National / International News

How We Learned That Frogs Fly

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 02:03

Two Harvard professors. One on a rooftop with a bucket of frogs. The other in the front yard, down below. Ready? Get set. Throw!

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Plugging in battery makers and battery innovators

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-11 02:00

If you were to make a list of the top five products that will play a prominent role in our future, the battery would definitely be at the top. Batteries power our devices, our cars will increasingly rely on them, and they are a fundamental component in renewable energy grids.

In Berkley, California, scientists are experimenting with new ways to make safer, more efficient batteries. At the same time, angel investors are experimenting with new ways of connecting those scientists with companies that can get those batteries into the market.

About 10 years ago, when scientists were trying to invent new kinds of batteries, they often used a method called "cook and look." 

“So you go cook a material up, take a bunch of compounds, heat it up to very high temperature, and you will then go make a battery with it and you’ll go look  and see if that battery worked the way you would expect it to work,” said Venkat Srinivasan, head of the Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Department at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Srinivasan says today his lab uses computers to identify new materials. As a result he can produce quicker results. But turning those results into tangible products is a slow process.  “Going from the lab to the market can take as much as 10 years in the battery space," he says. "And that bottleneck in going from lab to market is what we are trying to solve with CalCharge.

CalCharge is a consortium of companies, universities, laboratories and unions. It was created by CalCEF, the California Clean Energy Angel Fund, which provides seed money to startups in the clean energy field.

CalCEF spent two years studying the process of innovation in the battery industry and found multiple bottlenecks. Labs need more trained scientists. Additional skilled workers are needed to install new technologies when they do get to market and, although the national labs are mandated by Congress to produce practical technology for the private sector, they are burdened by complex regulations.

“For an individual company that wanted to work with a national lab to do cooperative research, it could take between six and nine months easily for a company to negotiate a single project, and that’s just untenable for most companies,” said CalCEF managing director Jeff Anderson.

CalCharge was created to help streamline that process. It connects energy storage companies with the national labs. It also worked with San Jose State University to create a Master of Science program that focuses on battery technologies.

CalCharge gets its base funding from companies that pay annual dues to join the consortium. In the eight weeks since CalCharge officially launched, several companies including Duracel, Volkswagen and LG, have signed on as members.

PODCAST: NASA's flying saucer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-11 02:00

With Eric Cantor's stunning defeat, a look at how the business community is reacting to the turn of events, and what it means for immigration reform. Plus, with the world cup on the international stage, we take a closer look at the state of Brazil's economy. Also, NASA is launching a flying saucer like space craft bound for Mars. It will serve as a test for new landing gear meant to slow down the craft's 3,000 MPH traveling speed.

GDP: Oil Patch Booms While Northeast Lags

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-11 02:00

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis's data on state-by-state GDP for 2013 lags GDP figures already released for the entire U.S. In March, the bureau reported that GDP nationwide rose by 1.9 percent in 2013. That compared to 2.8 percent growth in 2012.

 

But drill down, and economic growth varies widely between the states, says Alan Berube, who helps compile the Metro Monitor at the Brookings Institution.

“The picture is still one of a multi-speed recovery,” says Berube.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, predicts that the states that grew fastest in 2013 — and likely have continued to grow strongly in 2014 — are on the West Coast (California, Oregon and Washington), where home prices have strongly rebounded and high-tech barely faltered in the recession. Other bright spots: states in the South and High Plains where oil and natural gas are booming.

“North Dakota will continue to look really good,” says Zandi. “Texas — the strongest big economy in the country throughout the recession and recovery — that will continue. I think we’ll see some states that got nailed in the housing bust turning more definitively up — Nevada, Arizona and Florida — where the leisure and hospitality industry has also come back.”

While growth rates now look reasonably strong in the upper Midwest, where manufacturing is still a major economic force, “it’s like a rubber ball,” says Alan Berube. “They just bounced back because they crashed so hard. Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo — they’ve been in a long-term recession with job losses dating back to the early 2000's. So they’re doing better than they were two or three years ago — a lot better. But they’re still not quite as well off as they were a decade or two ago.”

Economic growth has lagged in recent years in New England (outside the Boston Metro area, which is a hub for finance, high-tech and higher education), and also in the Mid-Atlantic states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Data on our data: 30 days to review taped phone calls

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-11 02:00

This month marks the first anniversary of the Edward Snowden leaks that changed our understanding of online privacy. Just like the subject matter of the leaks, the reporting over the last year has offered a deluge of information. So this week, we're posting a short series about all that data. Every day we'll bring you another number that reminds us how much we have learned in the last year about online surveillance and the reach of the NSA.

30 days

is how long the NSA can store phone conversations after recording

Through its SOMALGET program, the NSA records and store phone conversations in bulk. Agents can go back into those records and review them for up to 30 days.

