Scientists turn plastic waste into tiny diamonds
Plastic waste is a global problem. From plastic drinking straws to single-use food containers, all this plastic is overwhelming landfills and much of it ends up in our waterways, eventually making it out to the ocean.
But what if scientists found a way to make discarded plastic into something beneficial? Researchers in Germany and California have done just that: they discovered a new way to turn plastic waste into valuable, albeit tiny, diamonds.
After attempting to turn polystyrene into diamonds in 2017, scientists with the research laboratory Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf have recently found greater success with polyethylene terephthalate (PET), according to a recently-published study in Science Advances. Their research paves a path toward creating nanodiamonds that are used in various contexts out of waste plastic and also gives us a better understanding of space.
Scientists theorized in the 1970s that diamonds could rain down onto icy planets’ rocky interiors, which are mostly slushy. This new research provides a unique perspective on how extreme environmental conditions might result in literal diamond showers on frigid planetary neighbors. Dominik Kraus, the lead author of the new study, explained this process. “The chemistry at these conditions is very complex and modeling extremely difficult,” he said. ” ‘Anything can happen’ is a typical phrase when discussing such scenarios with theorists.”
So how did scientists replicate conditions in outer space to make plastic diamonds? PET has an exemplary balance of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, making it a nearer chemical copy of interplanetary ice than polystyrene. Scientists heated the plastic to 5,000 Kelvin (around 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit) and compressed it by 150 gigapascals. This simulates conditions found thousands of miles into the interior of the icy planets. Then, they watched the diamonds grow using a technique called small angle X-ray diffraction.
While the experiments resulted in a few billion diamond crystallites, more research is needed before your Fiji bottles and cold brew cups can be turned into fancy recycled gemstones at scale.
In other news
- The CIA attempts to breathe life into the woolly mammoth. The Central Intelligence Agency is funding a company aiming at resurrecting extinct animals through genetic engineering, according to The Intercept. More specifically, CIA-adjacent company In-Q-Tel invests in technologies that could be useful to US national security, and it has recently taken on Colossal Biosciences, a Dallas-based biotech company engaged in bringing back the woolly mammoth, the Tasmanian tiger, and potentially the dodo. There is hope that this “de-extinction” could help in offsetting carbon and to better understand human development, and it has received investment from big names like Paris Hilton, Tony Robbins, and Winklevoss Capital. Critics say that with climate change and urban growth, the proper environments for these species no longer exist, and efforts—and funds—could be used more effectively in researching global changes and outcomes.
- Russia grants citizenship to Edward Snowden. The New York Times reports that Vladimir Putin has granted citizenship to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been living in Moscow since leaving the US in 2013. After sharing classified documents with The Guardian and The Washington Post, Snowden fled to Hong Kong, and then Russia, as US authorities pursued him for violations of the Espionage Act. He was granted permanent residency in Russia in 2020 but hopes to eventually return to the US with his wife and family.
- AI to be used in the protection of whales. A new project using AI-enabled buoys will prevent ships from colliding with whales, according to The Register. The Benioff Ocean Initiative, funded by the founder of Salesforce, will work together with the Marine Mammal Center non-profit to develop Whale Safe, a software system that alerts ships of approaching whales. The AI-enabled buoys are able to record whale sounds and feed them back into an algorithm. Collisions with cargo ships are the biggest cause of death among whale populations, and as many as 80 endangered whales are killed every year on the US Pacific coast alone, so scientists hope this technology will save many whales, which are critical to ocean ecosystems.
- Food delivery drone crashes and disrupts electricity supply. An Alphabet-owned Wing drone crashed into power lines in Brisbane, Australia, and left over 2,000 buildings in the area without electricity, according to Gizmodo. A spokesperson for Energex, the energy provider affected, said that the Wing drone electrocuted itself after crashing into power cables, and then fell to the ground. Oddly, the meal it was carrying was still warm when power company representatives found it. Energex restored energy to most of their customers, but 300 were without power for another three hours. The energy provider is not seeking damages and Wing is reviewing the incident. Wing received approval for food and medicine drone deliveries in Australia in 2019 and more than 50,000 delivery orders were placed in Queensland in the first eight months of 2021.
- Tesla reveals its humanoid robot. On Friday, during the company’s annual AI Day, Tesla unveiled a prototype of Optimus, a robot that can move, act, and behave like a person. According to Gizmodo, the robot will eventually be able to help people with their everyday household chores, but the promised tech isn’t quite there. While last year’s version of the robot was a person in a suit, this year Elon Musk revealed two iterations of the robot, one of which proceeded to stumble around the stage with great difficulty, while the other was able to give the audience some enthusiastic wave action.
- New North Korean cyber campaign targets open-source tools. A cybercrime gang linked to North Korea has been weaponizing open-source tools, according to Computing. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) has discovered compromised IT services, as well as media, defense, and aerospace platforms, in India, Russia, the UK, and the US. MSTIC identified the hacker group as Zinc, or Lazarus, which was also responsible for the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack of 2014. The group uses LinkedIn to scan for targets as well as methods of social engineering. The weaponized tools used so far have included KiTTY, PuTTY, Sumatra PDF Reader, and TightVNC.
- Kim Kardashian fined for Instagram crypto ad. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has ordered Kim Kardashian to pay $1.26 million as part of a settlement for promoting a worthless cryptocurrency. According to Gizmodo, in 2021 the reality TV star created a post advertising EthereumMax, encouraging her followers to invest. Soon after, the token’s value increased by 632% before plummeting not long after. The SEC, which also banned Kardashian from promoting crypto for three years, said that anyone promoting crypto must disclose the nature, source, and how much they’re getting paid for a promotion so that any bias is clear to potential investors.
Tip of the week: When you can’t recycle, reuse!
Disposable plastic has become an everyday part of our lives. However, it’s this very ubiquity that has led to plastic waste becoming a global crisis. While diamonds made from plastic could be the wave of the future, right now one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to reuse plastics as many times as possible before you recycle them.
To reduce your impact on the environment now, and make your home office more eco-friendly, there are creative ways to reuse plastics in your workspace.
- Plastic bread bags. These can be used to organize cables and cords. Roll up those extra power and USB cords and keep them protected from moisture with ease. You can even write what type of connectors a cord has right on the bag.
- Bubble wrap. Use leftover bubble wrap and bubble mailers to protect small electronics you keep in drawers. External SSDs, backup webcams, and that Raspberry Pi kit you experiment with on the weekends will all last longer when protected from falling staplers.
- Coffee creamer bottles. Empty coffee creamer bottles are the perfect size and shape to organize pens, Sharpies, pencils, and (if you are truly paperless) all those styluses you’ve snagged at tech meetups.
- Milk and juice jugs. Disposable plastic drink cartons are perfect for organizing larger items, like books, magazines, and printed reports. Just cut off the top and one side, and you’ve got an easy way to organize your shelves for free.
And when it comes to your digital devices, you should recycle those as well. Assuming you aren’t selling your old phone or laptop, we have a few other options to get rid of tech you’re no longer using.