• Human sperm have been caught twirling in an elaborate dance. A new three-dimensional imaging technique has revealed spiraling movements that had previously only been inferred from two-dimensional data.

    The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes the first large-scale, high-resolution recordings of human sperm in three dimensions, tracking more than 1,500 cells over several hours. Human sperm have eluded such detailed observation in the past. Their heads are just 3–4 micrometers long and can only be seen under high magnification, but the cells zoom around at up to 100 micrometers per second, ducking in and out of focus or darting out of range in an instant.

    “Our intention was to create something not bounded by conventional optics,” says Aydogan Ozcan, a bioengineer at the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the study. “This is the first observation of something that was entirely hidden.”

    The research team watched the wily sperm not with a conventional microscope lens, but with a light-sensing chip — measuring about 4 by 6 millimeters — placed underneath the translucent samples. A red light-emitting diode (LED) shines down on the sperm, forming a hazy shadow on the chip that follows the head of each cell as it moves horizontally. A second, blue LED illuminates the sperm from a different angle, casting shadows that change with each sperm head’s vertical position. Imaging cells en masse at about 90 frames per second allowed the researchers to characterize sperm movement more precisely than ever before.

    More than 90% of the sperm moved along slightly curved paths, wiggling their heads slightly from side to side. A small fraction — 4–5% — traveled in near-perfect spirals, forming helices between 0.5 and 3 micrometers in radius. Most of the helices were right-handed, but Ozcan says that it is too early to know whether this preference serves any physiological function.

    Susan Suarez, a sperm researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is curious about the significance of the swimming patterns. She hopes that the method can be used to study sperm swimming under a wider range of physiological conditions, including the pH and fluid conditions encountered by the sperm en route to an egg.

    Chip-based imaging could one day lead to cheaper and more portable ways for fertility researchers to look at sperm movement, replacing costly computer systems that analyze microscope images. But Ozcan says that his technique — which can be used only on translucent materials — could also be used to study bacteria and other swimming microorganisms.

    David Brady, head of the Duke Imaging and Spectroscopy Program at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says that the sperm imaging is “a great demonstration of an application” in the growing field of lens-free imaging. Smaller and more powerful technologies have emerged in the past 5–10 years, he says, that have yet to cross over into mainstream experimental biology. The authors have come up with an application that will “get people talking”.

    Some sperm biologists think that the technique could also open up research avenues. “I’ve been trying to find a way to look at sperm — moving sperm — and this seems like it would be a good method,” says David Clapham of Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. “The beauty of this is that it’s done so quickly and on so many cells at once.” However, Clapham says, the method tracks only sperm heads, so can’t capture the complex tail movements that are crucial to understanding sperm function — and dysfunction.


  • South Africa’s first “Green Street” upgrade project in a low-income area in Cato Manor in Durban has highlighted the significant cost savings and job creation benefits that could be achieved if the 3 million low-cost houses built since 1994 were retrofitted.

    The findings of a case study of the project, led by the Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA), show significant potential policy implications for the government, which plans to build a further 3 million low-cost houses by 2025.

    Sarah Rushmere, the head of advocacy and special projects for the GBCSA, said three key interventions stood out from the study and it would be cheaper to retrofit the existing low-cost housing with insulated ceilings, low-energy compact fluorescent lighting bulbs and heat-insulation cookers than building the next power station in the country.

    Each of the 30 households received an energy-efficient retrofit in the form of solar-water heaters, insulated ceilings, efficient lighting and heat-insulation cookers.

    Unsafe electrical wiring was replaced in the process, rainwater harvesting tanks were added and food gardens established for the production of home-grown food and a polluted nearby stream was cleaned up and indigenous trees and smaller plants and fruit trees planted.

    The Cato Manor Green Street retrofit, which involved 30 low-cost houses, has been nothing short of life-changing for its residents.

