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

                            

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This ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ is halving instances of anaemia in Cambodia

Anaemia is the most common and widespread nutritional disorders in the world, affecting 2 billion people globally – or over 30 percent of the world’s population. But Canadian scientists have come up with an ingenius solution, and it’s so simple, it fits in the palm of your hand. Meet the Lucky Iron Fish – a chunk of iron that’s thrown into the saucepan and boiled with lemon to give adults 75 percent of their daily recommended iron intake, and close to 100 percent for kids.

The idea came to University of Guelph public health researcher, Christopher Charles, during a trip to Cambodia six years ago, when he realised how widespread anaemia was. He saw the disorder was stunting the children’s development and leaving the women so tired they were unable to work. Iron tablets weren’t working, as they were hard to distribute and left locals with unpleasant side effects, writes Philippa Roxby for BBC Health. With previous research showing that cooking in an iron pan increased the iron content of food, Charles decided to make lumps of iron that the locals could boil to increase their iron intake.

Shaped like little smiling fish – a symbol of luck in Cambodian culture – these inexpensive iron lumps are about 7.5 centimetres long and weigh 200 grams. What makes them special is that when they’re heated up in a pan, they release iron at exactly the right concentration to provide the majority of the local’s recommended daily iron intake. The recipe is simple: boil the fish in water or soup for 10 minutes, remove from the heat, and add a generous dash of lemon juice to foster iron absorption.  Source: This ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ is halving instances of anaemia in Cambodia

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Meet Sprite

Meet Sprite, the most portable, most durable small unmanned aerial vehicle in the world. Powerful, yet simple to fly.

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Yes! A test track is being built for Elon Musk’s 1,200-km/h train

It could take you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. Plans to build Elon Musk’s proposed Hyperloop train, which could theoretically travel faster than an airplane, are getting excitingly real, with a company signing a deal to build the world’s first Hyperloop test track in central California.The 8-km (5-mile) pilot project won’t be long enough to reach the proposed 1,200 km/h (800 mph) speeds of the Hyperloop train, but it’s a crucial first step, and is expected to begin construction at the start of next year.

The Hyperloop was first proposed by Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, in 2013, and works by transporting passengers through low-pressure tubes inside little pods at incredibly high speeds – sort of like the way mail used to be sucked around building using pneumatic tubes. This system, in theory, is incredibly cheap and energy-efficient to run, and could comfortably take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a mind-blowing 30 minutes. But despite coming up with a 57-page white paper outlining the idea, Musk admitted that he didn’t have time to work on the project, and at the end of last year, a group of engineers called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc began crowd-funding their own Hyperloop research. And they’re wasting not any time, with Ryan Citron over at Navigant Research Blog reporting that they’ve struck a deal with landowners to build an estimated US$100 million pilot track along California’s Interstate 5 highway, which connects LA with San Francisco. Source: Yes! A test track is being built for Elon Musk’s 1,200-km/h train

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Researchers first to create a single-molecule diode

Under the direction of Latha Venkataraman, associate professor of applied physics at Columbia Engineering, researchers have designed a new technique to create a single-molecule diode, and, in doing so, they have developed molecular diodes that perform 50 times better than all prior designs. Venkataraman’s group is the first to develop a single-molecule diode that may have real-world technological applications for nanoscale devices. Their paper, “Single-Molecule Diodes with High On-Off Ratios through Environmental Control,” is published May 25 in Nature Nanotechnology. “

Our new approach created a single-molecule diode that has a high (>250) rectification and a high “on” current (~ 0.1 micro Amps),” says Venkataraman. “Constructing a device where the active elements are only a single molecule has long been a tantalizing dream in nanoscience. This goal, which has been the ‘holy grail’ of molecular electronics ever since its inception with Aviram and Ratner’s 1974 seminal paper, represents the ultimate in functional miniaturization that can be achieved for an electronic device.”

With electronic devices becoming smaller every day, the field of molecular electronics has become ever more critical in solving the problem of further miniaturization, and single molecules represent the limit of miniaturization. The idea of creating a single-molecule diode was suggested by Arieh Aviram and Mark Ratner who theorized in 1974 that a molecule could act as a rectifier, a one-way conductor of electric current. Researchers have since been exploring the charge-transport properties of molecules. They have shown that single-molecules attached to metal electrodes (single-molecule junctions) can be made to act as a variety of circuit elements, including resistors, switches, transistors, and, indeed, diodes. They have learned that it is possible to see quantum mechanical effects, such as interference, manifest in the conductance properties of molecular junctions. Source: Researchers first to create a single-molecule diode

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Solar Impulse faces ‘moment of truth’

It will be a test of man and machine. The Solar Impulse project is about to undertake its greatest challenge yet – to fly non-stop from Nanjing in China to Hawaii in the Central Pacific. For a passenger airliner, the 8,000km could be completed in 10 hours or so. But for this solar-powered, prop-driven, experimental aircraft – it could take 5-6 days and nights of continuous flight.

