Graphene May Be Used to Build Fuel-Free Spacecraft

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The wonder material graphene may be used to build fuel-free spacecraft that runs on just sunlight, researchers say.

These sheets of carbon one atom thick can turn light into action, which could form the basis of a fuel-free spacecraft.

Graphene’s flat structure is very strong and conducts electricity and heat extremely well.

Yongsheng Chen from the Nankai University in China and his colleagues have been investigating whether larger arrangements of carbon can retain some of these properties.

They have published details of a “graphene sponge”, a squidgy material made by fusing crumpled sheets of graphene oxide.

While cutting graphene sponge with a laser, they noticed the light propelled the material forwards.

That was odd, because while lasers have been used to shove single molecules around, the sponge was a few centimetres across which is too large to move.

Researchers shot lasers of different wavelength and intensity at pieces of graphene sponge placed in vacuum.

They were able to push sponge pieces upwards by as much as 40 centimetres. They even got the graphene to move by focusing ordinary sunlight on it with a lens.

Photons can transfer momentum to an object and propel it forwards, and in the vacuum of space this tiny effect can build up enough thrust to move a spacecraft, ‘New Scientist’ reported.

Recently, the Planetary Society in California launched a small solar sail to test the technology. The forces the team saw were too large to come from photons alone.

Researchers believe graphene absorbs laser energy and builds up a charge of electrons. Eventually it can’t hold any more, and extra electrons are released, pushing the sponge in the opposite direction.

They were able to confirm a current flowing away from the graphene as it was exposed to a laser, suggesting this hypothesis is correct.

Researchers said graphene sponge could be used to make a light-powered propulsion system for spacecraft that would beat solar sails.

E-Library, Swayam Portal to Help Achieve Zero Illiteracy

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Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani on Saturday said the setting up of a national electronic-library and project ‘Swayam’ were among the many steps being taken by the government to achieve the target of zero illiteracy in the country.

“India is making significant changes in the next six months. The first mega project is the national e-library wherein the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology), IIMs (Indian Institute of Management), NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training) and also the National Archives will be pooled in,” the human resource development minister said in the 90-minute programme ‘Talkathon’, organised by the information and broadcasting ministry.

“On one platform, maximum education resources will be provided. Even the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations have asked us to extend these resources to them and we are doing it,” she said.

Irani said that providing quality higher education was a challenge and therefore the government was on the verge of starting the “Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds” (Swayam) online portal that will bring together IIT, IIM, CBSE, NIOS, and other institutes to provide free, quality education to classes 9 to 12.

“Education will be provided free and exams can be given at any of the 500 earmarked centres that will come up all over the country. Degrees and diplomas will be given if you pass the exam,” Irani said.

Under its initiative to highlight the achievements of the government in the past one year, union ministers Irani, Piyush Goyal and Nirmala Sitharaman interacted with netizens through Twitter using “#AskYourGovt @MIB_India” and the answers were streamed live on the information and broadcasting ministry’s YouTube channel.