Supercapacitors Never Tasted So Good

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 19, 2016 12:42 pm

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One egg? Check. Water? Check. Carbon pellets? Wait …

The process of making digestible superconductors could almost pass for the Food Network, if not for some fairly esoteric — although completely edible — components. The cheese, egg, carbon and gold “sandwich” created by researchers at Arizona State University could one day power medical devices such as cameras or serve as bacteria-fighting super-foods. What’s more, they’re made largely from ingredients you can pick up at your local grocery store. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Ancient Mars Was Wet and Wild

By John Wenz | May 19, 2016 12:05 pm
An artist's rendering of what a wet, ancient Mars might look like. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

An artist’s rendering of what a wet, ancient Mars might look like. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Not only was Mars once a wet planet. New evidence, published today in Nature’s Scientific Reports, paints a picture of violent tsunamis as well.

Tsunamis on Earth are often caused by earthquakes on the ocean floor or similar events. To an extent, that’s also what happened on Mars during both its violent events. But the initial culprits in this case were giant meteorites smacking the planet. The first meteorite, which delivered a head-on blow to Mars about 3.4 billion years ago, created a 30 km (18.6 mi) impact scar while catapulting waves hundreds of meters high across vast distances. Read More

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

Edible Six-Pack Rings Feed, Rather Than Strangle, Wildlife

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 18, 2016 1:38 pm
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(Credit: Saltwater Brewery)

Plastic six-pack rings are the bane of conservationists — images of sea birds and turtles entangled in them serve as constant reminders that consumer culture and the environment don’t get along. But thanks to an innovation from a Florida-based brewery, we can feel a little better about enjoying a six-pack.

Saltwater Brewery has partnered with the ad agency We Believers to create what they say is the first fully edible beer can packaging. Made from byproducts of the brewing process such as wheat and barley, their six-pack holders are fully biodegradable and completely digestible. Rather than ensnaring curious animals in a corset of litter, the company’s six-pack rings could serve as a satisfying snack. And if nothing is biting, the rings quickly decompose.

Plus, the drink holders are just as strong as the plastic variety, which should keep those Screamin’ Reels safe, as well. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

How Giraffe Necks Stretched to New Heights

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 17, 2016 3:07 pm
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(Credit: Pearl Media/Shutterstock)

When you picture giraffes, there’s one detail you certainly won’t overlook: their necks. Their serpentine necks account for almost half of their height, and a significant amount of their fame.

In a new study that sheds some light on just how giraffe necks stretched to such heights, researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology have sequenced the giraffe genome, as well as the genome of its closest relative, the okapi, for the first time. The analysis highlights 70 genes that show signs of adaptions unique to giraffes, which researchers say play a key role in giving giraffes a chin up on other animals.   Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals, evolution, genetics

Transparent Wood Is a Surprisingly Versatile Material

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 16, 2016 3:38 pm
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A block of wood before and after the two-step process to turn it transparent. (Credit: Liangbing Hu)

Wood makes for better walls than windows — most of the time.

Researchers from the University of Maryland devised a way to strip the colors and and chemicals from a block of wood to leave behind a clear, transparent material that’s stronger and more insulating than glass, and biodegrades better than plastic. Read More

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

With SkinTrack, Your Arm is the Touchpad

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 13, 2016 2:18 pm
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The SkinTrack in action. (Credit: Gierad Laput)

When smartwatches started appearing on store shelves, there was one nagging question about the devices: “How can anyone play Angry Birds on this?”

A solution is imminent.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Group have made the process of flinging colorful birds at evil pigs as simple as stroking your forearm. The SkinTrack system has two primary components: a signal-emitting ring that’s worn the index finger and a sensing band. The ring sends high-frequency electrical signals through the skin, and electrodes in the sensor band detect the signal’s phase differences to track distance and movement.  Read More

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

Computer Algorithm Turns Videos into Living Van Goghs

By Carl Engelking | May 12, 2016 2:25 pm

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Computers are becoming rather versatile copycats, thanks to deep-learning algorithms.

Just last year, researchers “trained” machines to transfer the brushstrokes of iconic artists onto any still image. Now, Manuel Ruder and a team of computer scientists from the University of Freiburg in Germany have taken the technology a step further: They’re altering videos. The team’s style transfer algorithm makes clips from Ice Age or the television show Miss Marple appear as living paintings crafted by the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso or any other artist. And the results speak for themselves. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

In Movie Theaters, Suspense Literally Hangs in the Air

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 12, 2016 5:40 am
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(Credit: CREATISTA/Shutterstock)

When someone says “suspense is in the air,” they’re being more literal than they realize.

A new study from German researchers shows that we exhale a unique mix of chemicals when experiencing certain strong emotions, such as fear or excitement, and that these invisible signatures can be monitored to track how an individual or crowd of people is responding. To test their theory, they went to the theater, where suspense, terror and laughter abound.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: emotions

Watch: False Killer Whales Hunt Down a Shark

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 11, 2016 2:06 pm

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A high-speed chase off the coast of Australia claimed the life of a juvenile shark after it was hunted and eaten by a group of false killer whales.

