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Thursday 21:00-21:30
Leading Edge brings you the latest news from the world of science. Geoff Watts celebrates discoveries as soon as they're being talked about - on the internet, in coffee rooms and bars; often before they're published in journals. And he gets to grips with not just the science, but with the controversies and conversation that surround it.
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 14 November
Geoff Watts
Thursday 14 November 2002
A seabed fuel cell
©Professor Clare Reimers,
Oregon State University

To most of us, a battery conjures up the image of a small metal cylinder to power a torch or radio. But scientists are hoping to harness electrical energy from the world's largest battery - the sea bed. Researchers in the United States have discovered that by sinking an electrode a few inches into mud on the sea floor and connecting it to another electrode in the water above, an electric current will flow through a wire connected between the two.      The electricity is the result of the activities of mud-dwelling bacteria that attach to the buried device.

In this week's Leading Edge, Geoff Watts meets Electrochemist Dr Lenny Tender of the US Naval Research Laboratory at the site of his research - a salt marsh by the New Jersey coast.By experimenting with a contraption which looks like two manhole covers on stilts he's found that he can generate close to 1 watt of electric power. That might not sound like much, but it is enough to run the kinds of devices scientists routinely use to monitor the health of the world's oceans. Furthermore, his battery is one that never needs to be replaced. And in the future Lenny Tender believes it should be possible to scale up his bacterial batteries to sizes where they cover square kilometres on the deep ocean floor, and use them to supply sustainable electricity to national grids.

Conservation Prize for First Royal Navy Submarine

A project to restore and conserve the Royal Navy's first submarine has just won the prestigious Pilgrim Trust Conservation Award. Holland 1, built in 1901, was recovered from the seabed in 1982. After 12 years on display outside at Gosport's Royal Navy Submarine Museum her surface was badly rusting and attempts at repainting proved futile. Conservation to halt the corrosion attacking her surface was desperately needed. As the submarine was too fragile to move, the team working on the sub had to come up with a way of preserving her in situ. To neutralise the corrosive action, a tank was built around the submarine and 800,000 litres of sodium carbonate solution pumped around her. A six year soaking successfully removed the thick alkaline coating that had built up on her surface. And now a painted finish not only preserves the sub, but also tries to re-enact how the sub might have looked back in 1901. Conservator Ian Clark has used a preserving wax oil mixed with a pigments to re-create the camouflage used on submarines during this time. Holland 1 is now on display in her newly built humidity-controlled gallery which Curator Bob Mealings hopes will help preserve her indefinitely.

Why do leaves turn red?

As winter approaches, the last flicker of red leaves decorate the British countryside. The pigments, from bright-red to burgundy, bring colour to leaves that are young and old, plants that are shade and sun-loving, and even pattern some leaves with spots or stripes. But why do plants produce these biologically expensive pigments? Ali Ayres talks to the scientists who are now coming up with a convincing explanation for why leaves turn red - pigments are nature's way of protecting the delicate structures of each plant cell from the molecular mayhem that threatens stressed-out plants.
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