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Exploring the Depths: The Quest for Dark Matter Beneath the Earth’s Surface

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Based on observations made by astronomers studying the observable universe, it has been determined that approximately 5 percent of the universe consists of matter. The remaining portion, or the vast majority of it, consists of dark matter (approximately 27 percent) and dark energy (approximately 68 percent).

Dark matter is a type of matter that cannot be detected through its own light emission. It only interacts with regular matter through the force of gravity. This interaction can be observed in galaxies and galaxy clusters, providing evidence for its existence. However, considering the abundance of this mysterious substance compared to regular matter, it is only natural for scientists to actively search for concrete proof of its presence.

One way to locate it, which may seem surprising since dark matter accounts for what we observe in the stars and galaxies, is to go underground.

Scientists around the world conduct research in various underground facilities to study phenomena like weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) and the impact of neutrinos. It is believed that the WIMPs are constantly passing through the Earth as it moves through space. To detect them, we require highly sensitive detectors capable of capturing these subtle interactions.

“In the Stanford LUX-ZEPLIN experiment, an electric field is applied across the volume of liquid, causing the released electrons to be pushed towards the liquid’s surface,” explained Hugh Lippincott, a physics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in an article for The Conversation.

When they break through the surface, an additional electric field propels them into the xenon-filled space above the liquid, where they produce a second burst of light. Two extensive arrays of light sensors capture the two bursts of light, enabling researchers to reconstruct the precise location, energy, and nature of the interaction that occurred.

They are very good scanners, and even if they don’t find dark matter, they can help narrow down what it isn’t. It’s just that putting them on the surface would make them pick up way too much noise.

“On Earth, however, we are constantly surrounded by low, nondangerous levels of radioactivity coming from trace elements—mainly uranium and thorium—in the environment, as well as cosmic rays from space,” Lippincott said. “The goal in hunting for dark matter is to build as sensitive a detector as possible, so it can see the dark matter, and to put it in as quiet a place as possible, so the dark matter signal can be seen over the background radioactivity.”

They are put deep below the ground so they can find dark matter. SNOLAB is the world’s deepest and cleanest lab. Every day, scientists have to go 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) underground and then walk further inside a working mine to get there.

The LUX-ZEPLIN project, which is deep in the Black Hills of South Dakota, has been recording about five events a day. This is a lot less than the trillion events it would pick up at the surface. Scientists have ruled out dark matter as a possible cause for all of them, though. But as long as the tests keep going, there is still hope that they will find proof of all the lost stuff in the universe deep underground.

 

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

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Engineering

Proxima Fusion secures $21 million in funding to further develop their ‘stellarator’ method for nuclear fusion

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The interest of venture capitalists in fusion startups has fluctuated in recent years. As per the findings of the Fusion Industry Association, nuclear fusion companies received a significant investment of over $6 billion in 2023, surpassing the previous year by $1.4 billion. However, the growth rate of 27% was slower compared to the previous year as investors faced external concerns like inflation.

Nevertheless, figures alone fail to provide a comprehensive narrative. Interest in the field has continued to grow as startups explore innovative methods to harness the sun’s power for clean and abundant energy.

In 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved in the field when the Department of Energy’s National Ignition Facility successfully generated a fusion reaction that generated surplus power compared to the energy needed to initiate the reaction. And then, in August last year, the team confirmed that their initial test was not merely a stroke of luck. The path to achieving true fusion power is still a lengthy one, but the exciting part is that it has moved beyond the realm of theory.

A new player in the industry is Proxima Fusion, which has emerged as the first spin-out from the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP). Proxima, a Munich-based company, has successfully secured €20 million ($21.7 million) in a seed round. This funding will enable them to embark on the development of their initial line of fusion power plants.

The company utilizes “quasi-isodynamic (QI) stellarators” that incorporate high-temperature superconductors into their technology. A stellarator is a ring of magnets that are carefully arranged to create a doughnut shape. This design allows the plasma, which is the source of fusion energy, to be contained. On the other hand, stellarators pose a significant challenge in terms of construction due to their unconventional magnet positioning and the need for meticulous engineering.

