The wall of impending summer heat as you depart from the pleasant climate of an air conditioned building is enough to put even the most determined of shoppers from venturing outside. However, with the accompaniment of a portable fan, the summer air is a little more tolerable! As its name would suggest, the Twin Fan brings twice the cooling capabilities as the regular hand-held cooling device; the incorporation of two micro-fans allows the device to carry a compact and easily-transportable form without causing the function of the device to be compromised.
Its rounded structure and carefully considered placement of the single button makes this device a joy to hold within the hands, as well as providing it with a soft and visually friendly aesthetic that provides a welcoming, yet strong, presence.
With a width of 58mm and a thickness of 21mm, it fits comfortably in one hand. The button is located just where the thumb can comfortably rest, and the rounded bottom offers a stable grip.
Smooth & Strong Design
The design of the Twin Fan presents a strong, yet soft impression via the combination of the roundness and the edge. The handle and the overall look emphasize the roundness, giving softness, while the grill pattern highlights the edge, providing a strong look.
The cradle emphasizes the Twin Fan’s unique round design through its transparent material, and the applied wave patterns at the top surface provide a fun, classy look.
Below: Development Process
Through numerous simulation tests employing world’s best ANSYS aerodynamic program, as well as wing mock-up tests, the Twin Fan’s optimized wings were created. The small wings have maximized wind efficiency and minimized energy consumption.
The circulator wing design and the strong winds of 10W pass through the oblique circulator grill, creating winds with strong directionality.
Lengthening the depth of the side grill increases the wind power and creates winds with strong directionality. The curvy design provides a robust and strong look.
Maximum wind speed of 20.3km/h. The oblique whirlwind grill pattern and circulator wind collecting method create strong and full winds. You can feel the strong winds at a close distance, and softer winds at far distance. Using the ANSYS Discovery Program, the Twin Fan’s optimal values are simulated by aerodynamic calculation.
We found the Twin Fan’s optimal values through numerous wing sample tests, handle grip tests, and wing pattern tests.
We came up with the design after confirming the interior specs found via test results. After numerous revisions in the design, today’s Twin Fan was born.
Three mock-up tests are done for assembly, and the mold was made after reliability verification. The mold was created at a primary molding factory with high professionalism and reliability.
Through a total of 6 interior/exterior mold revisions and test injections, we gained reliability and heightened quality. The circuit was increased in its efficiency in heating, battery stability, and energy efficiency through 4 sample tests.
Below: One-fan/Two-fan Mode Change
When pressing the button for 3 seconds, the bottom fan will operate. In a one-fan mode, the usage time doubles compared to that of two-fan mode.
When canceling one-fan mode, you can press the button for 3 seconds. Two-fan mode allows for fuller winds.
There’s a building on Google’s Mountain View, California, campus that’s off-limits to most of the company’s own employees. The 70,000-square-foot Design Lab houses around 150 designers and dozens of top-secret projects under the leadership of vice president and head of hardware design Ivy Ross, a former jewelry artist who has led the company’s push into gadgets ranging from the groundbreaking Google Home Mini speaker to the playful line of Pixel phones.
Inside the lab—and away from the cubicle culture of the engineering-driven Googleplex—industrial designers, artists, and sculptors are free to collaborate. “Google’s blueprint for how they optimize is great for most people [at the company],” says Ross. “Designers need different things.”
In any other setting, Ross’s upbeat, bohemian demeanor would evoke that of a high school art teacher or perhaps the owner of a crystal shop more than a design director at one of the most powerful companies in the world. Today she walks me, the first journalist ever allowed in the building, through the space—which she calls “a huge gift” from Google’s executive team. Google was always an engineer’s company, rarely recognized (and sometimes ridiculed) for its hardware and software design. But recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been forthright in articulating just how crucial design has become to Google’s business. In the past few years, Google has developed gadgets—from phones to smart speakers—that are some of the most desirable in the world. Yet before doors opened to the lab last June, the growing Google hardware design team ran many of their operations out of a literal garage—not the best setting for such an important of part Google’s operations.
So Ross collaborated with Mithun, the architects behind many Google buildings, to create something new: a space that is meant to be a backdrop to Google’s soft, minimal industrial design aesthetic. “This framework, it has fairly neutral colors. There’s nothing so ingrained that we can’t evolve,” says Ross. “But being a blank canvas, what changes it is the products we’re evolving, the materials, their color, and their function.”
