The methane hunters

WHEN SCANNING for emissions from a mud volcano in western Turkmenistan in January 2019, a satellite called Claire came across a large plume of methane drifting across the landscape. The discharge appeared to originate from a gas pipeline at the nearby Korpezhe oil and gasfield. Two more large plumes were also spotted in the area, […]

How to make oxygen from moondust

IF PEOPLE ARE to travel extensively in space and set up bases on astronomical objects such as the Moon and Mars then they will need to make or find out there the things required to support life—including food, water and breathable air. Researchers are already working on ways to grow food in space, and icy […]

A research team builds robots from living cells

ROBOTS COME in all shapes and sizes. Some are humanoid. Others resemble animals. Many are just a jumble of arms slaving away on a production line. But one thing all robots have in common is that they are mechanical, not biological devices. They are built from materials like metal and plastic, and stuffed with electronics. […]

An emergency landing system that passengers can activate

ON NOVEMBER 9TH 2018 a Piper Dakota light aircraft flying over Iowa broadcast a distress call. The pilot seemed to have suffered a heart attack. One of the other three people on board, a student aviator, had taken over the controls, but to no avail. The plane crashed shortly afterwards, killing all four. How often […]

Giant 3D printers for making boats, bridges, buildings and rockets

BOAT BUILDING is a long-winded and tedious business, even when what is going down the slipway is a small craft made from modern materials such as fibreglass, rather than something nailed together out of planks of wood. Construct a mould. Build up layers of resin and glass fibre inside that mould. Extract the completed structure […]

Sustainable forestry: If you go down to the woods today

IN FINLAND’S vast forest lives a monster with a voracious appetite. Once, it would have been called a pulp mill. But after a recent makeover costing €1.2bn ($1.3bn) it is now known as a bioproducts mill—and as such is one of the biggest in the world. This sprawling plant, near Äänekoski, a town in the […]

Flying taxis are taking off to whisk people around cities

In october 1908, on a windy field at Farnborough, south-west of London, a handlebar-mustachioed former Wild West showman named Samuel Cody completed the first official controlled flight of a powered aeroplane in Britain. Since then many other pioneering aircraft, from Concorde to the giant Airbus A380, have flown at what became the biennial Farnborough air […]

New ways to make vertical farming stack up

From the outside it looks like a tall, metal-clad barn. But step in, through a large airlock designed to keep out the bugs, and a kaleidoscopic scene emerges. A central aisle is flanked by two pairs of towers. Each tower is stacked with a dozen or so trays on which are growing strawberries, kale, red lettuce […]