Sciency Stuff


The Carrington Event or It’s the End of the World and I feel Fine, Look at the Pretty Lights … From September 1st through the 2nd in 1859 the world was treated to fantastic aurora’s that lit up the skies everywhere. Telegraph systems went down. In fact some telegraph operators were able to disconnect the power from their systems and still send messages. Others watched in disbelief as the paper in their systems actually caught fire. Two astronomers, Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson were observing the sun. Both were intrigued by the sudden proliferation of sunspots in the days leading up to the event and then stunned by the sudden burst of light from a massive solar flare. Each reported the flare but Carrington was the one that linked it to the geomagnetic storm the occurred on Earth and provided the spectacular effects. But what Carrington was not aware of was the coronal mass ejection that occurred during the flare. The CME transited from the Sun to the Earth in 17.6 hours and set off the geomagnetic storm. It is believed that a prior ejection, the one that set off the first round of auroras, actually created a path through the plasma of the solar wind. This allowed the second CME to maintain its strength and momentum until it collided with Earth. At this point in time most folks would have been stunned by the auroras and perhaps frightened by sparks that flew from the telegraph pylons. They however did not have a world interconnected and dependent on technology like we do. Similar geomagnetic storms have
occurred like one in 1989 which caused power issues in Quebec. Radio disruption in 1921 and 1960 provides evidence of other potential storms. What was referred to as a ‘Carrington Class’ flare and CME combination occurred in 2012 but fortunately, the Earth was not in the path of the CME. Scientists know that the Sun follows a cycle of activity that typically lasts about 20 years. They also believe that Carrington Class events occur every several hundred years. Are we due for another one and what might
happen? Right now it’s very possible that a strong CME and the resulting geomagnetic storm could cause significant damage. Researchers estimate that a Carrington Class event could cost the US from .6 to 2.6 trillion dollars in damages. The damage is of course only the beginning. There are hundreds of lives currently tied to the ability of hospitals to provide them care. Others who depend on electricity for heat. Industries that depend on electricity for production. Electricity would be the first thing that we would lose. Our connectivity would be next. The internet is very redundant, but it has also become in some ways very necessary. All of the infrastructure we have based upon it, could rapidly collapse. The Sun is relatively stable compared to many other stars. On the other hand it also has the means to rapidly bring down our civilization. We will only ever have 8 minutes warning…

November 2017

Scientists did the math and still couldn’t explain where a great deal of the mass of the universe had gone and now they think they’ve found it. By using the cosmic background radiation to confirm estimates of the hydrogen and helium created in the instant of the big bang and other observations, cosmologists feel that our universe is composed of dark energy—70%, dark matter—23% and baryonic matter—4.6%. Of the ordinary, or baryonic matter, our observable universe of stars and galaxies only a tenth of the expected mass. Scientists now believe that the galaxies are embedded in a network of strands of dark matter and what’s been missing could be following those strands. Astronomers have confirmed that warm-hot Intergalactic matter or WHIM exists in strands between galaxies as tenuous clouds of ionized matter. With observations of in the ultraviolet spectrum, using instruments like the Hubble telescope, Astronomers have found evidence that supports WHIM existing in enough quantity to account for half to 70% of the missing mass. Additional observations using the cosmic background radiation in conjunction with something known as the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect, when photons emitted by the big bang interact with electrons in the WHIM their wavelength shortens as they gain energy. While this is difficult to detect, it does confirm that WHIM is responsible for a portion of the missing mass. The SZ effect can only confirm 30% of the missing baryonic mass, but shows that the WHIM fields are about six times denser than the universal average. Some scientists have expressed concerns about the SZ study and these may explain the difference between their results and the UV observations. The SZ survey tends to expect that the WHIM fields will align between galaxies rather than have a more standard 3D distribution, so there may be more WHIM out there than measured. It will take a powerful x-ray telescope to make a more final determination, but for now the mysterious WHIMs have provided an answer to a sought after question.


