Boeing Confirms: Will Not Be Awarded NASA CRS-2 Contract

Boeing officially confirmed today that it has been eliminated from NASA’s CRS-2 contract competition while SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corporation still remain. SpaceX and Orbital ATK were awarded the CRS contracts in 2008 which totaled $3.3 Billion USD and will continue through 2016. NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contracts are awarded to commercial spaceflight companies that run resupply missions to the International Space Station.

Boeing reported a revenue of $90 Billion USD between 2014-2015 with $8 Billion from Network and Space Systems contracts.

The CRS-2 budget is expected to be comparable to CRS, ~$3 Billion USD.

Referenced Sources: Boeing Reports Record 2014 Revenue

Scientists Record First “Ghost Particle” Interaction at Fermilab’s Newest Dark Observatory

A U.S. based collaboration of scientists working on the MicroBooNe physics experiment at Fermilab detected their first set of neutrinos this week after the 9-year-long construction of its newest dark observatory. The experiment aims to study the strange oscillating nature of neutrinos within a 500 meter distance, giving us a closer glimpse of the strange laws of physics by which the elusive neutrino abides.

A U.S. based collaboration of scientists working on the MicroBooNe physics experiment at Fermilab detected their first set of neutrinos this week after the 9-year-long construction of its newest dark observatory. The experiment aims to study the strange oscillating nature of neutrinos within a 500 meter distance, giving us a closer glimpse of the strange laws of physics by which the elusive neutrino abides.

Ghost Particle Physics
Neutrinos are believed to be a fundamental building block of matter and are studied in order to learn more about the origin of the universe and the Big Bang. Neutrinos hardly react with matter which allows them to pass straight through entire planets unaffected. Neutrinos also appear to oscillate between physical states, making their detection and study very difficult. Perhaps the strangest feature of the neutrino is that while they do have mass, they behave contrary to our understanding of modern physics. That is to say, the laws of physics as we know them do not apply to the ghost-like neutrino.

A Brief History of Neutrinos
In the 1960’s, Chemist Raymond Davis Jr. theorized that neutrinos would react with chlorine atoms to produce a radioactive argon atom. In his famous set of solar neutrino experiments, Davis tested his theory by filling a 100,000 gallon tank with perchloroethylene after burying it 4,800 feet underground in order to shield the chlorine from cosmic rays. His theory was confirmed when he detected argon, but with a few unexpected results. Davis had hypothesized that the neutrino-chlorine reaction would generate 10 new radioactive argon atoms, but his experimental results only showed 3 atoms. This discrepancy was continuously repeated until it became known as the “solar neutrino deficit.”

1966: Chlorine tank is constructed 4,800 feet underground for the solar neutrino experiments.
1966: Chlorine tank is constructed 4,800 feet underground for the solar neutrino experiments.

It wasn’t until the late 1990’s when scientists discovered that neutrinos actually oscillate between 3 different states, or types, now known as Electron Neutrinos, Muon Neutrinos, and Tau Neutrinos. During the Super-Kamiokande experiments, Japanese researchers were able to calculate the trajectories of neutrinos and determine that the neutrinos which had traveled from farthest away had changed in state the most.

Kamioka Observatory in Japan
Kamioka Observatory in Japan

Research on neutrino oscillations was awarded the 2015 nobel prize in physics, which states:

Observation of the quantum mechanical phenomenon of neutrino oscillations implies that at least two neutrino species have non-zero mass. The mechanism which generates neutrino masses is still unknown, and the Standard Model must be extended to include this new physical reality.

The MicroBooNe physics experiment will continue to collect data on neutrino oscillations within a 500 meter distance. This research will also support Fermilab’s Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) which studies neutrino oscillations at much farther distances.

