Attention, beach-going children: science has something to say to you.
You know that towering castle of bucket-ramparts and seashell turrets you built last week with your dad?
Can’t touch this.
In a very poorly copy-edited but technically interesting paper, materials scientists from Iran, France, and the Netherlands delve into the physics behind why a little bit of water transforms sand into good castle-building material. They calculate the relationship between the width of a sand-tower’s base and the height it can reach and verify it by building sand skyscrapers, which you can see to the right. They estimate that a tower with a base radius of 20 centimeters can get to 2.5 meters high before buckling.
Some song-lovers may say that music’s in their genes. One young British boffin goes a step further by putting music in his jeans: he wears the world’s first pants-borne, playable electronic drum kit, complete with eight different drum sounds. And just so those pants aren’t lonely, another group of engineers has figured out a way to print sensors onto plastic, possibly making way for commercialized yoga mat drums (did somebody order that?) and more drums made out of things that aren’t drums.
The bloke inside the drummable jeans is Aseem Mishra, a 17-year-old British student who nabbed this year’s Young Engineer Of Great Britain award. His invention allows people to perform drum solos on their legs (video) by tapping eight paper-thin sensors sewn into the back of the fabric. The prototype must be plugged into a loudspeaker-toting backpack to make noise; Mishra says future models won’t be tied down like that.
Most people outgrow the days of carving rivulets in mashed potato mountains or castles out of seasoned squash—but scientists aren’t “most people.” One ragtag team of researchers and culinary experts are harnessing the power of 3-D food printers to bring the science of playing-with-your-food to new levels, such as outer space.
In a project called fab@home, Cornell’s Computational Synthesis Laboratory and the French Culinary Institute have made a giant leap for mankind by fashioning a miniature space shuttle made of pureed scallops and cheese.
So what does it take to create such intricate food sculptures? Cornell graduate research student Jeffrey Lipton told CBC News:
“The process is pretty simple … Just as … your 2D printer puts droplets of ink onto a page to create an image, this draws lines of material on top of each other to create a 3D object.”
A paper that explores the unlikely coupling of warm wine and the electric properties of iron is currently making its rounds on the media circuit—leading us to conclude that people get excited about science when there is alcohol involved.
“Drunk scientists pour wine on superconductors and make incredibly discovery,” declares the (slightly inaccurate) headline on io9. “’Tis the season to be pickling your liver in alcohol,” announces the (slightly irrelevant) opening line of a CNET article.
The researchers’ experiment—led by Keita Deguchi of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan—involved first submersing an iron alloy in various hot alcoholic beverages, and then finding the temperature at which the treated alloy starts to display superconducting properties. A superconductor is a material that has no electrical resistivity, allowing electrons to flow through it with essentially zero friction.
The paper abstract, which was published on arXiv, gives an overview of the experiment’s findings and method (although there’s no mention of beverage consumption that might have inspired these scientific antics):
“We found that hot commercial alcohol drinks are much effective to induce superconductivity in FeTe0.8S0.2 compared to water, ethanol and water-ethanol mixture…. Any elements in alcohol drinks, other than water and ethanol, would play an important role to induce superconductivity.”
We’ve asked tiny nanostructures to thwart counterfeiters, heal wounds, and boost computing power. Now, we want to eat them. Researchers have made “all-natural metal-organic frameworks”–and hope their creations’ edible frames may find use storing small molecules in foods and medical devices.
Though researchers have made similar metal-organic frameworks since 1999, most of the structures require chemicals from crude oil. As described in a recently published Angewandte Chemie paper, this team has devised a cheaper method employing starch molecules leftover from corn production.
The trick was to make a substance crystallize as a highly ordered, symmetrical, porous framework. Getting tiny symmetrical structures from asymmetrical natural ingredients had seemed unlikely, but the team found the perfect molecule cages, using a special type of sugar (gamma-cyclodextrin) from the cornstarch and potassium salt. After dissolving gamma-cyclodextrin and potassium salt in water, they crystallized them to form the nano storage cubes.
Despite the sugar and salt combo, the nanostructures are not that tasty, team member Ronald Smaldone says in a press release:
“They taste kind of bitter, like a Saltine cracker, starchy and bland…. But the beauty is that all the starting materials are nontoxic, biorenewable and widely available…”
We also can’t imagine they’re that filling.
