually by the Körber Foundation in Hamburg. This €750,000 prize honours exceptional and innovative research projects that have great application potential. This year it was awarded to the British chemist and materials scientist Nicola Spaldin, also Professor for Material Theory at ETH Zurich.
Professor Spaldin was recognised after creating a new family of crystalline compounds that could lead to a radical change in the world of technology and computers. These compounds, called multiferroics, can respond both to electric and magnetic fields. By applying electric fields, the magnetic structure is influenced. This means that multiferroics will revolutionize our actual computers, turning them into ultra-fast, smaller and highly efficient devices (for example, they could replace the silicon in the chips that controls the computing capability of PCs and smart phones). But this discovery doesn’t concern only the world of computers: it can be applied also to tiny, nanometrical motors and high-precision magnetic sensors or to superconductors that function at room temperature.
Nicola Spaldin, who will use the prize to move forward her research and studies, also has an extremely positive attitude towards the future: she has shown that structural transformations in multiferroic crystals can furnish model systems to study the early development stages of the universe.

Source:

http://www.myscience.ch/news/wire/i_find_it_really_interesting_when_i_m_proved_wrong-2015-ethz

https://www.ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2015/06/koerber-prize.html

http://www.koerber-stiftung.de/en/science/koerber-european-science-prize/press/press-releases/presse-details-koerber-preis-en/artikel/nicola-spaldin-receives-the-koerber-prize-2015.html

Pic Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/steverwatson/2221824432/

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Bats can be worth almost a billion dollars

Ecologists Josiah Maine and Justin Boyles of the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale reported on September 14th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that bats play a fundamental role in fighting crop pests, saving up to $1 billion a year in crop damages.
In their article, “Bats initiate vital interactions in corn”, Maine reports about his experiment that lasted from 2013 till 2014, where he tested how corn reacted to the absence of bats picking off pests. To do so, he built some “exclosures”, structures meant to keep bats outside and away from the corn. Each one of the exclosures measured more than 420 square meters and 7 meters high, and they were built using steel poles, cables and netting. In order to keep only the bats outside, and to let other creatures (like birds) in, the exclosures were removed daily so birds could forage normally. The nets were slid on the cables to one end just like a curtain, so Main could open the exclosures each day and close them each night. A moth whose larvae can cause billions of damages called the corn earworm was the main pest in his system. It doesn’t only feed on corn ears, but they can also cause an infection of the corn ear by fungi, which consequently can generate compounds that can be toxic and harmful to humans and livestock.
With his experiment, Maine found out that there were almost 60% more earworm larvae inside the exclosures than in the unprotected areas, and also more than 50% more corn kernel damage per ear in the corn. The fungal growth associated with pests was significantly higher, and the rate of toxins produced by it was strongly increased. His study wants to support the idea that bats provide valuable services to society, as they can be considered a natural solution to pests and a substitute for insecticides and chemicals. It also underlines the importance of maintaining a healthy and functioning ecosystem.
We hope this leads to an improved reputation for these wonderful animals.

Sources:

http://www.pjstar.com/article/20150914/BUSINESS/150919961

http://phys.org/news/2015-09-combating-crop-pests.html

http://chinese.eurekalert.org/en/pub_releases/2015-09/aaft-abo091115.php

http://www.agweb.com/article/bats-worth-more-than-1-billion-to-corn-industry–naa-news-release/

https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/science-ticker/patrolling-bats-protect-corn-fields-pests

Pic source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/theactionitems/8275324534/

Haiti picture

Green Economy moves forward in Haiti

Last September Haiti´s Ministries of Environment and Agriculture and the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) held a workshop in Port-au-Prince to certify the discoveries of an exploratory study on the green economy potential of the agricultural sector in the South Department of Haiti. Through a green economy approach, the main value chains (mango, honey, cashew, castor oil and cocoa) would help to reinforce the system of the protected areas, which would consequently ensure health, productive ecosystems and promote sustainable economic development. Many suggestion were made during the workshop, for example expanding the study to additional varieties of value chains and considering the potential of organic certification.

The report will be presented also at the 3rd Conference of Green Economy in the Caribbean. It is part of the UNEP project “Advancing Caribbean States´ Sustainable development through Green Economy (GE)”. This project aims to establish a regional green network between the Caribbean countries: Jamaica, Haiti, and Saint Lucia. It has three main goals:
– Creating a national Green Economy knowledge and network platforms and a regional Green Economy network in order to share different experiences and best practises;
– Defining local policies of Green Economy investment options based on quantitave assessment in Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia;
– Developing and support a regional centre of excellence on Green Economy and producing a capacity-building materials tailor-made for policymakers in the region.
Using at best the surrounding ecosystem and environment in order to reinforce sustainable economic development but at the same time respecting it and not exploiting it is one of the core characteristic of the Blue Economy policy. May Haiti and its new Green Economy approach inspire other countries in the world to follow its lead.

Sources:

“South Department Agriculture Report Validated in Haiti”, http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/Default.aspx?tabid=1060568

“Advancing Caribbean States´ Sustainable Development through Green Economy”, http://www.greengrowthknowledge.org/project/advancing-caribbean-states%E2%80%99-sustainable-development-through-green-economy

Picture by USAID U.S. Agency for International Development (link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usaid_images/5102599107/ )

Pectinatella magnifica	Bryozoan, living, Rheinberg

CO2 Eating Organisms In the Antarctic

When we hear about climate change, it’s usually about humans destroying the basis of our own livelihoods – with ecosystems as the victim. However, researcher David Barnes of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) just published some new findings that could prove this perspective wrong.

