FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bird Population Falls Over Past 40 Years

A recent study by the National Audubon Society has found that bird populations -- even those of common, robust species such as grackles -- have fallen drastically over the past 40 years. The populations of whiporwills and bobwhites have fallen by well over 80 percent, a drop so great that these once-common birds are now seldom seen or heard in the eastern US. Deforestation is partly to blame, as well as global warming, which appears to be affecting arctic birds especially hard. Because cold-climate birds must migrate farther north each year to reach their shrinking habitat, they rarely migrate below the northernmost regions of the US.

"These are not rare or exotic birds we're talking about -- these are the birds that visit our feeders and congregate at nearby lakes and seashores and yet they are disappearing day by day," said Carol Browner, Audubon board chairperson and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the Clinton administration. "Their decline tells us we have serious work to do, from protecting local habitats to addressing the huge threats from global warming."

Source: Boston Globe

Friday, June 15, 2007

Self-Healing Plastic

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have developed a nanotechnology polymer that can "heal" itself by filling in cracks and tears automatically. Although self-healing plastic is not an entirely new concept, the UIUC material is different because it can repair itself multiple times without any intervention.

The material could have important uses where making repairs is difficult, where materials are under enormous stress and/or where material failure would be catastrophic -- such as in implanted medical devices, airplane and spacecraft components, and microprocessors. The UIUC researchers emphasize, however, that practical applications are years away, and that initial products will be highly expensive.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Britain Piloting First Biofueled Train

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group has embarked on yet another venture -- Virgin Trains, which seeks to replace traditional diesel trains with models run on biofuel.

Virgin Trains' pilot project will test a train running on 20% biological material (typically a type of vegetable oil) in Britain for six months. If the test is successful, Virgin Trains will use the 20% mix full-time, with an eye toward engines run purely on biofuel. Virgin Trains says that switching to biodiesel could cut emissions by 14%.

Source: MSNBC