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In the dusty and hot depths of northern Israel, something remarkable was recently discovered in the Zhevulun Valley by the precious stone mining company Shefa Yamim.

Geologists struck on a mineral embedded in sapphire with the extraordinary and extraterrestrial property of being harder than Diamonds – something only alien gems in outer space are known to possess. Subsequent density testings do indeed reveal that this trumps its established Diamond competitor.

The mineral was found close to Mt.Carmel which serves as the inspiration for its name ‘Carmeltazite’.  It has also been trademarked by Shefa Yamim with the name of ‘Carmel Sapphire’. Its legitimacy has been further supported by the International Mineralogical Association’s Commission on New Minerals, giving it official status as a new mineral.

This incredibly rare mineral has its origins in the era of the dinosaur when Israel was a highly volcanic area, with over a dozen volcanic vents constantly spewing out molten lava.

Carmeltazite is similar in its molecular structure to ruby and sapphire (aside from its being rarer with a higher density) and varies in colour from black, blue, green and an orange-y brown.

Unfortunately, saving up to give your loved one a Carmel Sapphire engagement ring may be out of most of our budgets, as the stone’s special properties make it more valuable than even diamonds.

Humor aside, the discovery of Carmeltazite is incredible and delving more into its structure as well as researching other new minerals could be a great way for geologists and natural scientists to have the edge at interview.

It is conceptually possible for a human to go on a space walk around the upper atmosphere with nothing but an air supply and chemical hazard suit, like those worn following the chemical attack in Salisbury.

This is because between altitudes of 50 – 60km, Venus’ atmospheric pressure is around half that at Earth’s sea level, equivalent to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.  It is also around 20 – 30°C, which is why NASA are currently planning a conceptual manned mission there named the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC).

Venus is often named Earth’s twin as they share a similar size, surface composition and atmosphere with complex weather system.  Venus is only 30% closer to the Sun yet it has a much younger geological landscape with an average surface temperature of 460°C, which means it may rain molten bismuth and lead on some of its mountain peaks.  The geological landscape formed by volcanoes is similar to Earth’s terrain and it is thought that it replicates the environment that Earth had much earlier in its life cycle. 

Another similarity with ancient Earth are the sulphuric acid clouds found around the same atmospheric region as the planned HAVOC mission.  These are responsible for the bright blue appearance of Venus and it reflects around 75% of incoming light.  But they pose a challenge to any planned expedition due to their highly corrosive properties.  This can be overcome though by coating an exterior components with Teflon and other plastics that are highly resistant.  Plans are for an airship that would float around the desired atmospheric region, filled with breathable air which is less dense than the Venusian atmosphere. 

Physics applicants can consider the geological history of the two planets and how their histories might have diverged.  Chemistry applicants can research the properties of Teflon and other man-made materials with high resistance to corrosion and consider their uses.

Handheld devices have developed at a rapid pace since the noughties inception of the smartphone movement.  Technological progression has increased functionality and form factor with the trend leaning towards thinner and wider profiles.  

Researchers at the City University of Hong Kong and mainland China have developed a new screen that may lead to a new-generation of smartphones where the colour display and battery are one and the same.  This is due to the addition of a colour filter capacity to the battery by way of reinventing the structure and components of the traditional cell.

A standard cell creates an electrical current by forcing electrons along a wire connecting the cathode and anode poles.  The electrolyte between the two poles allows for the transfer of electrical charge and provides a medium for the chemical reactions that produce electrons, resulting in the energy change from chemical to electrical.  This structure is usually closed off with no other functionality but the new structure allows for the addition of a light filter. 

The researchers have created a new flat battery structure using ‘interlocking combs’ where cathode and anode poles in a comb-like structure are stuck together with their teeth fitting in between.  They then used a gel based electrolyte that prevented electrons escaping the anode poles to the nearby cathode combs as well as maintaining a new flat structure, required for its use as a screen. 

The big addition is then particles called quantum dots, in this case cadmium tellurium.  These particles will glow under certain light conditions, mainly UV, and are able to be placed in the electrolyte gel without interfering with the principle function of the battery.  Smaller quantum dots will glow red whilst larger will glow green.  Ingeniously the final colour required for a full colour display, blue, is produced by the new electrolyte, when under UV light. 

This technology is in its infancy but it has the potential to replace the LCD screens used in the majority of smartphones today.  Chemistry applicants could research the chemical processes taking place in liquid crystal displays and consider how they differ to this and other new screen technologies.