In 2022, Proxima Fusion developed a solution to tackle these challenges by combining engineering solutions and advanced computing. The Max Planck IPP, known for developing the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) experiment, the largest stellarator in the world, has expanded on research as a spin-out.

According to Dr. Francesco Sciortino, co-founder and CEO of Proxima Fusion, advancements in fusion technology are now within reach thanks to the utilization of AI to model plasma behavior. This breakthrough brings us closer to achieving viable nuclear fusion, as explained during a call with.

Earlybird-backed German startup Marvel Fusion uses laser containment to start the reaction. When I inquired about Proxima’s preference for stellarators, Sciortino explained, “By employing lasers, we direct intense heat towards a small pellet.” That releases energy through fusion, but you’re compressing something and allowing it to explode. Our focus is on the current state of confinement. So it’s not a sudden burst, but rather a consistent and ongoing process of operation.”

Sciortino, who successfully completed his PhD at MIT on tokamak nuclear projects, mentioned that Proxima will build upon the knowledge gained from the W7-X device. The W7-X device has received significant public investment, totaling over €1 billion. He mentioned that the estimated timeframe for achieving fusion energy is in the mid-2030s. It appears that we are considering a timeframe of approximately 15 years. Our objective is to build an intermediate device in Munich, most likely by 2031. If we are able to achieve that, then the mid-2030s could be a viable option.

The startup’s investors are just as confident

Ian Hogarth, a partner at one of Proxima’s investors, Plural, shared his enthusiasm for Proxima’s work, highlighting two key aspects that he finds particularly compelling. First, their stellarator has greatly benefited from two significant trends in high-temperature superconductors and advancements in computer-aided simulation of complex, multi-physics systems. And secondly, North Germany is home to the world’s most advanced stellarator.

He believes that Proxima’s status as the first spin-out from a government project will provide it with a competitive advantage for success. According to him, this situation exemplifies the concept of the ‘entrepreneurial state,’ where a startup can leverage significant public investment to thrive.

However, Proxima is not the sole contender in the competition for fusion. Helion Energy secured a substantial $500 million in Series E funding two years ago, with the support of prominent tech entrepreneur and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. Furthermore, there are a minimum of 43 additional companies actively working on the development of nuclear fusion technologies.

Redalpine led Proxima’s seed round, which also included Bayern Kapital, DeepTech & Climate Fonds, and the Max Planck Foundation. Plural and existing investors High-Tech Gründerfonds, Wilbe, UVC Partners, and the Tomorrow Fund of Visionaries Club were also part of the round.

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With the orchard vision system, farm tools can be turned into AI-powered data recorders

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Robots used in farming are not a new idea. We’ve seen machines that pick berries and apples, get rid of weeds, plant trees, move food, and more. Even though these tasks are thought to be the most important parts of automated systems, it’s always been that way in technology: it’s all about the data. One big thing that makes these goods valuable is the amount of useful data that their sensors gather.

Orchard Robotics’ system gets rid of the middle guy in a way. Even so, there is still a lot of value in automating these jobs when there aren’t enough workers. The young company’s system makes it easier to get started by adding a sensing module that can be attached to tractors and other farm vehicles.

There are many farmers who are willing to try new technologies that might help them get more crops or fill jobs that have been hard to staff. However, fully automatic robotic systems can be too expensive for many farmers to even consider.

As the name suggests, Orchard will start out by focusing on apple trees. The system’s cameras can capture up to 100 images per second, each of which records information about a different tree. After that, the Orchard OS software uses AI to turn the data into maps. That includes every bud or fruit that can be seen on every tree, where they are located, and even what color the apple is.

Charlie Wu, founder and CEO, says, “Our cameras take pictures of trees from bud to bloom to harvest. They use advanced computer vision and machine learning models we’ve built to get accurate information about hundreds of millions of fruits.” “This is a huge improvement over the old ways, which involved picking samples of maybe 100 fruits by hand.”

Thanks to the GPS on board, farmers can get a more accurate picture of how well their crops are doing, right down to the location and size of each tree. The company began at Cornell University in 2022. Even though it’s still pretty new, farmers have already started trying the tool. It looks like the field tests from last season were good enough to get real investors interested.

