Science Round-Up: Hygge without the pollution - The Post

Science Round-Up: Hygge without the pollution

A new type of candle, developed by the Danish Technological Institute, promises to drastically reduce particle emissions

Why all the candles, honey? (photo: pixabay.com)
January 8th, 2020 2:37 pm| by Soma Biró

Did you fill the house with Christmas candles to get all cosy and warm in the Danish winter? Or do you occasionally plan a hot night with your partner, lining the bed with candles to get ‘both’ of you in the mood?

Well, here’s some news for you, Greta Thunberg-style: you’re killing the planet! Or, at least, polluting your own damned house. Yes, the emission of particles from candles is ruining your indoor climate, my friend. 

The situation is especially bad when the light begins to flicker and emits harmful soot. This can happen, for instance, when the candle is placed by a window, by a way too long wall, or on a warm radiator.

Don’t worry though, you’re not alone in your sin: according to DR, the average Dane burns through 6 kilos of candlelight every year.  

DK team to the rescue
Fortunately there’s good news for hygge lovers as a revolutionary new candle has been launched that emits 90 percent less particles.

It’s the brainchild of the Danish Technological Institute in collaboration with Aarhus University, COOP Denmark and ASP-HOLMBLAD – among others.              

But while this sounds like a step forward, Steffen Loft, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Copenhagen, warns that CO2 particles aren’t the only evils released by candles.  

Given the presence of nitrogen dioxide, Loft warns against lighting any kind of fire inside your home. “Both are bad for your lungs and presumably for the rest of your body as well,” he told DR.

Simply opt for LED lights instead, he suggests, and adjust your hygge to that.


Record breaking Danish solar cell
DTU researchers have succeeded in building a multi-junction solar cell using sustainable material. The current version of the project broke the world record for energy efficiency in its own category of solar cells. 

The concept of multi-junction solar cells has been around for a while: they absorb the energy from the sun better than normal solar cells. But the idea to build them using sustainable material (which can compete with material used in cells currently on the market) is new, explains Jørgen Schou, a senior scientist and group leader for the project (ALTCELL). 

The DTU version’s innovation lies in combining thin-film solar cells with regular silicon cells and using a relatively new material in the thin-film cells. It’s called CZTS and only consists of copper, zinc, tin and sulphur – which makes it cheap and sustainable. 

The CZTS thin-film also boosts the energy efficiency of the silicon solar cell: the team aims to reach a 30 percent energy efficiency level, surpassing the usual 20 percent of the regular silicon version. 

So far, the DTU team has been able to achieve a 3.9 percent energy efficiency – though lower than their final goal, according to Schou, it’s enough for a world record in the category of such cells. The team still has a long way to go, but the results are impressive so far.

Whatever you do Snow White, do not take a bite from that old book
The University of Southern Denmark has made a shocking discovery: several of its old books have been found to be poisonous. 

Look out for the colour green, Fitzgerald fans: reading Gatsby might just kill you! Well, perhaps not, but be wary nonetheless because the green colour on books sometimes indicates the presence of arsenic, which is toxic. Postdoc Thomas Delbey and Professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen, from the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at SDU, uncovered a copy of the 16th century book ‘Anglica Historia’ (Polydore Virgil’s history of England) with its entire cover covered in … let’s just call it ‘Daisy green’.

Delbey and Rasmussen examined a number of books and found poisonous chemical elements in several of them – three at SDU and one at the Smithsonian Libraries in Washington. 

These discoveries sounded the alarm for research librarian Jakob Povl Holck, who is working with the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) to create new guidelines for dealing with old book collections with potential bad apples among them. 

Arsenic causes damage if it finds its way into your digestive system, but there have not been any known deaths caused by reading old books as of yet, though some kids in 5th grade claim the contrary.  

Don’t you dare pour that milk away! Expiry dates are mostly guess-work
On December 28, the minister for food, fisheries and equal opportunities, Mogens Jensen, received 10 suggestions from the think-tank ONE/THIRDS on reducing food waste in Denmark. The think-tank was established in the spring of 2019 by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark to produce a list of suggestions once a year on how to cut down on food waste – so this was the first time the institute had born fruition (let’s hope it won’t be wasted). 

