Science Future

News from the future, in which I report on an alternative world that has chosen to go down a science-based route to a sustainable future.

Jan 262012

Yet more land goes back to nature

Daily News TV

26 January 2062

Thanks to the ammonium nitrate fertilizer from self-sustaining NitroFix units, more than 100 million hectares of farmland have now been returned to the wild. That was the message delivered by the Secretary of the UN, Lucy Wang Hui, as she switched on the world’s millionth NitroFix unit, in Kenya, and announced that it meant another 100 hectares of farmed land was no longer needed.

In 2015 the UN decreed that low-yield organic farming as promoted by the Soil Association was harming the Earth’s ecology by growing food which was then transported thousands of miles to supermarkets. What was particularly damaging was that such farming produced lower and lower yields as the nitrogen content of the soil could not be fully replaced by local sources of animal manure and compost.

“What was sustainable agriculture when the food was eaten locally became unsustainable when the produce was exported” said Wang Hui to the gathering of foreign dignitaries. “Farmers originally benefited from the higher prices that people in the West paid for their organic produce, but as crop yields fell it became clear that this type of farming was unsustainable globally.”

The anti-organic movement which originated in the UK was spearheaded by food chemists who re-educated the public into a deeper understanding of what plants need in the way of nutrients and especially of the all-important nitrogen.

“No one talks of artificial fertilizer anymore because this is now saving the planet” said Dr William Patel, the UK’s representative at the event, and President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

NitroFix units now supply 20 per cent of the nitrogen fertilizer the world’s plants need, and with no adverse environmental impact. The UN aims to raise this to 50 per cent in the next ten years. Not only that, but it will mean an end to fertilizing farmland with human sewage and the excessive use of water that is required to wash crops from such farms, in order to make them free of disease pathogens. Sewage is now only used to fertilize woodland, energy crops, or for methane generation.

Our Science Correspondent writes

As far as plant roots are concerned there is no difference between the nitrate and ammonia which comes from rotting waste and that which comes from the NitroFix units, which are now seen on farms around the world. They use electricity to generate nitric acid from nitric oxide, which is produced by combining oxygen and nitrogen of the air via the Birkeland Eyde process developed in the early 1900s. The nitric acid is then reacted with ammonia, generated from nitrogen and hydrogen, the latter being produced by electrolysis of water. Both processes use catalysts developed around 10 years ago.

The result is a solution of ammonium nitrate suitable for spraying as fertilizer. The electricity to drive NitroFix units is generated on site by windmill, watermill, or solar power, and even a small unit will produce several tonnes of ammonium nitrate per year. “It’s a gain-gain situation for agriculture and the world’s ecology” says Dr Patel whose UK-based company provides the catalysts for the processes.

The chemical reactions behind NitroFix are now taught at junior schools and almost every child knows the poem that explains how O2 + N2 = NO, NO + H2O = HNO3, H2 + N2 = NH3, and NH3 + HNO3 = HN4NO3.

“One day we might even get them to balance the equations!” jokes Patel.

Jan 122012

Armpits advance thoughts of romance

Daily News TV

12 January 2062

LoveAce, a new type of deodorant launched yesterday, claims to be a powerful ‘love potion’ that works by persuading the bacteria which produce the offensive odours of underarm male sweat to make mood-altering molecules instead. The new product was launched at the world’s leading fashion centres, with the exception of those in Europe where it still waits to be tested under the REACH regulations. (REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and restriction of Chemicals.) One industry spokesperson said that it might well take more than five years for that to happen.

The active ingredient in LoveAce both blocks the bacterial enzymes which produce 3-methylbutanoic acid (also known as isovaleric acid), which gives stale male sweat its characteristic odour, and diverts the precursor molecules to form a complex ether/ketone derivative which has no smell but which triggers changes in that part of the brain normally associated with romantic thoughts.

The new deodorants are being manufactured by ChinaChem, the world’s leading chemical company, whose Head of R&D, Alicia Ho, said that the new deodorant had taken more than four years to develop at the company’s Beijing laboratories.

“It was tested by men who engaged in strenuous exercise and those who frequented night clubs. In all cases they reported impressive results, so much so that many refused to return unused samples” she said, adding: “The closer people get the more effective the deodorant is.”

Research has revealed that the volatile ether/ketone, whose molecular structure has not yet been revealed, increases the level of serotonin in the brain of those who breathed in its vapour, making people feel better about themselves and this in turn led to increased sexual desires.

