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NASA/Ames
NASA/Ames

This Earth-Friendly Drone Is Made From Biodegradable Fungus

NASA/Ames
NASA/Ames

Drones can make useful tools for learning more about the environment, but in some cases they can upset the same ecosystems they’re being used to study. Now, a new type of drone is being made from biodegradable, eco-friendly materials.

The "biodrone" was designed by a team of students from Brown, Spelman, and Stanford Universities in collaboration with NASA’s Ames Research Center. The group’s leader, NASA biologist Lynn Rothschild, recently spoke with Discover magazine about the project. She says she got the idea from a previous drone crash that nearly yielded disastrous results: The 400-pound research device went missing off the Alaskan coast in 2013, but was luckily discovered by fisherman with its fuel tank still intact. Future incidents may not end so uneventfully, which is why Rothschild helped develop a drone that can crash with little environmental impact.

To construct the prototype, the team worked with the material science company Ecovative. The biodrone's frame is composed of a fungal root material called mycelium, which was placed in a mold where it consumed leaf and grass cuttings until it had completely filled out the mold's shape. The mycelium was then dried out at 180 to 200°F, leaving a lightweight chassis. That chassis was coated with cellulose acetate, which was then itself coated with a hydrophobic protein found in paper wasp saliva to make it waterproof. The propellers were molded from the same plastic found in biodegradable forks and knives. According to Discover, while a 100 percent biodegradable motor is still theoretical, one future possibility is a bacterial fuel cell used to provide electricity and power the propeller motors. Another potential addition is a camera made with ultra-thin silicon that dissolves in water, or electronics printed on sheets of cellulose acetate in dissolvable silver nanoparticle ink.

According to WIRED, these biodrones could also have applications on missions to Mars. By biogenerating a drone on Mars from a sample of cells, NASA would be saving both space and money on the trip there. Such a drone's biogenerative properties could also open up the possibility for one-way research missions, since there's no concern about retrieving toxic materials—instead of harming whatever environment it lands in, the drone could provide a fungus-flavored treat to creatures nearby. 

[h/t: Discover]

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The Most (and Least) Expensive States for Staying Warm This Winter
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It’s that time of year again: Temperatures outside have plummeted, while your monthly heating bill is on the rise. If you want an idea of how much heat will cost you this winter (perhaps you blocked out last year’s damage to your bank account), one reliable indicator is location.

Average energy expenses vary from state to state due to factors like weather, house size, and local gas prices. Using data from sources including the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, WalletHub calculated the average monthly utility bill totals for all 50 states plus Washington D.C. in 2017.

Source: WalletHub

The personal finance website looked at four energy costs: electricity, natural gas, car fuel, and home heating oil. After putting these components together, Connecticut was found to be the state with the highest energy costs in 2017, with an average of $380 in monthly bills, followed by Alaska with $332 and Rhode Island with $329.

That includes data from the summer and winter months. For a better picture of which state’s residents spend the most on heat, we have to look at the individual energy costs. Michigan, which ranks 33rd overall, outdoes every other state in the natural gas department with an average bill of $60 a month. Alaska is close behind with $59, followed by Rhode Island With $58.

People living in Maine prefer oil to heat their homes, spending $84 a month on the fuel source. All six New England states—Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—occupy the top six spots in this category.

So which state should you move to if you want to see your heating bill disappear? In Florida, the average household spends just $3 a month on natural gas and $0 on heating oil. In Hawaii, on average, the oil bill is $0 as well, and slightly higher for gas at $4. Of course, they make up for it when it comes time to crank up the AC: Both states break the top 10 in highest electricity costs.


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Why Are Glaciers Blue?
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The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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