Graphene to improve seawater desalinization technology

A graphene membrane, in red, with silicon atoms in yellow (Image courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Dept. of Energy. All rights reserved)

A graphene membrane, in red, with silicon atoms in yellow (Image courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Dept. of Energy. All rights reserved)

An article published a few days ago on the journal “Nature Nanotechnology” describes a research on a new technique for the desalination of seawater using a porous membrane made of graphene. This material is considered revolutionary in the field of electronics for its characteristics but research like this are showing that it can also be very useful in other fields. In the case of desalination, its use can make it much more efficient needing much less energy to get drinking water.

Only 1% of the water existing on Earth is drinkable. March 22 was the World Water Day and on that occasion information were provided about the severity of the problem of the access to drinking water in some parts of the world. Over 700 million people have no access to drinking water and are therefore constantly at risk of diseases and poisoning because they have to drink contaminated water.

Desalinating seawater could be a huge help, also for agriculture, helping many hungry people to grow food to survive. The problem is that desalination is a process that requires a lot of energy and typically the people who need it are the same ones who don’t have access to a power grid to get it.

The experiment conducted in the USA by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows that the use of graphene can make the desalination process much more efficient. Creating microscopic pores in graphene allows to use it as a filter for seawater. It becomes a porous membrane which doesn’t allow the salts to pass through but only the water molecules in a much more efficient way than the techniques currently used.

The graphene sheets have the thickness of a single atom but are flexible and strong. Their characteristics make graphene porous membranes excellent for desalination. In fact, they’re more permeable than other polymers making the separation of water from the salts quicker. The complete process is more complex but the point is that the experiment was a success.

It’s not the first time that an experiment exploits these properties of graphene. In recent months, a project was announced to use this material to purify water polluted by hydrocarbons. This shows that graphene has a really huge potential in many fields and will not only be the basis for a new generation of electronic devices but can also increase the quality of life of many people in the world.



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The X-Files is returning to television with new episodes

The DVD box set of The X-Files season 1

The DVD box set of The X-Files season 1

Now it’s official: after many rumors came the confirmation that “The X-Files” will be back on TV with new episodes. After 13 years from the end of the show, 6 new episodes will be produced with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who will reprise their roles as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Chris Carter, the show’s creator, will be again the executive producer. Filming will begin this summer and, although no information was provided on their broadcat date, it’s likely that it will happen in 2016.

Lately, it seems that the revival of old shows is becoming a new trend. “24” is back after just a few years but “Twin Peaks” is an old show. In the case of “The X-Files” after the show the second movie, “The X-Files – I Want to Believe”, was produced in 2008. It wasn’t very successful but Chris Carter announced plans to produce a third movie. But now came the announcement of new television episodes.

For Fox, the channel that broadcast “The X-Files” and will broadcast new episodes, it’s a way to try to exploit the reputation of a cult show. According to the magazine “Forbes”, the channel intends to use this type of productions not only to have a good audience and good sales of DVDs and Blu-Rays but also to get a good deal with services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu for their streaming via the Internet.

Nobody expected Fox to produce new episodes of “The X-Files” to please the fans, what we hope is that their quality is high. Honestly, I think the show ended quite wearily and the audience not accidentally had fallen over the past few seasons.

Tere are no information about the plots of the new episodes. Probably they’ll be revealed slowly over the next few months, to help create a little hype. Personally, I’m both excited and fearful. I hope that over the years Chris Carter and his staff had new ideas to continue “The X-Files” in a manner worthy of its best moments.

Despite its flaws, especially concerning the mythology that grew more and more twisted and absurd, “The X-Files” was overall a fun and exciting series starring memorable protagonists. The fear is of course that the new episodes are a bad copy of the old ones. If they succeed, Fox will want to produce more of them but it all depends on how the six new episodes will be received. Expectations are considerable, they’d better produce something good if they want to avoid being flooded with criticism.



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VALIS by Philip K. Dick

The VALIS trilogy by Philip K. Dick containing VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (Italian edition)

The VALIS trilogy by Philip K. Dick containing VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (Italian edition)

The novel “VALIS” by Philip K. Dick was published for the first time in 1981.

Horselover Fat had a very strange experience when he thinks a ray of pink light downloaded to his brain a huge amount of information he doesn’t know how to interpret. He askss for help to his friends Phil, Kevin and David but for him the situation is complicated after the suicide of his friend Gloria and because of his friend Sherri’s cancer.

