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Here you find all contributions made by external authors to JUnQ. This includes peer-reviewed articles and editorial board reviewed open questions.

Jan 082018
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Is Mycelium the Material of the Future?

No, mycelium is not a recently discovered chemical element. It might be the solution to the question of how to replace petroleum-based materials!

Mycelium is the tenuous web of vegetative fungal cells called hyphae that grows in the soilas shown in figure 1.[1] The parts of fungi that we usually see are just their body fruits (mushrooms, chanterelles, shiitake,…). But mycelium forms a much larger network below the surface that can even spread over several thousand square kilometers.[2] It is one of earth’s most important organisms since it helps nature to “digest”, meaning that it decomposes organic material and turns it into compost.[1]

Figure 1: Microscopic image of a mycelium network (size 1 mm · 1 mm).[3]

But can this bio-based material save our planet? The answer to this question could be easier as you might think. Fungal material is renewable, compostable under certain conditions (moisture and the presence of other organisms), fire resistant, moldable, free from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dyeable and vegan.[4]

Companies like Ecovative and MycoWorks have already started to produce items from mycelium that can find access to our daily life.[4,5]

Ecovative was founded in 2007 and claims to produce more than 450,000 kg of mycelium material per year. They explain the production process on their webpage:

Agricultural waste is seeded with mycelium from mushrooms like Ganoderma. After some time of incubation, the waste is cut into little particles that are filled into a mold with the desired shape. The mycelium grows a few days until it has filled the mold and can be removed. In a last step the solid material is dried to stop the mycelium from growing. From that process packing material and even decoration can be made.[6] Imagine how many things could be substituted that are still petroleum-based and not compostable.

MycoWorks, founded in 2013, is specializing on replacing leather by mycelium – a relieve for our vegan friends. They claim that “…it feels and performs like leather”.[5] Indeed, recently I had the chance to touch a sample of “mycelium leather” and it does feel quite comfortable!

Mycelium as a full substitute for most of our plastic-based everyday products has still a long way to go. Sure, fugus as fancy packing material is not unusual anymore but customers still have to be convinced to wear clothes made from mushrooms. After all, some fungi are responsible for decay and mould. How will it react on the (moist) skin? Can it be washed without any damage to the fabric? How quickly does it decompose?

There must still be made a lot more research and explanatory work until consumers are convinced to take mycelium as an impeccable material. But maybe one day the world will be greener and we will be producing less eternal waste.

– Tatjana Daenzer

Read more:

[1] https://www.britannica.com/science/fungus, last access: 15.12.2017, 15:33.

[2] Ingraham, John L.: March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2010.

[3] CC BY-SA 3.0, last access 15.12.2017, 16:52.

[4] https://www.ecovativedesign.com/, last access 15.12.2017, 15:58.

[5] https://www.mycoworks.com/, last access 15.12.2017, 16:26.

[6] https://www.ecovativedesign.com/how-it-works, last access 15.12.2017, 16:09.

Dec 032017
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How will the IT technology develop within the next decade?

Firstly, the term itself refers to the nowadays common praxis to “outsource IT activities to one or more third parties that have rich pools of resources to meet organization needs easily and efficiently” [1, 2]. In other words, one buys the permission to use hardware, network connectivity, storage, and software that is located in a computing center anywhere in the world. It is more or less comparable to other known public utilities such as electricity, water and natural gas [1] and follows the same rule: You pay for what you need, not more.

The private sector is also more and more part of the system. Cloud memory saves personal data and makes it available from any place with an internet connection, file sharing websites are widely used and gained a lot of popularity within the last years. Another kind of cloud computing is especially interesting for research: Branches with high computational needs, e.g. astrophysics, medicine, and large scale facilities like CERN, can save a lot of resources by outsourcing computational power to volunteers. While their PCs are idle, a program starts in the background and performs calculations for the project [3].

The current state of cloud computing is already very impressive, however there is one major goal the IT industry starts to tackle now, namely the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). An example is Near Field Communication (NFC), a set of hardware and software protocols to enable two devices to communicate wireless with each other [4]. It is already part of most modern smartphones and also widely used for contactless payment cards. More and more devices in our daily life will be included in this IoT, resulting in increased connectivity and data flow around us. The idea is to take the cloud and place it everywhere around us, basically creating a fog [5]. This now indeed called “fog-computing” could span a wide range of applications in daily life. From smart houses that adjust the temperature, to refrigerators that tell their user when they are getting empty. An even more spectacular application could be connected to the trend towards self-driving cars. Large IT companies already started to develop cars which do not need a driver any more [6]. What sounds like science fiction could become commonly available within the next decades and opens the path to some great applications of fog-computing. How about a traffic light, which already counts the arriving cars and adjusts its phases according to the traffic volume or tries to prevent accidents by detecting obstacles and pedestrians much faster than any human would be able to? The possibilities are incredible.

