Improved Process for Making Clean Drinking Water Out of Salt Water Developed

It would be helpful in creating much more safe drinking water if it actually becomes mass produced.

Using an innovative combination of sunshine and hydrogels, a new device just unveiled by scientists is able to produce clean drinking water from virtually any source – even the salty waters of the Dead Sea.

This new technique could prevent tens of thousands of death every year, since access to safe drinking water is at a premium in many developing nations, not to even mention the wake of a natural disaster or emergency anywhere in the world.

The technology is compact, inexpensive, and uses ambient solar energy in order to evaporate water and remove impurities, making it a substantial upgrade over similar processes that have been used in the past.

“Water desalination through distillation is a common method for mass production of freshwater,” says one of the researchers, Fei Zhao from the University of Texas at Austin.

“However, current distillation technologies, such as multi-stage flash and multi-effect distillation, require significant infrastructures and are quite energy-intensive.”

“Solar energy, as the most sustainable heat source to potentially power distillation, is widely considered to be a great alternative for water desalination.”

The new filtering device works by combining several gel-polymer hybrid materials that mix both hydrophilic (water-attracting) and semiconducting (solar-adsorbing) properties.

The nanostructure of the gels enables more water vapour to be produced from less solar energy, and without the complicated series of optical instruments that existing devices use to concentrate sunlight. Here, that concentration isn’t needed.

When a jar of contaminated water is placed in direct sunlight with the hydrogel evaporator on top, vapour is released that’s then trapped and stored by a condenser.

“We have essentially rewritten the entire approach to conventional solar water evaporation,” says lead researcher Guihua Yu, from the University of Texas at Austin.

To give their new contraption a thorough testing, the researchers tried it out at the Dead Sea, which borders Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. With a salinity of around 34 percent, it’s about ten times as salty as your standard ocean water.

The hydrogel filtering device passed its test with flying colours, producing drinking water from the Dead Sea that met the accepted drinking water standards put down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

New Blood Test to Detect Alzheimer’s Developed

The earlier Alzheimer’s is detected, the more effective treatment for it can be. This blood test is part of an encouraging new wave of medical detections that are disrupting the costly and/or invasive methods used previously.

Scientists have developed a new blood test where a tiny drop of blood could be enough to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s – and that would mean better care and preventative measures could be taken much earlier.

Key to the new method is detecting the presence of amyloid beta (Aβ) deposits (or plaques), generally thought to be one of the main drivers of Alzheimer’s. Until now, detecting these plaques has proved tricky, and impossible as far as a blood test goes.

Now, that could be about to change. Based on a study of 373 Australian and Japanese patients, amyloid beta build up was accurately predicted in more than 90 percent of cases using the new procedure.

“From a tiny blood sample, our method can measure several amyloid-related proteins, even though their concentration is extremely low,” says one of the team, Koichi Tanaka from the Shimadzu Corporation in Japan.

“We found that the ratio of these proteins was an accurate surrogate for brain amyloid burden.”

We’re still not sure exactly how Alzheimer’s starts and develops, but abnormal levels of amyloid beta and another protein called tau seem to play a big role. Crucially, these proteins start to congregate long before noticeable Alzheimer’s symptoms like memory loss appear – maybe as many as 20 or 30 years prior.

Costly brain scans or difficult spinal fluid extraction are currently used to measure amyloid beta levels, but the diagnosis of the disease often just relies on looking for the visible symptoms of Alzheimer’s, at which stage it’s well developed.

That’s why a new early warning system, requiring just a small blood sample and giving several decades of warning, could be revolutionary.

The new process works using mass spectrometry to ionise and scan blood for a particular peptide or amino acid compound thought to be linked to amyloid beta concentrations. While a lot more testing is required to verify the link, it’s a promising start.

While we don’t yet have a cure for Alzheimer’s, knowing it’s on the way could help prompt some lifestyle changes regarding sleep, diet, and exercise that might help reduce its impact.

What’s more, it would give researchers a useful shortlist of people suitable for clinical trials, giving us a faster route to an eventual cure.

“I can see in the future, five years from now, where people have a regular checkup every five years after age 55 or 60 to determine whether they are on the Alzheimer’s pathway or not,” lead researcher Colin Masters, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, told the Associated Press.