September 2017

The Square-Cube Law or Why Godzilla Isn’t

             There are lots of reasons why creatures are the size they are and why they aren’t larger or even ridiculously huge. Galileo pointed one of the simplest out a long time ago. If you take a square of any given size and make it twice as large, the area increases by the square of any increase – so two squared or four times larger than the original. So lets hop into 3D, if we increase the volume of a cube and make it three times as large it’s suddenly twenty-seven times larger in terms of volume than the original. The increase curve rises rapidly. So back to our cube, it’s suddenly twenty-seven times more massive than the original. Take an ant, which are known to be comparatively very strong for their size and scale it up to the size of a man and things go horribly awry. The very nature of the chitin and body parts of the ant are not designed to hold up to the strain of such an increase in mass, so our monster collapses under its own weight. So the only way you will end up with ants the size of those in the movie THEM, is to literally redesign the creature. There are plenty of other issues that arise, but the simplest is the bigger the creature, the greater amount of effort required to fight the force of gravity to remain upright. There are ways around that and whales and the large creatures of the ocean take advantage of them. Some archeologists believe that the Diplodocus was able to grow to its immense size due to the fact they spent a great deal of their times in swamps where the buoyancy of the water would set aside the stress on them due to their immense size. But on to our Kaiju of the moment, a certain Gohjira. At first, the initial locale of Godzilla seems to fit with what we’ve just mentioned. Godzilla comes from the sea, so therefore if it was neutrally buoyant, and then the insane weight of our kaiju might not immediately be a problem. If you imagine Godzilla merely wreaking terror in the local fishing boats and walking about on the continental shelf with just his snout appearing occasionally, this might work. But if you consider the design of Godzilla, this is a creature with a great deal of similarity to the T-Rex, on other words; it is made to walk upright. In every movie, Godzilla towers over the local buildings and is obviously several degrees larger than a T-Rex (whose physical attributes prove that you can have an upright creature of that size). The radiation that created Godzilla must have been pretty amazing in order to change its very nature to allow such a massive creature to remain upright and to also move freely. However, it should be pointed out that a number of Godzilla’s instances are rather bottom heavy with thick legs, so someone has definitely tried to balance the excess mass of Godzilla. But what if we consider one of Godzilla’s foes – Mechagodzilla. Could a bit of steel solve this problem? Sadly, unless we’re talking about some brand new version of carbon fiber steel, there just isn’t the tensile strength to create something that can move the way either Godzilla or Mechagodzilla move and remain in one piece. If we wanted to create a Godzilla building (why have you done that Japan, really?) there are certainly ways to accomplish that. Mass is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other things that limit a creature’s size, but mass and gravity are pretty obvious, so they remain the first obstacle to be overcome in order to allow creatures to scale upward.

Mermaiding for a Cause

Sometimes it’s not just enough to do what you love. Hannah Fraser (known as Hannah Mermaid), inspired by the film Splash, created her first tail at age 9. Now she prefers to use a Finis Monofin. A talented free diver and swimmer, Hannah discovered that donning the tail and playing the part wasn’t enough. While she is an active advocate for the activity of mermaiding, she also became involved in conservation and awareness efforts around the state of her favorite place, the ocean. In 2003 she began to make her pastime a career, promoting herself as a freelance mermaid. She’s done everything from underwater fashion photography to conservationist videos, as well as advertising for Finis. Hannah works with an promotes such organizations as Surfers for Cetaceans, Greenpeace and Blue Sphere in their efforts to stop pollution, over fishing and unsustainable fishing practices and the hunting of whales, sharks and other species. She also makes her own tails, which are complicated pieces that create a fluid motion underwater. All in all, the little girl who dreamed of being a mermaid found a way to not only become one but use it as a strong female role model to advocate the preservation and care of our oceans and their inhabitants.



-What exactly was on those magnetic reels located in a Pittsburgh man’s home, the world may never now. After he passed away, an unidentified man’s friend discovered a pair of computers identified as property of Goddard Space Center and a collection of 325 magnetic reels of data. Being conscientious about the find, the friend then notified NASA who collected the magnetic reels. The computers were left at the residence. A number of the reels were labeled with the indication that they were used during some very interesting missions: Pioneer 8, Pioneer 9, Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Helios 1, Helios A, and Intelsat 4. While reels were often reused or erased, it is possible there might be some interesting data on there since not all of these missions have complete archives of the information acquired. However, NASA made the determination that it would be too costly to retrieve the information and there was some health concerns about the reels, which were extremely moldy. Ultimately, NASA decided to destroy the reels. While it may seem unusual that information like this was readily available, these may have been copies of copies, items that were sold in auction when NASA hit hard times or even, as inferred by one source, kept by a contractor who liked to hoard NASA memorabilia. What is ultimately missing is the answer—what was on those tapes? Something important, something irrelevant, something we already know? The answer is out there somewhere …

