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MIT/Evelyn Wang
MIT/Evelyn Wang

Solar-Powered Dehumidifier Pulls Fresh Water Out of Thin Air

MIT/Evelyn Wang
MIT/Evelyn Wang

There’s fresh water hiding in the air we breathe. The trick is to find it and grab it without draining other precious natural resources. One team of engineers has come up with an ingenious solution: making the Sun do all the work. They described their invention in the journal Science.

It's not that difficult to collect condensation in a humid climate, but squeezing H20 from arid, thin air is another story. One of the most common ways to do it requires an electric dehumidifier, which means using one nonrenewable resource just to capture another. It’s “very expensive water,” senior author Omar Yaghi of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said in a statement.

Yaghi is the inventor of the metal-organic framework (MOF), a tiny grid made of aluminum or magnesium mixed with organic molecules. The hybrid material is both stiff and porous, which makes it an efficient way to collect and store gases and fluids. In the two decades since the MOF’s development, scientists around the world have built tens of thousands of permutations to hold substances like natural gas.

Rendering of an MOF. The lines in are organic linkers, and the intersections are multi-metallic units. The yellow balls represent the porous spaces that can fill up with water. The crystals in the background are the same ones used in the new water harvester. Image credit: UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab

 

A few years ago, Yaghi and his colleagues at Berkeley built an MOF that could bind water vapor—the first step toward making water from air. They sent the MOF over to MIT engineer Evelyn Wang, who incorporated it into an ingenious water collecting system. Wang and her colleagues compressed microscopic MOF crystals into a film, which they sandwiched between a solar panel and a water-condensing plate. As air flowed through the layers, particles of water vapor caught and stuck in the MOF sheet. Sunlight on the solar panel pushed them forward into the condenser, where they were transformed from gas to liquid.

The new dehumidifier worked even in low-humidity conditions, but the team acknowledges that they’ve still got some work to do. The MOF sheet can currently absorb up to 20 percent of its weight in water; in the future, they hope to double that number.

Still, Yaghi said, “this is a major breakthrough,” and one that lays the foundation for Earth-friendly home appliances. He added, "One vision for the future is to have water off-grid, where you have a device at home running on ambient solar for delivering water that satisfies the needs of a household." 

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Bolt Threads
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Your Next Favorite Handbag Could be Made of Mushroom Leather
Bolt Threads
Bolt Threads

From the makers of imitation spider silk comes a new eco-friendly material: mushroom leather. Invented by Bolt Threads, the material is called Mylo—short for mycelium, the fungi filaments that are used to create the leather.

Not only does it look like real leather, but it feels like it too, according to the California-based company. For the past nine years, Bolt Threads has been using biotechnology to take materials found in nature and transform them into never-before-seen textiles. As the company prefers to put it: “Animal leather is so 1st century.”

Bolt Threads partnered with biomaterials company Ecovative to license the technology. Mycelium cells are grown in a lab, and different variables like temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels are controlled to create a large fibrous network that looks a lot like leather, Fast Company reports.

“We cut it into slices, and it goes through a process not dissimilar to how animal hides are tanned to become leather, except it’s more environmentally friendly,” Dan Widmaier, founder and CEO of Bolt Threads, explained.

By tweaking the growth process, they can change the strength, durability, and suppleness of the leather.

While mushroom leather might not sound like the most luxurious material, the company has found an unlikely ally in the fashion industry. English designer Stella McCartney, daughter of Paul McCartney, crafted a handbag out of Mylo that has been dubbed the Falabella Prototype One. It’s currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which is also showcasing bags that McCartney created for Paris Fashion Week using Microsilk, Bolt Threads’s imitation spider silk material. In an effort to reduce the consumption of real silk, which typically involves the killing of silkworms, McCartney even created a spider silk dress.

Mylo's introduction comes at a time when many haute couture labels are looking to market their products as sustainable. Gucci has been fur-free since last year and it also launched a line of sunglasses made from a biodegradable material. Across the industry, many other luxury labels have opted for alternate, eco-friendly materials. (Pineapple "leather" has been around for a couple of years now.)

Bolt Threads will also be releasing its own Mylo handbag, for which a limited-edition pre-sale will begin in June.

[h/t Fast Company]

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The Unexpected Word That Shows Up on Every Hacked-Password List
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iStock

Every year, security-focused companies like SplashData release lists of the year's most hacked passwords, inevitably prompting us to ask, "Why would you make your password password?" In 2017, the most popular passwords list included longtime mainstays like 123456, qwerty, and, of course, password.

We get it, people aren't creative when they're coming up with their thousandth password. But WIRED (warning: paywall ahead) alerts us to one mainstay password that stands out from the pack, one that appears regularly on hacked password lists but has none of the obvious origins of passwords like hello or login. People love to make their password—drum roll, please—dragon.

WIRED investigated just why so many internet users use dragon to unlock their accounts, taking the question to password experts and security researchers.

Part of the reason, the magazine found, might just be related to the biases of these lists. They pull from leaked data from hacked sites, a dataset that doesn't always represent everyone on the internet. Depending on the user base of those hacked sites, the passwords also might represent specific groups (say, young dudes) who have more of a tendency to shout their love of fantastical winged reptiles from the rooftops.

The sites that get hacked and have their password data leaked to the world may not have had great security controls in the first place, either. Users might not have had to come up with extra numbers and special characters when generating a password. And the single-word dragon isn't as difficult for hackers to decode as some other passwords, so it's liable to be leaked. According to Keeper Security, many hackers can break a seven-digit password made up of upper- and lower-case letters and numbers in 10 seconds. Since dragon has already proved itself to be so popular, a hacker will probably go ahead and test that one out early.

Several people told WIRED they have used dragon as a password for years, just because, you know, they liked dragons. If you're a fan of Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, or, maybe even How to Train Your Dragon, dragon might be a super simple password to remember. And, because most people don't change their passwords as often as they should, you probably use it over and over again.

A similar reason might explain why words like football, monkey, and starwars often appear on these lists [PDF] year after year as well. People love football, monkeys, and Star Wars. Unfortunately, so do hackers.

Read the full rundown of why people love dragon—and why it's not a great way to protect the pile of gold that is your online data—here. As always, we will leave you with this reminder: Get a password manager. You don't want to end up as an embarrassing statistic on a password-shaming list.

[h/t WIRED]

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