For Horselover Fat, his experience is of the mystical / religious kind, a search for God. His reflections lead him to believe that reality isn’t what it seems and that the Roman Empire never ended. God’s nature seems to be more complex than he thought, connected to the VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) system.

During his career, Philip K. Dick wrote mostly science fiction. His style was very personal and in some cases his stories included religious elements. In the last years of his life, a series of events led him to take an even greater interest to religion and that can be noticed in his last novels.

In 1974 something happened to Philip K. Dick. He described it as a pink ray in his mind. Someone explained it as a mild stroke but it’s impossible to say what really happened, especially with a writer who has made of reality fragmentation his trademark.

The fact is that in subsequent years Philip K. Dick started interpreting some of the events of his life in a mystical / religious way. He explains it in his article “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later”.

Philip K. Dick and a priest of the Episcopal Church saw similarities between a scene of his novel “Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said” and one described in the “Acts of the Apostles”. Sometime mouse, Dick found himself in a situation that thought very similar to that scene.

A mystical moment for Philip K. Dick was after he had two wisdom teeth removed. He needed to take painkillers, which were delivered to his home by a girl who was wearing a necklace with a golden fish. When Dick asked her the meaning of the fish, she explained that it was a symbol used by early Christians.

At that moment, Philip K. Dick was hit by a light reflection on the pendant that generated a pink beam that caused him an experience of anamnesis, literally the loss of forgetfulness. For a moment, he remembered what for a while he had suspected, namely that the Empire never ended, that it really was the year 50 A.D. and the reality in which he lived was just an illusion.

Those experiences led him to write a novel called “VALISystem A”, in which the mystical / religious element was very strong. However, his publisher asked him to heavily modify the story and Dick ended up restructuring it obtaining “VALIS”. “VALISystem A” was published posthumously under the title “Radio Free Albemuth”.

The result is particular even by Philip K. Dick’s standards. “VALIS” is sometimes considered science fiction because its author is considered a science fiction writer. The novel actually contains elements of science fiction but it’s basically a philosophical / religious story with an important autobiographical component.

One of the the main character’s friends, Phil, is Philip K. Dick himself. However, the protagonist Horselover Fat is an alter-ego of the author and his mystical experiences strongly reflect Dick’s ones. Their other friends are Kevin, based on the writer K.W. Jeter, and David, based on the writer Tim Powers.

Horselover Fat’s mystical / religious path is based on Gnostic Christianity but is mixed with various philosophical ideas, with Philip K. Dick’s experience of anamnesis  and other ideas, such as that of the VALIS system. The result is the formation of a very personal concept of God.

“VALIS” is also the story of Horselover Fat / Philip K. Dick’s inner journey through tragedies such as his friend Gloria’s suicide and his friend Sherri’s cancer. Even the splitting of the author in two different characters is an element that has its importance in the story.

Horselover Fat and his friends meet various characters, including two inspired to David Bowie and Brian Eno, in the course of their search for God. As with many Philip K. Dick’s stories, reality isn’t necessarily the apparent one. Some events may have different interpretations, which also depend on the state of mind of those who have lived through them.

Some see in “VALIS” the symptoms of Philip K. Dick’s madness. If so it’s a lucid madness because the author created a complex cosmogony putting together elements that are really heterogeneous. In those years, Dick also wrote his exegesis, a kind of journal that included notes about his mystical / religious experiences and ideas. In “VALIS” he includes some of those notes but only a very small part because the exegesis at the end was about 8,000 pages long.

All these elements form a really complex novel since it’s very focused on Horselover Fat / Philip K. Dick’s mystical / religious / existential search. There’s a prevalence of dialogues and the events are functional to the search so the pace is slow. The characters are used primarily to support the protagonist and offer talking points.

In my opinion “VALIS” is in some ways an extraordinary novel because Philip K. Dick manages to create a consistent cosmogony from heterogeneous elements. I think that it’s a must-read if you want to really get to know this author but at the same time I believe it’s necessary to already know a little about him to avoid being traumatized.

Once you’re familiar with the typical themes of his stories and his style, you can tackle “VALIS” and the other novels full of mystical / religious themes Philip K. Dick wrote during the last years of his life. Not surprisingly, they form what is called the VALIS trilogy.



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Happy birthday Moses Malone!

Moses Malone in 2009. Derivative work from a picture including various NBA legends

Moses Malone in 2009. Derivative work from a picture including various NBA legends

Moses Eugene Malone was born on March 23, 1955 in Petersburg, Virginia, USA. After finishing high school, he signed a letter of intent to go to the University of Maryland but then decided to become a professional basketball player and in 1974 was drafted by the Utah Stars of the ABA becoming one of the first players to skip college.