-Turkey bones could help solve the mystery of the missing Anasazi. This Pueblo building culture disappeared from the Four Corners area of the West leaving behind tantalizing clues of their lives. Their fate has never been determined (in fact there was an X-Files episode about them). Experts believe that due to a massive drought, the Anasazi left Chaco Canyon and migrated south to the area along the Rio Grande. The problem is finding proof because the native peoples of the area do not want their ancient burial grounds disturbed to collect DNA evidence. However, the Anasazi had domesticated turkeys, so scientists are now looking for fowl bones instead of human ones. Mitochondrial DNA of the Chaco Canyon turkeys is similar enough to the DNA of the Rio Grande birds that experts hope it will prove that the Anasazi brought the turkeys with them and they gradually replaced the native population, thus confirming that the Anasazi moved to the river area.

June 2017

-What if it’s a photonic brain and not a positronic brain? Scientists are now building neural networks with light. Typical computing is done with transistors, which inhibit or allow the passage of electricity and require current to continue running. Using light and interacting it with other beams of light is much more efficient since the energy input does not need to be continuous. MIT researchers have created an optical chip only millimeters in size that can represent a network of 16 neural connections, four layers with four links in each. The intensity of the light represents information and the interaction of the beams is used to seek solutions to problems providing an answer that is derived from the addition or subtraction of frequencies. In effect the interactions act as surrogate neurons. Right now this is all very much at the beginning stages and a test designed to have a traditional computer and an optical neural network discern vowel sounds in human speech found the light based system had only a 77% success rate compare to a greater than 90% success rate for the ordinary computer. Keep in mind that this is still only a single chip with 16 optical neurons, the computing power will definitely in crease as more chips are added to the network. Also, the chips are silicon based and cheaper to make than traditional computer components.

-So what would you do with the resultant AI? Well, the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue went looking for some help and a neural network created by scientist Janelle Shane gave them a hand. Sometimes the issue is quantity, quantity and cuteness. The Guinea Pig Rescue had a lot of pets that needed placement and they’d realized that cute names made them more likely to be adopted. So how do you come up with that many really cute names? Enter Janelle and her creation. First she gave the network 600+ guinea pig names to start with, instructions on how closely to follow the naming nomenclature and then let it fly. The resultant: Splanky, Spockers, Princess Pow, Stargoon, Popchop, and After Pie seem to indicate that the network is on the right track. Of course there were a few flops like Butty Brlomy. What’s interesting here is this is just an initial run. The network could also be fed the information about which of its names are more successful and then learn to create even cuter names

May 2017

-Iron is very important to our society. Just imagine where we’d be without it or it’s antecedent, steel. But it’s also important to your body, primarily because it helps to change sugar to energy for our cells as well as transporting oxygen. So, if your body has issues with iron, too little or too much, that’s a very serious problem. Also it’s hard to treat because the issue is usually a protein that is not there or working incorrectly, whereas medicine either blocks or alters said the ordinary proteins behavior. Enter Martin Burke a researcher who began with yeast cells created without the means for usual iron transport and then looked for molecules that could help the process occur. Right now hinokitiol is the number one contender having produced excellent results in the lab. Derived from the hinoki, native to Taiwan, the substance has produced surprising results. Three hinokitiol molecules fasten to an iron and the outside of the composite is easily absorbed into cells aiding the transport of iron. Essentially, the hinokitiol becomes a molecular prosthesis for the missing or damaged proteins. Burke believes that hinokitiol could be used to help diseases like anemia, cystic fibrosis and lupus.

