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    Keurig machines might not produce the best coffee, but at least the process is quick, and you've got your range of options--for right now, anyway. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters announced during an earnings call last year that the next generation of Keurig machines, coming later this year, wouldn't work with third-party coffee pods. Instead, Green Mountain wants to assimilate other pod-producers into their own Keurig empire. 

    That, of course, doesn't give much leeway in negotiations for the third-party companies, and they aren't particularly thrilled about the idea. A maker of off-brand cups, Treehouse Foods, alleges in a lawsuit filed last month that Green Mountain's new machine would be an unlawful breach of fair competition. Even though Keurig sells 86 percent of coffee pods for their machines, their strategy of cornering the market keeps consumers away from other options, according to the suit. "Such lock-out technology cannot be justified based on any purported consumer benefit, and Green Mountain itself has admitted that the lock-out technology is not essential for the new brewers' function," the suit reads.

    Is this bad for consumers hoping to stretch their (kinda expensive) coffee pods as far as they'll go? Very well could be. Is it surprising Green Mountain would want to do this? Definitely not. Anyone who's used a printer and had to hunt for the correct cartridge--or, hell, even trying to find the relevant razor for your Gillette Mach 19 Pro Double-Edge Bladey Blade--understands the frustrations. It remains to be seen if courts will see this situation that way.






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    If a drone never had to land, it could track hurricanes, spot pirates and smugglers, follow animal migrations, and even act as an auxiliary GPS. In essence, it would be a geostationary satellite without the expense of going to space. Later this year, the company Titan Aerospace will test a drone that could do just that. The Solara 50, named for its 50-meter wingspan, will fly at 65,000 feet—above most other aircraft and above weather that could disturb its flight and block the sun, its source of power. Titan will market it as an “atmospheric satellite."

    The Solara 50
    Illustration courtesy Titan Aerospace

    Don't believe us? Watch the video below.

    This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.


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    You're looking at what might be the pacemaker of a decade from now: a custom-made membrane, developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis, that slides over a heart and keeps it regulated by a network of sensors and electrodes.

    This is a rabbit's heart, but the building process would be similar for people: a team computer-modeled the heart, 3-D printed a mold, and created a membrane tailored to the organ. The sensors make sure the heart stays beating at a proper rate, and the electrodes automatically correct any discrepancies, like an arrhythmia. 

    And, yes, unlike this one, a real one stays inside your chest.



    [St. Louis Public Radio via Sploid]


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    Apple will take its latest step toward the conquest of car dashboards at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show this week. The tech giant will unveil CarPlay, a new way to integrate an iPhone into the infotainment systems of certain new cars. The system was known in development as iOS in the Car, and demonstrates Apple's interest in the automotive market.

    CarPlay allows drivers to make calls, access messages, play music, and use Apple Maps hands free. This can be done either through the car's infotainment controls, or by pressing a voice command button and using Siri.

    The call and messaging functions operate basically the same as with the standalone Siri Eyes Free system already available on some models. Siri both reads text messages to the driver and responds to voice commands which--in theory--means he or she shouldn't have to look away from the road at all.

    Drivers can also prompt Siri to read directions generated by Apple Maps. CarPlay can also anticipate directions based on recent trips, and the driver's contacts and e-mail. Soon, your car will literally be able to anticipate your every move.

    CarPlay users can also stream music from their phones through the car's sound system, as well as access iTunes Radio and certain third-party apps, including iHeartRaido and Spotify. As with the rest of the system, drivers can either use their cars' controls or Siri voice commands.

    CarPlay will launch at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, and will be available initially on select models from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. It will later be globally offered on models from: BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar-Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Subaru, Suzuki, and Toyota.

    The system will be packaged as an iOS 7 software upgrade on Lightning-equipped phones (iPhone 5 or later).

    This article, written by Stephen Edelstein, was originally published on Motor Authority, a publishing partner of Popular Science. Follow Motor Authority on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

    More From Motor Authority

    Is Walmart’s WAVE Concept Truck The Fuel-Efficient Future Of Semis?

    2015 Porsche Macan S / Turbo First Drive

    2014 Geneva Motor Show Preview


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    Pow wow
    A pow wow at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
    National Geographic / YouTube

    Payu Harris, a Bitcoin developer and activist at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, made a promise last year to continue his tribe's struggle against the United States. 

    "My family fought and died on this soil,” Harris told Forbes, surveying the land of his tribe, the Oglala Lakota Nation. “Suddenly the story of Custer’s Last Stand wasn’t just words on a page but something deeply personal. I looked at how things were for the tribe now and suddenly had an idea about how we might fix it." 

    That fix is a Bitcoin clone called MazaCoin, which Harris hopes his people can use to sidestep the federal government, and lift themselves out of poverty. Although exactly how that might happen is unclear. Harris convinced chiefs to accept it as the official national currency; it's the first time native people have launched their own cryptocurrency. It started like this, as Forbes noted

    After signing a joint venture agreement with the Oglala Sioux Tribe Office of Economic Development early in 2014, Harris immediately began mining his new currency to produce 25 million MazaCoins ahead of its launch to serve as a “national reserve” for the Lakota Nation, which can then be used in times of crisis (like the collapse of Mt. Gox) to help stabilize the currency. A number of these coins were handed out to interested businesses and individuals within the community, to encourage them to get involved in trading and speculating.

    On Monday of this week, the genesis block of this new currency was hashed, so that all future transactions can be traced back to it, and 500 MazaCoins were produced and dedicated to the “Great Spirit and the prosperity and wealth of the Oglala Lakota Nation”. Now it is being traded on cryptocurrency exchanges around the world. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

    The FBI allegedly phoned the Lakota chief to inform him that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are still not legal, but Harris appears undeterred, and is launching an educational campaign as to how the alt-coin works, working along the same principles as Bitcoin. A few local businesses have agreed to start using the currency in addition to cash.


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    Milky Way

    The shape of our galaxy is nothing special. Among the other clusters of stars that can be easily observed from our corner of the universe, a few are blobby and egg-shaped, but more than two-thirds are so-called “disc galaxies,” or ones whose stars have settled into flat orbits, as if traveling along the surface of a giant vinyl record. Almost every disc galaxy looks at least a bit like ours, with stars that group together into spiral arms.