This practice, and the ability for the government to do it, is something Nadia Kayali, an activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says many find surprising. "I don’t think people think about their phone calls actually being recorded and then being maintained. Being maintained for 30 days? That is shocking."

VIDEO: Hope for trapped cave explorer

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:57
Rescue workers in Germany say an injured explorer trapped in a deep cave is responsive and able to walk with help.

Rooney 'witch-hunt' annoys Neville

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:50
Calls for Wayne Rooney to be dropped by England at the World Cup have turned into a "witch-hunt", says Phil Neville.

VIDEO: Virtual reality gets more real

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:35
The BBC's North America Technology Correspondent Richard Taylor puts the latest in virtual reality to the test.

S Korea ferry police in huge raid

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:34
Some 6,000 South Korean officers raid a religious compound in search of fugitive billionaire Yoo Byung-eun, wanted over the Sewol ferry disaster.

Scots jobless total falls by 7,000

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:33
Unemployment in Scotland fell by 7,000 over the three months to April and now stands at 183,000, according to official figures.

AUDIO: Payday lenders 'offer fair price'

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:29
Consumer Finance Association chief executive Russell Hamblin Boone discusses claims that there is a lack of competition between payday lenders.

McIlroy to keep phone off at US Open

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:28
Rory McIlroy says his mobile phone will remain switched off this week as he attempts to win a second US Open title.

Lobbyists Loom Behind The Scenes Of School Nutrition Fight

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:25

School food service administrators once supported new healthy food requirements on the nation's school lunch program. But now, they want the rules delayed. And they're getting swept up in politics.

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In pictures: Iraqis flee Mosul

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:07
Thousands flee as militants control city

Star Wars spin-off to be shot in UK

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:06
The first Star Wars standalone movie will be filmed in the UK next year, Chancellor George Osborne says.

Payday loan firms 'not competitive'

BBC - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:06
Payday lenders lack price competition and customers may be paying too much for their loans, regulators say.

College Colleagues Will Face Off For Eric Cantor's Seat

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:06

Two professors at Virginia's Randolph-Macon College find themselves in an unexpected position: facing each other in November for a seat in Congress.

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Meet David Brat, The Giant-Killer Who Knocked Off Eric Cantor

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:05

The man who rocked the political world is a 52-year-old "free-market, Milton Friedman economist." While Virginia GOP Rep. Eric Cantor tried to paint Brat as a liberal, in reality he's anything but.

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Eric Cantor's Collapse: What Happened?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:04

In some ways, the House majority leader is the most significant Republican incumbent ousted in a primary since the intraparty rebellion by conservative hardliners began five years ago.

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NASA's flying saucers hopefully won't be a smash hit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-11 01:00

NASA may, weather permitting, launch what’s playfully being called a flying saucer.

It does look like a flying saucer, but it’s really more like landing gear...for Mars. NASA has ambitious plans for what it wants to send to the Red Planet – like people, habitats, and rockets for return journeys back to earth. This would involve payloads of 20, 30, or perhaps even 40 tons – dwarfing the one ton Curiosity Rover that touched down on Mars two years ago.

To land said gigantic saucers on Mars – which, by the way, travel at four times the speed of sound (Mach 4, 3,044 miles per hour, or 0.8 miles per second) -- you need to slow them down first.

“It’s difficult to land things on Mars versus Earth because the atmosphere is very thin, just one percent of Earth’s,” explains Mark Adler, program manager for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project.

Parachutes alone won’t do, and rockets would require more fuel than anyone would like to carry all the way to Mars. “So we need large decelerators, to slow things down.”

That's where the “flying saucer” comes in. It’s a disc shaped payload that has, among other things, two experimental technologies to slow down vastly massive payloads.

The first is a “supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator”: a doughnut shaped airbag that will make the payload a little more fat and less dense, slowing it down from four times the speed of sound to a mere two times the speed of sound.

The second is a large 100-foot supersonic parachute.

Together, they will be taken up to 120,000 feet by helium balloon, and then launched up to 180,000 feet where the atmosphere resembles that of Mars, reaching Mach 4.

Keith Cowing, editor of NASAWatch, says the technology is “probably one of the most cost-effective things one can imagine,” compared to using rockets to brake a rocket’s fall.

Cost effective doesn’t mean cheap, of course. This program costs $200 million dollars, of which $150 million has already been spent. It's one of the reasons NASA can't privatize the project like it does with cargo flights to the space station.

“You know, landing on Mars so far doesn’t seem to be very profitable,” says Michael Lopez Alegria, president of the Commercial Space Flight Federation. While he foresees a day when private companies will take up the slack, governments will have to open the frontier to Mars.

For now, that means not crashing into the surface of Mars at 3,000 miles per hour.

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