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Managing the productivity of the oceans



News, Operation & Maintenance, Processing Technologies, Water & Waste Water

Through satellite observations of the light released by microscopic marine plants through natural fluorescence, the Ocean Glow project aims to better understand what controls marine primary productivity. It also aims to improve global monitoring and modeling of their climate-driven changes. For this innovative research idea, Dr. Thomas Browning, marine biologist and chemist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, receives one of the coveted Starting Grants of the European Research Council (ERC).

The smallest organisms in the ocean form the basis for all life in the sea: single-celled marine plants, the phytoplankton, produce organic matter. They supply the entire marine food web, on which humans ultimately depend. The immense abundance can even be viewed and mapped from space. But as clearly visible as the proliferation of phytoplankton is, it is still unclear what factors regulate growth and how they are affected by climate change. Dr. Thomas Browning, a marine biologist and chemist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (Germany), plans to develop a new approach to determine which nutrients limit phytoplankton growth using satellite observations, with support from a €1.5 million Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

“Of the models currently used to predict future climate change impacts on phytoplankton productivity, some show increases and others show decreases. As long as this disagreement exists, it is difficult to assess how life-sustaining functions of the ocean, such as food supply or climate regulation, will evolve in the future.” – Dr. Thomas Browning

Results from field research show that ocean productivity is highly dependent on the availability of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and iron. Until now, capturing how nutrient availability limits phytoplankton has required measurements taken on research cruises at sea. This has limited insights to single points in time and very small parts of the ocean. Browning’s Ocean Glow project aims to develop an approach to scale up these observations to global scales using the natural fluorescent light emitted by phytoplankton.

“The fluorescence signals could tell us which nutrients regulate phytoplankton growth. But at present, they are not well enough understood to do so. Ultimately, it may be possible to use satellite observations of fluorescence to conduct global monitoring to observe the effects of climate change and assess the accuracy of climate models,” says Dr. Browning. “Thanks to ERC funding, and building on previous work at GEOMAR, we hope to literally shed new light on crucial questions related to climate change impacts on the ocean.”

The ERC-funded project will run for five years, starting in mid-2022, and includes three new positions for postdoctoral researchers*. At GEOMAR, a novel facility for precisely controlled experiments will be developed to test the fluorescence of four globally relevant phytoplankton species under different nutrient conditions. The measurements from the laboratory will then be compared with data from more complex plankton communities on research expeditions. The final step is to integrate the new information into models and analyze existing satellite data to examine distribution, seasonality and changes in nutrient limitation.

“If we are truly successful in deciphering nutrient limitation from satellite-captured fluorescence, ‘Ocean Glow’ will be successful in three ways,” Dr. Browning points out. “First, the project will help make existing Earth system models more realistic. Second, satellite data from the past 20 years can be reanalyzed to document how climate change has affected ocean productivity to date. And third, we will be able to assess how widespread various nutrient limitations already are in the ocean. This will be key to understanding the future impacts of climate change on the ocean and its various functions for humanity.”

A total of 397 young scientists received ERC Starting Grants totaling 619 million euros in the current funding round. More than 4,000 proposals were received in response to the call for proposals under the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program, which were reviewed by renowned researchers from around the world. The selected proposals cover all research disciplines, from medical applications of artificial intelligence to designing a legal regime for fair influencer marketing. The projects are being carried out at universities and research centers in 22 European countries, 72 of which are in Germany.




News Processing Technologies

Reduced CO2 emissions through “Green Car Policy”



Responsible and sustainable action is firmly anchored in the WAGO Group’s corporate strategy. The company’s connection and automation technology is an important component of the infrastructure necessary to advance digitalization and energy efficiency, and thus contribute to global challenges such as decarbonization. The company wants to fulfill this responsibility together with customers and partners, but also within the company. Therefore, we have decided to consistently convert our vehicle fleet to alternative drives.

With a “Green Car Policy”, no pure gasoline or diesel engines will be permitted in the future. The medium-term goal is to purchase only zero-emission vehicles by 2025. By the end of this year, plug-in hybrids and electric cars will already account for 40% of the total fleet. The company’s pool vehicles, which are available for business trips at the German plants in Minden and Sonderhausen (Thuringia), will already be 80% electrified. In perspective, further concepts for sustainable mobility are to be incorporated into the policy.

“The consistent conversion of our vehicle fleet is a further step for us to make the energy transition possible together. If you want to act sustainably in the long term, you have to look at all aspects of your business. Here we can make a further contribution to saving CO2 for our company and achieve results quickly.”