However, one also needs to consider possible disadvantages like data safety and the problem of the totally transparent citizen. Moreover, judiciary will require a lot of adjustments and new laws, especially when the computer hardware that processes cloud data is located in another country with different data protection laws. There are a lot of changes to be made, however so far technological progress was never stoppable. We will most likely be able to observe within the next 10 years some of the biggest changes in IT technology and connectivity since the invention of the internet itself.

–Kai Litzius

[1] Hassan, Qusay (2011). “Demystifying Cloud Computing” (PDF). The Journal of Defense Software Engineering (CrossTalk) 2011 (Jan/Feb): 16–21.}
[2] M. Armbrust, A. Fox, R. Griffith, A. D. Joseph, R. Katz, A. Konwinski, G. Lee, D. Patterson, A. Rabkin, I. Stoica, M. Zaharia, “Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing”. University of California, Berkeley, Feb 2009.
[3] http://boinc.berkeley.edu/projects.php
[4] Cameron Faulkner. ” NFC? Everything you need to know”. Techradar.com.
[5] Bar-Magen Numhauser, Jonathan (2013). Fog Computing introduction to a New Cloud Evolution. Escrituras silenciadas: paisaje como historiograf?a. Spain: University of Alcala. pp. 111–126.
[§] Google Self-Driving Car Project Monthly Report – September 2015″ (PDF). Google.

Nov 162017
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Figure 1. Scaling effect of global maps. The circles would all have the same size on the Earth’s surface. [1] Copyright: BY-SA 2.5 (Eric Gaba)

If we think about an earth map, gigantic Asia, Antarctic and North America with Greenland comes up in our mind. However, have you ever thought more about our self-created 2D maps of the earth? Do those maps represent the real sizes of our countries? Are Antarctica and Greenland as big as they seem and Africa in comparison to other continents so small. The answer for most of the 2D maps we are looking at is No! The most maps do not show the true sizes of the countries, because the countries of our round planet were just planed to a 2D paper without the correct scales. Meaning the continents or countries closer to the poles look a lot bigger as they are whereas the ones close to the equator look a lot smaller (see Fig. 1).

How did this happen? Our maps are older as we think. A Belgian geographer and cartographer Gerhard Mercator from 1569 designed those maps we are still looking at. This model is convenient for the seafaring, because you need equatorial azimuthal projections for navigation. In terms of ratios of the countries, the model is indeed sometimes wrong. It does show Greenland and Antarctica totally stretched and therefore bigger as they are. For example, Africa is 14 times larger than Greenland in reality. Madagascar is actually bigger as the United kingdom. Where Ireland also is 3 times smaller than it seems to be on a map of Mercator (see Fig. 2).


Figure 2. Direct comparison of different regions

There are several approaches now on shedding some light on this fact. One webpage showing the optical illusions is called “true size” [4]. Here you can move countries to another region of the earth and their scale will be dynamically adjusted dependent on the local distortion of the map. Another example is given here with a map built using the Cahill–Keyes projection (first proposed by Cahill and refined by Keyes in 1975). In this ensemble, the map provides an easy understanding of the continents with a minimized distortion (Fig. 3). Of course, another possibility to have a quite precise image of our world is to have a globe if you have enough room to have it.

Figure 3. Political world map for 2013 CE using the Cahill-Keyes Projection. Copyright: Duncan Webb CC BY 1.0

[1] http://geoawesomeness.com/top-7-maps-ultimately-explain-map-projections/
[2] http://www.authagraph.com/products/map/product-article-01/?lang=en
[3] http://www.epochtimes.de/wissen/so-gross-sind-die-kontinente-ohne-verzerrungen-wirklich-die-genaueste-karte-der-welt-a1971295.html
[4] thetruesize.com
[5] https://www.youtube.com

— Dania Rose-Sperling

Oct 232017
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Cueillette Urbaine, meaning « Urban gathering » in French, is a society commited to turn green the cities, by producing local organic food on the available buildings roofs.
Cueillette Urbaine also aims to associate local urban production and restoration in the same space, where customers could gather and choose their own fruits and vegetables to be cooked afterwards. Thus, it removes the environment costs of the transport, but it also enables to recycle organic food waste, to improve the biodiversity in the cities, to manage rainwaters, etc…