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Image: flickr / Kerrie Longo
One of the requirements for flying in a spaceship used to be near-perfect vision. When NASA relaxed its vision standards (to 20/200 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20 each eye for a mission specialist) they in turn created a new requirement–for near-perfect astronaut eyeglasses.
TruFocals (made by Zoom Focus Eyewear, LLC) might improve current astronaut spectacles by allowing space-travelers to focus mid-float on both near and far objects, whether they’re dealing with experiments or cooling loop warning indicators. As Scientific American reports, the glasses are currently undergoing NASA evaluation for space readiness–tests that include burning. The lenses will correct the condition known as presbyopia, in which aging people’s eyes lose focusing ability, making it difficult to see near objects. That’s the condition that causes people with good eyes to pick up reading glasses, and those with glasses to turn to bifocals.
Facing enemy gunshots, which would you choose: the old stand-by Kevlar vest, or a new “liquid” suit? Ongoing research at BAE Systems suggests you might be wise to pick the latter. Recent tests, BAE researchers suggest, hint that a combination of liquid and Kevlar layers might stop bullets more quickly and keep them from going as deep.
BAE tested each material’s mettle by blasting them will ball bearings fired at over 600 miles per hour from a gas gun. The video, available on the BBC site, shows a side-by-side comparison of 31 layers of Kevlar and 10 layers of Kevlar combined with the liquid.
Apparently, the liquid has a secret recipe for how it sticks together to absorb the bullet’s force. Watching the video, it seems like non-Newtonian fluids are at work (everyday examples of non-Newtonians include ketchup and peanut-butter). Though a cornstarch and water mixture stiffens when you punch it, it’s hard to see cornstarch making strides on the battlefield.
Even if he can’t divulge the details, Stewart Penny, a business development manager at BAE, told the BBC that the material is seriously sticky.
“It’s very similar to custard in the sense that the molecules lock together when it’s struck.”
BAE also believes that the new liquid suit will be less cumbersome than traditional Kevlar suits–reducing soldiers’ fatigue and also, given that it’s liquid, improving their flexibility in the field.
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Discoblog: How to Make a Bulletproof T-Shirt
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Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Best materials and methods ever.
Image: flickr/ The Ratt
Imagine a day in the future when a soldier could just roll out of bed, pull on a cotton T-shirt, and head out into a combat zone, without worrying about taking a bullet through the chest.
An international team of scientists from Switzerland, China, and the United States have moved one step closer towards the goal of a bulletproof T-shirt by combining cotton with boron carbide–the third hardest material known on earth and the stuff used to armor battle tanks.
Chemistry World reports:
Modern military forces use plates of boron carbide (B4C) as ceramic inserts for bulletproof clothing but these can restrict mobility, so the design of a nanocomposite — where B4C is used to reinforce another material — could provide the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.
Aircraft designers are always on the lookout for tough but lightweight materials. Chris Broomell of the University of California, Santa Barbara may have found a new candidate—on the head of a worm.
The ragworm, sometimes called the sandworm (but not to be confused with the hideous but fictional creatures from Dune), boasts two ultra-tough pincers that it uses to burrow into ocean sediment. At 90 percent protein, you’d expect the worm’s mouth-parts to be tough, Broomell told New Scientist, but they have an additional secret—they’re fortified with zinc. The metal bonds those proteins together, and the result is three times stronger than the polymers humans can currently create.
Like a lot of physics ideas based in quantum mechanics, the magnetic fields produced by superconductors are difficult to picture in your mind. But if you want an illustration, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy say, look in your coffee cup.
Superconductivity means that a metal offers no resistance to electricity, having expelled its magnetic field. Only some metals, like lead and aluminum, have this property, and only at extremely cold temperatures—lead must drop below a critical temperature of about 7 degrees Kelvin. But when scientists at the DOE’s Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University looked at the arrangement of superconducting lead’s magnetic domains—the groups of atoms with a preferred magnetic direction—they saw a pattern: The picture looked an awful lot like bubbles in the frothed milk on top of a cup of cappuccino.