The 1970s  British sitcom ‘Porridge’ is now available to watch on Netflix, but the BBC programme is sadly showing its age in several ways. The show not any demonstrates outdated attitudes, but also reflects a time when a prisoner’s lifestyle would have been very different.

The comedy found its name from the 1950s expression ‘doing porridge’ which meant serving a jail sentence. Porridge used to be a significant part of a prisoner’s diet, but news has emerged that the breakfast food has now been banned in prisons for over a decade.

Prisoners at HMC Parc have told the prison paper ‘Inmate Inside’ that oatmeal is not permitted because it can be used to block up door locks. They are, however, allowed to purchase ‘Ready Brek’ from the canteen because of its thinner consistency. Porridge is also banned because oats can be fermented to produce illicit hooch.

Back in the 1800s, inmates used to be provided with a ratio of 5 ounces of oats served with three-quarters of a pint of milk. Jailbirds are now served something more akin to a plane breakfast with a tray of basic spreads, bread, cereal, tea, instant coffee and UHT milk delivered to prisoner’s cells the night before. The hot communal breakfast is now unheard of behind the bars of UK jails.

Future HSPS students should consider whether prisons suffer from not having a hot meal and some socialisation times in the morning. 
Students wishing to study Chemistry or Biology at Oxbridge might want to examine the bonding properties of milky oats and how alcohol can be fermented from oats. 

To prevent the devastating climate change forecast in the next century we must make transport greener.  In the last decade we’ve seen more and more electric cars on the road, yet are these cars all equally green? And is electric always better?

It’s true that in the United States, an electric car produces less than half the CO2 of it’s conventional counterpart.  But not all electric cars are equally green. Nor are electric cars always better than a petrol powered alternative. 

While electric cars are marketed on the notion of having ‘zero emissions’ the reality is they often carry a heavy carbon toll.  In fact, the Tesla Model S, in its lifecycle, produces 61,115kg of carbon dioxide. While this is far better than a similarly sized petrol alternative, like the BMW 7 Series (producing 103,851kg over its lifetime) it is worse than the smaller Mitsubishi Mirage.  Electric is not always better, and it certainly is not ‘zero emissions’.

In the EU and the US the regulatory environment recognises all electric vehicles as ‘zero emission’. The drive toward electric vehicles, while disregarding the production emissions of these vehicles, neglects disparity between them and the vast environmental impact of their production.  Some manufacturers are trying to address this. BMW’s i3, the greenest car available in terms of lifecycle emissions, is made from carbon fibre produced using hydroelectric power.  It is assembled at a plant powered by wind and fitted with seats made from recycled bottles. The dye is made from olive leaves and the door panels are made from sustainably sourced plants. Even the keys are made from kastor beans. And while this has produced the most green electric car on the market, all the emission savings pale in comparison to those produced by the battery. 

Electric cars rely on massive lithium batters. By 2025 it’s expected these will double in capacity from 20 to 40 kilowatt hours. Good for range, but bad for the environment. They depend on two rare elements, Cobalt and Lithium, that must be mined more and more to keep up with demand. 60% of Cobalt comes from the DRC where mines have contributed to land degradation, deforestation and pollution.

As governments rightly drive manufacturers toward a greener future, consumers are left to compare which ‘zero emission’ car is closest to the claim.

Tsunamis are usually machines of destruction, sweeping in to devastate entire regions and ecosystems. However, in a fascinating twist, the massive Japanese tsunami of 2011 has been discovered to have created a completely new home for over 300 species of invertebrates.

James Carlton, John Chapman and several other scientists have been monitoring the shores of Hawaii and the western coast of America and found that even now, six years after the tsunami, new species native to Japan are being washed up on the shores. The range of species is astonishing—everything from mussels to crabs to starfish have been found living on these new coasts, and there are some species that have never been seen before.

This mass exodus is being attributed to the plastic that we throw into the sea. Species migration is not a new thing, and has been behind the evolution of new species in new environments for millennia, but nothing of this scale has ever been seen. Until this generation, most cross sea migration would occur as animals clung onto wooden debris that was flung across oceans, but wood disintegrates very quickly in water. This would mean that most species wouldn’t make it very far, if at all. Species are now able to use plastic as their rafts—a material notoriously resistant to degradation, meaning that they can actually survive for months, or even years on their journeys across thousands of miles.

Students going for Biology should think about how evasive species can be introduced to new environments, and what the long term outcomes could be for so many new species populating the west coast of America. Students hoping to study Chemistry should look at the bonding in plastics, and why they are so resistant to degrading.  

