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What Is Aerogel?

Aerogel is a synthetic porous ultralight material derived from a gel, in which the liquid component for the gel has been replaced with a gas. The result is a solid with extremely low density and low thermal conductivity. Nicknames include frozen smoke, solid smoke, solid air, solid cloud, blue smoke owing to its translucent nature and the way light scatters in the material.

Aerogels are a diverse class of porous, solid materials that exhibit an uncanny array of extreme materials properties. Most notably aerogels are known for their extremely low densities (which range from 0.0011 to ~0.5 g cm-3). In fact, the lowest density solid materials that have ever been produced are all aerogels, including a silica aerogel that as produced was only three times heavier than air, and could be made lighter than air by evacuating the air out of its pores.

An aerogel is the intact, dry, ultralow density, porous solid framework of a gel (that is, the part that gives a gel its solid-like cohesiveness) isolated from the gel’s liquid component (which takes up most of the volume in the gel).

The term aerogel does not refer to a particular substance, but rather to a geometry which a substance can take on–the same way a sculpture can be made out of clay, plastic, paper-mâché, etc.

Aerogels can be made of a wide variety of substances, including: silica, Most of the transition metal oxides (for example, iron oxide), Most of the lanthanide and actinide metal oxides (for example, praseodymium oxide), Several main group metal oxides (for example, tin oxide), Organic polymers (such as resorcinol-formaldehyde, phenol-formaldehyde, polyacrylates, polystyrenes, polyurethanes, and epoxies),  Biological polymers (such as gelatin, pectin, and agar agar), Semiconductor nanostructures (such as cadmium selenide quantum dots), Carbon, Carbon nanotubes, Metals (such as copper and gold).

Many aerogels boast a combination of impressive materials properties that no other materials possess simultaneously. Specific formulations of aerogels hold records for the lowest bulk density of any known material (as low as 0.0011 g cm-3), the lowest mean free path of diffusion of any solid material, the highest specific surface area of any monolithic (non-powder) material (up to 3200 m2 g-1), the lowest dielectric constant of any solid material, and the slowest speed of sound through any solid material. It is important to note that not all aerogels have record properties.

By tailoring the production process, many of the properties of an aerogel can be adjusted. Bulk density is a good example of this, adjusted simply by making a more or less concentrated precursor gel. The thermal conductivity of an aerogel can be also be adjusted this way since thermal conductivity is related to density. 

Typically, aerogels exhibit bulk densities ranging from 0.5 to 0.01 g cm-3 and surface areas ranging from 100 to 1000 m2 g-1, depending of course on the composition of the aerogel and the density of the precursor gel used to make the aerogel. Other properties such as transparency, colour, mechanical strength and susceptibility to water depend primarily on the composition of the aerogel.

For example, silica aerogels, which are the most widely researched type of aerogel, are usually transparent with a characteristic blue cast due to Rayleigh scattering of the short wavelengths of light off of nanoparticles that make up the aerogel’s framework. Carbon aerogels, on the other hand, are totally opaque and black. Furthermore, iron oxide aerogels are just barely translucent and can be either rust-coloured or yellow. 

As another example, low-density (<0.1 g cm-3) inorganic aerogels are both excellent thermal insulators and excellent dielectric materials (electrical insulators), whereas most carbon aerogels are both good thermal insulators and electrical conductors. Thus it can be seen that by adjusting processing parameters and exploring new compositions, we can make materials with a versatile range of properties and abilities.

Its unique properties have made aerogel popular with a range of industries. Silicon manufacturers, homebuilding materials manufacturers and space agencies have all put aerogel to use. Its popularity has only been hindered by cost, though there is an increasingly successful push to create aerogels that are cost-efficient. In the meantime, aerogels can be found in a range of products: Wetsuits, Firefighter Suits, Skylights, Windows, Rockets, Paints, Cosmetics, Nuclear weapons.

Because of aerogel's unique structure, its use as an insulator a no-brainer. The super-insulating air pockets with the aerogel's structure almost entirely counteract the three methods of heat transfer: convection, conduction and radiation. 