After 20 years of collecting data, Mr. Barnes found out that in the melting of Antarctic ice led to a marked increase of the presence of bryozoans, living organisms that absorb CO2. Their number has doubled over the past two decades, and scientists estimate that they are absorbing an amount of CO2 equivalent to about 50,000 hectares of tropical rainforest per annum. This would consequently have a slowing effect on climate change.

When polar ice melts, the white and reflecting poles become much darker, therefore absorbing more heat and melting more ice – usually creating a vicious cycle. But this melting can have a positive effect: where the water is relatively shallow, ice-free water helps the growth of phytoplankton, which in turn feeds the bryozoans, who therefore absorb a significant amount of carbon.

There are surprising differences in the amount of carbon taken up in different regions in Antarctica. As these differences are linked to the sea ice losses at each location, there are big hopes of finding such organisms in the Arctic area too.

Scientists already knew that algae and arctic forests partially mitigate climate change. By studying these organisms, the range of species that absorb CO2 has just increased. It is amazing how, although not visible, ecosystems have already begun reacting climate change, stabilizing the planet. Seems “homo sapiens” still have much to learn.

Sources:

http://gaianews.it/ambiente/clima/fusione-del-ghiaccio-antartico-in-aumento-la-vita-nei-mari-e-lassorbimento-di-co2-59128.html#.VkNE5ys_DIU

http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/scientist-has-found-melting-ice-caps-have-led-to-increase-in-bryozoans-who-absorb-co2/story-fnjwvztl-1227538986456

http://www.welt.de/wissenschaft/umwelt/article146660283/Kleine-Tierchen-futtern-Kohlendioxid-in-Massen-weg.html

Picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolinabio/5804018747/

Microplastics: Beat the Microbead

Microplastics: Beat the Microbead

4073190917_a09d439bc4 Microplastics: Beat the Microbead News

Microplastic are small plastic pieces or fibers measuring less than 5mm. In personal care products they are almost always smaller than 1mm. They can also come from other, indirect sources: plastic waste into the ocean, due to the effects of weathering, sunlight and wave action, reduces to smaller particles and does not biodegrade.

But why do hundreds, if not thousands of different personal care products use microbeads as abrasive scrubbers and for cleaning when traditional, fast-degradable alternatives such as ground nut shells and salt crystals exists? When these products are washed down the drain after use, the microbeads are too small to be retained by filters at sewage plants and end up in rivers, canals, and ultimately into the seas and oceans. This has negative impact to marine biodiversity and associated implications for human health: marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microplastics and therefore indiscriminately feed on microplastics. Some species of fish excrete plastic easily, but others do not and accumulate plastic internally.

The surface of microplastics have been proven to attract and absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from the marine environment. Traces of POPs for instance were found in birds, ingested together with their plastic hosts. Scientists hypothesis that over time, POPs will start accumulating in the food chain, transferring from species to species, with consequences ultimately for humans.

These observations led to the Dutch campaigned Beat the Microbead. This campaign now extended to many other countries. And in november 2012 they launched a smartphone app to help consumers. The app allows consumers to scan the barcodes of personal care products and to see which one contains microplastics. It has a 3 color-code:

  • green means that the product is completely free from plastic.
  • Orange, that the product contains plastic but the manufacturer has made a public commitment to phase out microbead in the future.
  • Red means that not only the product contains plastic, but that there is no future plan to eliminate it from the product.

Throughout the campaigns producers have been asked to stop adding microplastics to cosmetics, and many have responded positively. If you don’t own a smartphone you can still access the list of products in your country on the Beat the Microbead Website.

Useful link: http://beatthemicrobead.org/en/

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Slander, or when the end justifies the means

Sadly, these news are dedicated to a very unpleasant topic: ZERAP Germany e.V., the association running this website, was subject to repeat acts of libel during the past weeks. Numerous people received letters with unspeakable slander, however the alleged author in whose name the letters were sent was completely oblivious as to the whole matter. This means that two crimes were committed: libel or “defamation” as the lawyers say, and identity abuse, as an attempt was made to lay the blame for that crime on a third party. We consider this behaviour truly pathetic.

The context of the libel appears to be a conflict between our board and Gunter Pauli regarding the brand “Blue Economy”. In 2009, Mr. Haastert and Ms. Kuhlemann founded and established the Blue Economy together with Gunter Pauli. 2012 a dispute ensued when the trademark was supposed to be transferred to a foundation, establishing transparent rules regarding the rights to use the term “Blue Economy”. In the context of a mediation, Pauli agreed to this step in mid-2012, but shortly after wanted to know nothing more of it. Ever since, there has been a conflict – more details can be found in this magazine article (in German).

Over the past years, both Gunter Pauli as well as several of his contacts have used the occasion of this very concrete dispute to derive the right to disseminate slander, probably out of frustration since no solution seemed in sight. Each incident was brought before the courts and the plaintiffs won every case. Unfortunately, there appears to have been no insight that lies and insults cannot be a solution (apart from the fact that they are liable to prosecution). We expressly dissociate ourselves from such conduct; if that’s what Blue Economy stands for, then we don’t want anything to do with it!

In October, the decision was taken to stop the process of establishing a foundation for the protected trademark “Blue Economy” and to place the brand ‘open source’ with the sole condition that in turn, Gunter Pauli’s texts on the matter also become open source respectively copyleft. In doing so, we hope to deprive the conflict of its basis and bring the topic to a close. Since Pauli’s contacts appear not to have heard of this proposal, it is hereby made public.

Bild: Roger W unter creative commons Lizenz