-Sometimes it’s not what’s in the foreground, but rather in the background that makes people speculate. Many are familiar with Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, primarily due to the central image of the open mouthed figure. But others are looking at the background, in particular the clouds. One theory goes that the reds and oranges that are prevalent were inspired by the sunsets resulting from the Krakatoa eruption. However, a new theory has come to light – an unusual weather phenomenon called Mother of Pearl Clouds could be what Munch was trying to portray. These stratospheric clouds, also known as Nacreous Clouds require a very unique set of circumstances: high humidity, extreme cold, very thin cloud layers and sunset or sunrise. The result is very striking and looks like smeared bands of color. So meteorologists believe that the rarity of the event and the uniqueness of the clouds would have made a lasting impression on the artist.

-Congratulations, artificial meat is arriving – but which government is going to regulate it? Memphis Meats produced what it is calling Clean Poultry, chicken and duck meat produced from cultured cells and hopes to have it on the shelf in 5 years. Another company, Perfect Day expects to have dairy products (made without the cow) out for consumption by the end of this year. The issue is that who is in charge of regulating these products is unclear. The FDA usually approves biologics and the USDA approves meat, eggs and poultry. Right now the process of deciding is still going on. In the past, marketing was usually done to align a new product with something already marked as safe. Perfect Day’s products are comparable to natural components that are already regulated, so they can make a case that their whole product should be safe because what it’s made of are already regulated. It’s merely a case of how the product is made, rather than the building blocks. The question does still remain – who puts the stamp of approval on the package.

April 2017

-MIT has created a device, which can pull water from low humidity air powered by the sun. The primary component is a metal-organic framework composed of zirconium and adipic acid. This framework can bind water vapor and then the solar energy forces it to a condenser and this and allows the collection of water over time. A single one kilogram unit can condense 3 quarts of water from air with 20-30%
humidity in a day’s time. One of the senior authors of the paper recently presented announcing the device, Omar Yaghi, states that he feels that there are other metal-organic frameworks that may be more efficient. So perhaps it is best to view this as a proof of concept, the condenser works and now it is up to future scientist to improve on its efficiency. (In consideration of this month’s book, The Parable of the Sower– Octavia Butler, and the character’s continual struggles to obtain water—this article jumped to the top of the list…)
-But if you are still looking for water and need to gain it through desalinization or even treat it for contaminants, MIT is once again working on solutions. Their Solar Vapor Generator is composed of a concentrator, which is a material often used to insulate solar water heaters that selectively absorbs visible light but does not radiate infrared. Below this is a copper sheet. Since the copper is a good conductor is reradiates the heat into the next element a piece of insulated foam. When the entire device is placed in water, the foam draws up the liquid which is then exposed to the radiated heat. However, the experimenters were still missing one key element and it came from an unexpected place. The generated heat was still escaping due to convection– even a little bit of breeze could steal away the device’s efficiency. One of the researcher’s daughters was participating in a science fair and building her own greenhouse using bubble wrap. Suddenly, bubble wrap appeared to be the answer to the problem!
Larger bubble wrap with clearer bubbles provided the missing link to make the Solar Vapor Generator work. In typical MIT fashion (tested the same way as the device mentioned above), researchers took their experiment onto the roof of their building and tested it out. Even in cool overcast weather, the generator was able to boil water. Since this technology is relatively easy to scale up, scientists hope that it can be used in sheets to treat water or even desalinate it. There are no moving pieces to fail and with a relatively low cost, these sheets are an interesting alternative to current methods.

March 2017

-Diabetes sufferers maybe in for a surprise and also might be able to leave behind jabbing their fingers for glucose monitoring. A new development in soft bioelectronics uses a patch, which detects levels of glucose on the sweat produced by the wearers body. The patch is disposable and also contains necessary medicine to control the glucose level of the wearer. Through a system of microneedles and nanoparticles the necessary drugs are imparted to the wearer. The internal sensors are designed to additional
monitor temperature, humidity and PH to adjust the treatment.
-What if there’s another reason to create humaniform androids and it’s one we’ve missed. A new study suggests that we should consider using these androids and their structures as frameworks over which we can grow tissue grafts. Since the androids can be designed to mimic our skeletal and muscular shapes, there are actually trellises that we can use to then create tissue that will be the right size and shape to be grafted onto human bodies. With a built in range of motion similar to our own, the android bodies can also test the grafts to ensure that they will perform as necessary before they are used on their human recipients.
-Two fragmentary skulls found in China may have ties to a discovery in Siberia and may represent a branch of humanity called the Denisovans. Originally discovered in the Denisova cave and represented only by a sliver of bone and a DNA sequence, the Denisovans are believed to have lived over 100,000 years ago. Using computer modeling, the Chinese archeologists pieced together evidence that seems to point toward a similarity between the two discoveries. The model also indicates a number of features, which are similar to those of Neandteral man– prominent brow ridges and similar inner ear construction. There are enough differences that they would be considers “cousins” of the Neandertals. DNA was unable to be extracted to confirm a Denisovan ID.

