Luca Disbrow / Daily Nexus

A Zwitterionic Solution

One ambition in the world of materials is a vision for durable, energy-dense lithium-ion batteries, as they are reusable. However, this development was previously hindered by instabilities and safety concerns. A research team belonging to the UC Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory, including graduate students such as Seamus D. Jones, Howie Nguyen and Peter M. Richardson, sought to solve this problem. 

They found that solid polymeric electrolytes (SPEs) are a possible solution to this issue, although they were initially found to have limited conductivity. However, this challenge was overcome via “zwitterionic SPEs,” meaning that the electrolytes have a positive and a negative charge, allowing for excellent lithium conductivity. 

Detangling Plant Population Dynamics

A recent publication by UCSB Earth Research Institute’s Tom W. Bell and UCSB geography professor David A. Siegel highlights the difficulty in quantifying plant abundance and health on relevant scales of space and time. According to Bell and Siegel, these estimates are important to quantify, as they can elucidate how environmental change impacts plant population dynamics both in the sea and on land. Specifically, they studied patterns of biomass loss across kelp forests.

To dissect what drives ecological population dynamics, Bell and Siegel found it important to first organize the scales in order to observe the system, which is influenced by both extrinsic and intrinsic biotic factors. They used remote sensing observations to assess patterns in nutrient concentrations and temperature of seawater, which were found to be inversely correlated with each other. The impact of separating external and internal drivers of the dynamics of plant population and conducting repeat measurements provided them with a better and more complex knowledge of what factors regulate abundance. 

Into the Interstellar

The cosmos has remained to be an expanse overwhelmingly foreign to us, as the human race has completed only a couple of missions to the moon or to various planets. Despite exciting developments in our astronomic understanding, our interstellar exploration is limited by the brevity of human life, as it takes several decades to travel beyond the heliopause 18 million kilometers beyond, which is the boundary where the sun’s solar winds are stopped by the interstellar boundary. 

However, a recent NASA study called Project Starlight holds promise in significantly increasing spacecraft speed and rethinking current measures of space propulsion. In an article published this month in Acta Astronautica, UCSB physics professor Philip Lubin and molecular, cellular and developmental biology distinguished professor Joel Rothman consider the potential and consequences of this project as well the ethical implications. The goal of the project, they analyze, is to use direct photon momentum exchange to achieve velocities that would condense what took previous space probes years into mere days. This is made possible by very recent technology, using photon propulsion to achieve extremely high velocities. A dramatic decrease in the time it takes to go beyond the interstellar boundary provides NASA with the unique opportunity to study living microorganisms in the interstellar.