– Axel Börner, Chief Financial Officer

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News Pharmaceuticals Processing Technologies

Innovative tooth brushing robot



In principle, teeth and gums can also be perfectly cared for with a normal toothbrush. However, dentists repeatedly find that most people find it easier to achieve good results with electric assistance, and are therefore increasingly advising electric brushes. TÜV SÜD product expert Andrea Mertl explains what consumers should look out for and how products are tested on the German market.

The figures speak for themselves: three quarters of all dentists in Germany are convinced that correct brushing is easier with an electric toothbrush; one in three even believes they can tell from their patients’ dentition whether they are using an electric brush or not. Today, around 40 percent of all people over the age of 14 in this country already use an electric toothbrush. Since this brushing method has long been taken for granted even by more and more kindergarten children, the market share will continue to grow significantly in the coming years. In addition, many electric fans from the very beginning are switching to new models. Here, it is not only product improvements in terms of program selection or battery charging capacities that are enticing – those who still use a retro model with an electric cord or battery operation should switch for safety or environmental reasons. New features such as a smartphone app that documents cleaning time and quality or recognizes which areas are being neglected via a connection to the camera also encourage new purchases.

Andrea Mertl is responsible for testing electric toothbrushes at TÜV SÜD: “Many manufacturers advertise that their products provide good brushing performance. With our tests, we check this on the basis of various aspects and ensure that the electric toothbrushes also clean gently, are user-friendly to use and comply with the specifications regarding safety and environmental protection.”

Innovative toothbrushing robot

An extensive test scenario has been defined for these reviews. A specially developed brushing robot has already been in use since 2017, simulating brushing performance on black-colored artificial dentures. A white paste represents plaque and impurities to be removed from the tested models. How well this is achieved is analyzed by software, which assigns scores for the criteria of interdental spaces, tooth necks, smooth surfaces and overall surface area during its evaluation. After these automated tests and, of course, a thorough safety check in which, for example, the cord and charging station are also closely examined, human test subjects of all ages come into play. They test several products from different manufacturers with different product features and from different price ranges. Only after this elaborate procedure does the company award its test seal.

Rotary model or sonic toothbrush

Basically, electric toothbrushes are based on two different technologies. Rotary models and sonic toothbrushes are still on the market, and within these groups there are of course differences in terms of functionality. Very good results can be achieved with both variants: Rotary brushes have a small, rotating round brush head that works on each tooth individually. The brushes brush with an alternating left-right movement – a semi-circular rotation of the brush head.

Sonic toothbrushes usually have larger, oval brush heads and clean a larger area at once. Nevertheless, the brushes do not clean with sound, but with vibrations that occur at a very high frequency. Meanwhile, the integrated transducers generate sound waves between 250 and 300 hertz that drive the brush head. This creates a buzzing sound, which originally gave this type of toothbrush its name. Since less pressure is required with this system, gentle cleaning is even easier and interdental spaces are also better reached, more and more users are giving preference to sonic brushes.

Special form of sonic brush: ultrasonic toothbrushes

Still relatively new on the market are ultrasonic toothbrushes, which use a special toothpaste and send tiny microbubbles into the deepest crevices of the teeth at up to 96 million vibrations per minute to loosen plaque and bacteria. While the results achieved are excellent, optimal cleaning takes significantly longer than with other systems. Moreover, at the moment this technology is still exclusively represented in the upper price segment and is mainly recommended for people with gum problems, braces or bridges.

“Whether a toothbrush with smartphone connectivity is really necessary is up to each buyer to decide. However, our experience shows that electric toothbrushes generally make good oral hygiene much easier. In any case, we advise to go for tested safety and to pay attention to the corresponding labeling when buying.”  

– Andrea Mertl

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News Processing Technologies Quality Management

More space in the control cabinet thanks to compact controller family



Now B&R is launching a new compact controller family called X20 Embedded. The devices combine performance and numerous integrated interfaces in a housing just 55 mm wide. This makes the controllers half the size of comparable devices.

Thanks to the powerful processors from the Intel Atom series, the new controllers are also suitable for demanding applications with short cycle times. The devices can even be used to control fully-fledged robot applications. Machine builders thus save costs and space in the control cabinet.

The controllers come standard with two USB ports, integrated flash memory and two Ethernet ports. Daisy-chain cabling can be easily implemented with the integrated switch. Therefore, there are no additional costs for the network infrastructure.

Integrated interfaces

Hardware interfaces for POWERLINK and RS485 are also integrated in the devices. Via the RS485 interface, the user can, for example, connect frequency converters directly to the controller without any additional hardware. The power supply is also integrated. Despite the high performance, the controllers do not require a fan or battery and are therefore maintenance-free.

Optionally, any other fieldbus protocols can be added. For this purpose, the controllers are optionally available with an interface slot. All B&R interface cards can be combined with devices from the X20 embedded series. Likewise, all X20 I/O modules can be added to the controller as usual. 

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