Electronic nose sniffs out cooked chicken, chilli spices up solar cells, PhD theses for sale on Amazon

Physics

Hot stuff: scientists have shown that a chemical in chilli peppers can boost the performance of solar cell. (Courtesy: © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers at the Skoltech Institute of Science and Technology in Russia have used chemical sensors and imaging software to determine – in a contactless way – when a chicken has been grilled to perfection. Their system includes an “electronic nose” containing eight sensors to detect smoke, alcohol, carbon monoxide and other compounds, as well as a camera that photographs the chicken as it cooks.

The scientists then got 16 PhD students and researchers to taste test their grilled supermarket chicken to rate its tenderness, juiciness and intensity of flavour on a 10-point scale. They reckon their technique can be used to identify undercooked, well-done and overcooked chicken “quite well” and they now plan to now test their sensors in restaurants where it could be used to automate the cooking process. They even say the method could be integrated into domestic ovens, promising to purge the dinner plate of overcooked, dry chicken or even worse, salmonella. Find out more in this paper in Food Chemistry.

Instead of using electronics to improve food, researchers in China and Sweden have used a chemical found in food to boost the performance of solar cells. They found that that a pinch of capsaicin, the chemical that gives chilli peppers their kick, boosts the number of current-carrying electrons in perovskite solar cells.

Spicy cells

Their chilli-enhanced solar cells had an efficiency of 21.88% compared to 19.1% in control devices that did not contain the spicy chemical. That might not sound like a big improvement, but every little increase in solar cell efficiency is hard won. The team describe their work in Joule.

How much would you pay to read a PhD thesis? Recently the online retailer Amazon was found to be selling over a thousand PhD theses from the UK’s Durham University as Kindle ebooks under the name “Durham Philosophy”. This was rather cheeky because the tomes are available for free via Durham’s e-thesis repository.

Indeed, the theses were apparently being sold without the authors’ permission and according to Palatinate – the Durham student newspaper – the university had been aware of this since November and had been filing “take-down notices” ever since. Amazon has since removed the theses from sale  but whether anyone forked out £7.66 for “The impersonal modes of Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens” is unknown.

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