    What causes the spirals? “A galaxy is constantly bombarded by satellite galaxies,” says Chris Purcell of West Virginia University. When one galaxy passes by or through another, the resulting forces can send a shockwave throughout its structure, bunching stars together in spindly shapes that rotate around the center. “It’s essentially a vibration that travels gravitationally throughout the disc,” Purcell explains. As a galaxy ages, these perturbations tend to mount, and the disc goes from being thin, circular, and relatively homogeneous to thicker and more distorted. It’s a natural process, says Purcell: “These galaxies are not only trying to turn themselves into spirals, they are constantly getting banged into by things that are turning them into spirals.” 

    The Milky Way would seem to be somewhat early in the process, as evidenced by its slender figure. But things are changing: Several of the other, smaller galaxies are now (on a cosmological time-scale) bumping up against us. One of these is the Sagittarius Dwarf. “It turns out that it’s on the opposite side of the galaxy from us,” Purcell says, “and so it’s hitting the disc from underneath.” Purcell’s simulations suggest that these collisions could account for the spiral that we see today.

    But an even more extreme collision could be in the cards. “We’re on our first in-fall toward Andromeda,” Purcell warns, “and we’re approaching it directly.” What would happen then? “It’s going to destroy both discs and turn the entire system into an elliptical blob.” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: That crash is still more than a billion years off.

    This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.


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    How to make a xylem filter
    Boutilier et al / PLOS ONE
    One way to avoid getting sick while traveling is to only eat fruit that you peel yourself, since plants can filter out bacteria and prevent it from traveling throughout their tissues. Well, why not apply this principle to filtering water directly? 

    A team of scientists have done just that, testing how well pine wood filtered water with its xylem, the tube-like tissue that transports water from plant roots to leaves. The results, published last week in the journal PLOS ONE, were very promising. "Filtration using three different xylem filters showed nearly complete rejection of the bacteria," catching at least 99.9% of them, the authors wrote. 

    The xylem filters used in the study appeared to catch nearly all particles larger than 100 nanometers in diameter, meaning they would exclude protozoa (like Giardia) as well. Smaller viruses would be expected to pass through, but research suggests that other types of wood with smaller pores could possibly be used to filter out these pathogens as well; pine was used in this experiment since a larger percentage of its cross-section is made up of xylem, making it a more feasible choice for a prototype. 

    To make a filter, all you need to do is peel the bark off a pine twig and stick it into a tube, sealing holes between twig and tube with epoxy. Then the pressure must be optimized, which is a little bit trickier. But once that's worked out, each twig-filter processed 4 liters of water per day, enough for one person.

    The particles are filtered out in the wood's pits, the sieve-like holes between adjacent tube-like conduits of xylem. The pits' nanoscale pores "perform the critical function of preventing bubbles from crossing over from one conduit to another," allowing water to flow from the ground to the leaves in live plants, but also filtering out bacteria for us humans. Fresh wood appears to filter material much better than dead wood.

    "The simple construction of xylem filters, combined with their fabrication from an inexpensive, biodegradable, and disposable material suggests that further research and development of xylem filters could potentially lead to their widespread use and greatly reduce the incidence of waterborne infectious disease in the world," the authors concluded. 

    [PLOS ONE]


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  • 03/04/14--06:00: The Garbage Man
  • Mike Biddle, The Garbage Man
    Cody Pickens

    In December 2001, American environmental activist Jim Puckett traveled to the town of Guiyu in southeast China to look for old computers. He’d learned that electronic waste from the West was finding its way to Guiyu, and the place apparently wasn’t what it used to be. For centuries, residents of Guiyu’s four villages had scratched out a living farming rice along the Lianjiang River. When Puckett arrived, one of the first things he saw was a man riding a bicycle stacked 15-feet high with computer keyboards. Puckett followed him to a village and, like Alice tailing the white rabbit through Wonderland, he discovered an upside-down world almost cartoonish in its horrors. Towering piles of monitors, printers, and fax machines lined streets and occupied front yards. In a neighboring village, women cooked circuit boards curbside in woks, and children played atop ash heaps. There were piles of burning wires, clouds of noxious fumes, and fields of gooey sludge. Puckett met people blackened head-to-toe with printer toner.

    Villagers explained that Guiyu now specialized in recycling electronics, or e-waste, and that truckloads arrived around the clock from the port city of Nanhai five hours away. Thousands of ex-farmers were streaming in from the countryside to earn $1.50 a day. It was all mom-and-pop-level stuff, with each village and neighborhood concentrating on a particular kind of recycling. Some burned electrical wires in open pits to recover the copper. Others acid-stripped circuit boards in caustic baths near the river to salvage bits of gold. No one wore protective clothing. In a village dedicated to plastics recycling, Puckett found young women sitting on a concrete floor, bashing computer housing to pieces with hatchets. Primitive grinders reduced those bits to lentil-size fragments, which children then sifted through and sorted by color. Those were fed into extruding machines that slowly melted the plastic. After watching for five minutes, Puckett felt sick. “There was zero ventilation in that room,” he says. “Those women were breathing hydrocarbons all day long. Plastics have nasty things in them like brominated flame retardants, and when you burn them, you get a whole cocktail of cancer-causing stuff.” 

    Puckett estimated that just more than half of the material processed in Guiyu actually got recycled, judging from the tons of plastic, leaded glass, and burned circuit boards discarded near waterways and in open fields. He took water samples and found evidence of heavy metals 190 times higher than the World Health Organization’s guidelines for safe drinking water. In the soil, the level of chromium was 1,338 times higher than the EPA’s environmental risk standard.

    Puckett works for Basel Action Network (BAN), a group that monitors the export of hazardous waste. In 2002, BAN produced a film about his trip called Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia. It provided the first substantial documentation of American e-waste dumping in the developing world. Shortly after its release, a man named Mike Biddle sat down to watch it. Biddle had been suspicious about the fate of American e-waste for some time. A chemical engineer, he had spent years making plastics for all kinds of products, but in 1992, he reversed course and started focusing on how to unmake them. In the world of recycling, “mixed plastics” (everything beyond water bottles, milk jugs, and plastic bags) were considered a dead end. While a small percentage of mixed plastics were “down-cycled” from high-end products like computers to low-end goods like flowerpots and drainage tiles, most ended up in landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. 