Each space in the lab was constructed to help Ross’s team marry tactile experiences (understated, fabric-covered gadgets that feel at home in the home) with digital ones (Google’s unobtrusive UX). “Essentially the first thing I said was, ‘We need light,’” recalls Ross. “Where in some buildings, [programmers] need darkness for screens, we need light.” The lab’s entrance is a two-story, skylit atrium, filled with soft seating and cafe tables for casual meet-ups.
A birchwood staircase leads upstairs to a library filled with the design team’s favorite books—each member of the team was asked to bring in six texts that were important to them, and inscribe a message as to why. “We’re the company that digitized the world’s information,” says Ross, “[but] sometimes, designers need to hold things.”
In other instances, the lab is set up so designers can window-shop. The second story walkway around the atrium feels something like a high-end mall. On one side, I see a glass wall to the color lab. On the other side, a glass wall to the material lab. The color lab features an ever-changing array of objects, collected by Google hardware designers on their travels. It’s a hodgepodge of items that seems less about color than what I might call a vibe. I see a paper radish, a green stack of stones, and an ivory jewelry box—all evoking a certain handmade minimalism. The display is the best reminder of a simple fact of Google’s hardware design team. Just 25% to 40% of the group has ever designed electronics before. The rest designed everything from clothing to bicycles in a previous life.
At a large white table inside the color lab, under carefully calibrated lights, Ross’s team debates the next colorways for upcoming Google products. Once a week, designers from across categories—from wearables to phones to home electronics—gather around the table with scraps and samples in hand, to make product line decisions together. I’m treated to a show of last season’s products and colors to demonstrate a point: that Google designers, making more than a dozen products that could be in your home at once, want them to look good next to one another, even if they were produced a few years apart. “That’s how insane [we are], in a good way,” says Ross. “We think about your life at home and that you want some connection, perhaps.”
At the opposite end of the atrium is the twin glass wall of the materials lab. Also open to window-shopping, this room features more than 1,000 physical material swatches, dutifully curated—and color-coated, and hand-labeled!—by the library’s full-time librarian, Hannah Somerville (who instantly spots the just-announced Adidas Loop sneakers on my feet, asking how the recyclable woven plastic feels as fabric). She urges me to touch the library’s swatch of mushroom leather.
That “leather” is one of many sustainable materials on view. Others include 3D-printed filaments made from old fishing nets and particleboard crafted from dead sea grass, hinting at a future of greener products from Google. Later, a pair of designers enter the library, asking Somerville for a material that feels like the foam you’d find in the bottom of a fake flower bouquet. One holds a soft swatch up to her forehead, possibly imagining an iteration of Google Glass, the Daydream VR headset, or any number of unreleased, unannounced products to come.
And for all the lab’s welcoming aesthetic, it’s still a top-secret space. Google’s future hardware designs are valuable IP in the highly competitive world of smartphones and voice assistants. Most days, the building’s tight security means that the prototypes can live out as an open secret, for designers to peruse and consider at will. But for my visit, they’re covered in charcoal drop cloths.
The “Human Refueling Stations” by Tune Studio are one space where I am allowed to wander freely. The lab is designed to drive creative inspiration—to ensure Google’s designers stay open-minded to new ideas and aesthetics. The refueling station is the clearest embodiment of that approach. After selecting the way I’d like to feel in an app (I believe I chose “energize”), I lie down on a leather pad, don headphones, and close my eyes, listening to a soothing world beat with a strong Om undercurrent. Ross is a big believer in the healing power of color and sound. (Her team went so far as to develop an installation at Milan that demonstrated how just sitting in different rooms can affect your core physiology.) For 15 minutes I wonder what I’m doing, wasting time on this silly bed. Then I stand up, eyes suddenly alert with a skip in my step. It’s easy to imagine how this meditation space in the Design Lab is meant to spark creativity in the design team. But it’s also easy to imagine this as a sort of prototype of how Google’s product design team is thinking about affecting human physiology with design.
One thing you won’t find many of in the lab are conference rooms. Most business meetings take place in other buildings. The lab, Ross stresses, “is a sanctuary to get the design work done.”
Text description provided by the architects. Donado 2325 is a multifamily residential building located between two blank walls, 8.66m front by 32m deep. This particular lot presents the building code r2b1, and is located within the new Donado-Holmberg corridor, an area characterized by low density but which has grown significantly in recent years.