It recommends the government includes the prevention of food waste in its climate action plan and sets a 2030 reduction goal for both the industry and private households. Also among the proposals are the government improving the way it informs people about charity opportunities in terms of getting rid of surplus food, along with helping other nations to achieve target 12.3 in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – the halving of global per capita food waste.

Denmark wastes about 700,000 tonnes of its food each year.

Denmark and Sweden join forces in the continuing fight against diabetes
The new Swedish and Danish collaborative project DiaUnion aims to escalate type 1 diabetes research and develop new treatment for patients. The two Scandinavian nations are among the countries with the highest number of type 1 diabetes patients. About 50,000 live with the disease in Sweden and 30,000 in Denmark. 

The project started on January 1 and will last until August this year, with a total budget of 1 million euros. It is financed by the EU’s Interreg program, the Capital Region of Denmark, Skåne County and Steno Diabetes Centre Copenhagen. Lund University and the Danish-Swedish life-sciences cluster Medicon Valley Alliance (one of EU’s leading centres in the field) are also part of the new effort to fight autoimmune diabetes.

DiaUnion will also aim to examine opportunities for developing an educational collaboration between the universities of the Capital Region of Denmark and Skåne County, as well as a patient mobility deal that would allow patients to get the right treatment regardless of which region it’s offered in.  

A sea turtle’s journey
A 30-40 cm long sea turtle, a rare sight in Denmark, has been found by some German tourists on the Danish west coast at Blåvand. They spotted the turtle as it struggled to get back into the water, constantly hindered by the recurring obstacle of waves. It was in bad shape, so the Germans decided to take it to the local zoo: once there, they placed it in water and took care of it.

Blåvand Zoo staff believe their guest to be a hawskbill sea turtle – a species categorised as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

Just when you thought the story couldn’t possibly get any more exciting than this, there’s more: lacking in experience with sea turtles – as they are more used to tortoises – Blåvand Zoo called the National Aquarium of Denmark, the only place in the country where you’ll surely find such animals without having to get very lucky. So our lost traveller is moving to Copenhagen. The expat community just got 40 cm wider.

Number of Danish twins decreases
Twin births have declined by a third, according to Danmarks Statistik. In 2008, 1,431 sets of twins were born in Denmark, but by 2018 this had fallen to 928. Jens Fedder, a consultant at the Gynaecology and Obstetrics department at Odense University Hospital, told DR this is a result of the fact of only using one egg for in vitro fertilisation, whereas previously it involved implanting two fertilised eggs to raise the likelihood of a pregnancy. Ten years ago, every fourth woman who underwent such treatment gave birth to twins, explained Fedder. However, today, implanting only one egg doesn’t decrease your chances of finally having that long awaited bun in the oven: doctors are now better at growing eggs and keeping them fresh while frozen. According to Fedder, expecting twins increases the risk of a miscarriage, premature birth and other complications.

Abortion and suicide are not correlated
A new Danish study, released in December, suggests that abortion alone does not raise the risk of suicide attempts. Most studies point in the same direction, though a few have shown a correlation between the two. 

The study showed that mental health problems were more common among women who had an abortion and that, in fact, the risk of a possible suicide attempt was lower after the procedure than before.    

The study – conducted mostly by affiliates of Aarhus University and published in The Lancet Psychiatry – stands on solid ground as it was based on the data of half a million Danish women over the age of 17. It was the first to look at the risk of suicide attempts – both before and after abortion. 

Doomsday approaching for narwhal population
Narwhal population in Eastern Greenland are nearing extinction due to excessive hunting and warmer sea temperatures, warns a new report by Nammco – the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission, which regulates the hunting of cetaceans in the Northern Atlantic. In 2008, biologists estimated that the narwhal population, which dwells by the Greenlandic settlement of Ittoqqortoormiit, consisted of 1945 narwhals – a number that has fallen to 246 by 2017. Last year, upon re-examining this population, biologists called for a complete halt of narwhal hunting on the east coast of Greenland in 2020.