So far on its epic round-the-world quest to promote clean technologies, Solar Impulse has been restricted to short hops of about 20 hours’ maximum duration. To complete this seventh leg will involve smashing several aviation records – not least the longest-duration journey for a single-seater plane. The Swiss entrepreneur and engineer Andre Borschberg, who will be at the controls, has supreme confidence in the technology, but he is in no doubt how tough the coming mission will be. “It’s more in the end about myself; it’s going to be an inner-voyage,” he told BBC News. “It’s going to be a discovery about how I feel and how I sustain myself during these 5-6 days in the air.” Source: Solar Impulse faces ‘moment of truth’

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Lambert & Stamp: The men who made The Who

One was the son of a composer, the other was a movie star’s brother. Together Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp discovered, filmed, inspired and pushed The Who to ever greater heights. Alastair McKay considers their mercurial careers and a new documentary on rock’s odd couple, Lambert & Stamp. Somewhere in the ghostly margins of Lambert and Stamp, there is a brilliant film about a 1960s rock’n’roll band. The film is stylish and jagged, taking its manners from Jean Luc Godard and la nouvelle vague, but it captures the fashions of a select corner of swinging London. It is a strange kind of film, almost as bizarre as the band it documents. That group, now known as The Who, but then operating as the High Numbers, were a combustible art project, too ugly to be famous, and too full of contradictions to survive.

The guitarist, Pete Townshend, was at art school, and the other three had jobs. The singer, Roger Daltrey, was a factory worker who was in the habit of settling arguments with his fists. Some of those arguments were with the drummer, Keith Moon, who was nobody’s idea of a conventional musician. The bass player, John Entwistle, worked in the tax office.

That film was never completed, more’s the pity, though James D Cooper’s documentary does include tantalising fragments of it, along with interviews from a French documentary about The Who and the accompanying mod movement, offering a reminder of a time when rock’n’roll was still writing its own mythology. In the case of The Who, as Townshend observes, that meant exploring the genre’s built-in obsolescence. At the start of the group’s career, he notes, everyone believed that pop music was going through phases, none of which would last long.

“So I had the idea that it would deliberately blow itself up.” A traditional rock documentary might explore that thought, and show how The Who channeled Townshend’s destructive urges over decades, despite his feeling that he would be doing something else – something more valuable – within a couple of years. More here: Lambert & Stamp: The men who made The Who

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Rockfall

rockfall

Like most scientists, geologists are classifiers. We break all sorts of features into different groups based on their properties; soils, weather patterns, volcanoes, you name it we can classify it. This image is a particular type of a mass movement called a rockfall. Mass movements start with the basic rule of gravity – when something goes up it is likely to eventually come down. That rule obviously works on Earth, including with rocks that are built into mountains.

Rocks that have been thrust upwards in mountain ranges feel the force of gravity, but the resisting forces of chemical bonds that hold rocks together and the friction between one rock and another balance that force. When rocks are broken by eroding forces such as cracking due to ice and water flowing over them, they can break away and move. It is this process that determines what we call the resulting mass movement. If everything moves chaotically while the mass slides along the ground, it would be classified as an avalanche. If everything moving downward moves as a fast, coherent mass, without much shifting of the rocks and dirt in-between, that would be a slide (landslide, mudslide, etc.). Finally, if a single rock or a handful of rocks break away and bounce, spending most of their time in the air with nothing around them, that would be called a “rockfall”

This is a huge example of a rockfall from near Jalalabad in Afghanistan. The areas in Southeast Asia dominated by mountains are obviously a common site for any type of mass movement, including rockfalls. The combination of high peaks and in some areas high rainfall causes lots of material to become unstable every year, and there tends to be a peak in dangerous falls, slides, and avalanches in the summer and early fall, just as the heavy rains from the monsoon arrive. Source: Facebook

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The Attention Test

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Featured Artworks – An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump – Joseph Wright

An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump is a 1768 oil-on-canvas painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, one of a number of candlelit scenes that Wright painted during the 1760s. The painting departed from convention of the time by depicting a scientific subject in the reverential manner formerly reserved for scenes of historical or religious significance. Wright was intimately involved in depicting the Industrial Revolution and the scientific advances of the Enlightenment, but while his paintings were recognised as something out of the ordinary by his contemporaries, his provincial status and choice of subjects meant the style was never widely imitated. The picture has been owned by the National Gallery, London since 1863 and is still regarded as a masterpiece of British art.