    Rushmere said some of the positive outcomes from the project included residents having hot water on tap for the first time through solar-water heating; a saving of up to 25 percent on electricity; improved water and food security through rainwater harvesting and food gardens; greater comfort through better insulation that reduced peak summer temperatures; and less need for fuels such as paraffin, coal and wood, which meant reduced health problems from respiratory illnesses and reduced fire safety risks for these homes.

    Rushmere said energy and water savings estimated at about R3 billion a year would be possible if retrofits similar to those done to these 30 houses were done for the country’s existing 3-million low-cost housing units.

    This money would stay in the pockets of residents and be retained in the local economy, she said. Rushmere added the electricity saving would amount to more than 3 400 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to about a third of the electricity usage of cities the size of Cape Town and Durban.

    “For the purposes of generating revenue on international carbon credit markets, 9.72 million tons worth of carbon credits are possible,” she said.

    Rushmere said it was estimated that about 36.5 million days of work could be created by a retrofit programme for the country’s existing 3-million low-cost houses, which was equivalent to employing more than 165 000 people for a year of work.

    Bruce Kerswill, the GBCSA’s executive chairman, said the project turned an idea into reality on the ground through simple interventions that made an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the quality of people’s lives.

    The project, mostly funded by the British High Commission, was completed shortly before the COP17 international climate change talks last year.

    A second phase of the project, involving the retrofitting of 26 houses, is expected to commence soon and be completed by the end of this year, will cost about R1 million and is being funded by the Australian High Commission to South Africa.

    Dame Nicola Brewer, the British high commissioner to South Africa, said the aim of the project was to demonstrate a range of socioeconomic, health and environmental benefits that could be obtained from sustainable design and resource-efficiency interventions in low-income housing.


  • She creates “Pampshades”–lighting fixtures made from real French baguettes. The name is a play on the Japanese word for bread–“pan.”

    “I think loaves are really cute,” Morita explained. “I love their round curves. I wanted a bread display in my room so I could admire it all the time. That’s how I came up with this shape.”

    She had the inspiration when she was a junior majoring in prints at the Kyoto City University of Arts.

    One day, Morita was in the studio at her school mulling over an art project. She was pulling out and nibbling on the soft parts of a baguette that she had brought with her from the bakery where she worked part time.

    Morita loved bread so much that she would take home all the leftover bread from the shop and didn’t mind eating it for her daily three meals. When she had eaten her baguette down to a hollow “shell,” on a whim, she held it up toward the sunlight that was streaming in.

    Instantly, her loaf was transformed into a beaming planet. The baguette caught the light and became an image that might have been captured with a high-powered astrophotography camera.

    “Wow! It’s so beautiful.” She tried placing an incandescent light bulb inside the bread. The effect was “Nice!”

    But it did not last long, as the bread became scorched by the heat. But Morita now knew what she wanted. She continued to work on her unfinished work of art, off and on, during her free time. It was a long process of trial and error.

    Working on some 300 prototypes, Morita perfected her Pampshade. First she hollowed out a baguette made from flour, water and salt. The shell was thoroughly dried out, and she applied a resin coating to prevent mildew. She managed to eliminate the scorching problem by switching to LED bulbs. She completed the baguette-cum-lampshade in January.

    It started as a hobby, but people began noticing her work at a crafts fair. Now there are some shops in Kyoto that carry Morita’s unique lighting fixtures, and she has quite a few fans.

    “I hope to keep on doing this and keep on having fun,” said Morita. Her motto is to never waste her material. She eats up all the bread that she hollows out. She uses the bread to make crunchy croutons, which she sprinkles on soup and lines a baking pan with to make pizza. As long as her life is filled with bread, Morita is in heaven.

    Codarus, a manufacturer’s rep group in the fine home furnishings, lighting and linens categories, has added Barbara Cosgrove, Dash & Albert, Pine Cone Hill, and Tara Shaw Maison to its Southeast territory.

