ANTARCTIC (GN): Finding out how fast Antarctic ice is melting is critical to understanding the scale of the climate crisis. The BBC’s chief environmental correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, is therefore joining scientists as they check the health of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But first he has to undergo some checks himself. We were an hour into the medical examination. Dr McGovern had asked every conceivable question. He had peered at, measured and squeezed me. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why men of a certain age should undergo the procedure, I just couldn’t see why this should be a condition of going to Antarctica. But, as I was discovering, everything Antarctic is extreme. Fall ill and dozens of people might have to risk their lives to try and rescue you. It is the coldest and driest continent, and is also vast - home to 90% of the world’s ice. You’re familiar with the marine life here, the penguins, seals and whales, but the largest indigenous land animal is actually a wingless midge. “Travelling to Antarctica is the closest thing you’ll get to interplanetary travel while staying earth-bound,” one old Antarctic hand told me when I visited the British Antarctic Survey’s HQ in Cambridge. I had a stack of books about the continent beside me on the long flight to New Zealand.

Scientists develop bio-inspired membrane to harvest energy

WASHINGTON (Xinhua): Scientists in Australia and the United States have developed a membrane, inspired by bone and cartilage, that can produce electricity from saltwater. The study published this week in the journal Joule showed that the membrane was both strong like bone and suited for ion transport like cartilage. It could harvest ocean energy to generate an eco-friendly form of renewable energy. Ocean energy, coming from the pressure and salinity gradient differences between freshwater and ocean water, is more reliable than solar and wind energy. But the nanomaterials commonly used in membranes tend to collapse and disintegrate in seawater, according to the study. Researchers from Deakin University and University of Michigan started to make the tissues of living creatures as a blueprint. They noted that soft tissues like cartilage allow ions to pass through, but are weak and flimsy. In contrast, bones are exceptionally strong, but without the benefit of efficient ion transport. They found a way to “marry” those two types of materials to obtain both properties at the same time, combining aramid nanofibers that make flexible fibrous materials similar to cartilage with boron nitride that makes platelets similar to bone. The researchers repeatedly rinsed the membrane in sodium chloride for 20 cycles to monitor its stability, finding that it continued to function optimally after 200 hours.