In this month’s Science Mitten, we look at how Michigan State University researchers briefly created Magnesium-18 and how University of Michigan researchers concocted a clear coating to de-ice solar photovoltaic panels.
The super-brief life of Magnesium-18
You probably didn’t feel its presence, but late last year, for less than a split second, scientists in East Lansing created a new isotope. Magnesium-18 — so named because its nucleus has 12 protons and six neutrons whereas the normal, stable version of the element has 12 of each — was created in the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University by accelerating and colliding particles at half the speed of light. This is the “lightest” version of the element and existed for a full sextillionth of a second, according to a study in the journal Physical Review Letters co-authored by lead researcher Kyle Brown, an assistant professor of chemistry at MSU. It seems like a lot of effort for such a short result, but Brown explains that the process of creating new isotopes is a way of investigating how the elements came into existence in the first place. Also, there is some glory in it: “We can put our names on this one, the whole team can,” Brown says. “And I can tell my parents that I helped discover this nucleus that nobody else has seen before.”
De-icing spray for solar arrays
The big problem with solar photovoltaic panels is that when they’re blocked from sunshine, they don’t work so well. Now, researchers at the University of Michigan have concocted a clear coating made of plastic or silicon to be sprayed on that helps solar arrays shed piles of ice and snow that could diminish the energy output at the moments — winter — people can least afford to go without. The finding, published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies and co-authored by U-M engineer Anish Tuteja along with researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and the University of Alaska, come after tests in Fairbanks, Alaska, found the spray helped reduce the period when panels were covered by snow and ice to 28 percent of the winter versus 59 percent for uncoated panels. “Snow-phobic coatings, if we can demonstrate their long-term efficacy, will make solar power more reliable and more affordable in snowy regions, helping accelerate our nation’s transition to a more solar-dominated energy economy,” says Laurie Burnham of Sandia Labs
in New Mexico.