If you enjoy your salmon meaty, or your battered cod to be the size of your arm, it might be time to start taking the bus instead of driving everywhere. A new study shows that increasing water temperature across the world are leading to smaller and smaller fish.

It is all to do with gas solubility in water—those who can remember GCSE chemistry will remember that the solubility of oxygen decreases as water temperature rises. As the ocean temperatures rise, there is less oxygen in the water for the fish to filter through their gills. On top of this, the warmer water also increases the metabolism of the fish—they burn through their energy quicker. The combination of both of these means that fish simply do not have the capacity to function as they get larger; they are using up more oxygen than normal, and there is less of it in the water to replace it. To combat this, fish are getting to a certain size, and then simply not getting any bigger.

This also has an effect up the food chain—the fish at the lower end of the food chain aren’t getting any bigger, and so the fish feasting on them are having to do with increasingly smaller meals, which unsurprisingly, stunts their growth.

The effect of humans on wildlife, both directly and indirectly, should be something that students hoping to study Biology or Natural Sciences B are aware of and reading about. Students thinking about studying Chemistry should look at solubility curves and understand the differences between solid and gas solubility. HSPS students should look at current political drives towards global warming, and how important America’s contribution to it is. 

Seth Darling and his colleagues at The Argonne National Laboratory in Illionois have created a brand new material that could revolutionise the way that we combat oil spills in the ocean.

The two biggest issues currently faced by those involved in large scale clean ups are that the sorbents that they currently use struggle to retain a huge amount of oil, and once they have done so, they are unfit for further use. The new sponge, created from silane, addresses both of these problems; it can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in oil and can then be wrung out completely and used again.

Darling and his colleagues must now undertake large scale tests to see whether the material can withstand the demands of use in the deep sea where it must adapt to strong winds and waves.

Chemistry applicants should look at what makes a material oleophlic, and consider why a material that is too oleophilic would be a problem for this particular use. Geography applicants can do some research on the biggest oil spills in recent history and consider the effects that spills have on governments and companies.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a method for creating nanodiamonds, which may be key in the advent of quantum computing.

The nanodiamonds are NV (nitrogen vacancy) doped. They work much like a P-N semiconductor, in that they have a gap in the tetrahedral structure that allows it to take on different shapes depending on the electrical current or laser applied to it. Engineers can look into more detail about how P-N semiconducting works, and then build on that to delve into more detail on how this NV doped tetrahedral structure works. Engineers and Computer Science students should look at binary logic and understand the basics of how computers work.

Quantum computing is the future of computing as its use of superposition and entanglement allow for far faster processing speeds compared to the binary logic (1 and 0) that current computers use. Engineers and Physics students should look into entanglement and superposition of atoms and electrons. Finally, Chemistry students should look at the paragraph in the article that deals with the actual creation of the nanodiamonds, and look at how certain physical structures can be created in laboratory conditions, and how carbon forms different types of bonds.

Despite being an increasingly common affliction, affecting 38 million Americans, the cause of migraines has never quite been solved. Doctors have understood that certain factors such as chocolate, wine and processed meat can trigger migraines, but they have never known why.

However, recently a team of researchers from the University of California San Diego have analysed oral and stool samples from roughly 2,200 individuals and discovered that those who suffered the most from migraines have a higher level of microbes which are known to alter nitrates from certain foods into migraine-inducing chemicals.

Nitrates are found in foods such as wine, chocolate, processed meat and even green vegetables. They consist of a nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms. Some bacteria that live in our mouths break down these nitrates for fuel, and in doing so remove one of the oxygen atoms from the nitrate, resulting in a chemical called a nitrite. On entering the bloodstream, these nitrites can be converted into nitric oxide (only one oxygen atom). Nitric oxide has been linked to migraines and other tension headaches. Thus, in theory, migraine suffers should avoid nitrate-rich food. However, the researchers have speculated that the nitrites produced by the microbes may also benefit us by improving our heart health. In fact, may patients with heart failure are prescribed nitrites to regulate conditions and will endure the side-effects of migraines.

Applicants for Biological Sciences, Biomedicine and Medicine, should look in more depth about the research into the causes of migraines and the other effects that microbes can have on our health and body. Chemistry and Biochemistry students should investigate the chemical reaction that causes the change from nitrate to nitrite to nitric acid, and other similar chemical processes that happen in the body.

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