Asked about the REACH regulations, Ho she hoped that one day it might be legal to import LoveAce into the EU. However, she pointed out that individuals could buy LoveAce in neighbouring non-EU countries, such as Switzerland and Norway, and if it was purely for personal use they were unlikely to have it confiscated by customs officers when they returned to the UK.

Our Science Correspondent writes

Unlike other primates, humans do not rely on the sense of smell when choosing a mate, and have not done so for more than a million years. However, it has been shown that odourless molecules given off by men do affect women. When secretions wiped from clean male armpits were sniffed by women they induced a feeling of calm, raised glucose levels in the brain, and affected the hormones that govern ovulation. The molecule responsible is thought to be androsta-4,16-dien-3-one.

Three hundred years ago anatomists observed that humans had two tiny dents on either side of the nasal cavity. This is the vomero-nasal organ (VNO), but it was thought to be unimportant because it had no direct nerve connection to the brain. However, 20 years ago David Berliner reported that when tiny amounts of a synthetic steroid were put on the VNO it slowed down heart rate and breathing rate.

What the researchers at ChinaChem now appear to have done is generate a modified kind of androsta-4,16-dien-3-one that stimulates the VNO to send powerful signals to the sex centres of the brain, and that it does this via an indirect route as yet undiscovered.

Nov 302011

Ms World in €5M product-placement row


30 November 2061

The promoters of this year’s Ms World beauty contest were dismayed when the winning contestant Heidi Hussein (Ms Germany) thrust a tube of the skin cream AxAcne at cameras filming the show live on Saturday. Her gesture, seen by more than 3 billion people worldwide, brought the makers of the anti-acne cream publicity that some estimate would have cost more than €5M if purchased as product placement advertising. Neither Heidi Hussein nor Ms World Productions would reveal how much they had been paid.
BrazilChem, makers of AxAcne, said that Ms Hussein’s agent had contacted them when she became one of the 10 short-listed contestants, saying that as a teenager she has suffered badly from acne and that she had used their product successfully and felt she ‘owed it all’ to AxAcne.

“It is our intention to sponsor many of the events Ms Patel will be taking part in during the coming year” said company spokesperson Dr Tracey Schmidt. ‘We see nothing wrong in this. As you know, millions of young people suffered from acne down the ages leaving them with permanently scarred complexions, but this is a thing of the past thanks to the new treatment which was discovered at the Brasilia Dermatological Research Center ten years ago.”

Nov 162011

Dentist numbers fall again

Global Times News

16 November 2061

For the fifth year running the number of registered dentists in Europe has declined and in some areas people are travelling up to 50 kilometres to obtain their services. The drop in numbers is blamed on the success of the new toothpastes such as LoveSmile that were launched 25 years ago. These not only keep teeth brilliantly white but contain nano particles which can penetrate cavities and repair them from the inside, so there is no longer a need for dentists to drill and fill.

“Dental work now mainly consists of fitting braces and occasionally mending broken teeth,” said a leading professor at Rome’s Dental School, adding: “In my early days as a teacher I spent most of my time instructing students on how to repair or replace decayed teeth. Today a call for these services is almost unheard of. Even cosmetic treatment such as tooth whitening is rarely required.”

Modern toothpastes have been responsible for young people in Europe today having such wonderful teeth. They contained not only the usual cleaning agents and fluoride but included repairing additives such as nano particles of hydroxyapatite, the natural chemical from which tooth enamel is made. It is these which penetrate any tiny cavities and repair them. Products like LoveSmile also contain a whitening agent which prevents staining and unlike the earlier whitening agents it does not cause thinning of the outer layer of tooth enamel.

Oct 282011

Cooking on human remains

The Sun

19 October 2061

Villagers at Fallbridge were horrified to discover that for years they had been cooking their meals and heating their homes with gas from the decomposing bodies of a serial killer.

Loner Fred East lured his victims to his home in Upton St Davids where he murdered them and then disposed of their bodies by dissecting them in his shed and taking their remains at night to the local bio-digester. There they decomposed to the methane and hydrogen gas that is used by most of the homes in the village for cooking and heating purposes. Villagers are allowed to dispose of waste meat and even dead animals, such as birds and rodents, in the digester and it was only when this was given its 5-year overhaul that officials discovered remains of human skulls.

Dental records allowed some of these to be identified as those of missing persons and DNA tests have revealed their true identities, which in turn led to Smith being questioned as the person last seen with some of them leaving a local night club in nearby Cheltenham.