The painting depicts a natural philosopher, a forerunner of the modern scientist, recreating one of Robert Boyle‘s air pump experiments, in which a bird is deprived of air, before a varied group of onlookers. The group exhibits a variety of reactions, but for most of the audience scientific curiosity overcomes concern for the bird. The central figure looks out of the picture as if inviting the viewer’s participation in the outcome.

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Why Physicists Love Super Balls – the coefficient of restitution

Super Balls are toys beloved by children because of their extraordinary ability to bounce. Physicists love them for exactly the same reason. Drop a baseball on the floor and it will hardly bounce at all. Drop a Super Ball from shoulder height, and it will bounce back 92 percent of the way to the drop-off point. Super Balls also are just as bouncy vertically as they are horizontally, and they spin oddly. “Physicists love it because it has interesting physical properties,” said Rod Cross, retired professor of physics at the University of Sydney in Australia, whose latest paper on Super Balls appears in the American Journal of Physics. His research also demonstrated the odd way all balls roll.

The Super Ball was invented and patented in 1964 by chemist Norman Stingley. The ball is made of a synthetic material he called Zectron, using a polymer polybutadiene and other materials, a form of artificial rubber. It was sold to toy stores by the Wham-O company and was, for a while in the 60s, a great fad. Almost 50 years later, it is still sold by Wham-O and it is possible to imagine that many of those sales go to physicists and physics students.

A Google Scholar search of “Super ball” returned 460,000 entries, including scientific papers, poster presentations, dissertations, and books. Bouncing Super Balls has become a standard physics demonstration, Cross said, and the papers are crammed with formulas, charts, and drawings. What entrances scientists is how well the balls bounce, an ability described in jargon as the coefficient of restitution, which depends on the elasticity of the surface. The Super Ball is almost perfectly elastic in both the horizontal and vertical directions. The Super Ball has an almost perfect coefficient of restitution and does things other balls do not. Edited from: Why Physicists Love Super Balls

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Heatherwick’s Rolling Bridge

The Rolling Bridge was designed by the award-winning Heatherwick Studio, working with structural engineers SKM Anthony Hunts. Installed in August 2004, the Rolling Bridge spans an inlet of the Grand Union Canal, towards the head of Paddington Basin.

The Rolling Bridge at first appears inconspicuous; a simple steel and timber footbridge. To allow access for a boat to be moored in its inlet however, it slowly curls up until its two ends meet, forming an octagonal sculpture that stands on one side of the canal towpath.

The twelve metre bridge is made from eight triangular segments, which fold towards each other. The master unit hidden underground powers hydraulic rams within the bridge parapets, which fold the handrail. This is what enables the bridge to curl.

The Rolling Bridge was constructed at Littlehampton Welding in Sussex, and arrived at Paddington by canal. Since its official opening in September 2004 it has won a Structural Steel Award and an Emerging Architecture Award.

Every Wednesday and Friday at midday, and on Saturdays at 2pm, the team at Merchant Square delight visitors and people who live and work in Paddington by demonstrating the Rolling Bridge in action.

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Loki the Space Volcano

Imaging a volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io – from the surface of the Earth.

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Quarter of skin cells ‘on road to cancer’

More than a quarter of a middle-aged person’s skin may have already made the first steps towards cancer, a study suggests. Analysis of samples from 55- to 73-year-olds found more than 100 DNA mutations linked to cancer in every 1 sq cm (0.1 sq in) of skin. The team, at the Sanger Institute, near Cambridge, said the results were “surprising”. Experts said prevention was the best defence against damage from the sun.

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers. Ultraviolet-radiation from sunlight bombards our skin and transforms it from healthy to cancerous tissue. Seeds of cancer Many of the mutations that culminate in skin cancer are already known, but the team wanted to know when they first started to appear.

The researchers analysed excess skin that had been removed from the eyelids of four patients. They then drilled down deeply into the skin’s DNA to discover the very first steps being taken on the journey to cancer. Dr Peter Campbell, the head of cancer genetics at Sanger, told the BBC News website: “The most surprising thing is just the scale, that a quarter to a third of cells had these cancerous mutations is way higher than we’d expect, but these cells are functioning normally.” However, it would take multiple mutations – nobody is sure exactly how many – to culminate in a tumour. Source: Quarter of skin cells ‘on road to cancer’

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Shoe Store Fluoroscope

A history of the little known shoe store X-Ray machines called Fluoroscopes that were used to show your feet inside your shoes. A big hit for a short time since the designers ignored the radiation they were releasing. Oops!

