Researchers are developing a new battery powered by lab-grown gems made from reformed nuclear waste. If it works, it will last thousands of years.
IN THE SUMMER of 2018, a hobby drone dropped a small package near the lip of Stromboli, a volcano off the coast of Sicily that has been erupting almost constantly for the past century.
As one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, Stromboli is a source of fascination for geologists, but collecting data near the roiling vent is fraught with peril.
So a team of researchers from the University of Bristol built a robot volcanologist and used a drone to ferry it to the top of the volcano, where it could passively monitor its every quake and quiver until it was inevitably destroyed by an eruption.
The robot was a softball-sized sensor pod powered by microdoses of nuclear energy from a radioactive battery the size of a square of chocolate. The researchers called their creation a dragon egg.
Dragon eggs can help scientists study violent natural processes in unprecedented detail, but for Tom Scott, a materials scientist at Bristol, volcanoes were just the beginning.
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