Cueillette Urbaine belongs to the new wave of urban farming. Nonetheless, growing out of the soil and creating new ecosystems in the core of the cities is a real urban challenge. Therefore, scientific research work is needed to develop new cultivation technologies, to assure a high quality production. Indeed, bringing soils from elsewhere is not a sustainable solution, as transport environmental costs could be higher than carrying food from the rural areas to the cities. Therefore, developing hydroponics, aquaponics or like Cueillette Urbaine new cultivate substrates is essential for sustainable food production in the cities. For instance, Cueillette Urbaine is leading a research and development project to evaluate the effects of different types of substrates (coffee ground, lawn cuts, compost…) on the plant growth. Secondly we focus our research on vegetal association benefice in particular to avoid diseases, ameliorate the pollination and finally to create an equilibrate ecosystem. Finally, we work on wicking systems to avoid hydric stress.

Growth pots (©Cueillette Urbaine)

Besides, during the past 10 years, policy and science have worked in pairs in order to develop urban agriculture. There is a current need to define a proper institutional frame for urban agriculture, and this requires the collaborative research work of different types of scientists: geographers, economists, agronomists, urbanists, sociologists, etc. Cueillette Urbaine chooses to foster urban agriculture development by doing action-oriented research, which means combining research and practical work. Transforming practice into knowledge is also a way to close the gap between policies and urban farming by providing the policy makers information based on evidence. Thanks to these encouraging results and all the proved benefits of urban farming, city administrations pay increasing attention to urban agriculture development. For instance, Paris city aims at enhancing its urban food production area to 120 ha by 2020!

Harvested vegetables (©Ceuillette Urbaine)

During many years urban agriculture has emerged as a fashion effect. Today, the massive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has made a lot of land infertile, in addition to that the expansion of cities causing the disappearance of arable land. We believe that a production of fruit and vegetables in the city will not replace the conventional agriculture but it is a necessity to supply local and fresh products to the city dwellers without any transport.

— By courtesy of Urban gathering compagny. Edited by Adrien Thurotte.

Contact: info@cueilletteurbaine.com
Website: www.cueilletteurbaine.com

Oct 232017
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Samantha Jakuboski graduated as Bachelor of Science at Columbia University (Barnard College) in cellular and molecular biology. She dedicated much time during her studies promoting eco-friendly acting and explaining major climate issues on blogs like Nature Journal Scitable [1] and EcoPlum [2].

JUnQ: You started to write for Green Science Nature blog six years ago, in ninth-grade. This is pretty uncommon to have such a sensibility about climate and green science at that age. Why did you start writing?

Samantha: I believe that climate change is a major global threat and that action must be taken to mitigate its effects. But, in order to act, we must first educate. This is why I decided to start writing. I wanted to create a source where people my own age, the next generation of leaders, could go to learn about climate change. So, I wrote a blog proposal to Nature Journal detailing my plans, and they accepted it!
As a ninth-grader, I was by no means an expert on climate change. In fact, I was learning about climate change through my research for the blog posts. In a way, I believe that this naivety worked to my advantage. Since I was learning as I was going along, I first had to explain concepts to myself before explaining them to my readers. As a result, I had a sense of what worked and didn’t work when explaining a concept to someone who is not very familiar on the topic. By writing at a level that was easy to understand, I hoped that students my age, as well as people of all background and ages, would be able to read my posts with ease, learn about climate change, and hopefully take steps to lead greener lives.

JUnQ: According to data cited in a blog article that you published in EcoPlum, 64% of American people believe that the earth is warming, and among then, only 52% agreed that the warning is caused by human activity. Do you have the feeling of being left alone struggling to convince people or that the word does not start being spread out?

Samantha: Since this 2014 poll was taken, the numbers have shifted upward only slightly. According to the May 2017 “Climate Change in the American Mind” survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70% of Americans believe in climate change, with 58% of Americans believing that is it caused by human activity.
As someone who writes about climate change in the hope of raising awareness, I do find the 58% statistic to be low and a bit discouraging. However, I think it is also important to realize that we are making progress; 58% is the highest percentage recorded since the Yale survey was started in 2008.

JUnQ: Position of President Trump on climate change is to deny it. Immediately, governors, mayors, etc. rose up against it, and promise to fulfill engagement that the climate would benefit. Do you think that these engagements would compensate, at least, or overbalance the bad things Trump’s politic about climate could/will engender?

