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Futuristic driverless Mercedes is turning heads in San Francisco

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I think most of us are already familiar with Google’s driverless cars by now and how the company opted for the ‘function beyond form’ when developing them. In other words, the cars are not exactly designed to be gazed at in wonder. The same can not be said about a similar vehicle by Mercedes-Benz though, considering that their self-driving automobile manages to turn heads everywhere it goes. Very recently, the car was spotted on the streets of San Francisco and it left a lasting impression on passersby, which is not surprising since the driverless Mercedes looks like it comes straight from the future.

Several people who were able to witness its futuristic splendor went on social media these last few days to share their enthusiasm with fellow car lovers. A Reddit user indicates that the “driverless Mercedes is cruising around San Francisco, blowing everyone’s minds” while someone over on Twitter was pleased to announced that he saw the car at Taylor and Columbus and shared a pictured of it. Mercedes-Benz F015 by its real name, is a luxury concept vehicle and one of the few of its kind to receive legal authorization from the state of California. In theory, Mercedes could have cars like this patrolling the streets and turning heads 24/7, but it’s probably best if they remain a rare occurrence for now, at least until people get used with seeing driverless cars on the roads.

Speaking of driverless, no one seems to know if the car was actually driving itself or if there was a driver inside while it was cruising around San Francisco. The latter seems a bit more probable, but who knows? What we do know is that the Mercedess F015 driverless cars are not yet commercially available, with the first models only scheduled to be put on sale sometime by 2020.

Engineering

A groundbreaking type of cement has the potential to transform homes and roads into massive energy storage systems

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For lack of a better word, concrete is awful for the environment. Beyond water, it’s the most-used product in the world, and its carbon footprint shows that making cement and concrete alone is responsible for 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions, or more than 4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases every year.

But MIT researchers have come up with new material that might be able to help solve that issue. After mixing water, cement, and a sooty substance called carbon black, they made a supercapacitor, which is like a big concrete battery and stores energy.

Admir Masic, a scientist at MIT and one of the researchers who came up with the idea, said in a statement last year, “The material is fascinating.”

“You have cement, which is the most common man-made material in the world, mixed with carbon black, which is a well-known historical material because it was used to write the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he said. “These materials are at least 2,000 years old, and when you mix them in a certain way, you get a conductive nanocomposite. That’s when things get really interesting.”

The amazing properties of the material come from the fact that carbon black is both highly conductive and water-resistant. To put it another way, as the mixture hardens, the carbon black rearranges itself into a web of wires that run through the cement.

According to the researchers, it’s not only a huge step forward in the move toward renewable energy around the world, but its recipe also makes it better than other batteries. Even though cement has a high carbon cost, the new material is only made up of three cheap and easy-to-find ingredients. Standard batteries, on the other hand, depend on lithium, which is limited and expensive in terms of CO2: “particularly in hard rock mining, for every tonne of mined lithium, 15 tonnes of CO2 are emitted into the air,” says MIT’s Climate Portal.

Since cement isn’t going anywhere soon, putting it together with a simple and effective way to store energy seems like a clear win. Damian Stefaniuk, one of the researchers who came up with the idea, told BBC Future this week, “Given how common concrete is around the world, this material has the potential to be very competitive and useful in energy storage.”

“If it can be made bigger, the technology can help solve a big problem: how to store clean energy,” he said.

How could that be done? One possible solution is to use it to pave roads. This way, the highways can collect solar energy and then wirelessly charge electric cars that drive on them. Because they release energy much more quickly than regular batteries, capacitors aren’t very good for storing power every day. However, they do have benefits like higher efficiency and lower levels of performance degradation, which makes them almost perfect for giving moving cars extra power in this way.

One more interesting idea is to use it as a building material. The researchers wrote in their paper that a 45-cubic-meter block of the carbon-back-cement mix could store enough energy to power a typical US home for a year. To give you an idea of how big that is, 55 of them would fit in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The team says that a house with a foundation made of this material could store a day’s worth of energy from solar panels or windmills and use it whenever it’s needed because the concrete would stay strong.

Franz-Josef Ulm, a structural engineer at MIT, said, “That’s where our technology looks very promising, because cement is everywhere.”

“It’s a fresh way to think about the future of concrete.”

The paper is now out in the journal PNAS.

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Environment

Stark Warning: Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” has been found to have dangerous levels of toxic gas

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High levels of toxic gas used in petrochemical manufacturing have been detected in Louisiana, surpassing safe limits by a significant margin.

