In 2009, the hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse released the song “Miracles.” The song asks how certain things work: stars, rainbows, inherited genetic traits, magnets–and other stuff to “shock your eyelids.” The exact lyrics are a bit off-color for this blog, but the two singing clowns certainly ask some valid questions. Unfortunately, the song attributes these scientific happenings to “magic” noting, “I don’t wanna talk to a scientist.”
For members of the somewhat nontraditional science outreach group Nosebridge, that simply wouldn’t do. Surely, Insane Clown Posse fans–called juggalos–wanted to know the real answer to how a “[expletive] magnet” works! So earlier this summer, the Nosebridge crew brought their posters to a crowd of fans waiting to go into a concert. Surely those fans would be interested in understanding the science behind apparent miracles like magnetism.
The videos and other pictures, available on the blog Laughing Squid, show the real magic that unfolded that evening. The Nosebridge team reports that many juggalos were very receptive to learning, for example, why a solar eclipse happens, but eventually San Francisco police had to step in to make sure things didn’t get too physical.
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Image: flickr /michiexile
If lightning strikes nearby, you might be in for some incredible hallucinations that resemble what is known as “ball lightning,” according to a pair of scientists from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
In the lab, test subjects can experience these visions of shining spheres and lines when they undergo transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which use huge superconducting magnets create electric fields in the brain up to 0.5 Tesla. (That’s a lot; a plain-old bar magnet is only around .01 T.)
According to Technology Review:
“If this happens in the lab, then why not in the real world too, say [researchers] Joseph Peer and Alexander Kendl… They calculate that the rapidly changing fields associated with repeated lightning strikes are powerful enough to cause a similar phenomenon in humans within 200 metres.”
So when lightning strikes nearby, it can induce fields similar to the ones created by transcranial stimulation. That means you could experience luminous lines and spheres, just like subjects do in the lab.
“As a conservative estimate, roughly 1% of (otherwise unharmed) close lightning experiencers are likely to perceive transcranially induced above-threshold cortical stimuli,” say Peer and Kendl. They add that these observers need not be outside but could be otherwise safely inside buildings or even sitting in aircraft.”
That makes us wonder when else naturally occurring electric or magnetic fields might be strong enough to create hallucinations. Far out.
Image: flickr / knapp
Researchers at University of Waterloo built a prototype microrobot for maneuverability, powered it with a magnetic field, and used cameras and laser sensors to watch it hover softly over surfaces. Having the robot fly was a feat in and of itself, but engineering professor Behrad Khamesee tackled it knowing that the payoffs would be huge if the bot could help researchers move objects with more precision in the microscale environment.
A computer tracks the robot’s every flutter as it fetches objects on command, grabbing them with its microgrippers. When an externally controlled laser beam is turned on, the microgrippers heat up and open, and when the laser is off, they cool down and close. In the absence of electronic wires to control its flight, an array of electromagnets below the robot powers it, so it can “float freely” in the air.
Crocodiles will do just about anything to get home. A few years ago, three crocodiles were air-lifted hundreds of miles away from their habitat, and shocked everyone when they returned—a massive feat, considering crocs walk at a nail-biting speed of 10 miles per week.
Now that urban life is basically sitting on prime crocodile territory in Miami and the Florida Keys, the gator state is facing a problem: The current method of removing a crocodile from someone’s backyard canal and releasing it into the wild just isn’t enough, since they keep coming back. So the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions is experimenting with new methods of croc-removal…such as strapping magnets to each side of a crocodile’s head.
The logic is that the magnets will disorient the animal so much that it will stay lost in the wild. But will it really work?
It’s like they waved a magic wand over 26-year-old Josh Villa’s head. For the first time, researchers have used a magnet to literally jolt a person out of a vegetative state. Villa had spent the past three years in a coma, after a car crash left him with traumatic brain injuries.
The “magic,” of course, was no magic at all, but rather an example of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a brain stimulation technique that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain by placing a large electromagnetic coil on a person’s scalp. Typically, TMS is used to treat patients suffering from migraine, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and depression—but in this case, scientists used TMS as a last resort to treat Villa after he showed no signs of improvement after spending a year in a coma.
If you ever thought driving the same bus route over and over would be a boring job, just imagine if you weren’t even steering.
University of California, Berkeley researchers ran the first public test of their magnetically-steered bus system last week on a public street in San Leandro, Calif. While a human driver controlled braking and acceleration, a series of magnets embedded in the road guided the bus along its route. With the driving out of human hands, the scientists say, the bus runs its route more efficiently than ever—effortlessly pulling up to within a finger’s width of the curb to allow passengers easy access.