    But by the time he saw Puckett’s film, Biddle had quietly achieved what most thought impossible: He had discovered how to separate certain mixed plastics completely. This was no mere down-cycling. Biddle could take the plastic from, say, a laptop, reduce it to its purest form, and sell it back to a computer company to make another laptop. What’s more, at his facility in Richmond, California, Biddle could produce recycled plastic with as little as 10 percent of the energy required to make virgin. In a world where people use 240,000 plastic bags every 10 seconds, where passengers on U.S. airlines consume one million plastic cups every six hours, where consumers in total discard more than 100 million tons of plastic annually, closing the loop on production and recycling could reduce global dependence on oil, the source material for virgin plastic. It could conceivably influence not only the price of oil, but global flows of trade as well. And it could dramatically reduce the wholesale smothering of communities across Asia and Africa with hazardous e-waste. If Biddle could convince people to give him waste rather than dump it around the globe, he could conceivably change the world. 

    Biddle could take the plastic from, say, a laptop, reduce it to its purest form, and sell it back to a company to make another laptop.

    You want to see a car get shredded in 20 seconds?” Biddle asks me as we gear up in hard hats and steel-toed boots and prepare to troop out into a scrapyard in an industrial suburb of London. I do, absolutely. But the February morning is cold and damp and very English, and when I’d first contacted Biddle, I’d anticipated something a bit balmier, maybe a Plastics 101 lesson at his Richmond plant in the Bay Area. That’s when I learned that Biddle’s firm, MBA Polymers, doesn’t recycle plastic in the U.S. anymore. The company’s inability to secure a steady stream of source material had forced Biddle to turn the Richmond plant into a research facility and open three commercial plants abroad, including one in England. It’s not that Europe consumes more plastic than the U.S. In 2011, Europe and the U.S. each disposed of roughly 30 million tons of plastic, but Europe recycled more than 25 percent of that, while the U.S. recycled less than 10 percent. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. remains the only country without federal laws that mandate the domestic recycling of electronics and cars. As a result, much of that plastic flows offshore to the developing world.

    Europe and parts of Asia, on the other hand, offer all kinds of opportunities for someone like Biddle. Directives from the European Union require manufacturers to meet specific recycling goals, and Biddle has formed partnerships with various companies to guarantee him a steady supply of plastic. In England, he gets most of his material from the country’s largest metals recycler, a company called European Metal Recyclers (EMR), which explains why we’re standing before a mountain of scrap at one of EMR’s London facilities. Biddle’s plant is actually 150 miles north, but the first step in his recycling process happens here, with a bone-shaking piece of equipment: the Metso Lindemann EtaShred Zerdirator. 

    Out in the yard, we watch as three yellow cranes snatch and fling old BMWs and Audis onto a conveyor belt that rises three stories toward the eight-foot-wide maw of the shredder. Steam billows from the opening. There’s a tremendous roar, and two corrugated rollers grab the cars, pancake them, and suck them into a 5,000-horsepower hammer mill, where 16 free-swinging, 400-pound steel hammers spin 500 rpms around a rotor, unleashing hell. “It beats them to smithereens, basically,” says Graeme Carus, the EMR representative showing us around. The Zerdirator can shred cars, appliances, and pretty much anything else. It can process 220 tons of material per hour. It takes no prisoners. 

    Giving the beast a wide berth, we approach three distinct piles, each growing taller as the conveyor drops pieces onto them. The first pile consists of fist-size chunks of steel, uniformly gray, all smoking-hot from the recent violence. The second contains a mix of nonferrous metals such as aluminum and copper. The third pile, known as “shredder residue,” includes everything else—plastic, foam, rubber, glass, leather, carpet, even wood and rock (people haul everything in their cars). Carus explains that within the hammer mill, car parts ricochet and collide until they are reduced to small chunks, which drop through a sorting screen onto a conveyor belt. The lighter items are vacuumed off while the heavy stuff moves past magnetic separators that pull out the steel. And then all three material streams land in these three piles. Carus nods toward the mound of shredder residue. “We used to landfill that,” he says. “Now we send it to Mike.” 

    Standing next to the smoldering shredder residue, with the Zerdirator howling in the background, Biddle seems out of place. An outdoorsman, he’s small and fit and looks a decade younger than his 58 years. For his honeymoon 15 years ago, he and his wife climbed 18,000-foot Kala Patthar in Nepal, affording them a spectacular view of Mt. Everest from base camp to summit. He takes extended backpacking trips in the Sierras with his family, and he tells his two kids: Get by on what you’ve got. Use and reuse. Take personal responsibility. He views plastics similarly. They are a resource that can be used over and over, theoretically forever. To not hold that view would be to condone the trashing of something he loves: nature. Now, as we gaze at the heap of shredder residue, he says, “Most people would look at this pile and see garbage. I see an above-ground mine.” 

    The Process
    1) GET IT: Biddle receives his plastic primarily from contracted recycling plants. 2) GRIND IT: The source material is shredded, cleaned, and ground into bits the size of confetti. 3) PROCESS IT: Biddle divides his materials by type of plastic and by color before reselling them as pellets for use in finished goods.
    Cody Pickens

    Three hours north of London, in the former boom-bust coal-mining town of Worksop, MBA’s 200,000-square-foot recycling facility rises like a giant blue barn. The building itself was recycled from a rundown glass-bottle factory. Biddle and I arrive and stop briefly in the lobby, where he shows me some sleek black desk lamps. He then ushers me to the plant’s cavernous intake bay to show me what those lamps looked like in a previous life. There’s a mountain of shredder residue from EMR piled in the corner. Biddle looks it over. As in mining, the major challenge in plastics recycling is separating the target material from the many nontarget ones. Biddle’s targets are the five major plastics used in manufacturing durable goods: ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), HIPS (high-impact polystyrene), HDPE (high-density polyethylene), PP (polypropylene), and Filled PP. Biddle points out the wood, the foam, the copper wire. “Sometimes we get dead animals,” he says. “We get everything.” He plucks out a black fragment that looks like plastic. “This is rubber tubing,” he says. “I can’t have this in my plastic. If I want to put plastic in those desk lamps, I have to get things like this 99 percent out, or it will show up as a defect.” He drops the rubber and shows me his now-filthy hands. “I also can’t have any dirt.”

    Once the nonplastics have been eliminated, the five target materials must be sorted from the other types of plastic. Unlike metals, which are easily separated from one another based on different densities, colors, and electrical and magnetic properties, plastics have overlapping densities and nearly identical electrical and magnetic properties. And any type of plastic can come in any color. In addition to type, the plastics must be separated by property. Some plastics are flame-retardant, others aren’t. Some are reinforced, others aren’t. All of this is further complicated by the many coatings and dyes manufacturers apply to plastics. “It’s hard to do,” Biddle says. “That’s why no one else is doing it. No one is processing this to the extent we are.” 

