AN ECLECTIC MIX OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, HISTORY AND THE ARTS

                            

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Asteroid Bennu’s Journey

Bennu’s Journey is a 6-minute animated movie about NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, Asteroid Bennu, and the formation of our solar system. Born from the rubble of a violent collision, hurled through space for millions of years, Asteroid Bennu has had a tough life in a rough neighborhood – the early solar system. Bennu’s Journey shows what is known and what remains mysterious about the evolution of Bennu and the planets. By retrieving a sample of Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will teach us more about the raw ingredients of the solar system and our own origins.

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What kills us – Now and then

killing-deaths_1024Researchers have reviewed all the causes of death recorded in the US in 1900 and 2010 to find out just how much society has changed over the past century. The results are fascinating. A team of researchers from the New England Journal of Medicine have done some investigating to discover how much things can change in 100 years. While the year 1900 brought with it many different causes of death, from bacterial infections to severe problems with the gut, now most of us pretty much just have heart disease and cancer to fear.

The authors note that in many respects, the medical systems of today are best suited to the killer diseases of the past, which is kind of a worry. “Disease is a complex domain of human experience, involving explanation, expectation, and meaning,” they write. “Doctors must acknowledge this complexity and formulate theories, practices, and systems that fully address the breadth and subtlety of disease.” “There’s reason to temper optimism,” Julia Belluz adds at Vox. “What kills us will continue to change – and medical advancements may not keep up.” Via Here’s everything that kills us in one morbid chart

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Is dark energy eating dark matter?

A tantalizing hint that dark matter could be slowly changing into dark energy has been uncovered by a team of cosmologists in the UK and Italy. While the specific nature of the interaction driving the conversion is not known, the process could be responsible for slowing the growth of galaxies and other large-scale structure in the universe across the past eight billion years. If the conversion continues at the current rate, the universe’s ultimate fate as a cold, dark and empty place could come sooner than expected.

Since the accelerating expansion of the universe was discovered in 1998, the best model of the evolution of the universe involves a cosmological constant (Λ) – which describes the accelerating expansion – along with cold dark matter (CDM). CDM comprises slow-moving particles that do not interact with electromagnetic radiation and are extremely long-lived. The particles account for about 85% of the matter in the universe and therefore their gravitational forces dominate the formation of large-scale structure.

While the ΛCDM model is supported by many different observations, several inconsistencies have come to light recently. Using data on cosmic-microwave-background radiation acquired in 2013 by the Planck space telescope, the ΛCDM model has been used to predict the rate at which large-scale structure should grow across the history of the universe. However, several different studies suggest that the rate at which structure is forming is slower than predicted by Planck/ΛCDM, which could mean that CDM is disappearing from the universe. More here Is dark energy eating dark matter?

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European space plane set for February launch

EUROPE’S first-ever ‘space plane’ will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace says after a three-month delay to finetune the flight plan. The unmanned, car-sized vessel will be sent into low orbit by Europe’s Vega light rocket, on a 100-minute fact-finding flight to inform plans to build a shuttle-like, reusable space vehicle. Dubbed IXV, for Intermediate experimental Vehicle, the plane will be boosted from Europe’s space pad in Kourou, French Guiana, and separate from its launcher at an altitude of 320km.

The European Space Agency website says it will attain an altitude of around 450km before re-entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120km — representative of a return mission from low orbit. Via European space plane set for February launch

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The Kilogram will be redefined in 2018

NIST3-WB-300_2If all the criteria specified by the international metrology community for measurement uncertainties and agreement among different laboratories are met, the kilogram — along with three other SI units — will be redefined in 2018. The kilogram will thereafter be defined in terms of a quantum-mechanical quantity known as the Planck constant (h) which will be assigned an exact fixed value based on the best measurements obtained worldwide.

Getting there, however, will require a great deal of work in only a few years. Measurements of h will have to be made with uncertainties in the neighborhood of 20 parts per billion. The watt balance values will have to be in good agreement with those obtained by an alternative method: defining the kilogram by counting atoms in a silicon sphere. Researchers will have to demonstrate that measurements of h, as well as the realization of the kilogram, can be made reliably and repeatably over time.