Although from the side of Holmberg the code proposes a wide withdrawal, generating a linear public park, the facade on Donado has other characteristics, so it was decided to build on the municipal line, respecting its immediate context and giving continuity to a front and consolidated.
The ground floor is released to generate access, common spaces and parking, while seeking continuity with the public space. The materiality of the microperforated sheet access gate, which gives some privacy but at the same time permeability, and the material continuity of the sidewalk floor are two aspects that reinforce the idea of prolonging the public over the private.
The vertical nucleus, the open air circulation on the walkways and the accesses to the different departments are given by the central courtyard, the main protagonist and lung of the building, generator of encounter and exchange between neighbors. Its large dimensions ensure good ventilation, and give privacy to all units. The building has eight units, four studio apartments and four of three rooms, the last two with their own terrace. All are arranged with the kitchen facing the patio, generating cross ventilation and visual continuity.
From the aesthetic point of view, it was sought to give it a strong character leaving the concrete structure in sight, combining it with a sheet metal enclosure, flexible on the facade, giving the possibility of opening and closing, becoming blind in the bedroom and permeable on the balcony. This enclosure aims to generate a security closure on the street and sift the light coming from the west, while giving a different image to the facade.
The project was designed in collective terms, where vertical core, walkways, common spaces and courtyards are part of a mandatory route that make the user not only inhabit their home, but also travels and contemplates the building as a whole, promoting the meeting, community life and generating a sense of belonging.
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The general public knows the chemical compound of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and because of its global-warming effect. However, carbon dioxide can also be a useful raw material for chemical reactions. A working group at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has now reported on this unusual application in the ChemSusChem journal. They are using carbon dioxide as a raw material to produce graphene, a technological material which is currently the subject of intense study.
The combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and oil produces energy for electricity, heat and mobility, but it also leads to an increase of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and therefore to global warming. Cutting this causal chain is what motivates scientists to search for alternative energy sources but also for alternative uses of carbon dioxide. One possibility could be to see carbon dioxide as an inexpensive raw material for the synthesis of valuable materials, feeding it back into the reusability cycle — maybe even in a profitable way.
An example can be found in nature. During photosynthesis in the leaves of plants, the combination of light, water and carbon dioxide creates biomass, closing the natural material cycle. In this process, it is the job of the metal-based enzyme RuBisCo to absorb the carbon dioxide from the air and make it usable for the further chemical reactions in the plant. Inspired by this metal enzyme-based natural conversion, researchers at KIT are now presenting a process in which the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide together with hydrogen gas is converted directly into graphene at temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius with the help of specially prepared, catalytically active metal surfaces.
Graphene is the two-dimensional form of the chemical element carbon, which has interesting electrical properties and is therefore an option for new future electronic components. Its discovery and workability in 2004 led to worldwide, intensive research and earned the discoverers, Andre Geim and Konstanin Novoselov, the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010. The two removed the graphene manually from a block of graphite using tape.
Several working groups at KIT have collaborated to present a method in the ChemSusChem journal for separating graphene from carbon dioxide and hydrogen by means of a metal catalyst. “If the metal surface exhibits the correct ratio of copper and palladium, the conversion of carbon dioxide to graphene will take place directly in a simple one-step process,” explains the head of the study, Professor Mario Ruben, from the Molekulare Materialien working group at the Institute of Nanotechnology (INT) and the Institute for Inorganic Chemistry (AOC) at KIT. In further experiments the researchers were even able to produce graphene several layers thick, which could be interesting for possible applications in batteries, electronic components or filter materials. The working group’s next research goal is to form functioning electronic components from the graphene thus obtained. Carbon materials such as graphene and magnetic molecules could be the building blocks for future quantum computers, which enable ultra-fast and energy-efficient calculations but are not based on the binary logic of today’s computers.
Initially awarded a contract in 2016, the Archinaut is a machine developed by Made In Space for the construction of large structures, including satellites, in low gravity conditions. Following testing in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) simulated environment, Archinaut’s 3D printing technology was deemed “prepared to operate in space” in March this year.
The $73.7 million contract from NASA will enable Made In Space to take the project into the second phase of development. Working with Northrop Grumman, this phase will focus on enabling a test flight of the Archinaut system into space for the first time. “Demonstrating additive manufacturing in space will open up new doors in the design and construction of space structures that to date have been limited by the volume of a launch vehicle,” comments Richard Stapp, Vice President of Resiliency and Rapid Prototyping at Northrop Grumman.