    We walk out of the intake bay and up two flights of stairs to a catwalk, from which we peer down on a maze of conveyor belts and humming machines. “I like to call this a Willy Wonka factory, because we’re using processes from so many other industries,” says Biddle, who has poached separation techniques from mining, metal recycling, and food processing, among others. “We’ve also invented a number of processes ourselves.” He explains that the source material in the intake bay will be fed into shredders and reduced to the size of quarters. The material will be scrubbed clean—without chemicals—and granulators will break it down further to something approximating confetti. After several dozen separation procedures isolate the five target plastics, each will go into a specific stainless steel silo for blending before being melted and extruded into spaghetti-like strands. Those are sliced into mustard seed–size pellets, the product MBA sells to its customers. 

    That’s all Biddle will tell me. He won’t explain how the separation processes work. He won’t say what order they come in or even how many there are. Only a handful of MBA employees know the entire process, he insists, and the most sensitive plastic-to-plastic separations occur in a secret “advanced separations area.”

    Biddle’s reluctance to get specific isn’t surprising. MBA is one of the only companies in the world doing more than down-cycling mixed plastics. With down-cycling, the recycled plastic doesn’t have to be as pure. “It’s better than nothing,” Biddle says, “but it’s not closing the loop.” He still sells some of his residue to down-cyclers, but as more manufacturers have embraced his near-virgin product, his plastics are appearing in more high-end applications, like Nespresso coffee machines and Electrolux vacuum cleaners. He’s also selling plastic to the world’s largest electronics companies. Along the way, Biddle’s company has acquired more than 60 patents, and more are pending. “My investors would kill me if I told you,” he says. “I’ve invested $150 million and spent 20 years figuring this out.” 

    When Biddle was a teenager growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, he had to lend money to his parents to pay the bills. As they struggled at different jobs, Biddle worked from an early age, delivering newspapers, collecting aluminum cans, bussing tables. Still, the family lost its house, and the experience seared him. Driven by a desire for financial stability, he excelled academically and was voted most likely to succeed in high school. When someone suggested he parlay his interest in math and science into engineering, he researched it and learned that chemical engineers earn the highest salaries. The University of Louisville charged only $265 a semester and had a good engineering program, so he decided to go there. After graduation, he landed in General Electric’s plastics lab. 

    “Most people would look at this pile and see garbage. I see an above-ground mine.”

    “Everyone mentions that line from The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman receives one word of advice: ‘Plastics,’ ” Biddle says. “But that’s where the country was back then. Everyone considered it the cool, space-age material. I caught the plastics bug.” Biddle later got a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering at Case Western Reserve University. He then moved to the Bay Area to work for Dow Chemical on plastic composites, including ones for the new stealth bomber. 

    In the late 1980s, a couple of high-profile news events began shifting Biddle’s thinking on plastics. One involved a barge named Mobro 4000, which spent five months traveling between New York and Belize looking for a place to dispose of 3,168 tons of garbage. No one would take it, and after multiple investigations, a pitched legal battle, a temporary restraining order, and a standoff with the Mexican Navy, the garbage was finally incinerated back in New York. The other event involved Berkeley, California, which became the first community in the country to ban Styrofoam containers. 

    Dow made the polystyrene foam that went into those containers, and that bothered Biddle. More generally, he knew that the plastics he was making would ultimately be discarded in what had increasingly become a culture of disposability. He wanted Dow to begin exploring how to deal with end-of-life plastics. In 1988, he discussed this with the company’s research and development director, Vern May. “We didn’t hire a Ph.D. in plastics to work in garbage,” May told him. But after some convincing, he yielded and allowed Biddle to do the research.

    After a few years, Biddle struck out on his own. He knew plastics held great value, but that value would remain inaccessible unless he learned how to isolate them completely and in large volumes. In 1992, the American Plastics Council funded him to research the recycling of computer plastics. He was soon winning grants and loans from the State of California, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Energy and Commerce. Between 1993 and 1999 he was awarded $7 million, which he used to begin researching a variety of critical questions. Was it more efficient to separate bulky computer components from one another, or was it better to shred everything first? Which existing separation technologies could he employ?  

    During this period, Biddle befriended an Englishman named Ray Mann, Europe’s leading electronics recycler at the time. Mann’s methods were inefficient, but he’d succeeded in selling some recycled plastics back to IBM. “We could look at a molded section and know it was one kind of plastic,” he says. “But this was a long, laborious process, and we couldn’t handle real volume.” In contrast, Biddle learned that if you shredded everything before separation, you could deal with volume through automation. “I said, ‘You’re joking,’ ” Mann recalls. “Smash it to bits and start from scratch? Mike’s treating the material abominably, but it’s the only way to handle mass amounts.”

    One Man's Garbage Is Another's Gold
    Biddle’s source material is plastic but when it arrives at the plant, it can have rocks or even dead animals mixed in.
    Cody Pickens

    Slowly, Biddle learned how to sort stuff. His team would solve one level of separations and then move on to the next, producing a string of satisfying aha moments. By the late 1990s, they were confident enough in their lab work to scale up. They found investors and built a small pilot plant in Berkeley, then a larger one in Richmond. By 2000, the Richmond plant had become a full-blown production facility and was running three shifts. But Biddle struggled with securing enough raw material, and he realized he finally faced a challenge he couldn’t solve. With no federal laws requiring the recycling of end-of-life vehicles or electronics, or a law banning the offshore dumping of e-waste, Biddle’s source material was moving overseas. 

    Biddle initially looked to Japan for answers. Even before the European Union passed its directives in the early 2000s that required manufacturers to take back end-of-life electronics and vehicles and recycle them responsibly, Japan had laws mandating the large-scale collection and recycling of appliances. But Biddle ran into financing and logistical problems trying to open a plant there, so he began exploring China. The country didn’t have the recycling laws Japan did—or that Europe was developing—but it did have companies interested in Biddle’s vision. He built a plant in Guangzhou in 2006 after contracting for a steady stream of e-waste. That same year, taking advantage of Europe’s new legislation, he built a plant in Austria that primarily recycles plastic from e-waste. In 2010, he built the plant in England, which targets mostly automotive plastics. 

    Today, MBA processes a million pounds of material a day, more than 125,000 tons a year. “Mike has taken things to a different level,” says Wayne Rifer, director of research for EPEAT, a global registry for greener electronics where Biddle sits on the board. “He’s providing a worldwide market for plastics to be recycled into high-grade plastic, not just low-grade. He has built the beginning of a capability to have closed-loop plastics recycling.” 

