Science Briefs: Molecules in algae may provide better sunblock

Need better sunburn protection? Molecules found in algae and fish slime may hold the answer.
Need better sunburn protection? Molecules found in algae and fish slime may hold the answer. MCT

Need better sunblock? Consider fish slime

Need just the right sunblock this summer? Scientists are now turning to the natural sunscreen of algae – which is also found in fish slime – to make a novel kind of shield against the sun’s rays that could protect not only people, but also textiles and outdoor materials. They report on their development in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Existing sunblock lotions typically work by either absorbing ultraviolet rays or physically blocking them. A variety of synthetic and natural compounds can accomplish this. But most commercial options have limited efficiency, pose risks to the environment and human health or are not stable. To address these shortcomings, Vincent Bulone and Susana Fernandes of Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology and their colleagues looked to nature for inspiration.

They used algae’s natural sunscreen molecules – which can also be found in reef fish mucus and microorganisms – and combined them with a biopolymer from crustacean shells. Testing showed their materials were biocompatible, stood up well in heat and light, and absorbed both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation with high efficiency.

More efficient transfer of wireless power

Research from N.C. State and Carnegie Mellon University shows that passing wireless power transfer through a magnetic resonance field enhancer – which can be as simple as a copper loop – can boost the transfer efficiency by at least 100 percent as compared to transferring through air alone. MRFE use could potentially boost transfer efficiency by as much as 5,000 percent in some systems, experts say.

Wireless power transfer works by having a transmitter coil generate a magnetic field; a receiver coil then draws energy from that magnetic field. One of the major roadblocks for development of marketable wireless power transfer technologies is achieving high efficiency.

“Our experimental results show double the efficiency using the MRFE in comparison to air alone,” said David Ricketts, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State and corresponding author of a paper about on this work in the journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters. “This could help advance efforts to develop wireless power transfer technologies for use with electric vehicles, in buildings, or in any other application where enhanced efficiency or greater distances are important considerations.”

App keeps you up to speed on Pluto mission

With the mysteries of Pluto now tantalizingly in reach, it’s not a bad time to brush up on the basic wonders of space. Who better to ask than NASA? It’s NASA app – free, for iOS and Android devices – is full of images, videos, news and facts about space, spaceflight and astronomy. There’s also access to live video and audio broadcasts, as well as a feed of tweets from official NASA accounts.

And, of course, there’s plenty of information about Pluto and the historic New Horizons mission. Washington Post

How accurate/useful are weather predictions?

Forecast for Thursday evening in Raleigh? A panel discussion at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences about the accuracy and usefulness of modern-day meteorology. Four weather experts will be on the 7-8:30 p.m. panel in the museum’s Daily Planet Cafe: Jonathan Blaes, of the National Weather Service; Matthew Parker, of the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina; Joel Cline, of the U.S. Department of Energy; and N.C. State professor Gary Lackmann. The panel will be moderated by WRAL-TV meteorologist and producer Nate Johnson. An audience Q-and-A will follow. Admission is free. Details: Staff reports