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Ivana Marova. How I invented Hydal Technology

Innovation / -

Ivana Marova

The centerpiece statue in the swimming pool in the Czech Republic’s Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015 is actually a water purifier which works using a cutting edge nanotechnology system invented by a woman: Ivana Marova, a Czech scientist who teaches at Brno Technology University. She explains it to us, illustrating the advantages of the Hydal technology on which the bird-machine operates.

If the Czech Republic has a contribution to make to the worldwide debate on food and water resources, it can also do so through the most innovative technologiese The Czech Republic has a long tradition in managing its own water resources, and wellness centers and swimming pools abound in the country. Indeed a swimming pool is the most eye-catching and attractive element of the Pavilion of the Czech Republic at Expo Milano 2015, dominated by a “bird-machine” sculpture by Lukáš Rittstein, which is actually a bio-polymer water treatment machine.  
 
The technology on which it works was illustrated at a public meeting at Expo Milano 2015 by Lenka Mynarova, of Nafigate Corporation, who was joined by professor Ivana Marova, inventor of the new Hydal technology which is so revolutionary in its production of bioplastic that it won the Frost&Sullivan Technology Innovation Award for 2015. There are numerous advantages to using spent cooking oil to produce bioplastic rather than other raw materials: there is a glut of the raw material, it does not deplete food or agricultural resources, and above all, it is very easy to procure. Several countries (including China and Italy) have adopted compulsory programs for collecting this oil in special centers, so it would be highly desirable to locate production plants in their vicinity. The application of this biotechnology on an industrial scale meets two key requirements of the industry (mechanical resistance and biodegradability) and is a low-carbon solution. And so in February a new Czech-Chinese joint venture was set up, called Suzhou Hydal Biotech, in order to give substance to and expand this unprecedented cooperation in the field of biotechnology, starting from China, where there are enormous quantities of waste oil to be used.
 
Nafigate Corporation is a world leader in innovative technologies and in the use of nanofiber membranes, that is to say fibers with a diameter of around 100 nanometers, for low-energy water treatment. These nanomaterials can make water bacteriologically pure. The purification of the pool water in the Czech pavilion takes place inside the famous bird-machine resting on the pool, which takes in the water, treats it using nanotechnology inside the statue and sprays it out clean. 
 
Professor Ivana Marova, you invented the Hydal technology that is at the heart of the machine-bird sculpture in the pool in front of the Pavilion of the Czech Republic. What’s the secret behind it?
The secret behind our bird-purifier is its polymer core. The process that takes place inside the statue absorbs the impurities in the water using effective, sustainable technology.
 
Tell us about your academic and professional career path
I studied biochemistry at the Brno University of Technology Faculty of Science, where I now teach. Back then (under the previous regime) I chose biochemistry because I knew I would not have been subjected to any political conditioning there. To a certain extent, I tackled the question of metabolism in my dissertation, after which I worked in clinical research for ten years, and then I came back to teach what I had been studying from the outset.
 
Does the idea that your scientific research improves the quality of life of others give more satisfaction to your altruistic nature or to your “egoistical” side, i.e. the satisfaction of having got there first?
Normally people who teach are altruistic, because they have to dedicate themselves to others. Things are a bit different in scientific research, because there one has to follow one’s own path and tackle all challenges personally, to progress from one step to another. When I started teaching, going back to the subjects I had studied in my degree course, I willingly assigned certain ideas to develop to the best and most creative students; in other words, I shared my studies with them, because I knew that was the way to achieve something interesting. And then I must admit that I also had some luck along the way...
 
When did you start studying polymerization?
About eight years ago. Once we had identified the most promising lines of research, we had the good fortune to work with a number of external bodies, and when we ascertained just how efficient this technology really was, we made the agreement with Nafigate, which was interested in the industrial application of our research. We had already done initial lab testing and we needed to test it on a larger scale! The results of our partnership caused quite a stir and that allowed us to proceed very quickly. The bacteria was already available, but we invented a new polymerization process, starting from spent oil. One year later, the fact that Nafigate had a partner in China proved extremely useful, because China has a glut of used cooking oil and needed a way to reuse it. We were lucky!
 
