Flashback Friday: Epic Chemistry Reactions Gone Wrong

By Carl Engelking | August 8, 2014 1:45 pm

After a long workweek, you’ve made it to Friday and it’s time to have a little fun. And what could be more fun than chemistry reactions gone wrong.

Savvy Internet surfers are familiar with the “Flashback Friday” tradition, and in honor of that tradition we went back to our video vault and dusted off a gem from our “Joe Genius” series. In each episode of “Joe Genius,” comedian Jonah Ray spotlights the best videos from amateur experimenters. Ray also breaks down the science behind each video.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: chemistry

Oil-Dwelling Microbes Offer New Hope for Spill Cleanup

By April Reese | August 7, 2014 1:08 pm

oil spill

Microbes may be tiny, but their influence on the world is huge: they imbue Yellowstone’s hot springs with vibrant color, help protect the lining in our intestines, and recycle nutrients in the soil. They can even break down oil — from right inside it, as it turns out.

Researchers found this by studying microbial communities in water samples from Trinidad and Tobago’s Pitch Lake, the world’s largest natural asphalt lake (less prettily, a tar pit). They found active microbes in water droplets as small as a microliter, or about 1/50th of a drop of water, suspended in the oil. Much to their surprise, the scientists also discovered “microhabitats,” complex assemblages of microbial species, degrading oil in the lake’s asphalt.

“We saw a huge diversity of bacteria and archaea,” says Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University, a co-author of the study. “That’s why we speak of an ‘ecosystem,’ because we have so much diversity in the water droplets.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Video: Origami-Inspired Robot Transforms From Flat to 3-D in Minutes

By Carl Engelking | August 7, 2014 1:00 pm


The origins of origami trace back to the sixth century, when intricately folded paper was first used for ceremonial occasions in Japan. Now, over 1,500 years later, engineers are revisiting the ancient art form with a modern twist: A team of researchers from Harvard and MIT have just unveiled a paper robot that can autonomously fold to transform itself into a functioning machine and walk away within 4 minutes.

And if you think the cost of a transformer is out of your budget, think again. The self-folding robot cost just $100 to build. Researchers envision a day when people can order a design for a robot, get it shipped, watch it fold and then enjoy while it entertains your cat or sweeps your porch.

“This approach to fabricating robots and tooling would democratize access to robots,” says study co-author Daniela Rus of MIT.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: gadgets, math, physics, robots

A Mathematical Equation to Predict Happiness

By Carl Engelking | August 6, 2014 2:00 pm


Philosophers and writers have spilled countless barrels of ink attempting to elucidate the origins of happiness. What is happiness? How do we achieve it? Will we even know it when we do? These are complicated questions. But according to researchers from University College London, this is all you need to know about happiness: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, select, Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: emotions, mathematics

Birth of Rare Cheetah Cubs Captured on Video

By Carl Engelking | August 5, 2014 3:39 pm
king cheetah

A king cheetah bearing the distinctive black stripes down its spine.

Cheetahs are officially listed as a vulnerable species, and their numbers are on the decline; so the successful birth of cheetah cubs is always an event worth heralding. However, when you’re talking about a litter with the rare king cheetah gene, the novelty factor notches upward significantly.

Just over a week ago, a cheetah named Meg at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) in South Africa gave birth to four cubs that are carriers of the gene for king cheetah markings. King cheetahs are noted for their distinctive blotchy spots and stripes that look a bit messier than “traditional” cheetahs.

And fortunately for us, the entire birth was caught on camera, making the event all the more exciting. The birth took a few hours, but you can watch the miracle of life unfold below in minutes.  Read More

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

This Computer Knows When “Literally” Isn’t Literal

By Carl Engelking | August 5, 2014 12:33 pm


There’s been a literal firestorm in recent years on the proper meaning of “literally” — including the uproar over its non-literal opposite meaning being added to respected dictionaries.