    “We are excited to represent such inspiring designers as Annie Selke, Barbara Cosgrove, and Tara Shaw in the southeast,” said Cody Hutcheson, co-principal of Codarus. “These three women have exquisite taste which is reflected in the products they produce.”

    Barbara Cosgrove Lamps is a lighting manufacturer specializing in nouveau-traditional lamps. Cosgrove draws inspiration from her love of the arts and background in fashion illustration and sculpture.

    Annie Selke brings a modern look to distinctly American decorative style with Dash & Albert Rug Company, Pine Cone Hill and Annie Selke Home.

    Recognizing a demand for one-of-a-kind European furnishings, Tara Shaw founded began a reproduction line titled Tara Shaw Maison. The Tara Shaw Maison line features authentic finishes and hand-carving and is adding new categories including textiles, lighting, accessories, tabletop, bath and bed, wall art and flooring.


  • Iris Technology Corporation, a Southern Calif.-based aegis architect specializing in appropriate ability systems and aircraft hardware, appear Jun. 14 that it has won a arrangement from the Marine Corps Systems Command for the antecedent appearance of Solar Ability Adaptor – Bearing II (SPA II). The absolute contract, to be implemented incrementally, is for six years with a best amount of $42 million.

    “We acceptable the befalling to aggregation up with the U.S. Marine Corps afresh to bear this groundbreaking man-portable solar ability system. The next bearing StarPower ambassador at the affection of the SPA II is a above abstruse advance in solar charging, ability administration and distribution,” said Iris Technology President and Chief Executive Officer Edward O’Rourke. “By accumulation elements from our acutely compact, awful acknowledged Merlin ancestors of radio ability adapters, our new StarPower sets the accepted in solar ability ambassador performance.”

    O’Rourke added that, based absolutely on Iris Technology’s software platform, StarPower is able to abode any rechargeable array chemistry, now and in the advancing future. Natively, it admiral about all appropriate radios. StarPower accepts any DC ascribe antecedent from 9 to 44 VDC, accuse multi-chemistry batteries and provides up to 400 W achievement power.

    Iris Technology Corporation’s turnkey solar ability systems accept been accumulation cogent civic absorption lately. O’Rourke was accustomed as a “Champions of Change” in innovations for renewable activity at the White House in April 2012 for advancing new account that are arch the way to a apple-pie activity approaching and an abridgement that’s congenital to last.

    SPA II is the next bearing adaptation of the awful acknowledged Iris Technology Solar Portable Alternative Communications Activity Arrangement (SPACES), an avant-garde ancestors of adaptable solar ability and ability administration products. SPACES has been acclaimed as a life-saver in action zones abbreviation the amount of re-supply trucks bare and the amount and weight of batteries anniversary Marine has to backpack on his or her mission.

    The two-and-a-half-year absolute LightSavers balloon of LED artery lamps in cities including London, New York, Toronto, Sydney and Kolkata in India aswell begin that association acquainted safer with LED lighting and appear bigger visibility.

    In a address analogue the allegation of the trial, Lighting the Apple-pie Revolution: The Rise of LED Artery Lighting and What it Means for Cities, LED artery lights were begin to endure from 50,000 to 100,000 hours and accept a abortion amount of just 1% compared to about 10% for accepted lighting technologies.

    LEDs are now complete abundant for a above scale-up to alfresco applications like artery lighting, area the technology could save some 670 actor bags of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

    The Apple-pie Revolution campaign, which launched the address as allotment of its efforts in the run up to Rio+20 UN Global Bunched Corporate Sustainability Forum calm with The Climate Group in affiliation with Philips, says governments should now advance the rollout of LED artery lighting as a priority.

    “This address acutely highlights that LEDs are accessible to be scaled-up in towns and cities beyond the globe,” says Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group. “All new accessible lighting – both artery lighting and in accessible barrio – should be LED by 2015, with the aim of all accessible lighting getting LED by 2020.”