Referenced sources:  Fermilab Press Release, Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 

Plastic Solar Cell Tech Could Be the Next Green Energy Revolution

Bulk Heterojunction (BHJ) Organic solar cell technology may pave the way to a cheaper, greener, more accessible energy source worldwide. This unique organic solar cell is made from a liquid dye composed of self-assembling anode and cathode layers which can be rolled into a flexible plastic polymer. Once dried, these lightweight plastic sheets are easily fastened to any surface. With one of the smallest manufacturing carbon footprints in green energy technologies to date, BHJ organic solar cells offer a truly sustainable energy source with nearly zero degenerative impact to the environment. 

BHJ Organic Solar Cell Mechanics
The BHJ organic photovoltaic device is very similar in principle to common p-n junction photovoltaic devices, such as crystalline silicon.  In a p-n junction device, at least two semi-conductive materials are formed together, one material being rich in electrons (p-type) and the other being electron deficient (n-type). When a photon of light strikes the device, an electron is freed from the material via photovoltaic effect and will leave behind a positively charged region called a “hole.”  The electron is immediately attracted back to the electron deficient region of the material, but can be redirected towards those regions by using a circuit, which can then be hooked up to some load that the flowing electrons can power.  In a bulk heterojunction device, two organic polymers are mixed together which create heterozygous junction regions in the photoactive portion of the device and are spread between two conductors.  One organic polymer acts as an electron donor and the other as an electron acceptor.  Often times these two materials are artificially “doped,” which means another material is added that makes the donating or accepting materials even more likely to donate or accept electrons.  When a photon of light is absorbed by these materials, a species known as an exciton is formed and simultaneously ejects its electron, leaving behind an electron deficient region called a “hole.”  Electrons in the excitons of organic compounds are excited into the highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO), leaving its positively charged hole counterpart in the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO).  Electrons in the HOMO level freely move to adjacent exciton HOMO levels throughout the material, while holes in the LUMO levels move to adjacent exciton LUMO levels counter to electron flow. Since electrons must have the ability to jump from π-orbitals to π*-orbitals, it is no surprise that the best organic photovoltaic materials are highly conjugated polymers, such as fullerene, having the ability to delocalize a negative charge over a larger area, giving more stability to the negatively charged compound.  Finally, Like that of a p-n junction device, the flowing electrons in a bulk heterojunction device can be diverted from their path toward holes via circuit which can then be used to power some load.

Despite the exciting advantages of organic solar cells, there are still many hurdles to consider.  One problem is that the excitons produced from polymers have a poor traveling distance, only reaching ~15nm before recombining with a hole site.  This issue requires use of extremely thin films to reduce the distance necessary for an electron to travel , however, thin films are unable to absorb as much light as other inorganic solar cells.  Another major problem researchers of organic photovoltaic devices currently face is the conductive potential of the materials being used.  Organic polymers have thus far proven themselves highly inefficient in energy conversion when compared to inorganic devices because they cannot produce as many free electrons as inorganic compounds can.  A new improvement to the organic solar cell has been the addition of a quantum dot layer.

Quantum Dot Enhancers Enter the Scene
Quantum dots are small nanoparticles between 1nm and 10nm in diameter which have unique properties that help boost the electron density in the photoactive region and the overall energy conversion efficiency of the device.  The quantum dots’ ability to do so is due to a phenomenon known as “quantum confinement,” which describes an exciton’s behavior when a particle’s energy bands are spread across a limited amount of space due to the particle’s small shape and size.  Quantum confinement occurs in particles whose diameters range between 1 and 10nm where its corresponding electron wavelength is the same size or larger than the particle’s diameter (a distance known as the exciton Bohr radius).  When a particle is this small, the bandgap distance between its valence bands and conductance bands increase, requiring more energy to excite its electrons.  The result is a blue shift in observable emissions spectra of smaller particles, and a red shift corresponding to the lower energy requirements and smaller bandgaps of larger particles. This unique quantum mechanical property allows more exciton reactions per photon than macro-sized particles, theoretically achieving a 7:1 exciton to photon ratio.  Quantum dots can be added to bulk heterojunction materials in order to increase the number of exciton per photon reactions, producing more free moving electrons and a higher energy conversion efficiency in the module.  In order to incorporate quantum dots into an organic heterojunction, the bandgap energies between organic conductors and quantum dots must be compatible with one another so that they may undergo electronic charge transfer when excited.  If the two materials can undergo electronic charge transfer, an electron from the quantum dot layer will be able to move toward the polymer’s outer orbitals and contribute to its HOMO-LUMO interactions.  The heterojunction organic material would be spread throughout the quantum dot layer so electrons could transfer to the polymer and flow into the conductive material (titanium oxide). Many quantum dot/polymer pairs are currently being studied to increase electron efficiency in organic solar cells by varying the shape, size, concentration, and constitution of the quantum dot electron donors.

