Archive for the ‘Science’ category

Lie detector for Organic products

February 6, 2008

Star of the kitchen  Originally uploaded by Rune T

How can you tell if food labeled as organic truly is organic, that is, grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? Live Science reports that Scientists in Spain, trusting chemistry more than corporations, are developing a method to sniff out food grown with synthetic fertilizers. Their technique, published in the January-February issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, relies on the detection of an isotope of nitrogen found in organic food but not in non-organic food.

Atmospheric nitrogen is made mostly from the nitrogen-14 isotope, with seven protons and seven neutrons. There’s virtually no isotope nitrogen-15 in the air nor, as a result, in the manufactured nitrate-based fertilizers.  However, the nitrogen in manure, the primary fertilizer used in organic farming, can contain up to 20 percent nitrogen-15, according to the researchers, led by Francisco del Amor of the Instituto Murciano de Investigación y Desarrollo Agrario y Agrario y Alimentario (IMIDA)  in Murcia, Spain in a joint project with the Institute of Agrobiotechnology (UPNA-CSIC)

Plants suck up nitrogen, so organic fruits and vegetables are loaded with nitrogen-15. Any food with no nitrogen-15 or a low N15/N14 ratio betrays the use of synthetic fertilizers.

The Spanish researchers, who used sweet pepper plants in their study, said someday their method could be useful in detecting small amounts of synthetic fertilizers used by organic farmers worried about low nitrogen levels in the soil and thus the potential for a low-yield harvest. As organic farming goes global, isotope sniffers could be used by nations to monitor the integrity of imported organic food.

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New anti-germ biodegradable plastic

December 1, 2007

polimero.jpgA team of Spanish researchers has developed a germ-destroying plastic  that degrades by itself once it has come to the end of its useful life.

The team from CSIC (Spanish Council for Scientific Research) sees many possibilities for the experimental procedure in the field of food packaging, although it may also have applications in medical supplies such as syringes, catheters and biosensors.

logo-csic1.jpgThe director of the Research project, Marcos Fernández, has highlighted its commercial viability for the plastics industry.

The sought-after properties were obtained using a photo-catalyzer based on a modified titanium oxide, directly incorporated in the molding process of the plastic component.

The oxide uses sunlight as the energy source to degrade the plastic material at the end of its lifecycle.

World largest telescope makes its debut

July 14, 2007

The study of astrophysics  has taken a step forward with the debut of the world’s biggest optical telescope, known as the GTC or Grantecan, which are abbreviations for “large telescope of the Canary Islands.”

The GTC turned its vast 10.4 meter (34-feet) wide mirror toward the skies and peered into space for the first time last Friday night. “The bigger the mirror, the more light the telescope can capture and the further it can see,” Pedro Alvarez, director of the GTC project, explained.

At 01.00 hours (2300 GMT) on a crystal-clear night, Spain‘s Crown Prince Felipe keyed in the computer codes which brought the observatory’s complex machinery to life. The ceremony launched a final test phase for the €130 million (US$179 million) telescope, which is designed to take advantage of pristine, clear skies at the Atlantic island of La Palma. It should be fully operational by May 2008.

Among those present for the opening was Brian May, lead guitarist of pop group Queen, who studied part of his doctorate in astrophysics at the Canary Islands institute. May is working on a musical score which will be played at the telescope’s inauguration next summer.

The GTC is located at the astrophysical research station of Roque de los Muchachos at the highest point of the Island of La Palma, 2,400 meters (7,870 feet) above sea-level.

Alone above the clouds – Originally uploaded by **ANNE

Construction work took seven years and involved more than 1,000 people from nearly 100 companies. Hauling parts of the telescope weighing a total of 500 tons to a height of 2,400m in the rough weather conditions of the winter months proved to be quite a technical challenge.

“With this (telescope) it will possible to capture the birth of new stars, to study more profoundly the characteristics of black holes or to decipher the chemical components generated by the Big Bang,” the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute said in a statement.

The institute is considered one of the world’s centers of excellence in astrophysics owing to the special geographical situation of the islands, off the northwest coast of Africa, which offers unusually transparent skies.

The cost of building the GTC was borne by Spain‘s Education and Science Ministry, the regional government of the Canary Islands, with partner astronomical institutes in Mexico and the University of Florida covering about 10 percent of the cost.

With information from: IOL, IHT and El Mundo (in Spanish only)