  • Imagine, for a moment, a hospital that is able to provide its own energy through new renewable energy projects like biofuels and solar power and improved energy efficiency efforts. In other words, the hospital will never have to pay another energy bill again. Sounds a little far-fetched, right?

    Well, it’s not far-fetched at all. In fact, officials at Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wis., are trying to make their health system 100 percent energy independent — meaning they will be completely self-sufficient on all their energy needs — by 2014.

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy, hospitals are some of the most “complex and energy-intensive facilities” in the country. Major heating and lighting needs, 24/7 access and large, energy-sucking machines cause hospitals to use roughly 836 trillion BTUs of energy every year, and they have more than 2.5 times the energy intensity and carbon dioxide emissions of commercial office buildings.

    A hospital’s energy consumption is both a drain on the environment as well as its bottom line. The DOE estimates U.S. hospitals spend more than $5 billion annually on energy, which equates to roughly 3 percent of an average hospital’s operating budget.

    However, Gundersen Lutheran is trying to change that path. Through new green energy projects, Gundersen Lutheran is trying to couple sustainable energy efforts through “solid financial business decisions” — and it all starts with its Envision program.

    The renewable energy efforts are the big-ticket items that involve bigger investments but are resulting in a complete shift of the energy paradigm. For example, in 2009, Gundersen Lutheran teamed up with the La Crosse City Brewery to turn the brewery’s wasted biogas discharge into electricity. The result? Roughly 2 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity are being produced — enough to power 170 average-sized homes — which is roughly 2 percent of the health system’s energy independent goal.

    Similar to the brewery project, Gundersen Lutheran has also partnered with the county landfill to use their flaring gas discharge as a renewable energy source for one of its campuses. “The flaring gas was just wasted,” Mr. Rich says. “It’s a heat source. Now, they pipe the gas to us underneath Interstate 90. We produce the energy from a generator here, and now the campus produces more energy than the entire campus uses.”

    Mr. Rich says they’ve also installed some smaller solar projects and are gaining electricity from two large wind turbine sites. This fall, the team will be installing a massive biomass boiler that will take woody biomass from around the area and turn it into heat and electricity through a steam turbine. Perhaps one of the most innovative projects involves poop — literally. Gundersen Lutheran is teaming up with local farmers to capture cow manure and turn it into renewable energy. “It creates gas in an anaerobic digester just like a landfill, and the process is cleaning water pollution from manure runoff,” Mr. Rich says. “Through anaerobic digesters, we can also turn [the byproduct] into a composted soil amendment or potting soil, which can be sold.”


  • Most of us love the warmer weather. We count down the days until we can say, “Man, is it hot.” But as soon as the temperature rises, a lot of us crank our air conditioners into overdrive.

    Keeping blinds and curtains closed during the day helps. I encourage everyone to do this. But a lot of heat can get trapped between the blinds and the window. And once the heat is already in your home, cooling things down is an uphill battle. Most homeowners treat the effects of heat. The smart ones stop them before they start.

    You want to stop the heat before it enters your home. Otherwise, half the battle of beating the heat is already lost — before it’s even started. And since the problem starts in nature, let’s look to nature to solve it.

    How do we stay cool when we’re outside? We look for tree shade.

    Just how trees keep us cool outside, they can help keep us cool inside, too. They provide a natural way to block the higher temperatures from entering our homes. If you’re thinking of landscaping, plant a few extra trees around your house. But don’t plant them near the house itself. The extra foliage will direct water and precipitation to your home’s exterior and roof. This wears down exterior finishes and is an open invitation to leaks.

    Awnings are an old school solution that works. They reduce heat gain by about 55% to 77%. They also block UV rays that can damage floors, furniture and finishes. In certain climates, awnings have proved their worth — saving homeowners as much as 25% on their energy bills.

    Some awnings are retractable. These are good because they let heat and light come in during the winter. Others are stationary and have to be taken down before the colder weather sets in again.

