It's 4 times better than standard solar setups and it looks freakin' cool: Meet the Solar Sunflower.
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League of Conservation Voters

What if we could turn different types of solar power into one mega sun-fueled energy source?

That's exactly what Gianluca Ambrosetti, the head of research at Zurich's Airlight Energy, wanted to know.

For those who didn't know (I sure didn't), there's actually more than one way to harness the sun's energy. In super-oversimplified terms, there's photovoltaics, which kidnaps light and turns it directly into energy (we'll call that "solar-electric" for short) and then there's solar thermal energy, which uses liquid to absorb the sun's heat to use as hot water or to turn into steam (we'll call that "solar-steam" for now).


Left: photovoltaic panels. Photo by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.
Right: solar thermal heaters. Photo by Gilabrand/Wikimedia Commons.

The long version of the story is that Airlight Energy tried to combine solar-electric and solar-steam into one hyperefficient bundle.

In a collaboration with IBM Research, Ambrosetti and his team started experimenting with aluminum mirrors that double as solar-electric panels. They held a lot of energy, but were also prone to overheating because metal + heat + science, et cetera.

To get around that problem, they used the solar-steam tech to cool down the hardware with warm water (collected from that converted steam), thus allowing each cluster of aluminum reflectors to absorb even more sunlight — enough to concentrate the sunlight into the equivalent of 5,000 suns.

This process is called High Concentration Photovoltaic Thermal (HCPVT), which I share because it's fun to say.

Of course, you have to spend energy to make energy. But where the last-best solar panels could convert up to 46% of their absorbed sunlight into energy, the HCPVT system has an efficiency rate of about 80%.

(Meanwhile, your standard residential solar setup works at about 15-20% efficiency, which is still surprisingly cheaper than standard electricity!)

The short answer is: freakin' Solar Sunflowers!

Technically a computer rendering, but still freakin' cool! Photo by IBM Research/ YouTube.

Each of these shiny metal sculptures is capable of pumping out 12,000 watts of solar-electric energy and 21,000 watts of solar-steam energy.

Compare this to regular old residential roof panels — you'll only get about 5,000 watts if you cover your roof in 'em.


The only question left is how do I get me one of these futuristic sun-powered robo-flowers?!

Oh, yeah. About that...

Airlight Energy currently expects to start selling Solar Sunflowers to early adopters in 2016, with a plan to ramp up commercial production by 2017.

"See yourself reflected in the Solar Sunflower." See? It sells itself. (Also, hi, please hire me for marketing. I write great catchphrases.) GIF via IBM Research/YouTube.

But, well, they're kind of expensive. There's no official price yet, but some estimates are placing them upwards of $45,000 a pop. That makes it about twice the cost of an average home solar setup.

Granted, the Solar Sunflower can produce four times more wattage. But that's still a hefty overhead that for many people might not seem worth it upfront.

It's basically the difference between buying a brand new 2017 electric Tesla Model 3 or continuing to drive my dad's old 1997 Nissan Altima. (Although now that I put it that way, hrmmm... )

Of course, a single Solar Sunflower could also be used to power a handful of homes. This would be a selling point if they weren't so conspicuous — we're talking 32 feet tall with a dish area of 430 square feet.

That takes up a lot more space than a slim, flat solar panel that sits on your roof. And even you have somewhere to put them, you'd still need hundreds, possibly thousands, to power an entire city.

Not quite conducive for your the roof of your house ... yet. GIF via IBM Research/YouTube.

But still! Solar Sunflowers! Aren't they super cool*?

*And also incredibly hot, capable of melting metal at 2,800°F without their cooling systems.

They're not the most practical option yet, but the Solar Sunflower is still a tremendous step forward in sustainable energy. And considering the goals of the Clean Power Plan to cut CO2 emissions by 30% over the next 15 years, I'd say we're on the right track.

In the meantime, you can sign this petition to help stop corrupt corporate attacks against the EPA. Not only will it help our environment, but it will help keep the red tape lobbyists out of the way and make it easier for things like the Solar Sunflower to scale down and catch on and make the world a better (and prettier) place.

Find out more about the Solar Sunflower in the video below and get a glimpse of this gorgeous pieces in action:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When we think of what a Tyrannosaurus looked like, we picture a gargantuan dinosaur with a huge mouth, formidable legs and tail, and inexplicably tiny arms. When we picture how it behaved, we might imagine it stomping and roaring onto a peaceful scene, single-handedly wreaking havoc and tearing the limbs off of anything it can find with its steak-knife-like teeth like a giant killing machine.

The image is probably fairly accurate, except for one thing—there's a good chance the T. rex wouldn't have been hunting alone.

New research from a fossil-filled quarry in Utah shows that Tyrannosaurs may have been social creatures who utilized complex group hunting strategies, much like wolves do. The research team who conducted the fossil study and made the discovery include scientists from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colby College of Maine, and James Cook University in Australia.

The idea of social Tyrannosaurs isn't entirely new—Canadian paleontologist Philip Curie floated the hypothesis 20 years ago upon the discovery of a group of T. rex skeletons who appeared to have died together—but it has been widely debated in the paleontology world. Many scientists have doubted that their relatively small brains would be capable of such complex social behavior, and the idea was ridiculed by some as sensationalized paleontology PR.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.