May 9, 2014

The Brusaws, standing on the prototype parking lot they built with support from the Federal Highway Administration.     Photo: Scott Brusaw/YouTube

Solar Panels Could Replace Roads

Million-dollar Indiegogo campaign hoping to get idea on the ground

Back when the concept of global warming was still nascent—only eight years ago, mind you—Scott and Julie Brusaw of Sagle, Idaho, began heavily contemplating an idea that Scott, an electrical engineer, had toyed with as a child: solar panel roads.

After years of figuring out many ways not to make a solar panel, the Brusaws have developed a modular-panel paving system that's attracted interest from the Federal Highway Administration, General Electric, and even Google. If their Indiegogo campaign, started this past Earth Day, receives $1 million by the end of May, the Brusaw's company, Solar Roadways, will be able to test its heavy-duty tempered-glass product in parking lots and eventually highways throughout the country. 

The versatile paneling has a lot going for it. Where most roads ice over in the winter, solar roadways are equipped with heating elements that keep them clear. Where blacktop consumes light and requires bright headlights to navigate at night, solar roadways come outfitted with road-powered LEDs. Where potholes burden travelers for months, individual damaged panels can be fixed in a matter of minutes because nearby panels deliver automated alerts to electricians. They can even store and treat stormwater that erodes current byways and put an end to a Wi-Fi-less America.

Most impressive is Solar Roadways' energy and capital potential: The Brusaws did the math and found their panels more than pay for themselves. Solar panel technology is not cheap when done correctly, but Solar Roadways could conceivably produce more than three times the electricity Americans use each year.

That energy would power homes, roads, and as of today, even the White House. President Obama announced a plan to push solar energy in 2010 and is reinforcing his intent by symbolically reinstalling solar panels at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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The future mecca of all burger-craving early birds.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Burger King Will Now Serve Burgers for Breakfast

End of the 10 a.m. embargo

Burger King, every Outside reader's top choice for high-quality cuisine and marathon fuel, dropped a bomb in the Fast Food Breakfast Wars today when it announced that its restaurants will begin serving its signature burgers for breakfast. Don't adjust your screens. You read that right. You no longer have to wait until 10 a.m. to get your greasy mitts on a Whopper, Big King, or Original Chicken Sandwich. 

The initiative was likely launched as a counteroffensive against Taco Bell's recently unveiled new breakfast menu, which features such irresistible forces and immovable objects as the Waffle Taco and the A.M. Crunchwrap.

Evidently, many Burger King outlets had been showing corporate the back door by serving burgers earlier in the day, and corporate is now simply giving them the green light to continue the practice. Five thousand Burger King restaurants have already opted into the "Burgers at Breakfast" program.

"Selling Burgers at Breakfast at Burger King restaurants allows our guests to start their day being their way," Burger King said in a statement to Burger Business. "Either with the great flame-broiled taste of our signature burgers and sandwiches or with our delicious suite of breakfast offerings."

According to Calorie Lab, the Whopper and Original Chicken Sandwich clock in at 670 at 660 calories, respectively. The Big King, meanwhile, clocks in at 529. If that seems like a lot, remember that it takes some fuel to fight the Breakfast Wars, and as the Simpsons once eloquently put it, you don't make friends with salad.

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X-Men's Wolverine may not be impressed by self-mending plastic, but then again, he's fictional.     Photo: Andrew Becraft/flickr

Welcome to the Age of Self-Healing Plastic

Your cracked phone screen might soon be able to mend itself

What does your tennis racket have in common with Wolverine, the brooding mutton-chopped frontman of the X-Men franchise? Well, very little, as it turns out. But that might change in the near future.

Engineers at the University of Illinois have developed a new self-healing plastic, which has the potential to bestow "ordinary" items (from water pipes to Frisbees) with regenerative powers such as those possessed by Marvel Comics' lupine warrior.

The breakthrough comes in the form of an anthropomorphic polymer, which automatically patches holes up to 35 millimeters wide thanks to a network of capillaries that bring liquid healing chemicals to the damaged area. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should; the plastic is modeled on the human blood clotting system.

Although fixing such small holes might not sound like much—it certainly would leave Wolverine unimpressed—this development represents a major leap forward in the field of self-healing polymers. As the article in Science notes, this "innovative approach enables restoration of mechanical integrity to a damage volume that is roughly 100 times the largest defect previously healed in this manner."

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A certain gene produces more of a hormone that benefits longevity and cognition.     Photo: Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

The Young and Smart Gene

Anti-aging gene also aids cognition

A gene known for its anti-aging effects also benefits the brain, according to a new study published in the journal Cell Reports. Variants of the gene could help scientists to develop treatments to improve memory and learning.