    Still, considering the frantic rate at which humanity consumes plastic, Biddle’s recycling amounts to a blip. The majority of e-waste and plastics continue to be processed improperly in the developing world. That constitutes a very real threat to Biddle and what he’s trying to accomplish. “Every day, about 100 containers of toxic e-waste arrive in Hong Kong alone,” says Jim Puckett, the activist with BAN. “Mike’s problem is that these other countries get all the plastic. They can do it cheaper. Mike’s doing it properly and internalizing all the costs. He can’t compete.” 

    “We get so concerned with how our products are made, but we don’t seem to care how we are unmaking our stuff.”

    Biddle’s education on the dumping of e-waste in the developing world began in 2000, before Puckett had even traveled to Guiyu and made his film. Curious about why he couldn’t get source material for his plant in Richmond, Biddle traveled to China himself. There he saw bits and pieces of what Puckett would later document, but these few disturbing scenes didn’t strike him as an overwhelming problem. “I didn’t understand the scale of it at the time,” he says. “It took a while to sink in that this would impact the growing of my business.” 

    But the vagaries of sourcing material continued to haunt Biddle even after he opened plants in Europe and China. For example, despite Europe’s firm recycling laws, lax enforcement allows traders and brokers to continue dumping e-waste in the developing world. To learn more, Biddle began traveling to places like Mumbai and Mexico City. There he spent time in some of the world’s biggest dumps, where hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest people deal crudely with the rest of the world’s waste—sometimes recycling it, sometimes down-cycling it, typically handling it in unsafe ways. He coined the use of the term “environmental arbitrage” to describe this shifting of waste from rich nations to poor ones, and he began speaking out about it.

    Biddle has presented on the topic and the need to recycle responsibly at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in New Delhi, and has testified before Congress on behalf of the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, a bill that would ban the dumping of e-waste abroad. He was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum and is in talks with the Clinton Global Initiative on how to help people living and scavenging in landfills. In 2011, he gave a TED talk in Edinburgh, Scotland, which subsequently received nearly a million views. 

    All of this has upped both his profile and the topic of environmental arbitrage. In 2007, Biddle was named an Earthkeeper Hero, a tribute previously given to Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, and Rachel Carson. In 2010, The Economist honored him with one of its awards for energy and the environment (along with Steve Jobs and Harald zur Housen, a Nobel-winning cancer researcher). In 2012, Biddle received the Gothenburg Award for Sustainable Development—a prize previously won by Al Gore and Kofi Annan. 

    It’s hard to say whether the high-profile awards and appearances have changed hearts and minds on plastics, especially in the U.S. Biddle admits it’s been a frustrating slog. In 2011 and again in 2013, Congress failed to bring the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act to the floor for a vote, despite bipartisan support. But victories do come. Last April, the EPA interpreted an obscure rule to explicitly allow, for the first time, the recycling of plastic from auto-shredder residue in the U.S., something Biddle has been doing in England since 2011. Meanwhile, ever since MBA began its operations in Worksop, the collection of plastics by community recycling programs has increased in the U.K., and Biddle is making inroads in convincing these aggregators to send him their plastic. He points to other signs that suggest a groundswell of popular support for dealing with environmental arbitrage. His TED talk has garnered hundreds of comments. “Almost all the comments are from people asking how to help,” he says. “I find that level of enthusiasm really hopeful.”

    Biddle continues pushing, and during my three days with him in England, we hurry from one speaking engagement to the next. He’s giving a presentation at Westminster before members from both houses of Parliament. He has a talk as part of a distinguished lecture series at Cambridge University. He’s attending a dinner hosted by the Climate Change Forum—with guest ministers of trade and environment from several countries—and he’s having lunch with Britain’s head of green economy in the department for economic growth. He’s also meeting with Polly Courtice, director of the Programme for Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge, who’s trying to arrange an appointment with the program’s sponsor, Prince Charles.

    Biddle begins his Westminster presentation with a photo of his young son playing with toys and asks the MPs and Lords to recall the rules that toddlers live by. “It’s my stuff if I saw it first,” he says. “The entire pile is my stuff if I’m building something. The more stuff that’s mine, the better. And, of course, it’s your stuff—if it’s broken.” The room chuckles, and Biddle continues: “After spending 20 years in the recycling industry, it’s become clear to me that we don’t necessarily leave these toddler rules behind as we become adults.” He explains where our broken stuff ends up, showing a photo of the biggest slum in Mumbai and the men there who taught him the “burn-and-sniff” method of sorting plastics. They set fire to a fragment, inhale the toxic fumes, and toss it into the appropriate bin based on odor. Another photo depicts a dead albatross on Midway Island in the Pacific, its open stomach revealing hundreds of brightly colored plastic bits. “We get so concerned with how our products are made, in terms of sweatshop conditions, but we don’t seem to care how we are unmaking our stuff,” Biddle says. “What I’m showing you in these photos—it’s not safe, it’s not fair, and it’s certainly not sustainable.” 

    Biddle apologizes for the U.S. being the only industrialized nation without decent recycling laws, and then he notes to the parliamentarians that Britain’s laws often go unenforced. E-waste gets sold and resold through domestic and foreign brokers, and there’s little downstream auditing to determine where it ends up. He concludes the presentation with two requests, the first for beefed-up law enforcement, the second for a tax break on the sale of recycled plastics, to encourage more recycling. 

    Afterward, the chatter in the room is positive, with people saying all the right things. “The wider public wants more green solutions,” says Russell Brown, an MP from Scotland. “We have to have a more level playing field for people like Mike.” Biddle leaves the event hopeful but cautious. He’s heard all of this before. These are politicians, after all. 

    Several weeks later we chat on the phone, and Biddle talks about a development that makes him more optimistic than the promises of British politicians. In February 2013, China announced a new policy crackdown called Operation Green Fence. The upshot is that shipments of recyclables into the country must truly be recyclables, not contaminants or waste. The policy has apparently cramped the style of American scrap brokers, and Biddle’s phone has been ringing off the hook. “They think in a year or so China will change its tune and return to business as usual, but in the meantime, they’re looking to me for a short-term fix,” he says. “But I’m pushing these guys for long-term sourcing agreements. I don’t think China will go back to business as usual. China wants resources, not waste.” Biddle pauses and then laughs at himself. “Here I’ve been talking to everyone for years—Europe, Congress, everyone—and it hasn’t made much difference. It took China and the Green Fence to make a difference. It’s fantastic. I hope it stays in place.” 