Even though aerogel is still quite expensive, the good news is that studies have shown that aerogel insulation used in wall framing and hard-to-insulate areas such as window flashing can save a homeowner up to $750 per year. In addition to helping homeowners save money, aerogel insulation can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

Companies are racing to find a way to bring costs down, but for now, aerogels are more affordable for NASA than the general public. Still, aerogels are put to use by construction companies, power plants and refineries.


What Is Game Theory?

Game theory as we know it today came about in part because of one man’s interest in poker. This man was not just your average man on the street. He was a mathematician, physicist and computer scientist named John von Neumann. 

His goal was loftier than becoming a better poker player. He was only interested in poker because he saw it as a path toward developing the mathematics of life itself. He wanted a general theory – he called it ‘Game Theory’ – that could be applied to diplomacy, war, love, evolution or business strategy.

He moved closer toward that goal when he collaborated with economist Oskar Morgenstern on a book called "A Theory of Games and Economic Behavior" in 1944.

The Library of Economics and Liberty (Econlib) states that in their book, von Neumann and Morgenstern asserted that any economic situation could be defined as the outcome of a game between two or more players.

What is a game according to game theory? Yale economics professor Ben Polak notes a game has three basic components: players, strategies and payoffs. As we just mentioned, game theory applies to games involving two or more players. In a game, players share “common knowledge” of the rules, available strategies, and possible payoffs of a game. However, it is not always the case that players have “perfect” knowledge of these elements of a game.

Strategies are the actions that players take in a game. The strategy is at the heart of the game theory. The theory presented in A Theory of Games and Economic Behavior as the mathematical modelling of a strategic interaction between rational adversaries, where each side’s actions would depend on what the other side would do.

The concept of strategic interdependence – the actions of one player influencing the actions of the other players – is one important aspect of von Neumann’s version of game theory that is still relevant today.

Then there are payoffs, which one source describes as the “outcome of the strategy applied by the player.” Payoffs could be a wide range of things depending on the game. It could be profits, a peace treaty or getting a great deal on a land.

One limitation of Von Neumann’s version of game theory is that it focused on finding optimal strategies for one type of game called a zero-sum game. In a zero-sum game, one player's loss is the other player's gain. A source notes that players can neither increase nor decrease the available resources in zero-sum games.

Critics have noted that life is often not as simple as a zero-sum game. More complicated game scenarios are possible in the real world. For example, players can do things like find more resources or form coalitions that increase the gains of several players. Game theory has evolved to analyze a wider range of games such as combinatorial games and differential games, but we have time to look at only one.

A classic example of a game often studied in game theory is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. There are two prisoners, Jack and Tom, who have just been captured for robbing a bank. The police don't have enough evidence to convict them but know that they committed the crime.

They put Jack and Tom in separate inter[r]ogation rooms and lay out the consequences: If both Jack and Tom confess they will each get 10 years in prison. If one confesses and the other doesn't, the one who confessed will go free and the other will spend 20 years in prison. If neither person confesses, they will both get 5 years for a different crime they were wanted for.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma contains the basic elements of a game. The two players are Jack and Tom. There are two strategies available to them: confess or don’t confess. The payoffs of the game range from going free to serving 5,10, or 20 years in prison.

Let's see and compare these outcomes (payoffs) As they are put into a matrix: Since Tom's strategies are listed in rows or the x-axis, his payoffs are listed first. Jack's payoffs are listed second because his strategies are in columns or on the y-axis. ‘C’ means ‘confess’ and ‘NC’ means ‘not confess.’ This matrix is called ‘Normal Form’ in game theory.

Moves are simultaneous, which means that neither player knows the other's decision and decisions are made at the same time. In this example, both prisoners are in separate rooms and won't be let out until they have both made their decision. 

One common solution to simultaneous games is known as the “dominant strategy.”  It is defined as the “strategy that has the best payoff no matter what the other player chooses.” Tom does not know if Jack will confess or not. He takes a look at his options. If Jack confesses and Tom does not, Tom will get 20 years in prison. If both Jack and Tom confess, Tom will get only 10 years. If Jack does not confess and Tom does, Tom will go free. 

The best strategy for Tom is to confess because it leads to the best payoffs regardless of Jack’s actions. Confessing will cause Tom to either go free or serve less prison time than if he did not confess. Jack is in the same situation and has the same options as Tom. As a result, the best strategy for Jack is also to confess because it leads to the same best payoffs that Tom will get.