But even that is not enough. Scientists will also need to develop a dependable method of transferring watt-balance measurements made in vacuum (to eliminate buoyancy effects from the air displaced by the test mass) to standards that will be used in air. Although some organizations may construct watt balances of their own, the vast preponderance of calibrations made in government, commerce, and academe — as well as the broad nationwide dissemination of the new kilogram — will be conducted using physical standards. Via Redefining the Kilogram: the Future.

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This mini engine has only two primary moving parts

mini engineLiquidPiston is currently developing and testing the X Mini, a power-dense, low-vibration, quiet,70 cubic centimeter gasoline powered rotary four-stroke engine prototype. The compact engine (4-pound core) has only two primary moving parts. The X Mini is based on LiquidPiston’s patented thermodynamic cycle and engine architecture. To date, the X Mini prototype has demonstrated 3.5 horsepower (net indicated) at 10,000 RPM and the ability to run steady state with air-cooling. When mature, the engine is expected to weigh 3 pounds, produce over 5 horsepower at up to 15,000 RPM, and be over 30 percent smaller and lighter than comparable four-stroke piston engines.

The X Mini prototype demonstrates that LiquidPiston’s innovative engine technology can scale down in size – prior prototypes focused on 40 and 70 HP designs – and is multi-fuel capable – able to run on gasoline (spark ignition), in addition to previously demonstrated diesel and JP-8 (compression ignition). The X Mini will enable many small engine applications to be smaller, lighter, and quieter, including hand-held power equipment, lawn and garden equipment, portable generators, mopeds, unmanned aerial vehicles, robotics, marine power, range extenders, and auxiliary power units for boats, aviation and other vehicles. The engine’s improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) characteristics will also increase product performance, enhance operator comfort and prolong application life.

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You wont believe this Optical Illusion!

rubicks cube optical illusion

This optical illusion by opticalspy.com is of the famous Rubics Cube. Can you spot the illusion? Well it is difficult to notice, but the middle squares on each side are actually all the same color. Wow! If you don’t believe it, click on the picture and you will see.

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Meet the band-aid of the future

Produced by a small US biotech company called Suneris, VetiGel is a new medical adhesive made from plant-based polymers. Developed by New York University student Joe Landolina over the past four years, the gel works by causing blood platelets to stick together and clot as soon as they come into contact with it.

The Suneris lab explains how the gel works at their website:

The gel activates blood’s natural clotting process and is made with biocompatible components that can be absorbed directly into the body. By reassembling onto a wound site, VETIGEL mimics the body’s extracellular matrix and accelerates the production of fibrin, which enables the body to clot rapidly.

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Are there any mitochondria in our red blood cells?

Are there any mitochondria in our red blood cells? | Pimm - Partial immortalization

One thing people usually know is that human red blood cells do not have cell nuclei, so they are lacking chromosomal DNA. But far less people have a guess about mitochondria’s presence in the erythrocytes. So are there any mitochondria in our red blood cells?. The answer is NO, mammalian red blood cells also lose their mitochondria during erythropoiesis at phase 3, when normoblasts eject organelles. Functional red blood cells produce energy by fermentation, via anaerobic glycolysis of glucose followed by lactic acid production. As the cells do not own any protein coding DNA they cannot produce new structural or repair proteins or enzymes and their lifespan is limited. via Are there any mitochondria in our red blood cells?

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The Large Hadron Collider has observed two brand new particles

Two never-before-seen “heavy-weight” baryon particles have been detected by the world’s favourite particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. The discovery could help scientists understand more about the interactions of elementary particles.

Physicists from CERN in Geneva have discovered two new types of baryon particles named Xi_b’- and Xi_b*- (before you ask, no, we’re not sure how to pronounce them).

Baryon particles are subatomic particles such as hyperons that are made up of three strongly-bonded tiny elementary particles called quarks – which are generally thought to be some of the smallest units of matter.

Xi_b’- and Xi_b*- were both predicted to already exist by the quantum physics models, but they’d never been seen before this and scientists weren’t sure of their exact mass – something they’ve now managed to calculate. And the heavy-weight subatomic particles impressively big – both are more than six times as massive as protons. Via The Large Hadron Collider has observed two brand new particles – ScienceAlert.

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Brian Cox Particle Physics Lecture at CERN

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THE ILC – SHAPING THE FUTURE OF PARTICLE PHYSICS

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“New directions in science are launched by new tools much more often than by new concepts. The effect of a concept-driven revolution is to explain old things in new ways. The effect of a tool-driven revolution is to discover new things that have to be explained.”

