Science Channel - InSCIder


22 Jun

Hydrogen Fuel Provides Clean Energy Promise

The use of hydrogen as a clean energy source for the future is the subject of much R&D these days. We’ve long since figured out that hydrogen is an element that produces a lot of energy – the key is finding out how to harness it and store it in an efficient fashion so we can use if for everyday purposes like powering our cars or items in the home.

One of the cleanest ways to harness hydrogen is to separate it from a hydrogen heavy resource like water. In a process called electrolysis, an electrical current separates the hydrogen from the oxygen molecules in water. Our colleagues over at TestTube have created this awesome video explaining the process in detail.


So it’s relatively easy to harvest the hydrogen, the problem is how do you store it? The reason hydrogen holds so much hope as a fuel source is that it has a high mass energy density – that means it is powerful stuff compared to other fuels. The problem is hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density, which means it generally takes up a LOT of space to store.

In the past we’ve been able to deal with that given it’s large-scale industrial applications. In fact, NASA used it in the Space Shuttle programs. They used liquid hydrogen (produced when the hydrogen is super cooled) to power those massive rockets to get the Shuttle into space. In that case size wasn’t a barrier.

The key to using hydrogen for slightly less dramatic uses than launching rockets is finding that way to store it in fuel cells. NASA used early versions of hydrogen fuel cells on the Shuttle to power their electrical systems. The only by-product is water, which conveniently the astronauts used to drink.

The system has been improved upon so much over time that NASA is researching how to use it to power spacecraft to explore our solar system. On the smaller, more personal scale we now have cars like the Toyota Mirai that efficiently and cleanly use hydrogen fuel cells. The cars  fill up with water, and utilize it's own air in-take to power the process of electrolysis. The hydrogen is stored in carbon fiber fuel cells and the only footprint it leaves behind is more water.

The Mirai is even more efficient because it combines existing electric car technology where electricity created by the braking mechanism is used to power the electrolysis process that creates the hydrogen.

As this car hits the market, the research on creating the next generation of hydrogen fuel use is underway. Creating new efficiencies in the fuel cells is one area of focus, looking both at what substances can most efficiently aid in the electrolysis process and help store them without corrosion.

One new study from McGill University in Montreal has demonstrated how existing technology of storing hydrogen atoms as hydrocarbons can be driven by ambient solar energy. Going a step further than electrolysis, some current storage applications create hydrocarbons by adding a catalyst chemical that bond with multiple hydrogen molecules. The trick is generating enough energy to “dehydrogenize” the hydrocarbon back into hydrogen to store in the fuel cells that make things go. It’s a process that can take a lot of energy and may be impractical on smaller scales, than say needing to power a rocket.

The researchers have found that plain old sunlight can drive dehydrogenization by using platinum based nanoparticles as the catalyst to pull the hydrocarbons apart without using high energy temperatures.

Some day soon things could be powered on a large scale by the very water and air around us, leaving nothing behind to corrupt the planet. We now have cars that can efficiently create and store hydrogen for clean transportation, and someday soon, huge solar farms could transform and store these high-energy molecules on a large scale to power entire city grids.

That’s a clean energy future we look forward to!

For more information please see our resources:

Alternative Fuels Data Center

Renewable Energy World

Toyota Mirai



19 Jun


See Videos of Their Incredible Projects

Harnessing ocean currents, curbing CO2 emissions, circular ion accelerators. How cool do these ideas sound? What’s even cooler is these are just a few of the real amazing projects the national finalists in the annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge are creating.

We here at Science Channel are in awe of the possibilities this next generation is embracing. Science, curiosity, and questioning everything will be how we embrace the challenges of the future. Clearly the ten students chosen have their eyes on that future, and are thinking about how we can make it a better place.

So how did these ten students get to this point? The annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is the nation’s premier science competition for students in grades 5-8. Students all over the country submitted short videos communicating the science behind a possible solution to an everyday problem. The finalists rose to the top of the competition due to their science acumen, innovative thinking and exceptional communication skills demonstrated in their entry videos.

151126_YSC_JUNE_FACEBOOK_1_FINEach bright young student will now have the exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M Scientist during a unique summer mentorship program, where they will be challenged to develop an innovation that positively impacts them, their family, their community or the global population. As part of the world-renowned program, students will meet virtually with their mentors, who will provide guidance as the finalist develops his or her idea from a concept into an actual prototype.

