Corey Binns

S.O.S. Via SMS

Farm-raiding, cellphone-toting elephants text their location to park rangers

If the Kenya Wildlife Service starts running up its text-messaging charges, it has 44 elephants to blame. Rangers in Kenya have outfitted elephants with cellphone- and GPS-equipped collars that send warning messages when the pachyderms are about to raid farms.

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Lights Out

Energy-efficient tech dims Edison’s bright idea

On March 1, the Republic of Ireland becomes the first democratic country in the world to ban the traditional incandescent lightbulb. Stores there will no longer carry the century-old technology, which converts only between 5 and 10 percent of electricity into light, losing the rest as radiant heat. (Compare this with the 40 percent efficiency of compact fluorescent bulbs.) In its place, hardware stores will stock shelves with compact fluorescents, halogens and LEDs.

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Powered by Sun, Wind and Sea

The biggest renewable energy projects of 2009

These three projects will harness natural resources to powerful effect.

Offshore Wind

Hull, Massachusetts
This resort town, population 11,000, plans to moor four 260-foot-tall turbines a mile and a half offshore, at a total cost of $40 million. Along with Hull's two existing onshore turbines, wind power could generate 14 megawatts, enough to supply energy to the entire community.

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The Gas Bug

Full story inside the November issue of Popular Science, out now!

E. coli has earned a nasty reputation for upsetting stomachs and killing people. But now scientists at LS9, a start-up in South San Francisco, are putting the bad bug to good use, genetically engineering it to excrete biodiesel. The fuel "burns just like diesel," says Greg Pal, the senior director at LS9 [see Breeding the Oil Bug, about the rise of microbial biofuels].

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Inflatable Surveillance Balls for Mars

Round robotic sidekicks scout Martian territory for the next generation of rovers

By next fall, NASA plans to launch its biggest Red Planet rover yet, the $1.8-billion, SUV-size Mars Research Laboratory. Even though the MRL will be able to haul five times as much equipment as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that are already on Mars, a group of Swedish researchers say that they could accomplish far more if accompanied by a squad of helper ’bots. Fredrik Bruhn, the CEO of Ångström Aerospace Corporation, and his colleagues have designed the small inflatable scouts to assist bigger, less mobile rovers in their hunt for signs of microbial life on Mars.

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How Your Laptop Will Just Keep Getting Faster

Three deep-in-the-lab technologies will extend PCs' relentless power boosts

Since the invention of the transistor, silicon semiconductors have been king. But now silicon-based transistors are nearing the limit of their potential. Excess heat and manufacturing hurdles are impeding the development of ever-faster and -smaller processors. Advances in materials and chip design to resist extreme heat and move huge amounts of data, quickly, will be crucial. Experts are exploring three technologies to overcome these challenges: spintronics, graphene and memristors.

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Solving Saturn's Mysteries

A rare glimpse at the ringed planet could make '09 the year of Saturn

The 14-year-long summer on Saturn’s southern side is drawing to a close. August 11, 2020, marks the planet’s vernal equinox, when Saturn’s thin rings line up edge-on with the sun. As this happens, the rings will appear to grow thinner until they completely vanish. Because scattered sunlight won’t obscure the view, it’s a perfect time for NASA’s spacecraft Cassini to answer long-standing questions about Saturn.

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The Stinkiest Fuel on Earth

As energy prices spike, even smelly fuel sources look attractive

Will Brinton, the founder of Woods End Laboratories, a bioenergy consultancy, predicts a future without landfills. Instead we’ll use table scraps and sewage to power our homes. Just dump the waste into a household digester, and bacteria will break it down and release the natural gas methane. Farms could sell their copious poop-based energy supplies back to the grid. But how much energy do animals yield? We ran the numbers and found that you might want to consider a pet elephant.

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