Further Considerations
There is much debate over the potential of photovoltaic solar cell technologies as a practical answer to the energy crisis.  While many research teams around the world remain hopeful, energy conversion efficiencies still remain low, the consumer cost too great, and much more research is needed if any viable product is to act as an agreeable alternative energy resource.  Organic photovoltaic solar cells are the cheapest to manufacture, but to date maintain some of the lowest energy conversion efficiencies which range from 3%-8.1%.

Photovoltaic Device Type Device Efficiency (%)
Three-junction Concentrator 42.4
Two-Junction Concentrator 35.8
Single Crystal GaAs 28.8
Single Crystal Si Cells 27.6
Silicon Heterostructures 23.0
Multicrystal Si Cells 20.4
Cu(In, Ga)Se2 Thin Film 20.3
CdTe Thin Film 16.7
Amorphous Si:H Thin Film 12.5
Dye-Sensitized Cells 11.1
Organic Cells 8.1

While organic photovoltaics are at the bottom of the list in terms of efficiency, it should be noted that these technologies are among the newest and have been researched the least by comparison. Because organic photovoltaic solar cells are the first to offer a real solution to manufacturing costs as well as the added potential to cover any surface imaginable due to their pliability, scientists have found no difficulty in justifying continued research efforts despite low energy conversion efficiencies.  The addition of quantum dot enhancers offers new hope and direction in the future of organic photovoltaics, and possibly a solution to their current shortcomings.


The Final Frontier: A First High Resolution Glimpse of Pluto

It has been a decade long journey for NASA’s Pluto-bound spacecraft, New Horizons. Today, July 14th 2015, New Horizons has made its closest approach to Pluto at 7,750 miles above its surface.

The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world (

New Horizons began its 3-billion-mile journey in January 2006 (video below):

In sentimental Earthling fashion, New Horizons carries with it the ashes of Pluto’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto 85 years ago. The spacecraft caries 8 other mementos on its journey.

New Horizons will continue to gather data on Pluto and its moon, Churon, for the next 5 months before passing 1-billion miles deeper into the little known Kuiper Belt, the debris field from our solar system’s formation.

7 More Documentaries You Must See

I’ve come across several terrific documentaries over the past few months but have not been diligent about sharing them of late.  In no particular order:

1.  Question of Consent
Very dark documentary about the investigation of a rape that occurred at a fraternity house which was entirely caught on camera.  As such, this is a very graphic documentary, but it is a very good example of how society tends to blame women for rape and how it uses “discrediting” pieces of information as its proof (the victim was a stripper, was actively engaging in sexual activities with other men at the party, etc).  Florida law enforcement takes this particular case to the next level when it reversed charges on the raped victim and sent her to jail for false accusations.

2.  TV Junkie
A successful senior reporter from Inside Edition during the 80’s and 90’s captures his life via video diary as it unravels due to a cocaine addiction.

3.  Scientology and Me
(Watch this before “Going Clear”) An infamous BBC Panorama documentary focusing on the religion of Scientology. Reporter John Sweeney visited the United States to investigate whether the Church of Scientology was becoming more mainstream. The programme gained particular controversy before and during filming due to unresolved differences on content and approach between Sweeney’s production team and Scientology members, who did not want detractors or perceived enemies of the church to be interviewed or included in the documentary.

4.  Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
First large-scale documentary of its kind covering the cult of Scientology.