Throughout the program, each student will have access to resources and support provided by 3M and Discovery Education. Students will then present their inventions during the competition’s final event at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn. October 12th and 13th.

Congratulations to the top 10 finalists in this year's Challenge:

  • Peter Finch, Harrisville, R.I., Homeschool
  • Arthur Frigo, III, Jupiter, Fla., Turtle River Montessori
  • Raghav Ganesh, San Jose, Calif., Joaquin Miller Middle School, Cupertino Union School District
  • Amulya Garimella, Pittsburgh, Pa., Dorseyville Middle School, Fox Chapel Area School District
  • Iris Gupta, North Potomac, Md., Robert Frost Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools
  • Hannah Herbst, Boca Raton, Fla., Alexander D. Henderson University School, Florida Atlantic University Schools
  • Alec Lessing, New York, N.Y., Collegiate School
  • Conner Pettit, Lone Tree, Colo., Cresthill Middle School, Douglas County School District
  • Krishna Reddy, Wichita Falls, Texas, Kirby World Academy, Wichita Falls Independent School District
  • Sanjana Shah, Cupertino, Calif., John F. Kennedy Middle School, Cupertino Union School District

You can check out the finalists’ impressive entry videos by visiting the following YouTube playlist: Young Scientist Challenge 2015

For more information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, including photos and bios of the ten finalists and a list of the state merit winners, please visit




8 May

When Earth Makes Its Moves

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific just between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on Thursday. This follows on the heels of the 7.8 quake in Nepal. A look at daily activity shows smaller quakes happening all over the world, especially in the infamous “Ring of Fire” region around the edges of the Pacific Ocean where tectonic activity is especially high.

What is happening when these earthquakes hit? Though it might not feel like it to us, the crust and mantle –essentially the “skin’ around the earth’s inner cores are always slowly moving. The pieces that make up these layers are bumping up against each other as they travel; the areas where they make contact are called fault lines.


When two plates of crust get stuck against each other, the energy of the movement builds up. Eventually that stored up energy is released with force when the two pieces finally come unstuck. The location where the energy is released is called the hypocenter under the surface of the crust, and the epicenter on the surface. The energy released heads outwards from the center, shaking the earth in waves.

One plate may slip up while the other slips down under the other in what’s called a subduction zone. In fact, in the case of the recent Nepal quake, the way the two plates came to rest caused Mt. Everest to lose height! Subduction zones often become areas of heightened activity.

One of the most challenging things about earthquakes is the drama isn’t over after the “main” shock. After the initial devastation at the epicenter, the earth is still settling and reshuffling itself into place causing further shakes called aftershocks. Some can be quite severe, frequent, and go on for extended periods of time – even years. It’s what makes recovery in remote areas quite hard to manage. Buildings and infrastructure have become unstable and more susceptible to the rattling – even if it is of lesser magnitude.

So can we predict earthquakes? The most reliable answer is to say not definitively. There have been cases in China where monitoring set up in high-risk regions have recorded questionable activity and given officials time to evacuate. However, just as often a quake will come with no warning at all.

The earth is unpredictable. While we have become extremely knowledgeable over the years about where trouble zones are for earthquakes and volcanoes around the world, we still don’t have a full understanding of when devastating events may occur. Fortunately, there are scientists and researchers all over the globe studying the earth’s hotspots with a keen eye, and those who head into the devastation afterwards to gain clues that might help us create informed, reliable warnings in the future.

We hope you’ll find deeper answers in our playlist above, all about when the earth makes its moves.



US Geological Service


The Telegraph


29 Apr

Through The Wormhole: Studying "Us vs. Them"

Guest Post By: Mina Chikara, Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. (Full bio below)

The human brain is specialized for group living. People who accurately identify, value, and cooperate with in-group members enjoy numerous material and psychological benefits (e.g., protection, belonging, emotional support). However, group life is also a source of social strife and destruction. Conflict between groups, in particular, has been described as one of the greatest problems facing the world today. For example, it has been estimated that over 200 million people were killed in the last century in acts of genocide, war, and other forms of group conflict.

What my lab finds fascinating is how easily people form groups. Sometimes when we’re interested in studying group dynamics and we want to control for factors such as stereotypes or a history of rivalry, we’ll assign people to new groups. For example, we have run studies online with thousands of people and randomly assigned them to either the Eagles team or the Rattlers team. We tell people that they are going to play against each other in a problem solving challenge in order to get them in a competitive mindset. In the end they never actually compete, they just tell us how they feel about teammates’ and competitors’ experiences (which are, by design, irrelevant to the competition they think will happen later on).