    You need to install an awning the proper way. Do it wrong and it can cause a lot of damage. If it falls, it can pull the siding off your home and damage the exterior — not to mention the risks of it falling on someone. Just like everything else, you want to get the right pro for the job.

    If you’re interested in awnings, contact a company that specializes in them. They’ll be able to recommend the right length, width and material depending on your home’s specific needs. And they’ll install it the right way. Their employees should have experience working with these units. Some companies even certify their installers in-house. This makes sure they know what they’re doing before they show up at your home.

    Another way to keep your home cool is insulation. Most people think insulation only helps keep our homes warm during the winter. But it actually keeps the interior temperature at a comfortable, constant level. So it keeps homes cool in the summer, too.

    If your air conditioning is always working, and your energy bills keep rising, your home could need insulation. A good home inspection will tell you if you’re missing insulation. Make sure the inspector you hire uses a thermal imaging camera and is certified in thermography. Otherwise, the inspection could be worthless.

    If you’ve had the same air conditioner for more than 10 years, consider replacing it. Older air conditioners use 30% to 70% more electricity than energy-efficient models. They can also corrode or rust. When that happens, harmful refrigerants like Freon can enter the environment. Why is this bad? Because most refrigerants deplete the ozone layer. This increases global warming.


  • Ensuring that every school in Ontario has access to a psychologist, providing top-up funding for schools on First Nations reserves, and launching a public review of special education programs are just some of the recommendations contained in a new report on the state of Ontario’s publicly-funded schools.

    People for Education’s 15th annual report, released Monday at a Toronto high school, is based on surveys completed by more than 1,000 principals from virtually all of Ontario’s 72 English, Catholic and French school boards.

    Twenty-six Ottawa-Carleton and 18 Ottawa Catholic schools participated, while less than 10 schools from each of the local French-language boards took part.

    The challenge for any public education system, the report says, is to serve all students well. But in order to do that, schools must focus on more than academic achievement and instead build relationships beyond the school’s walls. “They cannot operate in isolation from their communities, or from other services and programs that support children and youth,” the report says.

    It then makes recommendations on nearly a dozen key areas — everything from school-community connections and special education to early learning, aboriginal education and school closures.

    The education advocacy group wants the government to launch a full public review of special education to evaluate the quality of current services and develop a better funding model and fairer process for determining which students are assessed. They also think the province should create a special education ombudsman to help families navigate the system.

    It also wants the government to develop a framework for health promotion in public schools that goes beyond traditional health and physical education classes. It says the province should work with school boards to ensure every school has access to psychologists and other professionals to support the mental health of children and youth.

    Currently, 14 per cent of elementary and 17 per cent of secondary schools report having no access to a psychologist.

    There’s also a push to forge more school-community connections — currently something that’s too often done off the side of a busy school principal’s desk.

    People for Education envisions a new inter-ministerial secretariat to oversee an integrated policy framework for children and youth that includes education, physical and mental health, children and youth services, recreation and culture.

    The report says bluntly that Aboriginal children — particularly those living on reserves — “are receiving educational services and funding that is markedly inferior to other Canadian children.” It urges the province to follow the Drummond Commission’s recommendation to provide top-up funding to ensure that schools on-reserve are funded at a level comparable to other school in Ontario.

    There was also some tough talk about before- and after-school programs for four- and five-year-old students, which less than half of the province’s schools currently offer as part of the full-day kindergarten program. “The implementation of [full-day kindergarten] has been heralded as a success by schools and has reached many children in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. But the provision of extended-day programs remains patchy, and is marred by inequitable access,” the report says.


  • It’s the 53rd birthday of the Auckland Harbour Bridge this month, our city’s much loved but rather drab icon. We enjoy the spectacular view of the city as we drive over the top, but rather disparagingly we call the bridge the “Coathanger”. Let’s face it, it’s not glamorous.