5.  Life Itself
Beautifully done documentary on Roger Ebert.  One of the last efforts of Roger while he was alive.

6.  The Overnighters
An incredible look into the motivations of a pastor who is attempting to help homeless workers who have migrated en masse to the Dakota’s looking for work in the oil industry.  It is incredibly interesting to watch the parallel between how Mr. Reinke was treated in his life and how he in turn treats the homeless workers (particularly when he finds they are hiding criminal pasts).

7.  Louis Theroux:  Innocent by Reason of Insanity
Louis places the oddities of American culture under the looking glass once again, investigating how mentally ill criminals are processed and institutionalized.
Americans:  First download the app “ZenMate” then turn it on for UK IP masking.

Strategy for Landing Your Dream Job

It’s tough out there.  In order to help some friends and family who are struggling to land a job in this economy, I’ve written a strategy starting from Square One.  This can be used as a checklist that one can step through sequentially.  If anyone has any additional tips or advice, please share!

Strategy for Landing Your Dream Job

Phase 1:  Ground work

  1. Read “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.  Discover your “why” in order to discover what type of career is best for you.
  2. Create a list of careers/jobs that closely matches your “why” and also correlate to your previous work experience.
  3. Google search those job descriptions to find job postings. Create a word file and copy/paste “Job Responsibilities” section and “Requirements” sections.  If you begin to find references to items you have no experience or training in, seek out training in those areas.
    1. If certain software is cited, go to software website and schedule demos for yourself or download free trials to familiarize yourself with the software suite.
    2. If certain principles are sited, like “The 4 P’s of Marketing” etc, enroll in free courses at to become more knowledgeable about the topic and lingo.
  4. Write a resume highlighting job responsibilities and accomplishments that directly apply to the job you desire to have. Try to include at least one accomplishment under each job, even if it went outside of your job description.  Show that you have gone “above and beyond.”
  5. Write a cover letter. Summarize your work experience, your work ethic, and why that company would be a good fit for you.

Phase 2:  Networking

  1. Create a LinkedIn account if you have not already done so. Include everything from your resume on your LinkedIn profile.  In the summary section, include the first two paragraphs of your cover letter which describes your previous experience and your work ethic.
  2. Connect any external portfolios you have to LinkedIn. Be sure your profile photo is professional.
  3. Create a tagline for yourself that represents the job you WANT, not what you have. Example:  Digital Marketer/Data Analyst/Business Strategist
  4. Search for your friends, coworkers, clients, etc. and add as many as you can to LinkedIn.  Ask them and previous coworkers/employers to endorse you and write a recommendation.
    1. “Good Morning _____, I hope you’re doing well!  I was hoping if you might be able to do me a favor.  Would you be willing to write a recommendation for me on my LinkedIn profile?  I would be happy to return the favor for you if you’d like.  It would mean a lot to me.  Let me know!  Best wishes, _____”
  5. Search for places you WANT to work and start adding people to your network who are employed there. Follow those organizations so you can get news/updates on open positions.
  6. If you find contacts who work at the same organization you wish to work at, reach out to them personally. Ask if you can send them your resume and if they know of any open job opportunities.  Offer to take them to lunch sometime.

Phase 3:  Apply

  1. Apply to the jobs that match your search criteria. LinkedIn and Indeed are good places to start.
  2. Contact recruiters from around your area and send them your resume directly. Ask if they know of any opportunities in the area that you might qualify for.  Aerotek, Trillium Staffing, On Staff USA, Manpower.

Tip:  Your BEST chance of landing interviews and offers is by going through people you know that work at those companies.  Focus your attention at building relationships with those people and/or working through your own network.

Stay diligent, stay positive, don’t give up.  In most cases, it will take some time to land the job you love, but so long as you are putting yourself out there you WILL find it.

Good Luck!

Antares Rocket Just Exploded During Launch to ISS

The unmanned Antares rocket which was slated to resupply the International Space Station exploded during its launch today at 6:22pm EST.  Though it was a NASA mission, the rocket belonged to Orbital Science.  The total estimated cost of the Antares rocket was $472 million.

More here.