Researchers have designed a portable optical sensor that can monitor whether a plant is under stress. The device offers farmers and plant scientists a new tool for early diagnosis and real-time monitoring of plant health in field conditions. While the study mainly looked at measuring nitrogen levels in plants, the device can also be used to detect levels of other plant stress phenotypes such as drought, heat and cold stress, saline stress, and light stress. The wide range of plant stressors that can be detected by these leaf-clip Raman probes and their simplicity and speed makes them ideal for field use by farmers to ensure crop health.
Inspired by the color-changing skin of cuttlefish, octopuses and squids, engineers have created a 3D-printed smart gel that changes shape when exposed to light, becomes “artificial muscle” and may lead to new military camouflage, soft robotics and flexible displays. The engineers incorporated a light-sensing nanomaterial in the hydrogel, turning it into an “artificial muscle” that contracts in response to changes in light. The light-sensing smart gel, combined with the 3D-printed stretchy material, changes color, resulting in a camouflage effect. Next steps include improving the technology’s sensitivity, response time, scalability, packaging and durability.
Scientists have found a way to grow diamonds in the lab that can be stressed and strained without losing their shape to give them special, electricity-conducting properties. They observed a maximum strain of 9.7%, which the authors report is very close to the ideal elastic limit for a material like this. They found increased strain on these diamonds resulted in a corresponding decrease in internal energy, transforming them into a direct-bandgap superconductor, a characteristic which will ultimately play an important role in enabling these materials to be incorporated into microelectronic mechanical systems, including quantum-based electronics.
A geosciences team has developed a new way to reconstruct the sizes of volcanic eruptions that occurred thousands of years ago. The advanced numerical model allows scientists to reconstruct eruption rates through time by estimating the dimensions of the umbrella clouds that contribute to the accumulation of vast deposits of volcanic ash. This first-of-its kind tool can aid scientists in understanding past explosive eruptions that shaped the earth and improve the way of estimating hazards of future eruptions by estimating the erupted volume and mass, plume height, umbrella cloud dimensions and other characteristics.
The British government has announced a new financial aid package for businesses most affected by the most recent lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of an aggressive new variant of the COVID-19 virus. The Treasury said it would pay one-off grants worth £4.6 billion to businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to support them through the coming weeks of full lockdown. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the aim was to help sustain jobs to ensure workers could be ready to return when the economy reopened. Retail, hospitality and leisure companies will get one-off grants worth up to £9,000 in addition to an extended furlough scheme.
Battery electric vehicles accounted for more than half of all cars sold in Norway last year, putting the country way out in front in efforts to kill off the internal combustion engine. Norway is using huge tax incentives to help ensure that every new passenger car and van sold in the country by the end of 2025 is a zero-emission vehicle. Record electric vehicle sales in 2020 means the country is now ahead of schedule. Volkswagen’s luxury brand Audi was the market leader in 2020 selling 9,227 of its e-tron vehicles in the country. Tesla’s Model 3, the 2019 leader, was pushed into second place with 7,770 sales. Volkswagen’s ID.3 ranked third with 7,754 cars sold.
Julian Assange will make a fresh bid to be released from prison after a British judge ruled that he cannot be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage and of hacking government computers. Lawyers for US authorities are appealing against the ruling which rejected arguments that the WikiLeaks co-founder would not get a fair trial in the US but blocked extradition on the basis that procedures in prisons there would not prevent him from potentially taking his own life. Legal experts say they would be surprised if bail is granted, given Assange’s categorisation as a flight risk.
Australia is set to embark on a mass audit of the country’s koala population, using drones and detection dogs to count the species amid fears it is “sliding towards extinction”. The koala count is part of an AUS$18m (£10m) package to protect Australia’s iconic marsupials from multiple threats, including habitat destruction, climate change, disease and car strikes. Heat-seeking drones and sniffer dogs will be used to document the koala population, which was estimated in a 2016 study to number 329,000. Since then, there have been annual bushfires reducing the number further.