The Seattle-based company will announce a seed round of $3.2 million this week. The general catalyst will lead the round. Humba Ventures, Soma Capital, Correlation Ventures, VU Venture Partners, and Genius Ventures joined the raise. It comes after a pre-seed round of $600,000 that wasn’t made public.

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A novel solar-powered system converts saltwater into potable water, which is both clean and cost-effective

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A solar-powered system purifies saltwater into safe drinking water without waterborne infections. These assertions could be a huge step in providing reliable and safe water to underdeveloped countries and others.

Clean water is taken for granted in affluent nations. Most of us don’t think about the safety of our tap water, which appears instantaneously. Not everyone does, though. About 40% of the world’s population lacks safe water. Worse, UN-Water estimates that 4 billion people face acute water scarcity at least once a year. This issue will worsen as the climate crisis grows.

The demand for novel solutions to provide clean, reliable water to at-risk countries and regions grows. However, King’s College London’s latest findings may give this attempt hope.

The team, collaborating with MIT and the Helmhotz Institute for Renewable Energy Systems, developed a solar-powered water system. Their latest study found that the approach is around 20% cheaper than existing methods and can be applied in rural areas worldwide. This claim is compelling and sounds like modern alchemy.

“This technology can expand water sources available to communities beyond traditional ones,” Dr. Wei He, Senior Lecturer in Engineering at King’s College London, said. “Providing water from uncontaminated saline sources may help combat water scarcity or unexpected emergencies when conventional water supplies are disrupted, for example, like the recent cholera outbreaks in Zambia.”

How does it work? The novel technology channels salt ions into brine using specialized membranes. The water is pure and drinkable after it is separated.

Additionally, the team has found a means to alter saltwater flow voltage and rate. This allowed them to adapt to sunshine without reducing drinking water production.

The team began research in Chelleru, India, near Hyderabad. They then replicated the same conditions in a New Mexico village and transformed up to 10 cubic meters (353 cubic feet) of fresh water, enough for 3,000 people a day. The procedure proceeded even when clouds or rain blocked the Sun.

“Our technology allows communities to tap into alternative water sources (such as deep aquifers or saline water) to address water scarcity and contamination in traditional water supplies by offering a cheap, eco-friendly, off-grid alternative,” he said.

“This technology can expand water sources available to communities beyond traditional ones and provide water from uncontaminated saline sources, which may help combat water scarcity or unexpected emergencies like the recent cholera outbreaks in Zambia.”

About 56% of groundwater worldwide is salty and unfit for drinking. Saline water covers 60% of India, making this problem worse. This novel technology gives hope for safe, affordable desalination.

Most desalination devices need expensive batteries in off-grid systems or a lot of energy in grid systems to remove salt. This is costly and unreliable in rural, underdeveloped countries. Using fossil fuels to power generators is harmful to the environment.

This revolutionary “battery-like” low-cost desalination technology frees users from maintenance and offers sustainable alternatives.

He added: “Traditionally, desalinating water has been energy-intensive and costly, limiting its use to stable power and financial resources. Our technology provides reliable access to safe drinking water, emission-free onsite, and at a 22% discount to those who need it by eliminating the requirement for a grid system and reducing battery tech use by 92%.

The innovative technique could help agriculture cope with climate change beyond emerging nations. The goal should be to limit climate change, but producing clean, fresh water from saline water could help with irrigation.

“Fresh water for irrigation is a major issue in North America, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “Drought and cost are major draws on an industry that relies on unstable water reserves to survive, and climate change will reinforce these challenges.”

By providing a sustainable solution for farmers to create freshwater for irrigation at a low price without compromising volume, we can assist them in decreasing expenses, minimizing carbon emissions, ensuring agriculture productivity, and passing those benefits on to consumers.”

Despite having more reliable and diverse grids than most countries, the UK and US nevertheless use fossil fuels. The new desalination technology may help us reach net zero by eliminating the requirement for these fuels.

“The next step for us is to apply this low-cost technology to other sectors, including wastewater treatment and alkaline production, to help the ocean absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere,” he said. “This approach decarbonizes agriculture and has wider environmental and climate benefits.”

The paper appears in Nature Water.

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