“Effectively building structures in space is one of the next big steps in our continuous journey of space exploration.”
Breaking the boundaries of space exploration
Archinaut is composed of two symbiotic construction systems known as ULISSES and DILO. ULISSES is the system that 3D prints and assembles trusses, whereas DILO is capable of fabricating and assembling large reflectors. Working autonomously, the idea is that these two systems collaborate to build a satellite, or other structures, in space. A demonstration of the system’s capabilities has been proven in the fabrication of a record breaking 37.7 meter long beam at the Moffett Field facility at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Made In Space and Northrop Grumman are now charged with developing Archinaut to a point where it is capable of building two 10 meter solar arrays in orbit, powering a small satellite. When successful, this project is expected to generate up to five times the power of other satellites in the same class. This is due to the scale Archinaut is able to build – at present satellite construction is limited by the price of a payload.
Northrop Grumman’s support
Northrop Grumman has been working with Made In Space since early in the inception of the Archinaut system. For its part, it will also be applying expertise it has gained from helping other 3D printing systems, like the Tethers Refabricator, on their journey into space.
Previously, the defense giant supported Archinaut in a phase 1 thermal vacuum test at its Space Park in California.
Separately, the company also holds its own IP related to additive manufacturing, including patents for a composite 3D printing method and material.
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Featured image shows a concept model of the Made In Space satellite making Archinaut. Photo via Made In Space
Big changes are always scary, and that’s especially true for Netflix’s Stranger Things. After showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer created an instant hit in 2016 with their focus on the “kids on bikes” aesthetic of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, the question was: how long they could sustain the formula before it became stale or transformed into something unrecognizable?
It’s appropriate that the fear of change is the focus of season 3, which was released on July 4th. As the residents of the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, confront a shifting economy, the possibility of new relationships, and the tumults of puberty, the Duffer brothers are showing that they can also build on their past work and continue to expand the show’s mythology, characters, and stakes.
Season 2 was focused on Halloween, and season 3 picks up the following summer, with the show’s central gang of dorky kids struggling to adapt to new dynamics. Sweet hero Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is spending all of his time making out with psychic government project escapee Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) to the point where he’s infuriating all of his friends as well as Eleven’s adoptive father, surly Hawkins chief of police Jim Hopper (David Harbour). It’s a classic mix of rom-com and coming-of-age tropes, with Hopper playing the protective dad. He’s more reasonable about that role than the standard clichés would suggest, but his attempts to get the lovebirds to cool things off creates a rift between them. They seek advice from their friends Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) who have somehow reached the status of senior couple, despite having broken up and gotten back together half a dozen times since October.
While these plot dynamics aren’t especially original, they’re done extremely well because of the twists provided by the show’s supernatural horror. A shopping montage with Max and Eleven, set to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” could easily come off as a sexist cliché. Instead, it’s empowering, as Eleven cultivates a colorful new look and her first female friendship, which is distinct from the succession of men who have dominated her entire life. Meanwhile, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) — who spent most of season 1 trapped in the horrifying shadow realm known as the Upside Down and season 2 being possessed by the villainous Mind Flayer — is desperate to get his friends to stop obsessing over girls and get back to playing Dungeons & Dragons in the basement. It’s a stand-in sentiment for audience members who are pining for the purity of the group’s first-season dynamic, but it’s also an emotional lifeline for a deeply traumatized child who’s desperate to return to some sense of normalcy.
But this is Stranger Things,and normal isn’t in the cards. The signs that something supernatural is afoot again in Hawkins emerge slowly: magnets lose power, rats act strangely, unexplained blackouts occur, and extremely plucky nerd Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) intercepts a coded message with the high-power radio he created to communicate with a science camp girlfriend who may or may not exist.
The ways the characters react to these events let the Duffers explore their personalities and ambitions. Will does his best to ignore his feelings of foreboding, while his intractable mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) dives headlong into what she sees as a new conspiracy endangering the town and her family. Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) sees a mystery she can unravel to finally earn the respect of the sexist staff of the newspaper where she’s interning. Dustin and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), who’s fallen from “coolest kid in school” status to “guy slinging ice cream in a sailor suit,” see the chance to earn respect. Series newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) just wants a distraction from her boring job working alongside Steve.