    Want to find out where plastic ends up? Check out our infographic Where Plastic Goes.

    How Mike Biddle Makes New Plastic from Trash

    The details of MBA Polymers’s closed-loop recycling process are secret, but the broad strokes are pretty widely known. The goal is to separate undifferentiated garbage into five high-grade plastics that can be sold back to manufacturers. After shredding the raw materials, Biddle employs dozens of separation techniques, in a particular order. Here are some of the techniques he might use.

    Remove Ferrous Metals

    Overhead Magnet Belt – This device consists of a strong magnet with a conveyor belt moving around it. Suspended above and perpendicular to the conveyor belt that carries mixed materials, it plucks ferrous metals from the stream and drops them in a separate chute.

    Remove Nonferrous Metals

    Eddy Current Separator  – An electromagnet inside a rotating drum creates a force field at the end of a conveyor belt. Nonferrous items, like aluminum and copper, leap off the belt and into a chute, repelled by the magnetic field. Everything else falls into a different chute.

    Sort Material By Weight

    Gravity Table – Mixed material moves onto an inclined grading deck. A fan blows pressurized air across the deck surface and lifts the lighter items, while heavier items stay put. The vibrating deck sends heavier pieces to one side of the incline and lighter pieces to the other.

    Sort Plastics By Chemistry

    Froth Flotation – A polymer-specific surfactant is added to a mix of plastic fragments, and the slurry is placed in an aerated bath. Air bubbles attach to the target plastic and float it away from the other materials.

    Sort Plastics By Color

    Color Particle Sorter – Plastic bits pour past a photoelectric detector, which identifies those of a particular color, say, blue. The detector signals an air gun, which blasts any non-blue particles with air, knocking them out of the waste stream.

    This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.


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    Concept Art Of The Airlander
    Hybrid Air Vehicles

    Unveiled last Friday, the Airlander is the world's longest aircraft. Developed by Hybrid Air Vehicles, the 302-foot-long Airlander was once a candidate military craft called "Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle," until Pentagon budget cuts forced the U.S. Army to abandon the program.

    The Airlander resembles both a blimp and a Zeppelin, but it's not quite either. Blimps have no rigid internal structure, while Zeppelins (technically, "rigid airships") have a stiff internal structure that holds the shape of the aircraft. The Airlander is, as the company name implies, a hybrid airship that gets lift from bags of helium. It has a rigid structure that offers more control than comes with blimps. To house the massive aircraft, Hybrid Air Vehicles is using a century-old airship hangar in Bedfordshire, England.

    The U.S. military considered the Airlander for surveillance and cargo transport. Global Hawks and Grey Eagles, America's go-to surveillance aircraft, can each fly for about 30 hours. Fully stocked, the Airlander could stay in the sky for five days with a human crew. In wars where small armed groups move over vast rural areas, such as in the recent conflict in Afghanistan, a long-range surveillance tool is very valuable. While America's military involvement in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, Hybrid Air Vehicles is billing the Airlander as a tool for humanitarian relief, communications relay, border patrol, search and rescue, and drug enforcement. In addition to surveillance, the Airlander can be set up to carry 55 tons of cargo.


    The Airlander From Behind
    This is the backside of the Airlander vehicle.
    Hybrid Air Vehicles


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    Tiny tweezer
    The nano-tweezer is made by focusing a beam of laser light through a metal-coated optical fiber.
    Berthelot et al / Nature Nanotechnology

    Scientists have created the tiniest "tweezers" known to date, which can move around objects the size of single molecules with a "bow tie" of light. 

    "To my knowledge these are the smallest tweezers ever built," physicist Mathieu Juan, from Sydney's Macquarie University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "They will allow people to manipulate, scan and move around very small objects such as viruses."

    In a study describing the technology, published in Nature Nanotechnology, the scientists were able to move a plastic sphere--that was only 50 nanometers wide, roughly 1,000 times thinner than a human hair--over significant distances. It works like this, according to ABC: 

    The researchers focused a beam of laser light through a metal-coated optical fibre. At the tip of the fibre they created an opening shaped like a bowtie, made of two overlapping triangles.

    It's the shape of this opening that allows the beam of light to be controlled with such "exquisite precision," says Juan.

    The device is based on a mechanism known as "self-induced back action", he explains. In essence, this means that optical tweezers are designed to shape themselves to the presence of the object they are picking up.

    The technology could be used to assemble tiny structures or physically manipulate molecules like DNA, the researchers said. Unlike previous technologies, it doesn't increase the temperature of tiny molecules, which are vary sensitive to heat and pressure. 


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    Losing Time
    Wikimedia Commons, Purpleblue

    Chris Stimac was a typical high school freshman: athletic, friendly, into science. He loved football and hoped to play it in college. But in the winter of 2003, he got a flu-like illness, which left him somehow changed. Stimac descended into a dark, foul mood, and he couldn’t shake exhaustion. When he wasn’t sleeping, he’d sit in his room in a confused daze, emerging only to use the bathroom or eat insatiably. He could devour entire pizzas at once. And if he didn’t get exactly what he wanted, he would scream obscenities uncontrollably. 

    Chris Stimac
    Courtesy Chris Stimac
    The episode lasted only a couple of weeks but the symptoms returned about a year later. After that, the spells recurred several times a year. Between episodes, Stimac labored through catch-up work and avoided dating. Doctors ran several sleep studies but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, one suggested he go to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which diagnosed him with a classic case of a very rare sleep disorder: Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS).

    KLS is more common in males and typically strikes in the mid-teens. Researchers are aware of only about 700 cases worldwide. There are two main hypotheses for what causes it, says Emmanuel Mignot, a sleep expert at Stanford University. KLS may be an autoimmune or infectious disease, because it often follows an infection and because it waxes and wanes like a viral illness. Or it may be a metabolic disorder, which would explain the excessive sleep and hunger. Mignot leads a team that is studying about 500 KLS patients to identify genes associated with the disorder. Those genes could help point to a cause and hopefully a treatment. The work could also provide some insight into how the brain controls basic behaviors like sleep, appetite, and sex (because hypersexuality can also be a symptom).

    When Stimac reached college, KLS made him miss too much coursework and so he had to drop out his freshman year. “It was wearing me down, stressing me out,” he says. KLS usually fades in a person’s thirties, so although Stimac experienced three episodes last year, he’s cautiously optimistic they’ll soon disappear. Until then, he’s making the most of his time: At 24, he now has a steady job, a new house, and a fiancée. 

    Click here to read more about the science of sleep.

    This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.


