Eureka's Top 30 Science Blogs

Whether you are new to blogs or a practised poster, Eureka’s Top 30 Science Blogs will not disappoint. After much heated debate, the Eureka team have picked 30 of their favourite science, environment, health and technology blogs. If you want to know more about the latest NHS catastrophe or climate change scandal, someone on our list will have it covered.

So, now we’ve shown you ours, we want you to show us yours. We know our 30 blogs are not exhaustive; they’re a subjective take on the best bloggers out there. We’d like you to help us us to compile the definitive list, the Top 100 Science Blogs. Send the name and url of your favourites to, with “Best blogs” in the subject line.

Inexpensive, Highly Efficient and Flexible Solar Cells Developed at Caltech

A team of scientists at the California Institute of technology (Caltech) have just published their research on solar cells that will be thinner, lighter, more flexible and cheaper than existing commercial solar cells.

Instead of using conventional sheets of silicon semiconductor the team created long thin silicon wires and embedded them in a polymer substrate - rather like spaghetti placed vertically inside a gelatine solution and left to set. Such a silicon-wire array has proved to be highly efficient at absorbing sunlight. Absorbing 85% of all collectible sunlight, it is the most efficient solar cell microstructure to date.

"These solar cells have, for the first time, surpassed the conventional light-trapping limit for absorbing materials," says Harry Atwater, professor and director of Caltech's Resnick Institute, which focuses on sustainability research.

One of the limitations of current solar cells is that some of the incident sunlight is scattered off the silicon wafer, essentially bouncing off the material rather than interacting with an electron inside. In this new silicon wire array much of the scattered light from one silicon strand is then absorbed by a nearby strand, hence the significant increase in absorption.

But the really important thing is that such absorbed light is actually useful in generating electricity. In order for that to happen a photon of light must interact with an electron thereby creating a charge carrier which is the source of an electric current. This array is able to convert a staggering 90-100% of incident photons into charge carriers.

"It's an important advance." says Atwater, modestly, and all the more impressive in that this is not the development of a new material as such but an ingenious use of existing materials into a novel structure. And, if being so highly efficient wasn't enough, these solar cells are also likely to be flexible and cheaper than existing flat solar cells. The polymer sheet makes the material flexible which means it can be manufactured as a huge roll, making it a much cheaper process than manufacturing brittle flat sheets.

It always seems as if solar power is about to become ubiquitous and yet it never quite happens. Hopefully, it won't be long before our buildings are gift-wrapped in a layer of super-efficient solar cells.

Is Pluto a Planet? Vote Now!

Pluto was discovered in February 1930, making this month its 80th anniversary. Unfortunately, Pluto is not in such a festive mood as its status was downgraded in 2006 from a fully blown planet to a mere dwarf planet. This is a bit like telling one of your kids that sadly they were adopted and therefore have been left out of the family will. However, the rumblings over a solid definition of a planet have continued to this day, and some people want Pluto back into our family of planets - at which point we could upgrade all the other dwarf planets to full status.

So what defines a planet anyway? Well, I'm going to write a longer article on this very soon, but the thing that got Pluto downgraded is that its orbit not only overlaps with Neptune but is also in a different plane to the other eight major planets. Strangely, NASA still has Pluto in its own planet category and hasn't placed it alongside the other dwarf planets, or planetoids.

Anyway, do you think Pluto should be a planet? You can vote on it during February.


The above image (courtesy of NASA) shows the Earth and Moon, with Pluto and one of its moons (Charon) at the bottom, plus Eris and Ceres (both dwarf planets, with Eris being slightly larger than Pluto). The image is to scale. Thus, if Pluto is a planet then so is Eris. Ceres could be a planet but it hasn't cleared its orbit of all the other asteroids. For the moment, all 3 are dwarf planets.

Stocks of Greek Puns Make Headline News

Stocks of Greek puns have seen a phenomenal rise this past week. As bankers and government officials squabble over the minor details of Greek debt, its refinancing and its effect on the price of moussaka, headline writers have been buying up dormant puns. 'Greece is the word' only works for the nostalgia buffs, but when 'Grecian Earns' came to the market the groans and public shaking of the head could be felt on the floor of the stock exchange.

"Greek headlines have woefully underperformed until recently," laments Papandreou Aristophanes, editor of The Watermelon, a Greek satirical magazine,"but Greece is such an obvious homophone that writers could not resist slipping in those sad puns."

"we have not lost our marbles!" Exclaims an unapologetic journalist (who wished to remain anonymous). "We know the market is awash with sub-pun headlines, but we have a reputation to uphold and a triple-A rating to maintain."

"This is the typical behaviour of banksters manipulating our pun market. They pump and dump these lame phrases leaving the hapless reader stranded with bland financial headlines and worthless old newspapers." The old geezers agreed with their comrade and demanded another bottle of Ouzo for the quote.

"The government is considering austerity measures such as trimming the font size of headlines." The Finance Minister, George Georgiou confided. "The ECB seems to be angry with me, but what can I do? I never read the financial press as it's all Greek to me!"

Politicians across Europe are worried about a domino effect kicking in and are holding secret meetings to establish if their own country could be under attack. They fear that bad puns destroy public confidence in the very existence of their governments. Those most at risk may take the drastic measure of changing their country's name to something less toxic.

A senior British comedian let slip that,"We are looking seriously at the feasibility of renaming the island of St Kitts as 'Great Britain' and giving them all our sub-pun debts whilst at the same time calling ourselves 'Little Britain'." The markets remained po-faced at the revelation.

How Your Computer Can Help Map Our Galaxy: Join Milky Way at Home

Since its launch in 2006, over 45,000 people have given their spare personal computing capacity to help map the details of our Milky Way. The sheer volume of data coming from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey meant that some astronomers were going to be waiting light years to process their bit of the cosmos. So the smarts at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute decided to use the crowd computing power of BOINC to speed up the process.

The project, MilkyWay@Home, uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform, which is widely known for the SETI@home project used to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Today, MilkyWay@Home has outgrown even this famous project, in terms of speed, making it the fastest computing project on the BOINC platform and perhaps the second fastest public distributed computing program ever in operation (just behind Folding@home).

With some 17,000 active members, Milkyway@Home is generating highly accurate three dimensional models of the Sagittarius stream, which provides knowledge about how the Milky Way galaxy was formed and how tidal tails are created when galaxies merge.

You too can join MilkyWay@Home.
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