The story’s mix of fear and ambition provides a strong excuse for different groups to form as characters pursue leads that inevitably bring the gang back together. They’re facing a horrifying new threat that pays homage to Dawn of the Dead, Red Dawn,and The Terminator. Stranger Things continues to focus on the terrible combination of evil men playing with powers they don’t understand and the unknowable horrors of the Upside Down. But the latest manifestation gives the show’s literal monster a new voice and a terrible agenda while letting its figurative ones serve as puppets or over-the-top caricatures and comic relief.
The biggest change in season 3, though, comes in the tone. Stranger Things mirrors the shift between Alien and Aliens by moving away from slow-burn suspense to deliver high-stakes action horror. The show delivers some truly grotesque body horror, as first rats and then people are infected by the season’s villain and dissolve into oozing piles of flesh and organs with nightmarish capabilities. There are significantly more fight scenes this season, alternating between special effects-driven spectacles where Eleven shows off her powers, slugfests with Hopper trying to stand his own against a seemingly unbeatable enemy, or the kids just using improvised weapons and gumption to do what damage they can. They never feel unnecessary, though. The fights are just quick bursts of adrenaline that help advance the plot and show off the characters’ relative strengths.
And the accelerated pace isn’t just expressed visually. Once everyone stops denying that there’s a problem, they jump into fighting like the seasoned pros they are, quickly identifying who can help, who’s at risk, and what allies and tactics from previous seasons can be called in. The character and world-building choices of the first two seasons pay off here, as minor characters are called back or given expanded roles. Lucas’ sassy sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) gets to shine in season 3, as she’s roped into Dustin and Steve’s schemes — not through any sense of duty or heroism, but with the promise of free ice cream for life. While Max, who was added to season 2 to bring more gender balance to the show, felt like a forced addition at times because she spent most of her time away from the scary stuff, Robin dives right in and quickly proves she’s an invaluable ally.
Throughout the season, the Duffers make it clear that they aren’t trying to run away from the show’s roots. Instead, they’re expanding on them to be more inclusive to the many different forms of nerds. Max introduces Eleven to Wonder Woman. Robin can talk with Dustin about the technology behind Cyborg. Erica is a math whiz with an uncanny understanding of economics for a 10-year-old. Dustin badgers both Steve and Erica to abandon their pretenses of being cool kids who are above nerdom and says they shouldn’t be afraid to embrace the things and people they enjoy being around. It might as well be a plea to viewers to acknowledge that, while the show might be most meaningful to those with an existing love for its genre tropes and cultural touchstones, it doesn’t need to be limited to a specific audience.
The Duffers have used Dungeons & Dragons as an in-show reflection of the story’s events since season 1, and that’s still true in season 3. Will tries to get his friends’ minds off their relationship woes by running a game involving saving a village from Juju Zombies. (They’re classic monsters that are far more dangerous than regular zombies because they retain all of their mortal knowledge and skills.) That threat, of course, is extremely similar to what’s happening in Hawkins. But the game also provides a frame for the show itself. The boys won’t stay in the basement together forever, but the game will remain core to their friendship, with new campaigns letting them work together and build on their shared knowledge and experience. Characters will sacrifice themselves nobly, monsters will be heroically defeated, and the fantasy and friendships will live on as long as Netflix and viewers maintain their passion.
The Russian surveillanceware saga continues. Canadian cybersecurity researchers have discovered a new set of Android surveillance tools originating from Russia. The kicker? The spyware can be found in numerous fake apps disguised as legitimate software from Google, Pornhub, Skype, and many other familiar brands.
The spying toolset, dubbed Monokle, was purportedly developed by St. Petersburg-based private defense contractor Special Technology Center (STC) known for its ties to Moscow-headquartered Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), according to a report from security firm Lookout.
Indeed, STC was one of the three entities Barack Obama sanctioned for meddling in the 2016 US elections and providing “material support to the GRU’s cyber operations” almost three years ago.
“Monokle is an advanced mobile surveillanceware that compromises a user’s privacy by stealing personal data stored on an infected device and exfiltrating this information to command and control infrastructure,” the researchers say.
Unlike other similar spyware, Monokle leverages advanced, previously unseen methods to sniff data.
The spyware employs data exfiltration techniques in novel ways, making use of the Android accessibility services (designed for users with disabilities) to collect data from third-party apps. It also enables man-in-the-middle attacks, relies on predictive-text dictionaries to fine-tune attack vectors to victims’ interests, and sneaks in screenlock traps to pick up users’ PINs and passwords.