One study states that a dominant strategy equilibrium is reached when each player chooses their own dominant strategy. Why is the strategy of both not confessing not the best choice? While this option would give both of them less prison time than if they confessed, it would work only if each of them could be sure the other one would not confess.

It is unknown whether Tom and Jack would be able to work together with that level of cooperation. In addition, both are unlikely to choose the strategy of not confessing because it has a greater penalty than they would get if they confessed. Confessing also gives each of them the possibility of serving no prison time, which is even less than 5 years in prison.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a good example of how rationality can be problematic in game theory. The University of British Columbia, Vancouver researcher Yamin Htun calls it “one of the most debatable issues in game theory.” 

Htun points out that almost all of the theories are based on the assumption that agents are rational players who strive to maximize their utilities (payoffs).  Yet studies demonstrate that players do not always act rationally and that “the conclusions of rational analysis sometimes fail to conform to reality.

As we can see from this game, the most rational strategy that would give both players less prison time was not the best choice, while a choice that involves both players doing more prison time was.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma also reflects how other game theorists were able to fix some of the problems with Von Neumann’s version of game theory. One of them was mathematician John Nash.

He found a way to determine optimal strategies in any finite game. He describes the Nash equilibrium as a particular solution to games—one marked by the fact that each player is making out the best he or she possibly can, given the strategies being employed by all of the other players. 

When Nash equilibrium is reached in a game, none of the players wants to change to another strategy because doing so will lead to a worse outcome than the current strategy. In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the Nash equilibrium is the strategy of both players confessing. There is no other better option for either player to switch to.

From this game, we can also see another interesting aspect of the Nash equilibrium. Mathematician Iztok Hozo points out that any dominant strategy equilibrium is also a Nash equilibrium. He explains that this is because the Nash equilibrium is an extension of the concepts of dominant strategy equilibrium. However, he notes that the Nash equilibrium can be used to solve games that do not have a dominant strategy.

Nash received great praise for the Nash equilibrium and his other work in game theory – but not from John von Neumann. According to Forbes, “Von Neumann, consumed with envy, dismissed the young Nash's result as ‘trivial’-- meaning mathematically simple.” 

Others did not share in Von Neumann’s assessment of Nash’s work. Nash, Reinhard Selten, and John Harsanyi went on to share the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their work in game theory. 

Nash’s most fundamental contribution to game theory was in opening the field up to a wider range of applications and different scenarios to be studied. Without his breakthrough, much of what followed in game theory might not have been possible.

Did The Big Bang Created All The Elements In Predictable?

My absolute favourite fact in the universe is that we are made of dead stars. And that's literally true. The atoms in our bodies were actually created inside the cause of stars that then exploded and died or unravelled into space. And so the question about the periodic table is very interesting. What was the periodic table like at the beginning of the universe, the moment of the Big Bang?

Well, one thing Astronomers say is that it was a lot simpler. The Big Bang, when it went off, produced basically three elements. Almost everything was hydrogen. There was a little bit of helium, and a tiny, tiny little smattering of lithium as well. So those three elements were around just a couple of minutes after the formation of the universe, but nothing else.

And that's actually not a theory. That's actually something we can observe. One of the wonderful things about being an astronomer is, as you look out into space, farther and farther away, the light has taken longer to get to you. And the farthest we can see is actually back to a time only about 400,000 years after the Big Bang.

At that time, there was nothing but very hot hydrogen gas, and a little bit of helium and lithium as well. So everything larger than that, every atom more complex had to be formed inside a star. Over time, stars like the sun are pretty good, over the life cycle, at producing things like carbon and oxygen. They don't really get much more far off the periodic table than that. 

If you want to go any farther than the element, iron, you actually need a very violent explosion, a supernova explosion. The cores of very massive stars and by that, I mean stars that are 10, 20, maybe even as much as 50 times the mass of the sun, their cores are much hotter, because the gravity crushes things down and the temperature goes up many, many millions of degrees hotter than inside the sun. So these stars can actually form bigger and bigger atoms.