The Family Tree of Fairy Tales

How old is the fairy tale you just read? Researchers believe that some of them may be as old as 6,000 years. Much like tracing lineages through family trees, stories can be followed backwards to their original birth places. The problem is that not only can stories grow upwards, in a treelike analogy (which allows us to follow them downwards to their roots), they can also cross pollinate with other cultures and spread laterally like branches. Using a large compendium of Indo-European stories called the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index, researchers began to pare down the similarities. Specifically, they focused on stories containing supernatural or magical elements, since these tended to be the most familiar. This limited the scope from over 2,000 stories to 275, which included tales from the Brothers Grimm and other popular stories. Finding similar stories in different languages allowed researchers to back track to the ancestor of both. The fairy tale of the Smith and the Devil (a Faustian type deal struck to be the best metal worker ever) can be traced all the way back to the Proto-Indo-European peoples, which could make it one of the oldest stories still in existence. Jamshid Tehrani lead the research and commented that tales that survived the longest contained a mixture of the strange, but weren’t to strange– citing the Beauty and the Beast as an example. Magical transformation wrapped around the idea of not judging other’s by their appearances. The fairy tales in a sense are extended versions of memes. When we speak of memes here we don’t mean Grumpy Cat with a smarmy comment below the image, instead we are looking at the transmittable elements of ideas. Successful fairy tales, which endure over time, do so for the same reason that successful memes do. In fact, it might be simpler to say that fairy tales are the carriers of memes. A great many of the stories fall in to the category of “don’t do the following” and are therefore considered cautionary tales. However, the ideas carried along with the story can also be important learning elements that need to be transmitted to the young. Since these stories in their early formats were primarily oral in tradition, the repetition, the rhyme, the fantastic elements are all embedding medium that allow the successful transmission of the important idea. So whatever your favorite story, there’s a history and a relevance you might have missed.

February 2017

-You too can show up for Science, the March for Science will be held on April 22 in Washington, D.C. and many other locations including Philadelphia, PA. Initially started by a tweet, which voiced concerns over the present administration’s stance on the importance of science and the freedom of scientific information, the idea of a March gained viral popularity. It’s important to note that these marches and demonstrations are happening around the globe. In fact there is an interactive map online to help you locate a march near you. Support has come in from all over and there are large organizations like the Earth Day Network and Sigma Xi who are providing guidance and volunteers. Others feel that the march is not the best idea and some of their concerns center around the fact that there are a number of potential themes dear to marchers. These viewpoints may detract from the whole because there are too many different voices vying for attention. Other recent demonstrations have received similar criticism. As the date draws near it will be interesting to see if some of the “Rock Stars” of the science world will be marching as well.

-Could our own bomb have given us clues about the formation of the Moon? Trinite, the green glass that was leftover at the Trinity test site where the first nuclear was exploded shows a dissipation of volatiles, such as water, in a manner very similar to that of lunar rocks. By studying the range of the dispersion, scientists will be able to apply the information to determine the rate at which the Moon lost it’s water. This may also shed more light on other planetary formation timelines.
-Your body could keep going at a cellular level even after you are dead. Scientists have found that some gene transcriptions, the writing of genetic information actually increases post mortem. In fact certain factors like immune responses and inflammation since they are bodily responses to damage could go on for as long as two days. Scientist’s describe their new understanding of this as if one were shutting a computer off instead of a light bulb. In this case there are ordered systems that react instead of instantaneous shut down. What gets really interesting is when we learn to interrupt the shut down ….

