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First solar roadway in France turned out to be a 'total disaster'

French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.

Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
  • The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
  • French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
  • Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.

Turns out that solar power highways aren't all they're cracked up to be. In 2016, France put forth an audacious plan to build 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) of solar highways composed of photovoltaic panels. They believed that the completed roadway would be able to one day power up to 5 million homes. The French government invested €5 million to test out the concept.

It's now been nearly three years since their first trial run with a paved 0.6 mile solar stretch in rural Normandy. Engineers and government officials estimated that this first solar road could power up to 5,000 homes. That wasn't the case.

So far the "Wattway" initiative has been a disappointing failure.

France’s failed solar roadway 

The Wattway in France consists of 2,800 photovoltaic panels, running the length of one kilometer (0.62 miles) stretching from the small town of Tourouvre-au-Perche. The construction group responsible for the building, Colas, said that the solar panels were covered with a special resin that contained silicon, which protected the cells from 18-wheeler traffic.

The project seemed to be doomed from the start. This region in Normandy, France is not known for its abundance of sunshine. Usually, a city in Normandy only has 44 days of strong sunlight.

Since the opening of the road, panels have routinely come loose or broken into pieces. In May 2018, 90 meters (300 feet) of the roadway had to be destroyed. It was quickly apparent that the solar panels couldn't withstand the wear and tear of sustained traffic or the forces of nature.

In a report from the Global Construction Review, it was found that engineers didn't take into account the damage that would be caused by thunderstorms, leaf mold, and huge tractors that would be using the road. In the first few months, the highest amount of energy generated from the roadway hit only half their stated goal at around 150,000kWh before falling to 78,000 in 2018 and finally 38,000 in early 2019.

The vice president of the Network for Energy Transition, Marc Jedliczka, stated: "The technical and economic elements of the project were not sufficiently understood. It is a total absurdity to innovate at the expense of solutions that already exist and are much more profitable, such as photovoltaics on roofs."

The idea for solar roadways has been met with a great deal of skepticism from many experts in the renewable field. They've routinely been found to be too expensive and inefficient.

Moving forward with other solar projects

Two local roofers, Pascal and Eric, were interviewed by the French newspaper Le Monde concerning the project. "The engineers of this project surely did not think about the tractors that would roll over," they stated.

While the resin coating was able to stop the panels from being crushed, it created so much extra noise that the locals had to lower the speed limit to 70 km/h (43 mph). The roadway has been described as degraded, and "pale with its ragged joints. . . solar panels that peel off the road and the many splinters that enamel resin protecting photovoltaic cells."

The first large scale solar roadway has turned out to be completely bunk. It's unlikely that this idea will be feasible in the near future. Colas Wattway has admitted as much. Managing director Etienne Guadin told Le Monde that this roadway wouldn't be going to market.

"The Tourouvre model is not the one that we are going to market. Our system is not mature on long distance traffic. . . We are now focusing on small modules of 3, 6 or 9 sq. m — enough to provide enough electricity for a CCTV camera, bus shelter lighting or an electric bicycle charging station."

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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