Even though they’ve only just been assigned to these teams and they never lay eyes on teammates or competitors, the majority of people say they feel worse about negative events when they befall teammates rather than competitors. Moreover, people also say they feel better about negative events when they befall competitors rather than teammates. Some people even leave messages such as, “This was an awesome study! F*#! EAGLES, GO RATTLERS!”

On another occasion, I asked a participant to come back to the lab after she was assigned to a team a few weeks prior. When I asked her if she remembered which team she was on she replied, “Of course!” This was puzzling to me because she had been randomly assigned to the Eagles. When I asked her why she said “of course,” she replied, “My family is a military family so the Eagle is a very important totem to us.”

Groups are important. Even when we haven’t been members for long we make meaning out of them so that they become important. Groups change the way we see the world and ourselves. This why I will never grow tired of studying how people change when they move from thinking about “me and you” to “us and them.”

Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Policy from Princeton University and completed a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Professor Cikara studies how the mind, brain, and behavior change when the social context shifts from “me and you” to “us and them.” She focuses primarily on how group membership, competition, and prejudice disrupt the processes that allow people to see others as human and to empathize with others. She uses a wide range of tools—standard laboratory experiments, implicit and explicit behavioral measures, fMRI and psychophysiology—to examine failures of empathy, dehumanization, and misunderstanding between groups. She is equally interested in the behavioral consequences of these processes: discrimination, conflict, and harm. Most recently, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology selected her as a Dissertation Award Finalist. She has published articles in Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, and NeuroImage. She tweets about psychology and neuroscience @profcikara.

19 Apr

The Best Investment

Guest post by: Max Erik Tegmark

At a cost of about $30 per American, the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the best investments humanity has ever made. Its spectacular images have shed light on our cosmic origins and destiny and they have inspired us all, showing us that we’d underestimated the beauty and diversity of our cosmos.


Max Erik Tegmark is a Swedish-American cosmologist. Tegmark is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute. He is also a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute.

Below: PIA08097

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19 Apr

The Space Telescope That Transformed How We Do Science

Guest post by David Spergel

I got my PhD just before the Hubble Telescope launched so have followed its trajectory from disappointment to scientific triumph. I have been most impressed by how clever astronomers have used the telescope in ways that were not anticipated by its builders.Astronomers have used HST to discover stars stripping the atmospheres off of their planetary companions and to use supernova to trace the deceleration of the universe.   

While future space telescopes  will look even further back in time (James Webb Space Telescope, will survey much larger volumes of our universe  and begin the detailed study of exoplanets (Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope), Hubble will always be the space telescope that transformed how we do science.


David Nathaniel Spergel, is an American theoretical astrophysicist and Princeton University professor known for his work on the WMAP mission. Professor Spergel is a MacArthur Fellow

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.34.42 PM


19 Apr

The End of the Hubble Era?

Guest post by David Brin

The Hubble space telescope achieved genuine wonders, that others have certainly noted.  Among my many favorites were the arrival of space images -- such as the famous Eagle Nebula -- that gave us all a truly three-dimensional feel. You could clearly see and envision that this column of brilliantly illuminated gas and dust stands glowing in front of that proto- planetary system being-born... and then somehow you would manage to wrap your mind around the multi-parsec scale of it all.

Helping to determine the age and destiny of the universe, that's a lot to get for our tax dollars. But again, others will talk about that.

What I find almost equally fascinating is the back story of this prodigious scientific instrument, revealed when the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) suddenly handed over to NASA two more Hubbles!  Well, two space-ready telescopes with identical structure and mirrors, but lacking many components and any scientific instruments.  The surprise gift revealed to us taxpayers an interesting truth -- that Hubble was based on U.S. spy satellites. Should we be surprised, then, that a mirror originally designed to look downward at Earth suffered some problems, when it was repurposed to stare into deep space?

What kinds of synergies and conflicts are thus revealed? Was Hubble meant, all the time, to serve as a cover story for intelligence R&D?  Did this design overlap serve to reduce Hubble's original cost, in economies of scale? Or was NASA, instead, subsidizing the NRO?  I don't expect to ever learn the answer. But it does suggest that we keep our eyes open for other coincidences, in the future.