Video of the hunt was captured by photographer Bruno Kataoka and broadcast on local TV station 7 News Sydney. The hunt went down off the coast of Cronulla, a suburb of Sydney. Kataoka spotted the whales chasing their prey while flying a drone with an camera attached, and he followed the hunt until a whale lunged from below and captured the shark in its jaws before dragging it down into the depths. Read More

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

These Idioms Are Destroyed by Science

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 10, 2016 3:44 pm

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A recent study from two undergraduates at the University of Leicester has proven, once and for all, that Justin Timberlake doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

In a short paper, the students demonstrate that it is physically impossible for a person to cry a river. Even if we made every person on Earth watch Titanic while simultaneously listening to Sarah McLachlan, and then gathered the inevitable flood of tears, all of humanity still wouldn’t fill a river.

As a benchmark, they used the shortest river on the planet, the Roe River on Montana, which is 61 meters long and sees about 153 million gallons of water pass through a day. They then took the average volume of tears cried in a minute (yes, someone actually measured this) carried through to a whole day, and found that there just aren’t enough people on Earth to fill a river with tears of joy or sadness. They do say, however, that if everyone on Earth contributed a modest 55 tears, we could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool with our sorrows. Someone tell Justin he needs to change the name of his song.

While most of us safely assumed crying was an exaggeration, someone finally took the time to give the lighthearted idiom the scientific scrutiny it deserves. And in the spirit of crushing popular sayings with science, and equipping you with pretentious cocktail party knowledge, here’s a look at how other turns of phrase stack up to the rigors of science.

Better Idiom: “Cry me an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

Blind as a Bat

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(Credit: Maksimilian/Shutterstock)

As Discover‘s Christie Wilcox pointed out in March, bats actually see just fine. Don’t worry though, even Neil deGrasse Tyson got tripped up by this one. Contrary to the popular assumption, all bats have working eyes, and some can even see better than we can. The stereotype likely arose due to bats nocturnal nature, and the fact that they use echolocation to hunt, an ability that lets them “see” using sound waves.

Studies have shown that bats’ eyes contain all of the structures necessary for sight, and that the role of opsins — light-sensitive proteins used in vision — has changed over time, indicating that sight is important to them. In addition, a family of bats called the megabats has very well-developed eyes that are likely a result of their habit of hunting at dawn and dusk, when eyesight is of even greater importance.

It seems that bats use a combination of both echolocation to navigate and hunt, rendering “blind as a bat” patently false. To be blind as a bat is to actually have pretty decent eyesight. Maybe the term could be repurposed as a compliment?

Better Idiom: “You’re as blind as a bat, which is to say your eyesight is pretty good, so congratulations on that.”

Skin of Your Teeth

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(Credit: Lucky Business/Shutterstock)

While the phrase denotes a close call — making such a narrow escape that only the “skin” of your teeth separated you from disaster — the saying conjures up a decidedly odd image. As anyone can tell with a quick look, our teeth don’t have skin, at least not in the way we think of it. However, there is a connection between skin and teeth, even though it may not align with our own conceptions.

Our teeth are coated with enamel, a form of crystalline calcium phosphate that also happens to be the hardest substance in our bodies. This thin layer of minerals acts much like our own skin does, protecting the rest of the tooth from wear and damage. And, it appears that our enamel may have actually evolved from skin, millions of years ago. Looking at the North American gar, as well as extinct species of fish that evolved into land animals, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden found a substance very similar to enamel coating their scales. They think that this substance went on to become a protective coating for our teeth — the “skin” if you will.

Better Idiom: “We made it out by the enamel of our teeth. So it was pretty close, and also very hard.”

A Leopard Never Changes Its Spots

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(Credit: Blanka Berenkova/Shutterstock)

While a leopard may not be able to alter the pattern of its unique markings at will, their spots do undergo noticeable changes at one point in their lives. As a leopard develops, the simple baby spots on its coat morph into the intricate rosettes that distinguish the big cats as adults. A team of researchers at Chung-Hsing University in Taiwan modeled this  transformation, based on work by Alan Turing, better known as the “Father of Computing.”

Turing proposed a mathematical model for how a dye could spread through skin to produce repeating patterns, like those seen on leopards and cheetahs. His model produced startlingly accurate representations of animal coats. The Chung-Hsing researchers took his work a step further and proposed a two-step model that more closely mimicked how leopards developed, and produced leopard-like rosettes with their model. However, there is one caveat: the model as suggested by the researchers has never actually been observed in real cats, meaning that the secret of their spots is still unknown.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that leopards do change their spots, if only once. Perhaps there’s hope for us after all.

Better Idiom: “A leopard never changes its spots, except when it’s a teenager, and then just once and never again”

Once in a Blue Moon

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(Credit: Yuriy Vahlenko/Shutterstock)

Although this phrase usually refers to something that’s an extremely rare occurrence, the actual event isn’t that rare at all. A Blue Moon is commonly held to be a second full moon in a month, which is a product of a 29-day lunar cycle. Eleven of the 12 months on the calendar are, of course, slightly longer. An older definition of the term posits a Blue Moon as the fourth full moon in a season, when most seasons usually only have three. Both events happen roughly every year, and some special years even get two Blue Moons — the last was 1999.

While either definition works, there is also a much more literal version of a Blue Moon, although this event is actually pretty rare. Moons that were literally blue have been reported after large volcanic eruptions and forest fires, both events that shot a large amount of soot and particulates into the air. The dusty air refracted light in a different way, giving the moon a bluish tinge. Such “Blue Moons” were reported after the eruption of Krakatoa, Mount St. Helens and after forest fires in Sweden and Canada in the 1950s.

Better Idiom: “Once in a blue moon, so not that rarely, except if we’re talking about volcanoes.”

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