You are a scientist, a university professor and a woman. Do women really have the same chances of succeeding as men in the world of science?
Yes, I think they do. When I started studying, women had to invent ways of organizing their lives so that they could juggle a family and a career. As long as they didn’t let their family commitments interfere with their work, they were not discriminated against. And it is also true that at the start women probably have to work a bit harder than men and are paid a bit less. But this situation doesn’t last forever, things change. The important thing is not to emphasise the fact that you are a woman, but to convince your male colleagues that you are a partner.
 

10 ways to grow in the desert

Sustainability / -

10 modi di coltivare nel deserto
©-George-Steinmetz_Corbis

Man has always faced challenges in the desert. Due to climate change, arid lands have been increasing. Whether it is with the aid of new technologies or millennial wisdom, here is how we can grow food from the dry sands.

The oasis of Ghardaya in Algeria
Each oasis has a distinct type of  irrigation system: for example, in the Sahara, Ghardaya in the valley of Mozab, water flows under a dry bed of an ancient river. Over one million date palms are irrigated by way of a capillary system of dikes, dams and wells that channel, sort and dispense water, ensuring that  just the right amount will reach the gardens.

The oases of Souf, Algeria
In the region of the Souf, south-east of Chott Melrhir, the water table is close to the surface. The system of oases is an example of an ingenious method to water the palm groves, through  the technique known as Ghout. Instead of irrigating the surface by use of wells and canals, basins are dug for the palms, so that their roots reach the water in the aquifer directly. It is a plan that avoids water losses due to evaporation and offers plantations effective protection against wind and sand.

Project Oasis Josefowitz in Israel
Near the agricultural research station Hatzeva Yair, a team of scientists at Ben-Gurion University has developed and tested a structure for the sustainable production of fruit and vegetable crops in arid areas. In the southern regions of Israel,  rains are scarce and the average temperature in August is 50 ° C. An experiment in progress since 2010 and inspired by permaculture, it has already proven that fruit trees can be grown in the desert. A series of agricultural experiments have tested different qualities of irrigation water and four different crops.

Sand nanotechnology, United Arab Emirates and Germany
La Dime, a company of the United Arab Emirates, and the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg have developed a revolutionary nanotechnology to create a waterproof hydrophobic sand that can be spread in a thin layer directly beneath the desert sand. The goal is to prevent the evaporation of precious moisture that forms in the desert at night, making it available to the plant roots. They have already conducted an experiment just two kilometers from the Dead Sea, where rain rarely falls and the temperature in August is 50 ° C and where this nanotechnology sand is already in  the production phase.

The Sahara Forest Project in Qatar
It is possible to create cultivation systems near the coast by combining the technology of greenhouses and seawater with that of solar thermodynamics. The proximity  of the sea guarantees the constant presence of water that is sent to a desalination plant,  using a  solar energy pump. In short, you use what you have in abundance to produce what is needed most.  With a vast desert area, sunlight, salt water and CO2 can produce food, water and clean energy. The first project  was commissioned by the government and funded by Yara International ASA and the Qatar Fertiliser Company. It  covers an area of ​​10 thousand square meters in the vicinity of Measaieed, an industrial city of Qatar. The plant has already produced its first crop of cucumbers.

The green dots in Saudi Arabia
In a series of satellite images, NASA has documented the evolution of farming in the Saudi desert from 1987 to the present, showing the emergence of huge green dots. Each dot is   a field about a mile in diameter and is sprayed with water by means of systems rotating  from a water reserve that cannot be reconstructed, as it was formed before the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago.  Rain (in the Saudi desert about 100-200 mm of water per year) is not a viable replenishment as it normally does not reach the groundwater. Geologists estimate  that within 50 years,  the pump  system will be economically sustainable.

Aquaponics in Bustan, Egypt
Aquaponics is an agricultural and growing method that combines aquaculture and hydroponic cultivation, in order to obtain a symbiotic environment. Water from tanks for aquaculture is pumped into those hydroponic, so that the plants that grow there can filter it to draw  nourishment, while extracting the waste substances produced by fish. The bio-filtered water   can then be pumped back into the tanks for aquaculture and the cycle is resumed.  At Bustan, the first commercial aquaponic plant in Egypt, young olive trees grow separated from the desert only by thin layers of glass: their cultivation uses 90 percent less water as compared to the conventional crop.