NASA officials view these "added Hubbles" as mixed blessings. They fret that these telescopes might draw vigor away from the next great leap -- the James Webb Space Telescope.  While the new pair are worth hundreds and millions of dollars and will let us expand astronomy, properly equipping them and launching them will cost hundreds more. And of course, there are tussles over what kinds of science they should be applied-to. Such as, for example, keeping one in reserve, in case the Webb fails?

Bottom line, this "problem" is our fault, for allowing science to be "warred-upon," instead of shrugging off the dismal cynics... and electing Congresses that see value in the future.

No, we aren't leaving the Hubble Era. Even after the original is allowed to plummet Earthward -- (I'd rather use electrodynamic tethers to send it outward, in a parking orbit, for late-21st Century hobbyists to refurbish) -- it seems that Hubble's sisters will still be working for us. Obsolete? Never heard of the word. We can move forward on many fronts, at the same time. We can be larger than we are. That was the dream... and it will be, again.

David Brin is an astrophysicist whose international best-selling novels include The Postman, Earth, and recently Existence. His nonfiction book about the information age - The Transparent Society - won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.  (


Below: Pillars of Creation, part of the Eagle Nebula

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NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

19 Apr


Guest post by Sara Seager

Happy 25th! The “first ever” exoplanet atmosphere discovery in 2002 is your legacy for all time #HappyBirthdayHubble #ScienceChannel


Sara Seager
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor of Planetary Science

Below: Formalhaut A and Formalhaut B

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 8.15.21 PM


19 Apr

Pluto's Demotion

Happy Birthday Hubble Telescope! It’s been an amazing 25 years of breakthroughs in understanding our galaxy and how the universe works. For me, the most memorable discovery from your journey came when you detected Pluto’s two moons, and other objects in the Kuiper Belt found to have more mass than little Pluto.

That meant these moons could classify as planets, and as a result this discovery demoted Pluto to a “dwarf planet.”

That Pluto was removed it from the line up of planets I had memorized so carefully for my fifth grade science class, shocked me. Hubble’s images are so clear and provide scientists a look at objects we had never seen before in deep space, leading to radical changes and new theories about the makeup of our universe. Hubble quite literally opened my eyes to the idea there was something beyond Pluto - our solar system is a big concept to grasp but what lies beyond became something more than just what I had imagined when I watched Star Trek or Star Wars.

For the first time I understood the universe is not a static thing. Its planets, exoplanets, comets, galaxies, and more are changing all the time. It fills me with excitement and wonder as we look to solve the mysteries behind how and why that happens. Thanks for the inspiration Hubble! 

Look for more posts from scientists, astrophysicists, and space experts on their Hubble moments.

Eileen Marable, Science Channel Digital Producer (Who still feels bad about Pluto)

Below: My favorite image, the Cat's Eye Nebula

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14 Apr

3D Printed Shelby Cobra Is A Stunner

Imagine a world where you could order every detail you ever wanted from a car online and have it 3D printed to your specifications. Or, where once very rare cars are replicated via 3D printing for a new generation.

The 3D printed car is here. The first model, the Strati was a little rough around the edges, but it didn’t take long for the developers to raise the bar and re-create a 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 in honor of its 50th anniversary this January. The printed Cobra was definitely finished to be a stunner.

The car is a collaboration of many companies. The 3D chassis and electric motor came courtesy of the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). They used their Big Area Additive Manufacturing printer, which can print single pieces in sizes greater than one cubic meter – and in this case they used a composite that included 20 percent carbon fiber.

The 3D-Printed Cobra took just six weeks to complete, though the printing itself only took about 24 hours. The signature Cobra sleek blue and white finish was the work of Knoxville, Tennessee-based company Tru-Design that specializes in carbon fiber and fiberglass.


With such a gorgeous and speedy end result it’s easy to see what ORNL is trying to innovate. The idea is that with 3D printing the manufacturing process can be done on a large and rapid scale. The 3D-Cobra is proof that something as large as a car, needing both style and durability can be created with 3D printers and may one day change the automotive industry and perhaps have an impact on the environment.

The team that worked on the car has dubbed it a “laboratory on wheels.”

As the ORNL team works to take the process of 3D printed cars to the next level, the shift could change many things – concept cars could more easily come to fruition. Rare models could be replicated. Even better, your daily ride could be customized to you. It’s an interesting future to contemplate.

If you live or are visiting in the Washington DC area now, you can see the 3D Shelby in the lobby of the Department of Energy. You can follow its progress on Twitter via #3DPrintedCar.

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Department of Energy




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