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    Solar Cell
    Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

    Solar panels usually get placed somewhere in the sun, but out of sight. Rooftops, deserts, mausoleums. But what if they were so beautiful we wanted to put them everywhere? 

    That could happen! Maybe. We've at least got the groundwork laid out, thanks to a University of Michigan research team that's making solar panels like stained-glass windows: translucent, colored panels filled with solar cells. The red and blue color you see on the American flag was formed by solar cells working at 2 percent efficiency--not the best, but if it's something you wouldn't mind sticking in your window, there's an aesthetic advantage: you can place them in more places, even if the efficiency is lower. (Standard black cells retain all the light; these let some of it pass through to show the color.) The colors, instead of being added with dyes, are formed by a layer of silicon in the cells. The size of the layer changes how the light is transmitted, altering the colors. The researchers say other cells will change colors depending on the angle they're viewed at, but these stay consistent, so can realistically be used for decoration.

    You can see the idea in the video here. The researchers' work appears in a paper in Nature




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    The days of idling wishing for a wearable robot are gone. Researchers at the Perceptual Robotics Laboratory in San Giuliano Terme, Italy, have created a "robo-suit" that is capable of lifting 50 kilograms (110 pounds) with each of its arms. 

    The robot also moves to mimick the user's actions, such as walking, moving the arms, and picking up things with its hands, er, grippers. 

    The machine could be tweaked to work in factories or to clear debris and rescue survivors in earthquake zones, the BBC noted. It is one of many robotic exoskeletons being designed around the world. 

    [BBC News]


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    J. Craig Venter, the scientist and entrepreneur involved in the first sequencing of the human genome and the first synthetic cell, today announced a typically ambitious project: tack another few decades onto everyone's lives through the largest human genome-sequencing project ever conceived. (Y'know, relatively typical.)

    Venter is launching a new company, Human Longevity, through $70 million of venture funding, with the goal of sequencing 40,000 human genomes yearly. Eventually, a bank of biodata will be amassed that could provide insight into age-related illnesses--and maybe even the process of aging itself. The company wants to use new, $10-million machines to drive the cost of a sequence down to about $1,000, and everyone--healthy, sick, young, old--will have their genomes added to the bank.

    Next question: How do you make money from that? That's less clear. The company wants to profit from their findings when they're made available, but how long it'll take to make those findings, or if they're even there to find, can't be foreseen. But hopes are high: Vice Chairman Peter H. Diamandis (who has an impressive resume too) told the Times the company aims to make “100 years old the next 60.”

    Here's the crazy kicker about this, and the Age We Live In: Google already launched a biotech company, Calico, to do this. Human Longevity might actually have to catch up. 


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    Hyundai Tuscon Fuel Cell
    Courtesy Hyundai

    When it comes to alternate energy sources, most automakers think simply—battery power or bust. That’s what makes the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell an outlier. The SUV will be the first mass-produced hydrogen car in the U.S. when it debuts this spring.

    Because hydrogen fuel infrastructure is more or less non-existent, Hyundai’s rollout will be small. The car will be available at select dealers in Southern California, all within range of the company’s sources of hydrogen, which include a nearby waste water treatment plant. Local drivers will be able to “gas” up for free at any of seven distribution stations. A fill-up takes less than 10 minutes and lasts for up to 300 miles. The company claims that the Tucson charges more quickly and has a longer range than traditional EVs. It’s also clean: The only exhaust is water vapor.

    Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

    Range: 300 miles
    Top speed: 100 mph
    Lease terms: $500/month; $3000 down

    This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.


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    Tips And Tricks To Better Sleep
    Travis Rathbone
    Ready to sleep like a baby and start feeling well-rested? We've got you covered.
    For the most important things anyone can do for improved shuteye, we contacted Bernie Miller, supervisor at the Sleep Disorders Center at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. But because knowing what to do is totally different from actually doing it, we also hit up Tessa Miller at the how-to site Lifehacker to suggest some cheats for changing our ingrained bad behaviors.

    Tip #1: Make your bedroom a tomb.
    It should be dark, quiet, and cool. Especially avoid computer screens—their blue-spectrum light limits the production of melatonin.
    Hack #1: Download f.lux.
    The program makes digital screens less blue at night. Also, block outside light by sewing or stapling thick blackout fabric to the back of curtains. 

    Tip #2: Watch the clock.
    Keep a regular bedtime and wake time and don’t press snooze all morning. A regular schedule (even on weekends) reinforces your natural circadian rhythms.
    Hack #2: Use the BetterMe iPhone app. 
    It posts to Facebook every time you hit snooze on your phone’s alarm clock. The public shame should get you out of bed earlier. 

    Tip #3: Exercise early.
    Work out at least four to six hours before bed so that your elevated body temperature doesn’t keep you awake. 
    Hack #3: Build a walking desk. 
    Elevate your work surface and add a treadmill. With the machine’s speed set to 1 mph, you can steadily work out during office hours.

    Tip #4: Curb naps.
    If you must nap, limit it to 30 minutes between noon and 4 p.m. so it won’t interfere with your regular sleep cycle. 
    Hack #4: Nap strategically.
    Use psychologist Sara Mednick’s online nap wheel to find the best time. (It’s when REM and deep sleep are well proportioned, maximizing the benefits of both.)

    Tip #5: Watch the caffeine.
    No coffee, tea, or other caffeinated pick-me-ups after noon. Caffeine has a half-life of around five hours and may stay in your system for up to 14.
    Hack #5: Bask in blue light. 
    Replace coffee breaks with exposure to a blue-hued lamp or screen. Researchers have found it boosts focus and accuracy better than caffeine.

    Tip #6: Turn off the TV.
    Don’t fall asleep in front of a glowing television—its artificial light can throw off your body’s clock.
    Hack #6: Turn on an e-reader. 
    Wind down with a non-light-emitting e-reader such as the Kindle (or a real book). If you watch TV, set the sleep timer so that it turns off well before bedtime. 

    Click here to read more about the science of sleep.

    A similar version of this article appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.


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    Tan bristlemouth
    A tan bristlemouth. Fish in this deep-sea genus are likely the most abundant vertebrates on Earth.
    Unknown (US public domain)
    There are plenty of fish in the sea, as the saying goes. But how many? New research suggests that our previous estimates of fish abundance were off by a factor of at least 10. According to a study published in February in the journal Nature Communications, the total mass of fish in the ocean is about 10 times greater than thought.

