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This Crystal Clear Solar Cell Could Turn Every Window into a Power Source

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Luminescent solar concentrators (LSC) produce electricity by focusing sunlight on a small area, which works in a similar way as setting fire to dry leaves using a magnifying glass.

However, the problem is that they are quite large and not so attractive, as they have the function, but lack beauty. There have been attempts to integrate solar concentrators with windows, but, as a result, they altered the color and transparency of the glass.

Now, material engineers at Michigan State University have designed totally transparent solar concentrators, which could be built into windows without blocking the light and disturbing the view, or even used on smartphone screens.

No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said the lead researcher of the study Richard Lunt in a press release. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”

The researchers achieved this by developing a system that diverts wavelengths invisible to the human eye. In particular, the concentrator absorbs light in the ultraviolet and near infrared spectrum and then transmits it in the infrared.

After this, the light is directed to the photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity. Since we are not able to perceive the ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, the material remains transparent and looks to the human eye like ordinary glass.

The new technology is very promising but needs some improvements in terms of efficiency. The solar concentrator developed by the scientists of Michigan State University reaches only about 1% of solar conversion efficiency. However, they hope to increase it to 5%, as there are some non-transparent luminescent solar concentrators that are operating at an efficiency of about 7%.

Of course, there are other solar technologies that are far more effective, such as conventional solar panels that are typically installed on the roofs of the buildings, which absorb a wider range of wavelengths and thus reach 15-40% of solar conversion efficiency.

At the same time, the transparent technology has the potential to be used in a variety of applications, including commercial and industrial use.

As Lunt said, “It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way. It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”


Image credits: Yimu Zhao

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Colombia Considers Ending ‘War on Drugs’ by Legalizing Its Huge Cocaine Industry

Elias Marat

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A controversial bill is making its way through Colombia’s legislature that could see the South American nation end its destructive war on drugs by effectively legalizing cocaine and subjecting the drug to government regulation.

The bill, which has the backing of the leftist opposition and its centrist allies, hopes to put an end to the so-called war on drugs in favor of effective counter-narcotics strategies and evidence-based policies to curb drug abuse.

For nearly half a century, Colombia has faced the ravages of an anti-drug policy that criminalizes the coca leaf while fueling the growth of monstrous drug trafficking organizations and illegal armed groups and death squads vying for control of the cultivation of coca and production of cocaine.

Under the proposed bill, cocaine would be decriminalized and the state would purchase the entire coca harvest in the country and channel it towards a legal industry that distributes cocaine to users for pain relief rather than recreational use. The policy would also see the state provide raw materials to Indigenous artisans who would have a chance to produce foods, medicinal products, tea, and baking flour using the plant.

Supporters of the bill hope that it would allow hundreds of thousands of illegal coca farmers out of a shadowy black market overseen by cartels and violent armed groups and into a homegrown, government-regulated industry.

“This policy would mean cutting organized crime off from the coca leaf, and it would cut consumers off from organized crime,” Senator Ivan Marulanda of the centrist Green Alliance told Vice World News. “The Colombian state would distribute it to users under a public health program, effectively through physicians who would evaluate if a person is apt for taking cocaine for their pain. And then it would be high-quality cocaine.”

“Another important thing here is that not all consumers are addicts,” Marulanda added. “Less than 10 percent of cocaine consumers are addicts.”

Throughout the Andes, the consumption and use of the coca leaf has been a part of the cultural and social traditions of native peoples for centuries. In Bolivia, which is the world’s third largest producer of cocaine, the coca leaf was decriminalized through widely-hailed policies that prioritized respect for human rights and community participation.

“The war on drugs is a law-and-order policy against drugs that thinks of drugs as a criminal offense,” Marulanda said. “It’s also a persecution against the coca plant, the leaves of which are used to produce cocaine.”

“That policy has not changed since the 1980s,” the senator continued. “Actually, Colombia’s drug policy has only become more entrenched, more stubborn, and more severe in its application. We’re now in the year 2020. Yet Colombia exports 90 percent of the cocaine in the world today … We’re inundated with cocaine and inundated with deaths and violence. We’ve lost sovereignty over Colombian territory to the dominion of organized criminal mafias.”

Even former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who ruled the country from 2010 to 2018, has affirmed that a new approach to drugs is needed. Last year, Santos participated in a study that concluded that drugs including cocaine, ecstasy and opiates could potentially be less harmful than tobacco or alcohol yet are seen as dangerous narcotics primarily due to cultural biases and politics, rather than actual science.