Extracting Water from the Air  by the Air Drop
An interesting invention came out of a global competition from Sir James Dyson in 2012.   Edward Linacre presented a device able to extract water from the air called AirDrop. That was inspired by the technique that beetles adopted in the desert. Even the driest air contains water (humidity). A machine draws air from the surface to underground, through pipes  forming condensation, resulting in  water  directed towards the roots of the surrounding crops.  The invention is now a working prototype.

The asparagus in China
There is no desert in this location, but in  areas nearby,  there is cultivation of crops specifically to control it. The researchers  from Shanxi Academy of Agricultural Sciences conducted a successful three-year experiment with asparagus. The vegetable, also widely used in Chinese cuisine, was found to be a suitable windbreak in a project to combat desertification in Youyu, Shanxi Province. We were trying to plant vegetation capable of curbing the sand in the north and west of China; areas that are particularly threatened by the advance of deserts, facilitated by dry winds. Asparagus has shown its ability to withstand drought and cold, and has also been grown on barren land. They were able to  yield 20 tons.

The Aflaj Oman
Oman is located in one of the driest areas in the world, where for centuries, water has been a priority. Symbolic of   Omani ingenuity are the  Aflaj, five of which have been recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are old ducts that still distribute 900 million cubic meters of water per year. Fields and gardens are watered for short periods of time, typically a half   hour, and many villages have a sundial to mark the rounds of irrigation.

 

 
 

Fasting Therapy. An Age-old Practice that Purifies the Body and Soul

Lifestyle / -

Digiuno terapia
Mahatma Gandhi © Hulton Deutsch Collection/Corbis

By fasting we mean conscious abstinence from food for a certain period of time. There are many ways to fast: the dry fast (without liquid), the water fast (with water), the daytime fast of ancient monks and the annual fast typical of the Islamic Ramadan.

At the root of every fast, are theories and specific aims. There are those who seek to cleanse their body of toxins, or others, to free their soul of guilt and negative emotions.
 
Religious fasting
It is the path to purification, setting physical needs apart and encouraging repentance from sins. Most religions have periods of abstinence from food that bring the faithful closer to godliness. The Christian Lent, the Islamic Ramadan, the Jewish Yom Kippur and Hindu Ekadasi are all examples.
 
Dietary and therapeutic fasting
The dietary fast can be practiced on a regular basis by those who are healthy and want periodically to cleanse themselves autonomously of excess weight accumulated over time. The therapeutic fast can be undertaken by someone who is sick and uses fasting as a medical therapy. In this case, and as a precaution, a visit to a clinic is recommended under the guidance of a specialist who monitors the reactions of the body during the fasting period that can last about three weeks.
 
Political fasting
The Indian politician Mahatma Gandhi used fasting for the purification of the spirit, but also as a political means to achieve the independence of his country from Britain. At the beginning of the last century, the political movement of the British Suffragettes would also go on hunger strike for the recognition of civil rights for women. Used regularly, hunger strikes raised awareness and targeted public opinion in the Anglo-Saxon world, on issues that were at the heart of the movement, such as recognizing women's right to vote.
 
Ecological fasting
Jean-Claude Noyè, in his "The Big Book of Fasting" describes the relationship between the environment and fasting. In this case, fasting is not so much an abstention from food, but a calculated reduction of food that attempts to counteract consumerism. At its base is a philosophy of simplicity that seeks out a frugal lifestyle and the avoidance of waste. To eat less, to eat in small amounts and healthily reduces environmental impact and helps the Planet not to collapse.
 
How many practice fasting
According to the 2012 Eurispes Report in Italy, 19.2% of Italians occasionally follow a cleansing diet (74.8% never), but there is no mention specifically of fasting. There are no clear numbers to indicate how widespread fasting is in the world, except for the number of believers who regularly practice it within various religions.
 
The opinion of doctors
Several nutritionists, including Otto Buchinger, Francoise Wilhelmi de Toledo and Helmut Lützner have listed its positive effects. Fasting normalizes levels of sugar, insulin, and lipids in the blood and eliminates salt from the body. However, to date there are no studies to confirm such authoritative scientific findings. Even the oncologist Umberto Veronesi who co-wrote the book "The Fasting Diet," advises readers not to fast, even if the title would suggest the opposite, but rather to practice eating in a way that is balanced, varied and in small quantities.
 

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