    But our bridge can be reborn as a symbol of a vibrant modern city, the new Auckland of the 21st century, thanks to the SkyPath proposal for a beautiful modern pathway tucked under the city-side clip-on.

    The SkyPath will provide a vital link across the harbour between Westhaven and Northcote for people enjoying the active transport modes of walking, running or cycling. It also includes spacious multi-level viewing platforms for city and harbour vistas, and special effects night lighting; symbolising the energy of our city, and bringing life to Auckland’s celebrations.

    The SkyPath will enhance the way we interact with our harbour, help us to start seeing the opportunities for walking and cycling around the city, and be a wonderful experience for visitors, encouraging tourists to spend an extra day in Auckland.

    And it will be self-funding. Construction and operation of SkyPath as a user-pays facility can be a reality at minimal cost to Auckland ratepayers through a partnership between transport and council agencies, the AHB Pathway Trust and private sector funders.

    It is now up to Auckland Council to show leadership in making this potential a reality by including the SkyPath in its long-term plan. By recognising the SkyPath as a zero-budget line item, the council is not committing any funding but is able to investigate the opportunity to see the SkyPath delivered in a mutually beneficial partnership with the private sector.

    It is proposed that the private sector funding will be repaid by a toll on SkyPath users of $2 each way for Hop Card users (more for casual users) and by corporate sponsorship, such as the sale of naming rights. The financial projections from the SkyPath’s business plan show it will deliver net surpluses to council.

    Congestion relief through reduced commuter vehicle traffic and the related environmental benefits will add to the green benefits for the city.

    If you’re thinking “Does the council really need to support the SkyPath?”, the answer is yes. The council’s support will give the private sector confidence to invest in the project. It also sends a clear message to other stakeholders, such as Auckland Transport, Waterfront Auckland, ATEED and NZ Transport Agency that this is a project to be taken seriously.

    Auckland Council has the benefit of the substantial work and financial investment that has already gone into the project. The AHB Pathway Trust and the NZ Transport Agency have incurred an estimated $1.5 million to develop the SkyPath’s design and structural feasibility to ensure traffic capacity is not compromised now or in the future.

    Aucklanders are hugely supportive of the SkyPath. Independent polling by Y&R reveals that 76 per cent of Aucklanders are in favour of being able to walk and cycle over the bridge. Feedback to the design launched in August last year has been overwhelmingly positive, and Aucklanders accept the need for a toll to get the project done.

    Aucklanders have before them a project that will enhance enjoyment of our beautiful city, encourage tourists to stay longer and provide congestion-free access across the harbour. This is Auckland Council’s chance to make sure the SkyPath happens and to give meaning to their slogan: “Working to make Auckland the World’s Most Liveable City”


  • Mayor Vincent Gray today joined officials from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) to celebrate the completion of a project to replace alley lights with new energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly lighting fixtures. In a Mount Pleasant alley, Gray watched as DDOT contractors replaced an inefficient incandescent bulb with a new light-emitting diode (LED) light fixture. The installation was the last of 1,360 alley light replacements in a $1-million project that involved all of the District’s eight wards.

    “Already, results show these new light fixtures are saving energy – 57 to 60 percent – compared to the old incandescent, mercury vapor, and high-pressure sodium lights,” said Gray, who has spearheaded the Sustainable DC effort to make the District the most sustainable city in the United States. “Imagine how much energy we could save if we expand this program to all 70,000 street and alley lights across the District. That would be a great down payment on a truly Sustainable DC.”

    The LED lights have a longer life expectancy than the District’s existing lights and will reduce maintenance and energy costs as well as greenhouse-gas emissions. For example, a 189-watt incandescent bulb has a lamp life of 6-12 months; by comparison, a 54-watt LED light has a life expectancy of 12-15 years.

    They also use the least amount of energy compared to other fixtures while offering less glare and better illumination, uniformity, safety, color and aesthetics.