The hotter the temperature, the denser the core, the more you can ram things together and actually, form bigger and bigger atoms over time. But there's a very special thing that happens when you get to the atom, iron. And it's something you have actually heard about but you may never have thought of.

When people think about getting energy out of a nuclear reaction-- you've heard about fusion reactions. So like a fusion bomb, actually, takes hydrogen, fuses it together to make helium and that creates energy. The sun also runs on that particular reaction, fusing hydrogen together.

Then you also heard that there's something called fission. And this is how, say, a uranium bomb would work. A uranium nucleus has many, many particles inside it you actually get energy out of breaking it up and forming two smaller nuclei that are actually a bit denser and they hold together better. And so you get energy out of breaking them apart.

So, the element, iron, is exactly halfway between those two processes. So you have been getting energy by fusing things together until you get to iron. And iron is the first nucleus where you don't get any energy out of fusing. From anything bigger, now, you get energy out of ripping apart, fission. 

So iron is what sets off a supernova explosion. When a star tries to fuse iron together, it absorbs energy. And that's not great for the star. The core collapses. And that huge collapse creates this giant wave of heat and the formation of many, many new elements after that. So anything heavier than iron has to be created in a supernova explosion.

Now, there are some elements, heavier still, that even supernova energies don't really get up quite high enough to make. And this is something we only found out recently, in the last couple of years. Elements like gold, platinum, bismuth and all the big things, like uranium and all of the really large atoms; they have to be formed by something that seems almost preposterous, but we have observed this happening-- two neutron stars colliding.

So neutron stars are the cores of dead stars. They are super-compressed. The density of a neutron star is about a Mount Everest worth of mass in every square centimetre. So think about crushing Mount Everest into a little cube. The entire star, which is only about 10 miles across, is actually that density. And that means you have a tremendous amount of nuclear components neutrons, protons really close together. And two neutron stars collide.

When that happens, you make all of these very heavy elements up, like gold, and platinum, uranium and all the big stuff. And again, this is not something that we just know theoretically. We actually have observed this happening. Recently, we observed two neutron stars colliding. And in that single explosion, 10,000 times the mass of the Earth in gold came out of that explosion. It was tremendous. So, we definitely know where those atoms come from now. We observed that happening. 

So to recap, at the beginning of the universe, you had three elements mostly hydrogen, a little bit of helium, a tiny bit of lithium. Now we have the entire periodic table. And a lot of those are formed in stars like the sun. Anything past iron has to be formed much more violently, in a supernova explosion or in the case of very large atoms, two colliding neutron stars. And over billions of years, we have filled out the periodic table that way.


Do We Really Sweat Out Toxin Of Our Body?

If you have spent any amount of time on the Internet, you have probably read some weird stuff. Like, at some point, you have probably heard someone claim that there are toxins trapped in your body and that you need to do something to help release them. To accomplish this, some people favour juice cleanses. Others like to sweat in a sauna, hoping to push toxins out through their pores. But if either of those is your favourite method, we have some bad news. 

Juice cleanses don’t actually detox anything. And sweating, as it turns out, doesn’t contribute much to the cause either. But fortunately, we have built-in organs that can deal with toxic substances. Strictly speaking, toxins are poisons made by living things. But usually, people use the word as a vague catch-all for things that are bad for your body, regardless of where they come from.

Admittedly, the human body does have to deal with a lot of them. From medications and alcohol to the occasional pesticide, you have to process a lot. And no matter what you do, you can’t avoid this, because your body also makes plenty of its own waste.

Just look at the byproducts of metabolism, which your body makes all day, every day, to stay alive. They include ammonia and urea, which come from breaking down proteins; bilirubin, which comes from the two million or so red blood cells you recycle every second and carbon dioxide, which you exhale.

At normal concentrations, these things aren’t harmful, but if they build up, they can cause issues. So there is that bit of truth in the whole “your body has to get rid of toxins” thing. Still, your body doesn’t rely on sweat to take care of that.

When it comes to getting rid of toxic substances, the big guns are the liver and kidneys And they do a thorough job of it. Like, the liver is a detox powerhouse. It chemically modifies toxic metabolic waste products, like ammonia and helps convert them into things that are less toxic, like urea.