Calling the classification of such drugs as dangerous narcotics “a political decision,” Santos noted that Colombia is “probably the country that has paid the highest price for the war on drugs.” Continuing, he said that for decades, his country has been saddled with an unwinnable drug war that causes “more damage, more harm” to the world than practical approaches to regulating the sale and consumption of drugs in a “good way.”

While most politicians and experts in Colombia agree that blanket repression isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to drug use and the problem of criminal drug cartels, the bill will likely face stiff opposition both within the country and from the United States, which has urged the country to continue waging a war on drugs.

The government of President Ivan Duque Marquez is signaling that it is planning to step up the war to stamp out illicit cocaine production.

Over the weekend, Colombian Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo told Reuters that the military was considering restarting aerial fumigation of the countryside with the dangerous herbicide glyphosate to halt the cultivation of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine.

The practice was ended in 2015 due to widespread concerns by the World Health Organization (WHO) causes cancer and harms the environment, but the Duque government maintains that fumigation is necessary to halt the flow of cash to illegal armed groups. The policy has been supported by the United States, whose Environmental Protection Agency disagrees that the chemical is carcinogenic.  

“We’ve been going 40 years with a policy that costs billions of U.S. dollars with zero success and so much cost and destruction,” Marulanda said. “Let’s try out this other policy. Because something that hasn’t worked in the last 40 years is something that’s just not going to work.”

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Animals

Cher Escorted World’s Loneliest Elephant To a New Life in Cambodia

Elias Marat

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A 36-year-old elephant who garnered worldwide sympathy after being dubbed “the world’s loneliest elephant” will be turning the page on a dark chapter of his life and enjoying brighter days ahead at a renowned sanctuary in Cambodia, thanks to the hard-fought efforts of U.S. pop star Cher.

Kaavan had long been Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, and suffered from poor health and wretched conditions at a dilapidated zoo in Islamabad, where the bull elephant was unable to exercise and gained excessive weight while living in a structure decried by animal rights groups as totally inappropriate.

Now relocated to Cambodia, Kaavan will now make the province of Oddar Meanchey his home, where he will live in a special wildlife sanctuary along with 600 other elephants.

“Cambodia is pleased to welcome Kaavan. No longer will he be ‘the world’s loneliest elephant,’” Cambodia’s deputy environment minister, Neth Pheaktra, said. “We expect to breed Kaavan with local elephants – this is an effort to conserve the genetic fold.”

When Kaavan’s companion died in 2012, the suffering pachyderm was forced to contend with isolation and descended into “zoochosis” – a type of mental illness brought about by miserable living conditions and solitude, reports BBC. Scarred both mentally and physically, he soon earned the ignominious title of the “world’s loneliest animal.”

However, after years of suffering in silence, animal rights groups turned Kavaan’s plight into a cause célèbre – with Cher using her social media clout and the wildlife protection group she co-founded, Free the Wild, to back the campaign in 2016.

“I thought, ‘how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who’s been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away?’,” Cher said in a statement distributed by the Smithsonian Channel, which is filming a documentary about Kaavan. “This is Free The Wild’s first big rescue and I am so proud.”

When Islamabad’s High Court finally shuttered the zoo over its squalid conditions and issued an order freeing Kaavan in May, granting animal welfare group Four Paws International (FPI) permission to relocate the creature, Cher called it one of the “greatest moments” in her life.

For years, Four Paws has worked alongside Cher and Free the Wild to secure Kaavan’s release.

Ahead of his trip on Monday, Cher was filmed serenading Kaavan in Pakistan with her classic song, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

On Monday, Kaavan and Cher arrived in Cambodia and were greeted with fanfare from animal conservationists and officials.

“I’m so happy and I am so proud he is here,” Cher told AFP at Siem Reap airport. “He’s a wonderful, wonderful animal.”

Kaavan had a peaceful flight and conducted himself “like a frequent flyer” during the journey from Pakistan, said Four Paws veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil. Kaavan even ate and slept during the “uneventful” flight and showed no signs of stress, reports the Guardian.

On Friday, prior to the journey to Cambodia, Cher met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and thanked him on Twitter “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia.”

In a statement from Khan’s office, the prime minister and former cricket superstar extended an invitation to Cher to continue engaging in environmental initiatives in Pakistan.