Samantha: While President Trump has accepted that climate change is indeed happening, he still, unfortunately, does not believe it is rooted in man-made activity. As a result of his weak stance, I definitely think that climate change believers on both the individual and corporate level are now more vocal, as evidenced by the We are Still In [3] Paris climate agreement coalition, and the People’s Climate March on Trump’s 100th day in office.
While our president may refuse to accept the anthropogenic roots of climate change, I think that if states, local governments, and businesses, establish and work toward individual green goals, our nation can continue to make strides toward the 26-28% reduction in national greenhouse gases by 2025 that we pledged in the Paris Peace Accords.

JUnQ: Does being aware mean acting toward climate change for everyday life of an American people (e.g. garbage sorting, water and/or energy saving, ecological cars, eat less to eat better)?

Samantha: Absolutely. If one is truly aware and educated, I don’t see how they can not incorporate little acts of “greenness” into their daily lives.

JUnQ: How to live green as U.S. citizen, what has been done and what remains to be done at personal point of view?

Samantha: In my household, we recycle, use LED light-bulbs and energy efficient appliances, compost, and try to reduce the amount of disposable paper and plastic items we purchase. We also unplug appliances, such as phone chargers and TVs, when we are not using them, since they can contribute to “vampire energy”— energy that is consumed even when the devices are not in use. Further, I love to run, and my father enjoys riding his bike, so rather than hopping in our car and driving, we take a more active approach when we need to get places (I guess it helps that we also live in New York City, where everything is so close!) While these little life-style changes are small, they do allow us to reduce our individual and household carbon footprints. When people ask me what they can do to live greener lives, I name these examples and tell them that small actions do add up and make a difference. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in motivating people to make these easy daily changes. Some people I know still don’t recycle!

JUnQ: And at a larger scale (cities, companies, state)?

Samantha: It is now up to businesses and local governments to lead the charge against climate change. And already, over 1,200 governors, mayors, colleges, businesses, and investors have signed the We Are Still In [3] agreement to ensure that the United States continues to reduce its carbon emissions.
Further, I think that our colleges and universities must prepare our students, especially business school students, to deal with the consequences of climate change so that our future leaders can realize their corporate social responsibility and make smart eco-friendly business decisions.

JUnQ: Among all the consequences of climate change, which one is the most unexpected and worrying?

Samantha: While few people may link climate change to conflict and terrorism, it appears that there may be some direct correlations. One of my friends at Barnard College recently wrote a dissertation on climate change as a precursor to conflict– specifically on how anthropogenic climate change and drought induced the Syrian Civil War. As resources, such as water, become scarcer, and agriculture becomes depressed due to drought and rising temperatures, the prospect of future conflict does worry me.
Another unexpected consequence of climate change is the economic impact. When people think of climate change, they think of numbers such as the rise in temperatures or ocean levels. However, climate change will also affect the finances of future generations. In September, I wrote a post for EcoPlum called “Pay Up, Millenials.” In this post, I explained that people are less productive at extreme temperatures, thus causing a decrease in national GDP. Furthermore, as extreme weather caused by climate change continues to wreck havoc and cause billions of dollars in damage, taxpayers can expect to face higher taxes to pay for these costs. As a result of both lower GDP and increased taxes, a Demos and NexGen Climate analysis found that if no action is taken to combat climate change, a 21-year-old 2015 college graduate earning a median income can expect their lifetime income and wealth to decrease by $126,000 and $187,000, respectively. The predicted loss in wealth jumps to $764,000 for a college graduate born in 2015 earning a median income. Ouch.

JUnQ: Thank you very much for this interview!

— Adrien Thurotte


[1] https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/green-science
[2] https://shop.ecoplum.com/blogs/sustainable-living/
[3] http://wearestillin.com
Oct 232017
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Even though I left the JUnQ Editorial Board over a year ago and am very busy in my job in industry, the desire for experiment never left me. The reason for experimenting in in my current job differs from academia – you need to earn money and usually do not publish your results. But one thing always remains the same: You get your fair share of failure!