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Flickering candle flame contains ‘millions of tiny diamonds that are created and disappear’

Thanks to Phil Krause for suggesting this post

As if a candlelit dinner wasn’t romantic enough. Scientists have shown that a flickering flame is studded with millions of tiny diamonds. Roughly 1.5million of the twinkling gems are created every second. Sadly, for those whose eyes are lighting up the thought of making a fortune, the jewels are so small that up to 300,000 would fit on the head of a pin. And they disappear in the blink of an eye. But if scientists come up with a way of harnessing the technology, people could use little more than a candle and a match to ‘grow’ diamonds from scratch.

As well as costing a fraction of the price of ‘real’ diamonds, they would be an ethically sound alternative to the blood diamonds mined in African war zones. An alternative source of diamonds would also be a boon to industry, which uses the fantastically hard stones in everything from saw blades to prosthetic hips. The idea comes from a St Andrews University scientist challenged to find out just what is inside a flame.

Wuzong Zhou, a professor of chemistry, said: ‘A colleague from another university said to me: “Of course, no one knows what a candle flame is actually made of.” ‘I told him I believed science could explain everything eventually, so I decided to find out.’ The professor invented a filter that allowed him to successfully extract particles from the centre of the flame, where temperatures top 1,400C, and then examined them.’ To his surprise, he discovered that the carbon in the candle wax had formed all four types of pure carbon, including diamonds and graphite, or pencil lead. Source: Flickering candle flame contains ‘millions of tiny diamonds that are created and disappear’

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Scientists identify a gene to switch the sex of a mosquito

Scientists have identified a gene within the Aedes aegypti mosquito that can be used to switch their sex, transforming disease-carrying females into benign males. The finding could result in new population control strategies, increasing the ratio of males, and helping to curb deadly diseases such as chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever, all of which are transmitted by the A. aegypti mosquito.

When it comes to mosquito-borne diseases, females are the villains. While males feed on flower nectar, females feast on humans, sucking our blood in order to gather essential nutrients, which they need to produce eggs. If there were a way to limit the number of females, conventional thinking follows that disease transmission rates would decline.

Now, researchers from Virginia Tech in the US have identified and isolated the sex determining gene – which they call Nix – and have used it to change the sex-organs of female mosquitoes. “Nix provides us with exciting opportunities to harness mosquito sex in the fight against infectious diseases because maleness is the ultimate disease-refractory trait,” one of the team, biochemist Zhijian Jake Tu, said in a press release. Source: Scientists identify a gene to switch the sex of a mosquito

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Oldest stone tools pre-date earliest humans

The world’s oldest stone tools have been discovered, scientists report. They were unearthed from the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya, and date to 3.3 million years ago. They are 700,000 years older than any tools found before, even pre-dating the earliest humans in the Homo genus. The find, reported in Nature, suggests that more ancient species, such as Australopithecus afarensis or Kenyanthropus platyops, may have been more sophisticated than was thought. “They are significantly earlier than anything that has been found previously,” said Dr Nick Taylor, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. “It’s really quite astonishing to think what separates the previous oldest site and this site is 700,000 years of time. It’s monumental.”

The first tools from the site, which is called Lomekwi 3, were discovered in 2011. They were spotted after researchers took a wrong turn as they walked through the hot, dry Kenyan landscape. By the end of 2012, a total of 149 tools had been found, and another field trip in 2014 has unearthed more still. They include sharp flakes of stone, sheared off from larger rocks, which were most likely used for cutting. Hammers and anvils were also excavated, some of which were huge in size.

“The very largest one we have weighs 15kg, which is massive,” Dr Taylor told BBC News.” On this piece, it doesn’t show the signs of actually having been flaked to produce other artefacts… rather, it was probably used as an anvil. “It probably rested in the soil and the other cobbles brought to the site, which were intended to be smashed apart to make tools, were struck against this large anvil.” Source: Oldest stone tools pre-date earliest humans

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Jibo: The World’s First Social Robot for the Home

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Real Time Red Blood Cell Cycle

Blood Cell Cycle

An animation of a typical human red blood cell cycle in the circulatory system. This animation occurs at real time (20 seconds of cycle) and shows the red blood cell deform as it enters capillaries, as well as changing color as it alternates in states of oxygenation along the circulatory system. Via Wiki

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Why do candles re-light?

As you can see above, you can blow out a candle and then light it again without ever touching the wick, simply by holding a flame to the smoke trail – just like magic. But what’s actually going on here? And the results are pretty beautiful:

Actually, the smoke contains vaporised bits of wax that haven’t fully burnt as yet. And so when you hold a flame to that smoke trail, the fire can burn its way down to relight the candle, igniting little particles of wax as it goes

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