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Bizarre

Mysterious Monolith in Romania Disappears Overnight, Just Days After It Was Discovered

Elias Marat

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Mere days after it mysteriously popped up on a hillside near the Carpathian mountain range, the Romanian monolith – which bore a striking resemblance to its Utah counterpart – has suddenly disappeared.

The shiny metal monolith, which was discovered late last week around the same time that the monolith in Utah vanished from its remote desert location, was placed near a historic Dacian fortress built in B.C. times. Little is known about who erected the three-sided structure in the location, why it was installed, or if there was any connection to the Utah monolith.

The shiny pillar was found just last Thursday on Batca Doamnei Hill in the city of Piatra Neamt in the country’s northeastern Neamt County, several yards from the Dacian fortress Petrodava, an important archaeological landmark and fort that was built by the people of ancient Dacia between 82 B.C. and 106 A.D.

The monolith was just a few yards from the old stronghold, with one side facing Mount Ceahlău, a famous Carpathian mountain listed as one of the country’s Seven Natural Wonders and known to locals as the Holy Mountain.

However, on Monday the monolith vanished from the site and left only a shallow, square-shaped hole and pile of rubble behind, in video posted by local media outlet Jurnal FM.

The disappearance of the monolith also coincided with the night of Saint Andrews Day, a holiday celebrating a saint who was the brother of Saint Peter and is considered the protector of Romania due to his proselytizing activities in the ancient province of Scythia, which includes parts of present-day Romania.

The night is also characterized by a number of traditions and superstitions of pagan origin that predate the arrival of Christianity in the region, and is seen by many as the Romanian equivalent of Halloween and as a night filled with roaming spirits, werewolves, and people using garlic to ward off evil spells, ghosts and curses, according to Romania Insider.

“The monolith found near the archaeological site of an old Dacian Stronghold disappeared on the night of Saint Andrew, when reportedly, a bright light surrounded the object,” reported Jurnal FM.

“Locals thought the light came from a car, but the light pointed towards the sky,” the local report mysteriously added.

It remains unknown how exactly the silver monolith was installed in its Carpathian location, but many social media users joked that the Romanian version was a sort of “Wish App” equivalent to its Utah counterpart, with this monolith having a decidedly more scrappy, rough façade filled with doodle-like scrawls.

“The aliens who have planted this monolith should polish their welding skills,” one user commenting on the Facebook post by The Mind Unleashed.

The disappearance comes after local officials complained about the unauthorized installation of the silver structure.

“We have started looking into the strange appearance of the monolith,” said Neamt Culture and Heritage official Rocsana Josanu. “It is on private property, but we still don’t know who the monolith’s owner is yet. It is in a protected area on an archaeological site.”

“Before installing something there, they needed permission from our institution, one that must then be approved by the Ministry of Culture,” Josanu added.

The mysterious three-sided structure’s disappearance comes just a few days after the monolith in Utah was removed from its remote desert location by an “unknown party,” local authorities said over the weekend.

The discovery of the monolith by Utah public safety workers in the southwestern U.S. state generated significant viral buzz, with many comparing the monolith to those that trigger massive leaps in human progress in the classic Stanley Kubrick sci-fi film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Others bemoaned the discovery of the object in the turbulent year 2020, with some social media users complaining that the discovery of the monolith had triggered their anxiety over worsening fortunes in the year, including a possible extraterrestrial invasion.

However, recent clues may point to a much more down-to-earth explanation behind the disappearance of the Utah.

An Instagram post by photographer Ross Bernards has revealed that a group of four men arrived at the site not long after he had snapped some shots of the viral structure. The men had brought a wheelbarrow with them and pushed against the structure until it fell over. 

“They quickly broke it apart as they were carrying the wheelbarrow that they had brought one of them looked back at us and said ‘leave no trace,’” Bernards explained. “If you’re asking why we didn’t’s stop them well, they were right to take it out. We stayed the night and the next day hiked to a hill top overlooking the area where we say at least 70 different cars (and a plane) in and out. Cars parking everywhere in the delicate desert landscape.”

“Mother Nature is an artist, it’s best to leave the art in the wild to her,” he added.

Another Instagram user explains that the men left behind a puddle of urine where the structure had previously stood, and scrawled “By B*tch!” in the dirt.

It all seems like a rather unceremonious end to a structure that kindled the imagination of millions of online users.

However, the disappearance of the structures still has us wondering: where, and when, will the next monolith be found?

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