Asteroid fail, copper-jawed mini monster, lithium-ion gets a boost
Japan bombed an asteroid… and nothing happened. Old-school copper wiring is enjoying a speed boost thanks to cool science. Copper-rich bloodworm jaws build themselves, and the process is completely amazing. Plus – electric car charging might be about to become a lot faster. Here’s the news.
Old twisted pair copper telephone wire tech gets exciting
Ordinary copper telephone wire is just about to get a lot more exciting. Old re-purposed phone lines mean many UK households suffer from slow download speeds and rubbish internet access. Now there could be a fix.
Fibre-optic cable is very expensive. Now researchers say ordinary old copper telephone wire could hit data rates three times higher than we get now, at a fraction of the cost, over small distances. The technique could support an easier transition to UK-wide fibre optic, and be really handy in other countries who use the same twisted-pair copper wire.
In copper wire, signals are sent via an electrical current along the whole cable, end to end. Data transmission is limited by how fast the current can be changed. Current copper broadband connections work at below 1 gigahertz, but this can in theory get as high as 5 gigahertz thanks to a small, cheap component called a balun.
While more research is needed to prove the theory, the team working on it reckons 3 gigabits a second is possible. That’s triple the theoretical maximum in a world where, in reality, copper wire broadband only delivers maximum speeds of 80 megabits a second.
Bloodworm’s copper jaws inspire self-build materials
Bloodworms, which live in mud in the floor of oceans, have unusual amounts of copper in their venom-injecting jaws. But they use just one protein to build their fangs, and this simple protein might inspire new ways to build materials.
A team at the University of California in Santa Barbara has been studying the creature’s 2mm jaws, made of 10% copper, built to last the worm’s lifetime, and as tough as bronze. It even gives some ceramics a run for their money.
The team used advanced molecular and mechanical analysis and modelling to figure out the jaws’ composition and pin down exactly how they’re built. Apparently the protein controls the process, starting off by binding copper from the environment. It mixes the metal in a watery solution, then separates it to leave a dense liquid. This converts an amino acid into melanin, which makes the bloodworm’s jaws very wear-resistant.
The resulting composite material is super-strong, despite the hard-working protein being unusually simple. In one of the team member’s words, “It really does boggle the mind.” The finding could help engineers improve composite materials that might be able to build themselves.
A brilliantly efficient battery for charging electric cars
Would you like to charge your electric car 60% in 60 seconds? Wouldn’t we all. A new kind of lithium ion battery is capable of doing exactly that thanks to copper nanowires.
Lithium-ion batteries use binding agents to create a solid anode, giving slower charging times. A team at the University of Science and Technology of China has designed an alternative with a clever structured positive end or anode.
The graphite particles inside a lithium battery usually fall into a random order. The scientists organised the particles by size while fiddling with ‘porosity’, a feature of electrodes. Higher porosity in the top of the anode and lower porosity in the bottom lets the battery charge from zero to 60% in 5.6 minutes and 80% in 11.4 minutes, while still storing a high amount of energy.
How did they do it? They coated the graphite anode particles with copper and mixed in copper nanowires before heating the particles, cooling and compressing them, then setting the new structure in place. In a world where a Tesla takes 40-60 minutes to fully charge, it makes a huge difference
What happened when Japan bombed an asteroid
Back in 2019 a Japanese spacecraft bombed an asteroid… and it barely moved. The Hayabusa 2 craft bombed asteroid Ryugu, shooting a 2.5kg chunk of copper at it in an attempt to make a crater. The team expected the impact to shake the asteroid, moving large rocks on its surface around. But it hardly had any effect. The rocks moved less than 1m, suggesting the seismic waves were a lot weaker than they thought.
This means the asteroid must be as much as 100 times better at resisting seismic activity than the moon. It might be down to the dust grains on Ryugu, which are a lot bigger than these on the moon so are better at scattering the waves.
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