Archive for April, 2008

Remote-Controlled Flying Jellyfish!

By Lizzie Buchen | April 30, 2008 12:09 pm

(click here if the video isn’t working)

No, it’s not the second coming of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—but it’s just as awesome. AirJelly, a remote-controlled helium balloon, was built by engineers at the Swiss Materials Science & Technology Development (EMPA) in Dübendorf, who were inspired by the jellyfish’s endurance through evolutionary time.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Solving Pre-Crimes By Homing in on Sweat Gland Antennae

By Lizzie Buchen | April 30, 2008 12:07 pm

sweat.jpgResearchers at the department of Applied Physics of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem can smell a lie from a mile away. Or, at least, they can detect changes in levels of perspiration from about 10 inches away, using millions of tiny antennae that cover our bodies—sweat glands.

Sweat glands, it turns out, are shaped like tiny coils. Physicist Yuri Feldman had been spending a bit too much time in the applied physics lab, and when he saw the shape he thought of helical antennae in wireless communication systems. This gave them an interesting idea: The ducts might be able to send out an electromagnetic signal, enabling remote sweat detection.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: lie-detectors

Choosing Wines Now Honed to a Science

By Melissa Lafsky | April 30, 2008 10:07 am

WineEver wonder what spurred you to order that bottle of Chablis? As it turns out, researchers are hard at work deciphering the answer to your question. Brock University in Ontario has announced the opening of its Consumer Perception and Cognition Lab, which is touted by the Calgary Herald as the “first academic facility in North America dedicated exclusively to studying the link between consumer approval and wine’s origins and flavours.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?

First Rule of Being a Successful STD: Make Sure the Host Still Has Sex

By Lizzie Buchen | April 29, 2008 12:59 pm

condom-dress.jpgPathogens—those selfish beasts—will do anything to stay alive and procreate. They force us to sneeze and contaminate the water supply with our own diarrhea, they turn ants into berries and make rodents lose their fear of cats, and—in the case of some sexually transmitted diseases like herpes and syphilis—they ooze out of open sores into the ripe bodies of the next host.

But an essay in the New York Times explains that STDs are careful to keep the grossness to a sustainable level. After all, pathogens have to make sure potential hosts still want to have sex with the current host—a lesson which syphilis learned after Columbus brought the disease to Europe. In those days, its sores dwarfed those caused by another fearsome disease—called “small pox” to distinguish it from syphilis, the “great pox.” The Times cites a description of syphilis from Ulrich von Hutten, written in 1519:

“Boils that stood out like Acorns, from whence issued such filthy stinking Matter, that whosoever came within the Scent, believed himself infected. The Colour of these was of a dark Green and the very Aspect as shocking as the pain itself, which yet was as if the Sick had laid upon a fire.”

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Artificial Blood May Lead to Very Real Death

By Melissa Lafsky | April 29, 2008 11:28 am

bloodHuman trials of an artificial blood substitute have been halted after a study revealed that the fake blood led to a 30 percent higher risk of death and tripled the risk of heart attack in surgical, stroke, and trauma patients. Five human trials of artificial blood are currently underway in eight countries, and at least one more is being planned for the U.S.—at least, until this new study circulates.

Blood substitutes, which consist of chemically modified hemoglobin—a protein that carries oxygen—were developed as a means of providing much-needed blood for trauma victims. The benefits of the substitute over the real thing include a longer shelf life and easier storage—no refrigeration is required, meaning the blood could save lives on the battlefield—plus the manufactured blood can’t carry any diseases and doesn’t need to be matched to a patient’s blood type.

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Big Sugar Rears Its Big Bitter Head

By Lizzie Buchen | April 29, 2008 11:03 am


A few months ago at a party, one of my friends pulled a group of us aside, pulled an inconspicuous clear plastic bag out of his pocket, and cautiously opened it as we peered inside. The bag contained a small handful of red berries—magical berries, he proclaimed—which would completely alter our reality. He’d been under the mind-warping influence of such berries before, and was able to get his hands on them in San Francisco. Eat these berries, and afterwards… everything tastes sweet.

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MORE ABOUT: health policy, sugar

Scientists May Have Discovered Natural Sumo Elements

By Lizzie Buchen | April 28, 2008 5:19 pm

sumo.jpgWeighing in at more than 103 atomic units, the superheavy elements help physicists explore freaky concepts like magic numbers and the island of stability, helping us understand why nature contains only a finite number of elements. But so far, all superheavy atoms have only been made synthetically by smashing nuclei together and hoping they stick. All of these new elements are pretty much useless because they decay in a few seconds at most.

But today, the physics arXiv blog reports on a possible discovery (pdf) of stable, naturally occurring superheavy nuclei, found lying around in a pile of thorium. When researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem dug through with their mass spectrometer, they discovered a mysterious element with an atomic weight of 292, an atomic number of about 122, and a half-life greater than 100 million years.

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600 HP, with a Crisp and Clean Pine Scent

By Lizzie Buchen | April 28, 2008 3:01 pm

wood-car.jpgThere are some things that most people think should never be made out of wood—things that produce extreme heat through a combustion process, say, or things that could collide with an oncoming semi at 190 mph while carrying human cargo. But you never know unless you try—so a group of industrial design grad students at North Carolina State are taking on the absurdly ambitious, and very cool, task of building a high-powered, high-speed automobile out of wood, held together mostly by glue.

The specs are impressive—over 600 hp, top speed of 190 mph, zero to 60 in just over three seconds, 2,500 pounds, and 20 mpg—but it’s all pretty hypothetical at the moment (as are, I assume, the Lambo-style doors). But the aptly named “Splinter” isn’t just a bunch of two-by-fours nailed together. The students are using the project to explore the potential of wood as a building material, so pretty much every part contains wood composites, like plywood. The car also contains a fair amount of glass and metal—including the shocks and a Cadillac Northstar sourced V-8 combustion engine.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: cars, gadgets

Can Gene Therapy Cure the Blind?

By Melissa Lafsky | April 28, 2008 1:41 pm

gene therapyThe New England Journal of Medicine has published a report stating that scientists in the U.S. and the U.K. have performed the first successful use of gene therapy—the process of replacing “defective” genes with normal ones—to “dramatically improve” the sight of people with a rare hereditary eye disease that causes blindness. Six subjects received the treatment and four saw their vision partially restored, according to the AP, and experts predict that the technique, if it continues its success in more trials, could be used to treat other blindness-causing diseases.

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Weekly Science Blog Roundup

By Melissa Lafsky | April 25, 2008 1:30 pm

roundup• Terra Sigillata takes on the “Are there too many female doctors?” debate.

• Wired brings us this video that turns an interview with Yearning for Zion Ranch wives into a “weirdo dance-music mashup”—though it’s hard to get much weirder than the original interview.

• We’ve covered how useful dogs are as drug sniffers. So why not take the best noses around and clone them? (Along with the rest of the dog, that is.)

• Framing Science offers an analysis of the controversial cover for Time magazine’s global warming issue, as well as the debate surrounding it.

• Tom Simonite at New Scientist asks: Will a tanking economy in real life lead to a booming economy in Second Life?

• Feeling secure in your mastery of the universe? Take John Tierney’s three-question astronomy quiz. (Answers here.)


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