Cornell Researchers Develop Comprehensive Water Quality Detector

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a chilling reminder of our lack of effective freshwater management systems. Unfortunately, the list of contaminants doesn’t stop at lead. The water we drink may have hundreds of contaminants, some never even tested for by water treatment plants. However, by developing a comprehensive method to detect previously untestable pollutants in water, Prof. Damian Helbling, civil and environmental engineering, aims to change that. According to Helbling, the motivation was to develop an analytical water screening method that would scan for a broad variety of pollutant compounds. “What we were interested in doing was assessing water quality from the standpoint of what we call emerging chemical contaminants,” Helbling said.

Selective metabolic pathways for the utilization of different sugars in cellulose and hemicellulose.

Why Certain Bacteria Are Not So Efficient at Producing Biofuel

NASA’s annual climate reports seem to be displaying a chilling trend: 2016 was the third consecutive hottest year on record. With the world’s fossil fuel consumption increasing by 0.6 percent last year, the chances of permanently altered climate patterns are no longer miniscule. However, spurred by the Paris Agreement of 2015, countries seem to be embracing renewable sources of energy. Obstacles, such as their comparative efficiency, remain. That’s where a new study that sheds light on how bacteria metabolize biomass by Prof. Ludmilla Aristilde, biological and environmental engineering, could come in handy.


The Secret Life of Plants

In the early 1980s, plant to plant communication was a controversial topic of research because well, suggesting plants can talk is rather absurd, right? Apparently not. According to Prof. Andre Kessler, ecology and evolutionary biology, plants issue chemical warnings that help their colonies survive pest attacks. “At my Ph.D., we were already looking for volatile compound emissions. These are emitted in response to some sort of damage.

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Sperm Tails Inspire Highly Efficient Enzyme Reaction Mechanism

The very cells that created us may have a role in saving our lives. Scientists have always been amazed by the energy production system in a sperm’s tail. The system drives flagellar movement and is extremely efficient, like a high-speed vehicle with a self-charging system, independent of external energy sources. Now, Cornell researchers are mimicking such a system in the hopes of advancing fields such as human and animal health. They hope to use their findings to create implantable medical devices that utilize blood sugar to make products as well as support in drug delivery.

Researchers Create UV Activated Molecule to Control Inflammation

Ice packs, painkillers and elastic bandages are silent attendees at any sporting event. Capable of soothing sprains and bruises, athletes the world over depend on their support. But swollen and painful joints are not simply a byproduct of physical exertion. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 percent of the world’s population suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and complains of similar symptoms. Its socioeconomic effects are incalculable. Simple painkillers are incapable of mitigating the pain patients suffer.

Recap | Quantum Puzzles, Quantum Randomness and Quantum Teleportation

Quantum teleportation may sound like a futuristic means of travel, but it occurs at the particle level. It can enable encryption that is essentially unbreakable. As part of the physics department’s Fall 2016 Bethe Lecture, Prof. Anton Zeilinger, physics, University of Vienna, discussed concepts in quantum theory that could revolutionize information technology. The Bethe Lectures is a lectureship endowed by Cornell University to honor Hans Albrecht Bethe, who led the physics department and was awarded the 1967 Nobel Prize in physics for his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions. Quantum physics describes the nature of matter on the atomic and subatomic scale.


Researchers Turn Ordinary Fibers Into Water, Air Purifiers

For centuries, rivers have sustained human civilization. From the Nile to the Indus, these blue-green and brown waters have been invaluable sources of irrigation. Unfortunately, they are equally convenient for waste disposal. Over time, cocktails of industrial effluents have caused these rivers to acquire much darker hues. Fortunately, Prof. Juan Hinestroza, fiber science, has created a pollutant-absorbing fiber that could help restore rivers to their former glory.

Biochar is made from maize residues

Researchers Propose New Biochar Technique to Scrub Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Three million years ago, there were no humans, global temperatures were possibly four degrees celsius warmer and sea levels were high enough to cover most of modern-day Manhattan. This was also the last time in geologic history that global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm), a benchmark that was permanently and ominously passed once again in 2016. Carbon emissions, largely as a result of burning fossil fuels, are not likely to halt anytime soon. Some scientists have started organizing backup plans; most notably, finding a way to grab some of this atmospheric carbon and store it in the Earth. “The critical thing at this point in time is to reduce emissions as rapidly as we are able to do so.


Panelists Discuss The Future of Sustainability and Renewable Energy

On Nov. 16, panelists hosted by Greeks Go Green gathered inside the corridors of Warren Hall, one of Cornell’s four LEED Platinum certified buildings, with the goal of discussing new paths for the development of 100 percent renewable energy. As an effort to commemorate Week of Action for Renewable Energy, the panel was moderated by Bronte Payne, a clean energy associate at Environment America and included several members of the Cornell community such as Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, Sarah Zemanick, director of the Campus Sustainability Office, Prof. Charles Greene, earth and atmospheric sciences. The panel focused on the current work taking place across the world to deal with the implementation of renewable energy technologies and how this trend may develop in the near future. The panel focused on three broad aspects: understanding our national commitment and advocacy for the development of renewable energy, the importance of coordinated activity between citizens and multinational organizations and analyzing some of the current issues afflicting the development of renewable energy.


Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Global Health: Not Your Everyday Project Team

Jaundice-therapy incubators, water-quality testing devices, and vaccine fridges – this team is merging “entrepreneurial scrappiness” and engineering creativity with a global health outlook. In their own words, Cornell Engineering World Health is a group of dynamic and diverse students who work “to provide creative solutions to health care problems in developing countries.” The team, led by co-presidents Kate Schole ’17 and Justin Selig ’17 , shows initiative and passion for its work and impact on society. As I talk to the co-presidents about their current projects, their excitement is palpable. Schole, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, explains that the team’s recently acquired project is a device to separate mycotoxin-infected corn kernels from otherwise usable corn. They plan on making an inexpensive, efficient and creative method of doing so, which would be important to communities with low food availability, such as in Kenya, where they plan on implementing this device.