    “This is just one example of how we are reducing our footprint at DDOT through the use of green construction techniques, technology and infrastructure,” said DDOT Director Terry Bellamy. “We’re also fostering environmentally friendly forms of transportation and expanding our tree canopy. The Mayor’s vision for a Sustainable DC is achievable with this type of investment, and with our partners at DDOE and other agencies, we will continue to do our part.”

    The District Department of Energy (DDOE) is supporting and funding the LED lighting project, under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficient and Conservation Block Grant program.

    “An initiative like this that saves the city money, improves residents’ safety, and reduces our energy appetite is certainly worthy of our investment,” says Christophe A.G. Tulou, director of DDOE. “This is a great example of how involvement of many departments across the city will make Sustainable DC a reality.”

    Before the start of this project, in conjunction with the Howard University Transportation Research Center, DDOT conducted a study and analysis of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting products from a variety of vendors and manufacturers. The study involved the evaluation and analysis of photometric readings, fixture life, efficacy, aesthetics, color temperature, dimmability and compatibility with remote monitoring and control systems. At the conclusion of the study, DDOT selected Lighting Science Group’s (LSG) LSR-2 LED fixture as the preferred choice to replace the District’s existing alley lights.


  • With huge, futuristic, “smart glass” windows, colorful LED lights, and big TV screens, Boeing’s new 787 ‘Dreamliner’ isn’t just a new plane, it’s a great new gadget for passengers.

    Late last month, Japan Airlines launched the first 787 route to the United States, from Tokyo to Boston. Come along for the journey and see what it’s like inside Boeing’s newest, high-tech airplane.

    The first step in my adventure was to get to Boston. One of the main purposes of the 787, which has a long flight range but is not that large, is to connect city pairs like Tokyo-Boston that wouldn’t make sense with bigger or less-efficient aircraft. A key route like New York-Tokyo can handle multiple flights per day with huge planes. But with the smaller, efficient 787, Boston residents can now enjoy direct service to Tokyo, too.

    The 787 is special because it’s the first major commercial airplane to be built mostly from carbon-fiber-composite material instead of metal. This makes it lighter. Coupled with two brand-new engines, it’s about 20% more fuel efficient than the similar-sized 767, which debuted 30 years ago. In today’s airline industry, where fuel costs have crippled profits, that makes a huge difference. And all of a sudden, Boston-Tokyo is a possibility.

    As you might expect, especially from a high-end airline like JAL, the 787 is up-to-date. It’s not a huge plane, like Airbus’s double-decker A380, so you won’t find private, first-class suites, showers, or anything silly like that.

    But there are accoutrements like (supposedly!) a Toto “washlet” toilet in the business-class bathroom; colorful LED lighting; and large, personal TVs for everyone on the plane. The coach seat itself was fine, including a footrest that I didn’t notice until after landing, and a couple of pockets to store earbuds, iPhone, etc. But the under-seat storage was too tight even for my small backpack, and there was a huge box for the in-flight entertainment system that took up valuable leg-stretching space.

    Perhaps the most noticeable cabin feature is the new window design. The windows are the biggest in the industry, and don’t have typical plastic, pull-down windowshades. Instead, they’re “smart glass” with a dimming switch under each window. With five different settings, you can make the window brighter or darker with the push of a button. It takes a few moments for the shading to adjust, but it works pretty well. Even at the darkest setting, the windows are still transparent-blue, so you can see outside without waking your neighbor. But it’s dark enough to sleep next to. Science!

    After a smooth takeoff, almost 90 minutes into the flight, we were served dinner. In economy class, there was a choice between Japanese seafood curry and some sort of cheesy chicken with pasta and vegetables. I chose the chicken, which was… what you’d expect in coach. At least JAL trusted us with real, metal utensils. Later in the flight, some sort of pastry snack was handed out. And then before landing, we received lunch: More cheesy pasta. But who’s flying for the food? Anyway, no special menu for the 787, at least not in coach.