In fact, Monokle performs pretty much every attack you can find in the book of spyware, including snatching account passwords, recording and eavesdropping on conversations and calls, taking photos and videos, selectively downloading files, keylogging interactions, deleting arbitrary files, retrieving contacts, and even exfiltrating messages from apps like WhatsApp, Instagram, Skype, and other messengers.
The researchers have been monitoring Monokle instances in the wild since at least 2016, with attacks spiking around the first half of 2018.
Their investigation found evidence STC is building a Monokle alternative for iOS to target iPhone and iPad users, but the firm has yet to catch it actively exploiting Apple devices. This is in line with reports from Forbes, suggesting STC was recruiting iOS and Android developers in 2017.
While still actively deployed, the spyware has consistently maintained a low level of activity, suggesting Monokle is mostly used for “highly targeted” attacks.
Lookout concludes Monokle is mostly targeting people interested in Islam and the the Ahrar al-Sham militant group in Syria, individuals associated with the Caucasus regions of Eastern Europe, and users of an app called UzbekChat.
This list, however, is far from exhaustive, according to their findings.
STC execs and the Russian government go way back
An investigation by Forbes found that STC’s executives are graduates of St. Petersburg’s Military Academy of Communications, a Russian Ministry of Defense school located within a five-minute drive of STC’s offices.
Its director Alexander G. Mityanin, for instance, went to the military school, where he received numerous medals by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Last September, Jace Tunnell discovered a layer of tiny, round plastic pellets covering a beach on Padre Island off the southern coast of Texas. There were “millions of them,” he recalled, “and it went on for miles.” Tunnell, a marine biologist, knew exactly what the pellets were, but says he had never actually seen them before.
They’re called nurdles, and they’re the preproduction building blocks for nearly all plastic goods, from soft-drink bottles to oil pipelines. But as essential as they are for consumer products, nurdles that become lost during transit or manufacturing are also an environmental hazard. In the ocean and along coastal waterways, they absorb toxic chemicals and are often mistaken for food by animals. They also wash up by the millions on beaches, leaving coastal communities to deal with the ramifications.
“Pellets have been around and have been lost since plastic started to be produced,” says Madeleine Berg, a project manager for Fidra, which is working to reduce plastic waste and chemical pollution. And as plastic production continues to rise, researchers worry that the threat to beaches and coastal regions is growing worse.
The Gulf Coast of Texas, where several nurdle spills have occurred since last fall, is particularly vulnerable to marine debris. Most of the year, a longshore current heads south along the northern Gulf and another current heads north along the southern coast. “So it just pushes everything up on shore,” says Tunnell, who is the director for the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve. This results in “some crazy amount of debris showing up.”
According to a study published in February by Tunnell’s colleague Kathleen Swanson and other researchers, accumulation rates of plastic pollution are 10 times higher in Texas than other Gulf Coast states sampled over a year-and-a-half period.
Texas is also a major producer of plastic pellets. According to a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality document obtained by Tunnell, there are 46 companies in Texas with permits to manufacture plastics materials and synthetic resins; many are on the Texas coast.
Surprised at the sheer number of nurdles on Padre Island last fall, Tunnell organized a local citizen-scientist group called Nurdle Patrol, in which volunteers survey a beach or coastal area for 10 minutes and collect as many pellets as they see. They then send the location, date, and count, along with pictures, to Tunnell, who has been mapping out the surveys. Since November, more than 200 volunteers have collected nearly 700 samples.
Tunnell’s map of Nurdle Patrol samples shows that the locations of plastic-pellet manufacturers overlap with the largest amount of nurdles found on the coast—in the town of Port Lavaca and the Houston area.
In Point Comfort, just around 100 miles north of Padre Island, residents have sued Formosa Plastics, a known nurdle polluter, for violating the Clean Water Act and its Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit. They want Formosa to pay $184 million in penalties, the maximum allowed by the Clean Water Act. For more than three years, Diane Wilson and two other local volunteers have collected more than 2,400 samples of nurdles and pellet powder discharged illegally by Formosa’s 2,500-acre Port Lavaca facility.
Although the company has been fined several times by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for violating state and federal environmental laws, Wilson alleges that the extent of illegal discharges far exceeds the fines the company has received.
In a creek next to the facility, where the small white beads stand out against the darkness of the sediment, nurdle pollution is obvious. “I think a lot of the pellets or ‘the nurdles’ get caught in the vegetation,” Wilson says. When she bends down to grab a sample of soil—used as evidence in the lawsuit—hundreds of nurdles come up with it.