After one season with the Utah Stars, Moses Malone went to play for the Spirits of St. Louis, another team of the ABA. In the early years of his pro career he quickly reached the spotlight for his skills as a rebounder, averaging 12.9 rebounds per game. When the ABA and NBA merged, the Spirits of St. Louis didn’t join the NBA and Malone was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers. Eventually, he was traded to the Buffalo Braves which after two games almost immediately traded him to the Houston Rockets.

In the NBA, Moses Malone was still in the spotlight thanks to his extraordinary ability to capture rebounds, especially offensive. In his second season, he missed 23 games because of a stress fracture in his left foot but finished at the top of the offensive rebounds ranking and second in that of total rebounds.

In 1979, Moses Malone was elected MVP of the regular season. In 1981, the Houston Rockets reached the NBA Finals but lost them. In 1982, the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs despite the 24 points and 17 rebounds by Malone, who had been re-named the MVP of the regular season.

At the end of the 1981-82 season, Moses Malone went to the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that was already very strong with players such as Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones. With teammates like them, in the 1982-83 season Moses Malone scored a bit less points but for his contribution was elected for the third time MVP of the regular season. However, this time his team was really strong, so much so that it won the NBA title and Malone was also elected MVP of the NBA Finals.

In subsequent seasons, Moses Malone was still dominant, especially at the rebounds, becoming the first player to lead the league in that statistic for five consecutive seasons. However, the 76ers didn’t reach the NBA Finals anymore and in 1986 Malone finished his season early because of a fracture of his right eye’s orbit.

In 1986, Moses Malone was traded to the Washington Bullets, where he kept on having excellent statistics but the team wasn’t very strong. In two seasons, the Bullets made only brief appearances in the playoffs being eliminated in the first round on both occasions.

Having become a free agent, in 1988 Moses Malone signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Despite the presence of Dominique Wilkins, the results were limited and in his third season with the Hawks Malone played most games as a backup center.

In 1991, Moses Malone signed with the Milwaukee Bucks and went back to being the starting center. His statistics improved but the team was poor and didn’t reach the playoffs. Malone missed most of the 1992-1993 season to recover from a back surgery.

In 1993, Moses Malone returned to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he was the backup center and had the task of tutoring the young center Shawn Bradley.

In 1994, Moses Malone was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, where he played as a backup for David Robinson. At the end of the 1994-1995 season he retired.

In 1997, Moses Malone was voted among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. In 2001, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. A technically complete player, he’s best remembered for his incredible intensity and timing in going for the rebounds.



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Calico, Google project against death, announced a partnership with the Broad Institute

Larry Page in the European Parliament in 2009

Larry Page in the European Parliament in 2009

A few days ago, Calico, a company founded by Google with the goal to carry out research on longevity, announced a collaboration with the Broad Institute, a center for biomedical and genomics research founded by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Harvard University. The aim is to work together to research on age-related diseases to find new treatments.

In September 2013, Google co-founder and CEO of Larry Page (Photo ©Marcin Mycielski) announced the launch of Calico (California Life Company). One of the founders of Calico, Arthur D. Levinson, was appointed CEO of the company. Levinson also serves on the Broad Institute’s board of directors of the so all in all the real surprise is that it took so long to set up a collaboration between these two research centers.

Eric Lander, president and director of the Broad Institute – complete name Eli and Edythe L. completeness Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard – stated that the combination of their expertise on genetics, biology and chemistry combined with Calico’s expertise in the therapeutic field can accelerate the progress of therapeutic projects.

Arthur D. Levinson stated that this alliance is a key in Calico’s strategy to bring the best cutting-edge science to work on the problem of aging. In September 2014, Calico announced a collaboration with the pharmaceutical corporation AbbVie for the creation of a research center dedicated to age-related diseases, including neurodegenerative ones and cancer.

Calico and its partners’ task is long term. From the company news came about compounds that, in animal models, showed the ability to fight neurodegeneration but it’s only the beginning. Research and experimentation in this field requires a lot of time so results arrive in the course of years.

Bill Maris, founder and president of Google Ventures, venture capital investment arm that funds various startups, is also optimistic. Maris helped develop the project Calico and recently stated in an interview that he believes it’s possible for humans to live up to 500 years.

It’s still difficult to say when practical results will arrive but Google’s investment  in Calico are significant and its collaborations are very serious and prestigious. Finding ways to allow people to reach 100 years in good health would be a huge result. To get to 500 years there all the time.



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