This particular chemical is ethylene oxide, a highly flammable and colorless gas that has a faintly sweet odor. It is utilized in various industries for the manufacturing of antifreeze, detergents, fibers, and bottles. In addition, it is utilized for sterilizing medical and food production equipment.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University recently conducted a study in southeastern Louisiana to measure the levels of ethylene oxide in the air. They used two vans equipped with advanced technologies to accurately monitor the gas in real-time.

This region of the state encompasses “Cancer Alley,” a corridor along the Mississippi River connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which unfortunately experiences alarmingly elevated rates of cancer and various health concerns among its population. Coincidentally, the area is home to numerous petrochemical plants that release a wide range of industrial chemicals, such as ethylene oxide.

Exposure to ethylene oxide at concentrations exceeding 11 parts per trillion can have detrimental effects on human health. This is because it has the potential to directly harm DNA and elevate the risk of developing cancer.

Surprisingly, this study discovered levels reaching as high as 40 parts per billion in areas in close proximity to industrial facilities. The concentrations turned out to be significantly higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates.

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It was anticipated that ethylene oxide would be present in this region. However, the levels we observed were far beyond our expectations and significantly exceeded the estimated levels provided by the EPA,” stated Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

“As we drove through the industrial areas, we observed concentrations reaching 40 parts per billion, a level that exceeds the accepted risk for lifetime exposure by over a thousand times,” DeCarlo explained.

Researchers have issued a warning about the potential increased cancer risk for individuals residing in close proximity to ethylene oxide manufacturing and usage facilities.

Our discoveries carry significant implications for the well-being of community residents, particularly infants and children. According to Keeve Nachman, an associate professor of Environmental Health and Engineering and the co-director of the Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute, it has been demonstrated that ethylene oxide can cause direct harm to DNA. This implies that exposures to this substance during early life are particularly hazardous.

The latest research was recently published in the esteemed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Medicine and Health

Which is better for us: fresh or frozen vegetables?

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People are changing how they shop at the grocery store to save money because the cost of living is going up. This is especially true when it comes to vegetables. As a general rule, frozen vegetables are less expensive than fresh ones. However, some people think that fresh vegetables are naturally “better” for you. Which is it?

In a clean corner
Fresh vegetables that are crunchy and taste great are great, but they might not have as many nutrients as you think.

They start to lose their nutrients as soon as they are picked. That’s because they are taken away from their source of nutrients when they are picked. So that they can stay alive, the cells in vegetables breathe faster, which can cause nutrients to be lost. It’s also possible for this to happen when vegetables are stored or processed and are exposed to oxygen.

But this is the big nutritional catch with fresh vegetables: how healthy they are depends on how soon you eat them after picking them. Since the prices of vegetables at stores are going through the roof, some people are growing their own or getting them from community gardens. It usually takes a little longer for fresh vegetables from the store to get to our tables.

To get the most out of fresh vegetables, they should be eaten within a few days, if possible. CNN Health spoke with Gene Lester, a plant physiologist and national program leader for the US Department of Agriculture. “After it’s four, five, or seven days old, it’s a whole different story.”

In the cold corner
It became popular to freeze fresh vegetables because they go bad faster when left out in the open air. This way, you can use them up faster and avoid having a fridge full of spoiled green beans. Besides that, because they are frozen so soon after being picked, frozen vegetables are usually thought to have more nutrients.

Still, there is some evidence that frozen vegetables may have less vitamin C than fresh vegetables. Vitamin C is important for many bodily functions and, you know, keeps you from getting scurvy. For that reason, frozen vegetables are blanched, which means they are quickly scalded in steam or boiling water and then quickly cooled.

Blanching food is thought to help keep the flavor and stop that weird gray color that can happen with frozen food. This is done by turning off enzymes in the vegetables, which freezing alone couldn’t do. But heat can also break down vitamin C, so some of it might be lost in vegetables that are going to be frozen.

Vitamin C loss doesn’t seem to be that clear-cut, though. If it’s frozen, there may not be any more loss.

A study from 2015 that looked at how well eight different fruits and vegetables kept their vitamins found that spinach, carrots, peas, and broccoli that were stored fresh or frozen did not differ significantly in terms of vitamin C. It was discovered that frozen corn and green beans had higher levels of vitamin C than fresh ones. The authors said this was because fresh vegetables break down faster.

The whole picture
The study mentioned above also discovered that, on average, frozen vegetables had the same amount of vitamins as fresh ones, and sometimes even more. Any food is “better” than none at all, and any vegetable is better than none at all in the big picture.

Vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they are good for you in many ways, like helping your immune system and giving you more energy.

If you can’t decide between fresh and frozen, choose the option that works best for you, whether it’s financially, practically, or just in terms of taste.

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