Freeman Dyson, Imagined Worlds

With the discovery of a Higgs boson, the ILC has a guaranteed, rich physics programme to explore. If the new particle is truly a spinless fundamental particle, it is the only such particle that we know about. It adds a completely new dimension to our understanding of the fabric of space-time. The ILC and its detectors are precision instruments allowing the properties of the Higgs boson to be studied with laserlike focus. The impact of the ILC, however, reaches far beyond the Higgs. With its variable center of mass energy, it can, as future measurements might require, carry out a programme of ultra-precise electroweak measurements of the Z-boson, study the top quark in great depth and study the self-coupling of the Higgs boson at its highest centre-of-mass energy. Furthermore, it can make measurements which do not rely on any theoretical assumptions, thereby investigating the internal consistency of new theories. The ILC will be a tool of unprecedented versatility. As Freeman Dyson once said, “New directions in science are launched by new tools much more often than by new concepts. The effect of a concept-driven revolution is to explain old things in new ways. The effect of a tool-driven revolution is to discover new things that have to be explained”. The ILC is such a tool! Via ILC

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New self-filling water bottle harvests drinking water from the air

A new self-filling water bottle has been invented that can not only serve as a nifty device for long bike tours and races, but could also offer a new method of fresh water collection in parts of the world where groundwater sources are hard to come by.

Developed by industrial designer Kristof Retezar from Austria’s University of Applied Arts, the new device – called the ‘Fontus’ – works best in humid weather, which allows it to condense the moisture in the air into safe, fresh drinking water. Experiments have shown that under the right weather conditions, it can produce 0.5 Litres of water in just under an hour.

“My goal was to create a small, compact and self-sufficient device able to absorb humid air, separate water molecules from air molecules and store water in liquid form in a bottle,” says Retezar at the James Dyson Award website. Via ScienceAlert.

It comes to mind that your body might lose more than half a litre of water peddling a bike in the heat for an hour – Deskarati

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Daily air traffic in UK skies

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When science and art produce nanosculpture marvels

hair-zoomQuite a claim: a sculpture as the smallest creation of the human form in history. The sculptor, Jonty Hurwitz, said he loves the Internet. That is because, since the nanosculpture exhibit launch, so many people have viewed his nanosculpture work online and the work has been covered by numerous sites around the world. He created the nanosculptures using a 3D-printed photosensitive material.

small sculpture

Sarah Anderson in 3DPrint.com referred to this as impressive art that we will never see, at least not with the naked eye, as the sculptures are so small. He did a series of seven sculptures. The largest, she said, is about the width of a human hair; the smallest is less than half that width. Hurwitz did not achieve this alone; he recognized this was an effort where art meets science. It was a case of creating art with the use of quantum physics. Hurwitz enlisted a team to work this out. Hurwitz said, “The only way to perceive these works is on the screen of powerful scanning electron microscope. So how can you ever know that this sculpture really exists? Your only way to engage with it is through a screen, and a mouse separating you and the art via a vacuum and a series of mathematically mind-blowing quantum processes that shower the art with particles to map its contours. Can you be sure of its existence if your basic senses are telling you that nothing is there? The line between myth and science is fine.” Via When science and art produce nanosculpture marvels.

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Physicists suggest new way to detect dark matter

For years physicists have been looking for the universe’s elusive dark matter, but so far no one has seen any trace of it. Maybe we are looking in the wrong place? Now physicists from University of Southern Denmark propose a new technique to detect dark matter.

[A new research paper  suggests] …the possibility that dark matter can indeed interact substantially with atoms. They claim that depending on the properties of the dark matter particles, deep placed detectors can be blind because particles might have lost most of their energy before reaching the detector. “In such a case, it would make more sense to look for dark matter signals on the surface of the Earth or in shallow sites”….

Placing a detector in shallow sites or on the surface ensures small energy loss for the dark matter particles but it also means a big increase in the background noise. This was after all the reason why detectors were placed in deep sites in the first place. To overcome this problem Kouvaris and Shoemaker propose – instead of trying to detect a single collision of a dark matter particle with the detector – to look for a signal that varies periodically during the day. Because dark matter particles approach the detector from various directions, as the Earth rotates, the flux of the particles reaching the detector can vary. This causes a signal that will go from maximum to minimum in 12 hours and back to maximum again after another 12 hours.Such a pattern will make the signals from dark matter stand out clear even though the detectors also pick up cosmic noise.