Other research teams are also working on blood tests to try and detect Alzheimer’s, but none have yet made it out of the laboratory – an indication of just how hard it is to identify and deal with this disease.

Still, it’s encouraging that progress is being made, progress that could affect millions: in the US alone, more than 5 million people live with Alzheimer’s, and it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Let’s hope that this latest blood test proves to be suitable for widespread use within the next few years.

Additional research done recently: A brain pacemaker shows progress in slowing Alzheimer’s disease.

Wrenching Back Power from the Corrupt Billionaire Class

A strikingly profound op-ed for the new year. Also, a basic point of economics that most economists don’t like to talk about is that reducing the rents high-income individuals receive is typically a gain for lower socioeconomic groups.

Here is where we are as a planet in 2018: after all of the wars, revolutions and international summits of the past 100 years, we live in a world where a tiny handful of incredibly wealthy individuals exercise disproportionate levels of control over the economic and political life of the global community.

Difficult as it is to comprehend, the fact is that the six richest people on Earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. Further, the top 1% now have more money than the bottom 99%. Meanwhile, as the billionaires flaunt their opulence, nearly one in seven people struggle to survive on less than $1.25 (90p) a day and – horrifyingly – some 29,000 children die daily from entirely preventable causes such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.

At the same time, all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

In the United States, Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person – has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers.

Not only that, but at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, people all over the world are losing their faith in democracy – government by the people, for the people and of the people. They increasingly recognise that the global economy has been rigged to reward those at the top at the expense of everyone else, and they are angry.

Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they did 40 years ago, in both the United States and many other countries. They look on, feeling helpless in the face of a powerful few who buy elections, and a political and economic elite that grows wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer.

In the midst of all of this economic disparity, the world is witnessing an alarming rise in authoritarianism and rightwing extremism – which feeds off, exploits and amplifies the resentments of those left behind, and fans the flames of ethnic and racial hatred.

Now, more than ever, those of us who believe in democracy and progressive government must bring low-income and working people all over the world together behind an agenda that reflects their needs. Instead of hate and divisiveness, we must offer a message of hope and solidarity. We must develop an international movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to a world of economic, social and environmental justice. Will this be an easy struggle? Certainly not. But it is a fight that we cannot avoid. The stakes are just too high.

As Pope Francis correctly noted in a speech at the Vatican in 2013: “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.” He continued: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

A new and international progressive movement must commit itself to tackling structural inequality both between and within nations. Such a movement must overcome “the cult of money” and “survival of the fittest” mentalities that the pope warned against. It must support national and international policies aimed at raising standards of living for poor and working-class people – from full employment and a living wage to universal higher education, healthcare and fair trade agreements. In addition, we must rein in corporate power and prevent the environmental destruction of our planet as a result of climate change.

Here is just one example of what we have to do. Just a few years ago, the Tax Justice Network estimated that the wealthiest people and largest corporations throughout the world have been stashing at least $21tn-$32tn in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. If we work together to eliminate offshore tax abuse, the new revenue that would be generated could put an end to global hunger, create hundreds of millions of new jobs, and substantially reduce extreme income and wealth inequality. It could be used to move us aggressively toward sustainable agriculture and to accelerate the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of power.

Taking on the greed of Wall Street, the power of gigantic multinational corporations and the influence of the global billionaire class is not only the moral thing to do – it is a strategic geopolitical imperative. Research by the United Nations development programme has shown that citizens’ perceptions of inequality, corruption and exclusion are among the most consistent predictors of whether communities will support rightwing extremism and violent groups. When people feel that the cards are stacked against them and see no way forward for legitimate recourse, they are more likely to turn to damaging solutions that only exacerbate the problem.

This is a pivotal moment in world history. With the explosion in advanced technology and the breakthroughs this has brought, we now have the capability to substantially increase global wealth fairly. The means are at our disposal to eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and create an inexpensive and non-polluting global energy system.

This is what we can do if we have the courage to stand together and take on the powerful special interests who simply want more and more for themselves. This is what we must do for the sake of our children, grandchildren and the future of our planet.