Patients with a variant of the gene produce more of a hormone called klotho—named for the Fate from Greek mythology who spun the thread of life—and typically enjoy longer lives. This recent study, however, suggests that the hormone also benefits cognition, and not just among the elderly.

"Based on what was known about klotho, we expected it to affect the brain by changing the aging process," said the study's director and UC-San Francisco professor Lennart Mucke. "But this is not what we found."

Mucke put their results gently—the scientists' hypothesis was totally wrong. The study found that rather than reducing cognitive decline, high levels of klotho had relatively little effect on this type of health.

That's where the research got interesting: Klotho, known for its anti-aging properties, appeared to positively affect cognition throughout life. The scientists set out to find ways to prevent the brain from aging and ended up finding a hormone that makes people plain smarter.

"The beauty of this study is that the finding gives us another place to look, another path to take as we try to determine targets for the development of drugs," National Institue on Aging researcher Molly Wagster told NPR.

Still, mysteries about klotho will prevent related treatments from hitting the pharmaceutical market anytime soon. For starters, patients with one copy of the gene experienced improved cognition, while patients with two copies found their cognition impaired—and scientists aren't sure why. And while Klotho could lead to ways to treat Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases, researchers still aren't sure how diet, exercise, and brain activity influence the hormone's levels. Before we can develop substantial treatments, we'll have to understand klotho better.

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We're not talking about this kind of exercise snacking.     Photo: Razvan/Getty Images

Snacking (or Feasting) on Exercise

Studies tout short exercise sessions, but also endurance training at any age

Two new studies on exercise have very different messages on how long you should work out at a time, but both may be good news for anyone looking to optimize their sweat session.

A study published in Diabetologia found that exercising in shorter and more intense bouts throughout the day, as opposed to all at once, was just as effective and more efficient for a small group of testers. The testers exercised right before each meal, which seemed to be a key to the method's success.

It should be noted that these individuals had insulin resistance, and the researchers were trying to determine if this method would help control their blood sugar levels—which it did, for at least 24 hours at a time. But it raises interesting questions about when and what kind of exercise is most effective.

On the other side of the coin, a study from the European Society of Cardiology encourages endurance training, specifically in men 40 and older. In a study of healthy men between 55 and 70 years old, researchers found that the heart-related benefits associated with long-distance running or cycling were the same regardless of when the men took up training.

Co-author David Matelot pointed out that many other benefits of endurance training, such as bone density and muscle mass, would be greater for those who start earlier. But at least for the 40 men in this study, endurance training is just as good for an over-40 ticker as it is for an under-30 ticker. Maybe that's why professional triathletes keep raising the bar when it comes to the question of how old is too old.

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From the Chulyshman Valley, Russia.     Photo: Serge Bystro/Flickr

Putin-fied Plans for Lunar Base

In the year 2030

Russian newspaper Izvestia obtained previously unreleased drafts of a Putin-fied program yesterday to colonize the moon in 2030.

Among contributors to the 16-year plan to place a permanent habitable lunar base on the south pole of Earth’s only extra-human satellite were "Lunokhods" (Moonwalkers) from the Roscosmos federal space agency, Russian Academy of Sciences, and Moscow State University, according to RIA Novosti.

Stage one plans a lunar rover landing in 2016 and will cost Russia 28.5 billion rubles ($800 million). That seems like a grossly inaccurate lowball, seeing as NASA's Project Apollo cost $20 billion during the program's 10 years.

The document outlines a series of three- to four-year lunar projects over the next 16 years—four between 2016 and 2025—centered on identifying the geographic makeup of the planned lunar base site. The Moonwalkers' plan is thought to be in response to George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, which planned an American lunar outpost for 2019–2024. But on December 4, 2006, NASA officially shut down its Lunar Architecture Study. Designs for America's lunar outpost module included habitable "bubbles," solar power cells, unpressurized rovers, an In-Situ Resource Utilization unit, and a crew transport vehicle.

Mineral extraction—aluminum, iron, titanium—and permanent sovereignty, the two objectives explicitly written into the document, would require some serious innovation in long-term space stays if Russia holds to its no-foreign-parties declaration.

"Independence of the national lunar program must be ensured regardless of the conditions and the extent of the participation in it by foreign partners," the document reads.

It continues with its lofty promises, planning to add a space- and Earth-monitoring observatory on the lunar base, according to the Moscow Times. Vladimir Putin could not be reached for comment on the observatory's prospective price tag, but his Victory Day parade cost millions.

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