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The Download

The Download: Longer-lasting electric car batteries, and Big Tech’s fightback

Plus: There's trouble ahead for the biggest NFT marketplace

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

This startup wants to pack more energy into electric vehicle batteries

Fully charged: Electric vehicles are becoming more popular, but they’re still constrained by how far they’re able to travel on a single charge—a Tesla Model 3 can go for about 350 miles before it needs to be recharged. In a quest to build batteries that can take us farther safely, startup Solid Power is working to make solid-state batteries that could pack more energy into a smaller space.

Battery powered: The company makes battery cells that replace the liquid used as the electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries with ceramic layers. This could unlock new options for battery chemistry, potentially allowing solid batteries to be swapped in. It has taken a step toward testing the technology in vehicles, starting up a large-scale pilot manufacturing line.

A note of caution: Questions remain about whether companies making solid electrolytes will be able to produce them on a large scale. Inorganic materials can be brittle and may be difficult to move during manufacturing. Another concern about solid batteries is how well they can withstand degradation over time. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Big Tech is spooked by Congress’ proposed crackdown
Tech giants are pulling out all the stops to try to avert efforts to curb their market power. (FT $)
+ Advocates are racing to get it over the line before the midterm elections. (CNBC)
+ What does breaking up Big Tech really mean? (MIT Technology Review)

2 The biggest NFT marketplace is facing a reckoning
OpenSea is having to pay out vast sums of money to settle claims of theft and plagiarism. (NYT $) 
+ The voice of the crypto naysayers is getting louder. (WP $)
+ Why this crypto crash feels different to those before it. (The Guardian)
+ Japan has become one of the first countries to introduce a legal framework around stablecoins. (Bloomberg $)
+ The obsession with web3 is not without casualties. (Motherboard)

3 One of America’s biggest baby formula plants has restarted production
Good news for parents and caregivers grappling with widespread shortages. (BBC)
+ The FDA is facing an investigation into its handling of the shortage. (NPR)
+ The baby formula shortage has birthed a shady online marketplace. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Migrants are documenting dangerous journeys to Europe on TikTok
Social media platforms and EU lawmakers are at loggerheads over illegal migration content. (Rest of World)

5 You can expect to to get reinfected with covid
It’s likely we’ll need more, and better, vaccines. (Wired $)

6 The quest to end the menopause is complicated
Mainly because research into women’s health is so underfunded. (Neo.Life)
+ Fatherless sons have higher levels of testosterone. (Economist $)
+ Trans men’s eggs have been matured in the lab—and could help them have children. (MIT Technology Review)

7 We are remarkably ignorant about social media’s true impact
Particularly when it comes to our perceptions of trustworthiness. (New Yorker $)

8 Charging electric cars is easier said than done 🚗
Which is far from ideal on a time-pressed road trip. (WSJ $)

9 Vision-enhancing glasses are helping color-blind wearers see the world in a new light
By increasing their perceivable range of colors and hue difference. (The Guardian)

10 The secret life of killer cats 🐈‍⬛
Loving our pets doesn’t mean loving their murderous instincts. (Hakai Magazine)

Quote of the day

“Lots of luck on his trip to the moon, I guess." 

—President Joe Biden reacts to the news that Elon Musk is planning on cutting Tesla’s workforce by 10% on account of his “super bad feeling about the economy”, reports the BBC.

The big story

Why do you feel lonely? Neuroscience is starting to find answers.
September 2020

Long before the world had ever heard of covid-19, Kay Tye set out to answer a question that has taken on new resonance in the age of social distancing: When people feel lonely, do they crave social interactions in the same way a hungry person craves food? And could she and her colleagues detect and measure this “hunger” in the neural circuits of the brain?

“Loneliness is a universal thing. If I were to ask people on the street, ‘Do you know what it means to be lonely?’ probably 99 or 100% of people would say yes,” explains Tye, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences. “It seems reasonable to argue that it should be a concept in neuroscience. It’s just that nobody ever found a way to test it and localize it to specific cells. That’s what we are trying to do.”

If Tye succeeds, it could lead to new tools for identifying and monitoring those at risk from illnesses worsened by loneliness. It could also yield better ways to handle what could be a looming public health crisis triggered by covid-19. Read the full story.

Adam Piore

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ I couldn’t help but wonder—if birds had mustaches, would they go above or below their beaks? (Thanks Will!)
+ Chinatown’s seniors are the slickest dressers around.
+ Did you know the newly-discovered world’s largest plant is also a clone?
+ Truffles the glasses-wearing cat is the little friend we all need in our lives.
+ The making of this butter box is totally hypnotic.

Deep Dive

Climate change

This CRISPR pioneer wants to capture more carbon with crops

New research at Jennifer Doudna's institute aims to create faster-growing, carbon-hungry plants using the gene-editing tool.

giant kelp underwater
giant kelp underwater

Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal

The venture-backed startup believes kelp could be a powerful tool to combat climate change. But some scientists fear the ecological risks on large scales.

biomass with Charm mobile unit in background
biomass with Charm mobile unit in background

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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