Language is funny that way. We say things that are utterly false, but we seem to understand what the other person means, regardless. Intrigued by this quirk in communication, researchers built the first computational model that can predict humans’ interpretations of hyperbolic statements. (Literally.)

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers, language

Korean Factory Workers Don Exoskeletons for Superhuman Strength

By Carl Engelking | August 4, 2014 3:02 pm

Robotic exoskeletons allow shipyard workers to lift heavy loads with ease. (Courtesy: Daewoo)

At Daewoo’s South Korean shipyard, lifting and moving massive slabs of metal as if they’re made of foam could soon be a basic job requirement for workers. Of course, they’ll have some help: robotic exoskeletons, which made their debut last year at the company’s manufacturing facility, are on the rise.

After successfully testing the exoskeletons last year, the shipbuilding giant hopes to soon outfit some of their employees with the technology, giving them the superhuman strength to take production to new heights, New Scientist reports. The prototypes tested allowed workers to pick up 65-pound objects and manipulate them with ease, but Daewoo plans to increase the exoskeletons’ carrying capacity to roughly 220 pounds with design improvements.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: robots

Underwater SharkCam Gets Mauled by a Great White

By Lisa Raffensperger | August 4, 2014 12:59 pm

great white shark

Shark attacks on people, for all the coverage they get, are thankfully still rare – as Discover blogger Christie Wilcox has pointed out. But if you go taunting a great white with a seal-shaped robotic submarine… well, all bets are off.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution did just that with their REMUS SharkCam, which they deployed in 2013 off Guadalupe Island in the Pacific, where sharks hunt giant elephant seals. The footage they’ve just released shows the attack styles of these hunters up close and personal, and in panorama, thanks to its suite of video cameras facing all directions. Read More

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

Transparent Mice Offer a Front-Row Seat to Inner Anatomy

By April Reese | August 1, 2014 1:35 pm


Researchers have found a way to make organs, and even bodies, transparent. (Credit: Yang et. al, Cell)

Researchers have found a way to make organs, and even bodies, transparent. (Credit: Yang et. al, Cell)

Biologists have long wished for superhero-like X-ray vision to see right into organs or even the whole the body. Imagine the possibilities: watching where cancer cells go when they metastasize, tracking an asthma drug’s effect on the lung’s airways, or zeroing in on neurons in the brain.

A team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology have realized that dream of peering deep into the body. In a study published yesterday in the journal Cell, they demonstrate how to turn organs, and even bodies, into see-through “windows to the body” while keeping cellular structures and connections intact. Read More

MORE ABOUT: medical technology

Physicist Invents Color-Changing Ice Cream

By Carl Engelking | August 1, 2014 12:27 pm
The color-changing flavor, Xamaleon. (Credit: Manual Linares, Cocinatis)

The color-changing flavor, Xamaleon. (Credit: Manual Linares, Cocinatis)

Believe it or not, it is possible to make ice cream even better. Manuel Linares, a former physicist turned cook, has invented a variant on the classic treat that changes colors as you lick it.

The new creamy concoction called Xamaleón — an homage to “chameleon” — transitions from periwinkle to pink when it touches the tongue, and tastes similar to “tutti-frutti,” Phys.org reports. The ice cream’s colorful trick relies on both changes in temperature and reactions to acids in the human mouth. However, Linares isn’t revealing any more details about his secret recipe.

What we do know is the ice cream is made with natural ingredients like strawberries, banana, vanilla and almonds. Additionally, Linares sprays what he calls a “love elixir” on the ice cream after it’s scooped to help accelerate the reaction. We probably won’t know the whole story behind Xamaleón until Linares secures a patent for his creation, which is pending. 

“As a physicist I know that there are various possibilities that might work and I was delighted when I managed to crack it and create an ice cream that changes color,” Linares said.

Earlier this year Linares opened an ice cream shop in Blanes, his hometown in Spain, and has plans for more exotic ice cream flavors in the future. Up next, he says: An ice cream made with Peruvian and African medicinal plants that will provide an aphrodisiac effect.

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

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