Test of new colored ink in fountain and rollerball pens leaking (©Andreas Neidlinger)

When I heard about the photo contest JUnQ organized, I thought to myself: Why not submit a picture of my current experiments to provide proof that you will always have the same fun, even when your studies are over? What you see is no fancy laboratory equipment and no grandiose new discovery elegantly captured for the posterity. It is just some quality check and product development for the writing instruments industry. The outcome might not fulfil the customer’s needs and at first it caused a big laugh. Later, it meant more work. Just like in academia.
Some things never change
— Andreas Neidlinger

Oct 232017
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During the last months we have received a lot of funny pictures from our readers. Unbelievable how much inspiration you can find in labs and offices! Luckily, we did not have to choose since the winning picture was drawn by lot.
And here it is:

“Be happy if your laboratory experiment works! Bright smile :D”
– ©Esther Vogel

The winner is Esther Vogel with her photo of a magnified vascular bundle. If you look at it even more closely you might recognize a big-eyed, bearded smiley. Lucky are those, whose experiments smile back.
Esther is not only rewarded with the publication of her photo but also with an amazon coupon. Congratulations!
We thank all the participants and wish them good luck for the future.

Oct 232017
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Following the current trend of making sure that all goods are organic, fair trade and biodegradable our second issue this year is all green.
Blogger Samantha Jakuboski is dedicated to spread the word about climate change since an early age. Read what she has to say in her interview. We can still learn a lot!
For those who don’t have a garden or at least a small balcony to grow crops on, there is hope: urban gardening. See what can be done in your streets in our short essay about Cueillette Urbaine.
Unfortunately, another interview with Tim Jan?en about “Cradle to Cradle” cannot be published yet. We must wait until our next issue in January 2018. Be excited to learn how we can preserve our nature by using renewable energy and recycling food and waste.
And last but not least:
Congratulations to Esther Vogel, the winner of our photo contest in August!

Since there were no submissions for articles, unfortunately this section must be left empty.
Again, here comes the call to our readers: please help to raise the attention on JUnQ. Tell your friends and colleagues about the Journal of Unsolved Questions. There is no shame in null or negative results. Share your experiences with the world and help your colleagues to learn.
With this in mind keep digging through the JUnQ to find the hidden treasures in green sciences and green lives!

— Tatjana Daenzer

Download this issue (PDF)

Browse this issue (on the website)

JUnQ Photo Contest: Take Your Camera and Shoot

A Comment on Arts and Sciences from an Industrial Point of View

Of Blogging and Climate Change

Urban farming

Aug 142017
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Sometimes they come and go with a bang, sometimes they are silent. They glow bright as a lightning in white, yellow, red or blue. They fly freely through the room and some of them even permeate solid matter. They all have in common that they appear mostly during stormy weather, are somewhat spherically shaped and have a lifetime of several seconds.[1] For many centuries people report about observations of lightning balls as depicted in figure 1.

Figure 1: Illustration of a ball lightning from the early 20th century.[2]

Clearly, ball lightnings cannot be the same phenomenon as a strong electric discharge like a bolt lightning since their effect is not as dramatic. A full scientific explanation is not yet found. Do they really exist or are they only the product of frightened people’s minds?

Sure, bolts can cause phosphenes, impressions in the focus of the eye that remain some moments after looking into bright lights.[3] But during the last years scientist came up with some experiments that deliver plausible explanations of their formation:

Abrahamson and J. Dinniss found out that after the impact of a bolt into the soil a cloud of Silicon (Si), Silicon carbide (SiC) and Silicon monoxide (SiO) nanoparticles evaporates and oxidizes in a timespan of several seconds. During this time the energy is released as a bright ball-shaped light.[4]

At the IPP in Garching, Germany, Prof. Dr. Gerd Fu?mann vaporized and ionized a tiny amount of water by an electrical discharge between two electrodes above a water surface. The glowing plasma cloud, called plasmoid, has a spherical or mushroom-like shape (shown in figure 2) and a lifetime below one second.[5] The appearance of these plasmoids is demonstrated in a short video on their web page: http://www.ipp.mpg.de/2977926/kugelblitze

Figure 2: Result of the water discharge experiment from 2014.[6]

Still these experiments lack to explain all the observed properties of a ball lightning: the free movement, the ability to permeate matter and the long lifetime of several seconds. It is plausible that there might occur spherical light phenomena during bolt impacts. An explanation of the rather vivid properties of a ball lightning is yet to come. But maybe they belong to the section of narrative decor.

– Tatjana Daenzer

Read more:

[1] Smirnov, B. M., Phys. Rep. 1987, 152, 177-226.

[2] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Ball_lightning.png

[3] Peer, J., Kendl, A., Physics Letters A, 2010, 374, 4797-4799.

[4] Abrahamson, J., Dinniss, J., Nature, 2000, 403, 519-521.

[5] Fussmann, G., Phys. Unserer Zeit. 2008, 5, 246-252.

[§] https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9643290

[6] http://www.ipp.mpg.de/2977926/kugelblitze