Here’s What the Data on Your Hard Drive Looks Like

By Andy Berger | July 30, 2015 3:33 pm

hard drive top

Although magnetism is invisible to our eyes, it powers much of daily life. It drives the electric motors of just about anything that spins: fans, power tools, and blenders. It powers the microphones and speakers in our various gadgets. And it’s crucial for storing information – by which we don’t just mean pinning notes to the fridge.

Magnetism enables you to click “save,” power down your computer, and walk away with the peace of mind that your documents, photos, and music will still be there tomorrow. How so? Your computer’s hard drive contains a magnetic disc with billions of tiny magnetic regions, known as bits. These encode all of your digital files into a binary code: a string of 1s and 0s.

But unlike looking under the hood of a car to see the engine, opening up your computer’s hard drive doesn’t give you much sense of how it works. Unless of course you could see magnetism.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers

Planes Are Crashing at NASA, and That’s a Good Thing

By Carl Engelking | July 30, 2015 1:41 pm
A Cessna 172 nose-dives into the dirt during testing at a NASA research facility. (Credit: NASA_Langley/Flickr)

A Cessna 172 nose-dives into the dirt during testing at a NASA research facility. (Credit: NASA_Langley/Flickr)

When an airplane smashes into the dirt at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, researchers get very excited.

That’s because the Langley team’s ongoing destruction of Cessna 172 aircraft is generating troves of data that could ultimately save lives. It’s the second in a series of the three tests — the first was on July 1 that are part of an an ongoing effort to improve on-board emergency transmitters that many times fail to do their only job: alert rescue workers that the plane has crashed.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Slaughterhouse Scraps Can Be Used to Make Mittens

By Carl Engelking | July 29, 2015 2:29 pm
The glove on the left, made with gelatin fiber, has a silky sheen, whereas the glove made of sheep’s wool has no luster. (Credit: ETH Zurich)

The glove on the left, made with gelatin fiber, has a silky sheen, whereas the glove made of sheep’s wool has no luster. (Credit: ETH Zurich)

Swiss scientists discovered a way to warm your hands with slaughterhouse scraps, and it’s not as gross as it sounds.

The butchering process yields a host of byproducts that’ll never be sold in a grocery store, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless. Cast-offs like bone, tendons and skin are rich sources of collagen, and scientists figured out a way to spin yarn from this waste, which can be used to produce clothing.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: materials science

Hamsters Are Happier When They Have Toys

By Kiona Smith-Strickland | July 29, 2015 9:21 am

hamster in ball

From networks of tubes to running wheels and plastic balls, pet hamsters get all the best accessories. And, it turns out, they probably appreciate it.

A new study has found that hamsters with enriched living conditions – including cushy bedding, chewing sticks, and hiding places – are more optimistic and probably happier.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

‘Smart Mirror’ Could Scan Your Face to Detect Health Risks

By Carl Engelking | July 28, 2015 3:10 pm

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Besides just throwing back your handsome reflection, in the near future your mirror might tell you a lot about what lies beneath the surface.

That’s the goal of researchers who are developing a high-tech mirror that can deliver a health assessment just by analyzing your facial features. It’s a new twist on preventative health care that could help nip chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, in the bud. Read More

Scientists Turn Fat Cells Into Tiny Lasers

Inserting an optical fiber into a piece of pig’s skin to cause fat cells to light up. Credit: Matjaž Humar and Seok Hyun Yun

Inserting an optical fiber into a piece of pig’s skin causes fat cells to light up. Credit: Matjaž Humar and Seok Hyun Yun

In the last few decades, lasers have become an important part of our lives, with applications ranging from laser pointers and CD players to medical and research uses. Lasers typically have a very well-defined direction of propagation and very narrow and well-defined emission color. We usually imagine a laser as an electrical device we can hold in our hands or as a big box in the middle of a research laboratory.

Fluorescent dyes have also become commonplace, routinely used in research and diagnostics to identify specific cell and tissue types. Illuminating a fluorescent dye makes it emit light with a distinctive color. The color and intensity are used as a measure, for example, of concentrations of various chemical substances such as DNA and proteins, or to tag cells. The intrinsic disadvantage of fluorescent dyes is that only a few tens of different colors can be distinguished.

In a combination of the two technologies, researchers know that if a dye is placed in an optical cavity – a device that confines light, such as two mirrors, for example – they can create a laser.

Taking it all a step even further, our research, described in the journal Nature Photonics, shows we can create a miniature laser that can emit light inside a single live cell.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology

Pee-Proof Walls Thwart Public Urinators in San Francisco

By Carl Engelking | July 27, 2015 1:52 pm

shutterstock_268274810

Instant karma awaits those who choose to empty their bladders on the streets of San Francisco.

The San Francisco Public Works Department (SFPW) is coating select city walls with water-repelling paint that makes urine splash back onto the source of the illegal fount. It’s a technique borrowed from a city in Germany, where the specialized paint has caused enough messes that fewer people are choosing to conduct their personal business in public.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: materials science

Four-Legged Snake Ancestor Dug Burrows With Tiny Limbs

By Carl Engelking | July 24, 2015 2:00 pm
Tetrapodophis uses its arms and legs to grasp a meal. (Credit: Julius S. Cstony)

Tetrapodophis uses its arms and legs to grasp a meal. (Credit: Julius S. Cstony)

Snakes’ earliest ancestors liked to hug it out.

Scientists announced this week the discovery of a 113-million-year-old four-legged reptile fossil found in Brazil. That makes it the most primitive ancestor of modern-day snakes ever found. While scientists have previously identified ancient snake fossils rocking a pair of hind limbs, this is also the first four-legged snake scientists have ever seen.

And the way this snake used its delicate arms helps clarify a longstanding debate about the snake family tree. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Your Musical Tastes Reflect Your Thinking Style

By Andy Berger | July 24, 2015 11:37 am

listening music

Are you good at putting yourself in someone else’s shoes? Then there’s a good chance that you enjoy R&B. If, instead, you are drawn to take things apart to understand how they work, you likely prefer punk music.

That’s the conclusion of a new study on how musical tastes relate to cognition. “We wanted to address this longstanding question, Why do people like the music that they do?” says study author David Greenberg. “Because you could have one person, for example, who loves Metallica or Rage Against the Machine and then another who would rather listen to Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan.”

The study, published this week in the online journal PLOS ONE, shows that the way someone thinks – his or her cognitive style – is a better predictor of the songs they’ll like than is their personality type.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Drifting ‘Windbots’ Could Explore Jupiter’s Atmosphere

By Carl Engelking | July 23, 2015 3:15 pm
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An artist’s rendering of a theoretical windbot. The potential new class of robots could someday explore gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. (Credit: NASA)

Cosmic landers are the go-to technology to get an intimate, on-the-ground look at foreign worlds. But is it possible to similarly explore gassy planets with nowhere to land, such as Jupiter and Saturn?

Engineers at NASA believe the answer to that question is yes, but it’ll likely require an entirely new class of spacecraft to get the job done. That’s why the space agency has begun studying the feasibility of creating windbots: theoretical robotic probes designed to float in a planet’s atmosphere without the need for wings or balloons. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration
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