Robert Downey Jr. plans to 'clean up the planet' with A.I.

It's a big, bold plan.

Robert Downey Jr. plans to 'clean up the planet' with A.I.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor
  • At an Amazon event, actor Robert Downey Jr. announced plans to launch a foundation that would use robots and nanotechnology to clean up the environment.
  • The foundation is called the Footprint Coalition. Details of the foundation's plans are unclear.
  • Researchers are exploring a variety of ways that nanotechnology could help protect the environment.

Speaking at Amazon's Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas this week, Robert Downey Jr. announced plans to start a foundation that would use robotics and nanotechnology to clean up the planet. In true Tony Stark fashion, his goal is bold.

"Between robotics and nanotechnology, we could clean up the planet significantly, if not totally, in 10 years," said Downey Jr., adding that he'd been speaking with experts about the plan, according to Variety. "God I love experts. They're like Wikipedia with character defects."

Downey Jr. posted a snippet of his talk on Instagram.

The actor said he's concerned about the environment.

"I have this quiet sense of crisis," he said, acknowledging that his lifestyle has been less than environmentally-friendly, according to Variety. "I'm a one-man carbon footprint nightmare colossus."

The foundation is called the Footprint Coalition, and it'll reportedly launch in April 2020, though it's unclear exactly what it plans to do. A website for the foundation currently lists a newsletter sign-up but little else. Downey Jr. is also currently working on an eight-episode YouTube docu-series about A.I. that's scheduled to air sometime in 2019.

How could nanotechnology improve the environment?

Researchers are exploring a variety of ways that nanotechnology — which seeks to manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular level — could help protect the environment and curb climate change. Some examples include improving the efficiency of solar panels, generating less pollution during manufacturing, cleaning up oil spills, and creating stronger, lighter materials.

But one of the most exciting potential applications for nanotechnology, in relation to the environment, lies in using nanomaterials to convert CO2 to make products.

"Nanomaterials can convert carbon dioxide into useful products like alcohol," Arun Chattopadhyay, a member of the chemistry faculty at the Center for Nanotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, told Scientific American. "The materials could be simple chemical catalysts or photochemical in nature that work in the presence of sunlight."

But the main problem with this approach — and with most nanotechnology strategies — is cost; it's still unclear how to make nanotechnology economically viable. What's more, the extremely tiny scale of nanoparticles raises unique questions about potential health risks. Still, it's entirely possible researchers will find ways to surpass both of these barriers as nanotechnology continues to get cheaper.

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

What is the rarest blood type?

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
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China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

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There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

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