“The best locations for the observation of such a modulation signal are places in the south hemisphere with latitude around 40 degrees, such as Argentina, Chile and New Zealand” says Chris Kouvaris. Edited from Physicists suggest new way to detect dark matter.

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The Singularity of 2029

Thanks to Phil Krause for suggesting the theme for this post.

irobot2

Computers will be cleverer than humans by 2029, according to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering. The entrepreneur and futurologist has predicted that in 15 years’ time computers will be more intelligent than we are and will be able to understand what we say, learn from experience, make jokes, tell stories and even flirt.

Kurzweil, 66, who is considered by some to be the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) visionary, is recognised by technologists for popularising the idea of “the singularity” – the moment in the future when men and machines will supposedly converge. Google hired him at the end of 2012 to work on the company’s next breakthrough: an artificially intelligent search engine that knows us better than we know ourselves.

In an interview in today’s Observer New Review, Kurzweil says that the company hasn’t given him a particular set of instructions, apart from helping to bring natural language understanding to Google.

“My project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means,” he said. “When you write an article, you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organising and processing the world’s information. “The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage in intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.” More here 2029: the year when robots will have the power to outsmart their maker

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Comet lander: Camera sees Philae’s hairy landing

High-resolution pictures have now been released of the Philae probe in the act of landing on Comet 67P last Wednesday. They were acquired by the Narrow Angle Camera on the Rosetta satellite, which had dropped the little robot towards the surface of the “ice mountain”. The images are presented as a mosaic covering the half-hour or so around the “first touchdown” – the probe then bounced to a stop about 1km away.

Philae lost battery power on Saturday and is no longer talking with Earth. Scientists still have not located the craft’s current resting spot. But European Space Agency controllers have not given up hope of hearing from the plucky robot again – if it can somehow get enough light on to its solar panels to recharge its systems. Getting a precise fix on its location, to then photograph its present predicament would provide a better idea of whether this is likely to happen.

The new NAC images will certainly help in this respect because they show the direction the lander took as it bounced away. Via Comet lander: Camera sees Philae’s hairy landing.

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SAM The Ultimate Internet Connected Electronics Kit

Start making without coding. Beginner or Expert, SAM is the ultimate electronics kit for inventors, artists, and students.

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The strange world inside cheese

From foot bacteria to fungal goo, the living things in cheese make it taste wonderful. Veronique Greenwood explores a microscopic world we rarely think about. Cheese, once primarily a way to extend the useful life of milk, is today quite a darling in the foodie world. It’s also fertile territory for adventurous eaters, from Stilton flecked with gold to Sardinian casu marzu writhing with live maggots. Some have even made cheeses with the bugs from their armpits and toes. But you don’t have be a connoisseur to appreciate these living castles of microorganisms. Each one is a house that bacteria and fungi built, and each has its own distinctive architectural style according the tastes of its inhabitants.

The bacterial building begins by mixing milk with lactobacillus or streptococcus to turn it acidic. An added enzyme then snips the tails off the milk proteins. Without their tails, the proteins literally fall out of the milk in solid clumps, grabbing globules of fat as they go. Cheesemakers strain out these clumps, or curds, and press them to prepare a cheese for aging. It’s during this aging that other microbes can start applying their own distinctive character. Take, for instance, Roquefort, a blue cheese dotted with tiny teal crevices. The builder here is Penicillium roqueforti, a fungus that lives naturally in French caves where true Roquefort cheese is aged, though cheesemakers around the world can add it to fresh cheese themselves to get a similar effect.

P. roqueforti is a sensitive beast. It likes air, but too much oxygen and it will die. So cheesemakers spear the cheese with metal spikes, making small, protected holes where the fungus will be safe to thrive. Once settled in, it manufactures enzymes that slice up the cheese fats into fatty acids, which give it that soapy flavour, and methyl ketones, which give it that particular smell. The fungus produces toxins that cause damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys when given to mice. But in the habitat of cheese, the substances break down into more harmless forms. More here The strange world inside cheese.

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