This week in science: Sir Berners-Lee awarded, and new water desalination technology

This week in science is a review of the most interesting scientific news of the past week.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Credit: Paul Clarke.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee awarded the A.M. Turing Award

The A.M. Turing Award, granted by the Association for Computing Machinery, could be considered the Computer Science's version of the Nobel Prize. Last Tuesday, the Association announced this year’s recipient of the Award: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.

Sir Berners-Lee, now 61 years-old, started working on what would become nowadays' internet while working at CERN in 1989. Back then, as stated in an interview to MIT Technology Review, Berners-Lee was frustrated about the amount of completely different computers being used at CERN, so it all began with a simple question:

“[…] wouldn't it be wonderful if all of these systems could be somehow part of or considered part of one big meta-system?”

The first web server was created at CERN to host a phone book, so people wouldn’t need to log into a mainframe. Because of the new way to access the phone book, some people at CERN installed a web browser. Not long after, this practice spread outside of CERN and took off exponentially.

Sir Berners-Lee is also responsible for the foundation of the World Wide Web Consortium for Web standards and of the World Wide Web Foundation, with the goal of expanding Web access.

Alongside the award, Sir Berners-Lee received a $1 million prize funded by Google. If you're curious, you can access the first-ever Web page, which is still maintained by CERN.

Source: MIT Technology Review


A graphene membrane. Source: The University of Manchester.

Graphene membrane filters sea water into drinking water

A group of scientists from The University of Manchester has published a paper in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology reporting the development of the first graphene-oxide membrane capable of providing clean drinking water from sea water. As stated by Professor Rahul Nair:

"This is the first clear-cut experiment in this regime. We also demonstrate that there are realistic possibilities to scale up the described approach and mass produce graphene-based membranes with required sieve sizes."

It is not the first time graphene-oxide membranes have been used for filtering purposes, though. Previously, scientists have shown potential for gas separation and water filtration, but a membrane capable of sieving common salts wasn't yet reported because it requires smaller sieves.

Such smaller sieves could not be obtained when graphene-oxide membranes were immersed in water, because they would become slightly swollen. Such a state would then allow smaller salts to flow through the pores, making the filtration only partial. However, the team of scientists from The University of Manchester has demonstrated that placing walls made of epoxy resin on either side of a membrane was sufficient to stop the swelling.

Mass production of those membranes could lead to low-cost technology which would provide drinking water to millions of people around the world who currently don't have easy access to clean water sources. According to the UN, 14% of the world's population will encounter water scarcity by 2025, a scary picture that could change with the development of new technologies like this.

Sources: BBC, Phys.org

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