Wilson’s suit went to trial in March, and last week, a federal judge ruled that “Formosa had historically and continues to violate” the Clean Water Act and its discharge permit. As The Texas Tribunereported, the judge also said that Formosa has failed to report violations to authorities since 2016, which is a separate violation, and that TCEQ has failed to bring Formosa into compliance.
Attorneys will argue in July how much Formosa should be fined, and Wilson says a decision will be announced in August or September.
Often, however, there are few repercussions for polluters, given the challenges of tracing the nurdles back to their origin and tracking down offenders. There is also no database of manufacturers who make plastic pellets and where they ship.
Even so, researchers can generally tell if nurdles are from a new spill. Resin, the core ingredient of plastic, turns yellow in the sun over time, so dark, dingy pellets are typically older than white ones. This can help determine whether a new spill has occurred or whether nurdles that have been out in the ocean for a while are simply washing up on shore.
Evidence can be tricky to gather, however, depending on where the pollution takes place. Within days of the arrival of white-colored nurdles in September on Mustang and Padre Island beaches, which are drivable and also regularly graded, most had been covered up or pushed up against the dunes. And even when nurdles can be traced to a single spill, manufacturer, or location, there is seemingly little to no legal framework for regulating plastic-pellet production.
In 2007, California passed a law intended to prevent the discharge of nurdles into waterways across the state. But more typically, laws that regulate pollutant discharge apply to pollutants like solid waste in general, not nurdles specifically.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, manufacturers can still discharge a certain amount of pollutants into waterways as long as they have a permit. Even that “actually allows them to release a reasonable amount,” Tunnell says.
In addition, it is often unclear who is responsible when pollution crosses international borders. In 2017, for example, a storm caused containers filled with roughly 54 tons of nurdles to fall from a ship in Durban, South Africa. By the time the South African authorities began their cleanup attempts, the nurdles had already begun making their way to Australia, and were estimated to arrive about 450 days after the spill, according to Harriet Paterson, a professor at the University of Western Australia who is studying plastics in the aquatic environment.
“For the last 60 years, nurdles have been spilled into the ocean, but we don’t know who the polluter has been or where the pollution has happened,” she says. “So, the significant thing about the [Durban] spill is we know the point source of the pollution and the size of the spill.”
As for cleanup efforts, there is no effective way of removing large numbers of nurdles once they’re out in the environment, says Berg of Fidra. “You’re talking about billions and trillions of pellets,” she says. “If you were trying to collect those up, you would probably be collecting a huge amount of [natural debris] which would include a lot of, you know, sea creatures that you don’t want to be removing, lots of organic material,” Berg cautions. Even when cleanup efforts are successful, Berg adds, “what we find is that often they end up being replaced by more pellets, quite soon after.”
Nurdles can be lost at any point during the production and shipping stages. The pellets are manufactured by petrochemical companies and transported by train, ship, or truck to facilities where they are melted and shaped into a final plastic product. “They tend to kind of ping everywhere and get blown easily by the wind,” Berg says. “And if they’re not very well managed … then that can easily lead to leaks into the environment.”
Through an industry-led program called Operation Clean Sweep, manufacturers can opt to follow guidelines and best practices to achieve zero pellet, flake and powder loss. But the program is voluntary, and there is no external check to make sure companies are complying.
Meanwhile, experts say the demand for plastic production, now estimated at 335 million tons annually, is growing, which means the demand for nurdles is also on the rise. “More companies have best practices in places than they used to,” Berg says. “But at the same time, we’re still massively increasing the amount of plastic that we use, produce, manufacture, every year.”
Tunnell is bracing for what that could mean locally. A dozen new United States facilities or expansions—nearly all of them in Texas—are expected within the next three years, according to information obtained by Tunnell from ICIS, a petrochemical market-research company. “Seventy-five percent of the facilities that are either expanding or new are in Texas, out of the whole country,” he says, adding that at some point, there will inevitably be a spill that can be traced back to its source.
Because of that potential, education has been a crucial part of citizen-scientist projects like Tunnell’s. In addition to presentations to his local community, Tunnell visited all five Gulf states in May to collect samples and expand his Nurdle Patrol program.
“Hopefully this is creating some awareness, not only with the typical environmental people,” Tunnell says, but also “the folks that work at the industry, the people that are making decisions, the city folks, the folks that are up in Austin making decisions for us.
“Look, there’s a problem that needs to change,” he adds, “and it’s been going on for decades.”