It also has powerful and versatile enzymes that turn drugs and other molecules into less harmful things. And for many other kinds of waste, like bilirubin from red blood cells, the liver dumps things into a fluid called bile that we poop out. Bilirubin is what makes poop brown, by the way.

Other waste from the liver goes into the bloodstream, and eventually, to the kidneys. And the kidneys are equally impressive. They are built-in blood filters. They keep most of the useful stuff your body takes in, like nutrients, and dump the rest into the urine.

The kidneys filter out metabolic waste like urea, broken-down molecules from the liver, small amounts of things like hormones and drugs and trace amounts of an array of toxic substances. They also maintain healthy levels of minerals, water and electrolytes in the blood. Because too much of anything can kill you. So really, the liver and kidneys have your body’s supposed “toxin” situation under control.

The idea that sweat is important for filtering things out might have come from the fact that sweat glands are actually pretty similar to kidneys when it comes to their microscopic structure and abilities. This means that sweat and pee do have a lot of the same things in them, though pee is significantly more concentrated.

Most of what’s dissolved in sweat are salts, minerals, and metabolic waste products, plus trace amounts of things like heavy metals, drugs, BPA, and pesticides. And when I say “trace amounts,” I mean the amounts of toxic substances in sweat are so small that the health benefits of getting rid of them are negligible.

So while sweat might get stinky sometimes, it’s not because it’s doing hero’s work. The main reason we sweat is to cool down and, for some reason, when we are nervous. There are some conditions that cause the skin to take over part of the kidney’s function, and where you will start to sweat out more of the stuff that normally comes out in pee. But those conditions include kidney failure and cholera. So if your skin is doing the kidney’s job, you probably have bigger problems to worry about.

Under more typical circumstances, sweating doesn’t rid the body of toxic substances any better than the liver and kidneys do on their own. And whether that person trying to sell you a sweat-based detox therapy realizes it or not, they are pushing fear to make money.

Saunas, hot yoga and some other things that make you sweat may have health benefits, but not because they expel extra toxins. If you have a healthy liver and kidneys, your body is doing just fine all by itself.

Whether these organs are healthy, though, is a different story, and unfortunately, your personal health isn’t something we can help you with around here! That’s the whole point of visiting your doctor for a check-up.

Top 10 Places for New Human Colonies In Our Solar System

Looking to make a fresh start amongst the stars? Here are a few options and today we are counting down our picks for the Top 10 Places for New Human Colonies In Our Solar System. For this list, we’re looking at planets, moons and dwarf planets orbiting our sun that could potentially be colonized in the future.

Number 10: Mercury As the closest planet to the sun, colonizing Mercury would be complicated but not an insurmountable task. A big problem is that temperatures get up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and down to -290 degrees at night. 

It’s been suggested that a Mercury colony could be a mobile one that slowly travels the globe, keeping itself in the transitional space of land caught between night and day known as the “twilight belt.” 

Though continuously chasing the sun would be impossible on Earth, Mercury’s rotation takes about 58 days, meaning that the colony could move very slowly and still remain in the safe zone. In the twilight belt, Mercury’s daytime temperature drops to one more comparable to that of Earth.

Number 9: Uranus In the name of humanity’s future, let’s leave the butt jokes out of it. This overlooked ice giant might not rank highly on the list of planets we are anxious to colonize, but if we were to make the effort, a settlement on Uranus could yield substantial rewards.

The planet is rich in Helium-3, a rare substance on Earth that has been proposed as the ideal fuel for interplanetary travel. In Uranus’ atmosphere, the gravity is only 89% that of Earth’s. This has led experts to put forth the idea of floating mining facilities, suspended by hot air balloons or some other mechanism. For more permanent living arrangements, the moons of Uranus would serve well.

Number 8: Triton Speaking of moons, here is one with a lot of potentials. Triton is the largest of Neptune’s moons and the only surface around the planet that offers any sort of solid ground on which to set up a colony.

In terms of why we would want to live there, it shows signs of major geothermal activity and a possible subsurface ocean likely composed of water or ammonia. It’s the coldest body in our solar system, but between the combined resources offered by both it and Neptune, heating wouldn’t be an issue.

There is some concern about the nitrogen geysers that dot the moon’s surface, but hey, no one said that colonization would be easy.

