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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:

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani wows audiences with his amazing musical talents.

Mozart was known for his musical talent at a young age, playing the harpsichord at age 4 and writing original compositions at age 5. So perhaps it's fitting that a video of 5-year-old piano prodigy Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani playing Mozart has gone viral as people marvel at his musical abilities.

Alberto's legs can't even reach the pedals, but that doesn't stop his little hands from flying expertly over the keys as incredible music pours out of the piano at the 10th International Musical Competition "Città di Penne" in Italy. Even if you've seen young musicians play impressively, it's hard not to have your jaw drop at this one. Sometimes a kid comes along who just clearly has a gift.

Of course, that gift has been helped along by two professional musician parents. But no amount of teaching can create an ability like this.

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