    The study strictly concerned fish that live 200 to 1,000 meters (656 to 3,280 feet) below the surface. These "mesopelagic" fish make up the vast majority of fish in the sea--95 percent of all fish biomass, by some estimates

    This study doesn't have much relevance for the issue of over-fishing, which is an enormous and still growing problem, since the species targeted most by fishermen like bluefin tuna live near the surface. By and large, it doesn't make economic sense to go after these mesopelagic fish (at least yet), though there are some exceptions

    The study was quite an undertaking, entailing a journey of some 32,000 nautical miles through the world's oceans, between the 40th parallel north and south. Fish abundance in the twilight zone (another name for the dark region inhabited by these animals) was estimated by an echo sounder, which bounced waves off fish bodies. 

    Prior to now, there have been discrepancies in models of nutrient transfer between the shallow and deep ocean, discrepancies which the authors suggest can be explained by the sheer abundance of fish, which feed closer to the surface at night and then return to the deep at night, where they poop. One should not underestimate the importance of fish excrement. 

    A final fun fact from the study: bioluminescent bristlemouths (in the genus Cyclothone) are "likely the most abundant vertebrate on earth." You read that right: the Earth's most common backbone-blessed animal is (probably) a light-producing fish that lives most of its life in the darkness of the deep sea. Amazing! 


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    Flavor isn't as straightforward as the tongue and nose suggest.
    Jonathon Kambouris

    The tongue recognizes five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami—a savory aspect associated with meat and mushrooms. But the taste you actually experience isn’t that simple. In recent years, a growing number of studies have shown that taste can be influenced by a host of surprising factors.

    1. Language

    People praise food with a descriptive name more than the same food with a lackluster name. For example: "Succulent Italian Seafood Filet" versus "Seafood Filet."

    2. Utensils 

    Spoons made from copper or zinc enhance a food’s apparent saltiness. Researchers suggest further study into how this could help people eat less salt.

    3. Temperature

    Warm beer tastes more bitter, cold ham tastes saltier, and bacon beer? Tastes horrible*.

    4. Color

    Forty-eight percent of participants thought soda in a blue glass was more thirst-quenching than in other colors, likely because they associated blue with cold.

    5. Environment 

    People were asked to describe the qualities of the same Scotch whisky in three rooms themed as grassy, sweet, or woody. (For example, the first room smelled of grass and played recordings of bleating sheep.) They largely responded with “grassy,” “sweet,” or “woody,” respectively.

    6. Expectations 

    After sampling, French sommeliers liked wine poured from a high-priced bottle over the same wine poured from a cheap one.

    7. Memory

    Recalling a positive memory about eating vegetables will make a present experience with them more enjoyable (and you’ll take a bigger portion too).

    *According to senior editor Martha Harbison

    This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science. 


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    Google Glass might not have done much to move fashion forward, but it has inspired a bevy of copycats—many of which will be on the market before Glass. Some of them are subtle, some futuristic, and some seem plucked straight from 1950s B-movies. The common thread: All of them will transform how we interact with our surroundings. How we’ll look wearing them is another story entirely.

    The Awkward Scale: Smart glasses come with sacrifices, such as looking awkward. So we ranked the current models on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being the least awkward. As a baseline, Glass rates a 3.

    Lumus DK-40
    Jonathon Kambouris

    Lumus DK-40

    More than others, Lumus’s glasses could pass for a normal pair of specs. Designers built a system, based on the head-mounted displays that the company makes for jet pilots, which use the glasses’ own lens as a screen. A mini projector on the arm projects the images. 
    Price: From $200 (est.; through partners); available early 2015 (est.)
    Awkward Scale: 2/5

    Vuzix M-100
    Jonathon Kambouris

    Vuzix M-100

    The M-100 doesn’t require a user to wear actual glasses (though they do ship with a pair). Because of its similarity to Bluetooth headsets, the M-100’s “monocular” style may help it blend in, at least a little.
    Price: $1,000 (shown with safety glasses)
    Awkward Scale: 3/5

    Recon Instruments Jet
    Jonathon Kambouris

    Recon Instruments Jet

    With the cycling-centric Jet, bikers can shoot video, track vital statistics, or monitor velocity without fiddling on a phone. Better news: The Jet’s somewhat odd appearance will most likely be overshadowed by its customers’ penchant for skintight spandex bodysuits.
    Price: $599 (est.)
    Awkward Scale: 3/5

    Optinvent ORA-S
    Jonathon Kambouris

    Optinvent ORA-S

    A rotating arm allows users to pivot the screen on the ORA-S between a fully augmented reality display and a second screen “dashboard” just below the eyes. Auto-tinting sunglasses cover up the electronics in sunlight—but indoors, the contraption gives the face a distinctly cyborg-like cast. 
    Price: $949 (developer version)
    Awkward Scale: 4/5

    Epson Moverio BT-200
    Jonathon Kambouris

    Epson Moverio BT-200

    Users control the Moverio via wired remote, like a VCR circa 1981. But what the device lacks in looks it makes up for with some cool apps. One hacker used the remote to fly his Parrot AR.Drone and the HUD to view its video feed. 
    Price: $699
    Awkward Scale: 5/5

    This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.


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    One of last year's biggest health stories came from the case of a Mississippi child apparently cured of HIV: treated with an anti-retroviral drug cocktail shortly after she was born, the virus seemed to have functionally vanished, leaving behind only fragments. Now 3 years old, she still has yet to show symptoms. But was she only an exception to the rule?

    Maybe not. On Wednesday, doctors revealed a second, similar case: a Los Angeles-born child infected through its mother was treated with the drugs four hours after its birth, last April. Now, with the child approaching its first birthday, the virus appears to have gone into remission. 

    The HIV medication used in both cases is usually part of a treatment to suppress the virus in infected patients, but the illness, in those other cases, comes back after the patient is taken off the drugs. Right now, the baby is still getting regular medication, which makes it difficult to tell the status of the virus. (The Mississippi baby stopped being taken to appointments, for reasons that are unclear; the next time doctors saw her, the virus appeared to be gone.) Still, after regular testing, doctors are convinced that the virus is behaving differently from patients only having the virus suppressed, and are continuing to monitor the child in hopes that the virus is in remission.

    So, no, it's not definitively a cure, at least not yet. The Associated Press put it like this

    Doctors are cautious about suggesting she has been cured, “but that’s obviously our hope,” [infectious disease specialist Yvonne] Bryson said.

    But two cases--and, possibly, more to come through the same process--would indicate that the first treatment wasn't some kind of a fluke. Potentially great news for infected children.



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