Number 7: Callisto Ice giants like Uranus and Neptune and gas giants like Jupiter are difficult to colonize directly. Whereas Uranus’ gravity allows for colonies suspended in the atmosphere, Jupiter’s unforgiving atmosphere, staggering winds and powerful gravity wells make that sort of approach impossible. Enter Callisto.

The fourth and furthest of the Galilean moons from Jupiter, it’s appealing because it is subject to the least radiation of its peers, like Ganymede. Add to that the presence of water ice and its overall geological stability and you can understand why it has been deemed humanity’s best home base for exploring the outer solar system.

NASA actually has a detailed outline for a theoretical manned mission to Callisto.
Number 6: Ceres/The Asteroid Belt The asteroid belt might sound like an unappealing place to call home, but give it a chance -it might just make you rich! It offers mining possibilities that are honestly hard to quantify in the monetary sense - the word “quintillions” tends to get thrown around though.

Humanity could set up mining stations on any number of larger asteroids, but Ceres, a dwarf planet located within the asteroid belt is the obvious choice. The water ice present is more than adequate to support a sizable colony. Ceres’ small size largely rules out terraforming and artificial gravity would likely be necessary, as would a solution for radiation. Still, it’s very much within the realm of possibility.

Number 5: Venus is a very interesting candidate for colonization in that it is both blessed with appealing features and burdened by some incredibly harsh ones. Venus is similar to earth in size and, by extension, has comparable gravity. 

Unfortunately, the planet’s surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. It’s also frequently subjected to sulfuric acid rain and home to numerous volcanoes. As such, it’s been suggested that Venus be colonized not on its surface. Instead, humans could establish floating habitats in the Venerian atmosphere, an environment that has been described as “paradise.”

This isn’t the only option though. One strategy involves the construction of an artificial mountain, but arguably the most appealing option is terraforming the planet.

Number 4: Europa Though it might not be as practical as its neighbour Callisto, the smallest of the Galilean moons is without a doubt one of the most exciting bodies in our solar system. Europa has fascinated the scientific community due to the presumed presence of a liquid water ocean.

The surface of the moon is covered in water ice, which is more than enough to support a colony of any size that we could reasonably build. Of all the bodies in our solar system, Europa’s ocean has arguably inspired the greatest hope for finding extra-terrestrial life; and the best way to find it is with a permanent research settlement. Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, is similarly enticing.

Number 3: Titan Second only to Ganymede in terms of size, Titan offers a lot in terms of potential for colonization. Unlike earth’s Moon, Titan boasts a significant atmosphere, making it one of the few entries on our list today that has a built-in solution for the ever-present issue of radiation.

Unfortunately, the outlook is less positive in terms of gravity and proximity to Earth. That being said, its presumed methane lakes offer up a bountiful energy source, which would go a long way in terms of heating and oxygen production.

Fun fact: that low gravity paired with high atmospheric density would enable human flight with a simple set of wings.

Number 2: The Moon We have discussed a number of moons, but as far as Earth is concerned, there’s only one. Here’s why Earth’s natural satellite is such a candidate for our first off-Earth colony. First, it can be travelled to in a matter of days. Proximity to the sun covers energy needs.

Water ice has been found at the poles, so we have got that covered. That just leaves the lack of atmosphere and the accompanying problems of radiation, lack of breathable air and the frequency of small meteorites. But numerous functioning models have actually been presented. Really… we just need someone to foot the bill and to figure out the long-term impacts on human health.

Number 1: Mars With Earth’s Moon literally at our doorstep relative to other bodies in our solar system, why would we choose to fixate on Mars? Well, to put it simply, it presents certain opportunities that the Moon does not. The Martian atmosphere, though far from perfect, is a much better foundation for terraforming and it already provides far better protection from radiation and meteors than the Moon’s.

The planet’s size also gives it a closer gravity to earth’s own, though the two are by no means the same. Arguably the strongest case for colonizing Mars over the Moon, however, is that as a distinct planet, it offers far more opportunity for significant scientific discovery.


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What Is Aerogel?

Aerogel is a synthetic porous ultralight material derived from a gel, in which the liquid component for the gel has been replaced with a...

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