January 2017

-TPP is a new flame retardant that could stop your lithium battery from exploding into flame—you know the one in your phone, in your pocket… TPP can put a stop to the electrolyte that allows connectivity between the poles of the battery. Unfortunately, it also then cuts down on the conductivity and decreases the efficiency of the battery. Cleverly, developers have bundled the TPP in microscopic fibers, which will melt and then release the TPP as necessary. It’s like building a fire extinguisher right into your battery. Granted the battery will be dead, but your pants won’t be in fire.

-The Princess Elisabeth research base in Antarctica is sitting empty because the coalition between the government and the private foundation that funded it can’t reach an agreement. Science brought to a standstill in the South Polar Summer is frustrating researchers who know that they are missing out on data. Adventurer and celebrity Alain Hubert brought the cash to the table from his International Polar Foundation and the Belgian government brought the experts. Built in 2007, was 99.9% donated to the Belgian government who would organize and fund the expeditions. The IPF would run the base. After several years of operation the Belgian government began to allege mismanagement, broken agreements and soaring costs. In 2015 Hubert was removed from the board of directors. In 2016 a battle in court found Hubert once again gaining access to the base. His wife, Nighat Amin was able to travel to the station and reported that it was not being properly maintained. The Belgian government refuses to give the IPF the codes to the satellite uplink and has left the base with minimal communication and no internet access. As the two sides continue to struggle for control, scientists can only express unhappiness at the wasted opportunity.


Some things to consider before making your purchase:

What kind of control does my drone have? If it has one in the box, great – if not then it will probably need to be run by either your tablet or your phone. You’ll want to confirm that the app for the drone will run on your device. In many cases the location to acquire the app is one the outside of the box and sometimes there’s even a QR Code so that you can go directly to the spot. If you discover that there is an
issue, make sure that your device is up to date, there is a new Android release out right now that might cause an issue if you’re not up to speed.

Watch some video and don’t just watch the video from the manufacturer. With the advent of YOUtube, there are plenty of people who enjoy making how to videos and they will give you an honest opinion of the product in most cases. They will probably also tell you how they got around any issues they had or even suggest simple modifications you can consider once you are comfortable with your purchase.

What does my drone do for me? The big consideration here is what kind of software is assisting you in the flight of your drone? Does your drone have some sort of stabilization? Does is have a land and take off mode? If there’s not something there helping you, then you will be the one keeping things level and safe. That might be a little daunting for a beginner. What kind of signal connects my drone to the controller? Bluetooth, WiFi? And more importantly, what happens when my drone loses connection with the controller? Does my drone have a camera and how do I store the video and images? Finally, ask yourself what do you want your drone to do for you? Do you need the high-end model or is something simpler better?

What’s the flight time like on my drone? What are the charging solutions for it? Something as simple as a portable phone re-charger can make your life easier if you are out in the field and a car adapter with a wall socket input can also be useful.


-Sometimes all it takes is a movie to inspire you. Nanotechnologist Jayan Thomas was prompted by Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nikes to come up with something a little more electric—filaments that capture solar energy. The Filaments can be woven into various materials and power wearable technology in more. Jayan pointed out that troops in desert locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan would have the benefit of battery power without having to have them shipped to them. The power of the concept here is its flexibility, that’s only one use. These
fibers could be imbedded in the surface of a vehicle to help charge its battery as well. Your jacket could run your phone and or laptop. Jayan is no slouch either when it comes to research, he’s already received a grant to develop semi-transparent solar cells to be applied to windows allowing illumination as well as power generation.

-Your phone could be ratting you out. In most cases, we spend some time trying to get the finger prints off of the screen and don’t consider what else it might have caught. Researchers now believe that they can capture from phones information about their owners health, use of hygiene products, diet and even where they might have visited. Other than the big brother treatment, such information would become very interesting to law enforcement individuals who recover a phone from either the victim or perpetrator of a crime. Medications like eye drops, antidepressants and anti-inflammatories left traces on the phones. Sunscreen was a big culprit and often lasted the longest. Obviously these are generalities but once you start adding more than one incidence, you actually begin to generate a profile. This can then help to identify the sex of the phone’s owner or user, possible health concerns and perhaps even their location based on certain pollens that may adhere to the screen. One of the researchers even suggested the possibility of creating a database similar to a fingerprint file so that certain results could be paired up with indicators to help detectives and others.


-Small dark glassy spheres may hold the answer to a strange event that occurred after the death of the dinosaurs and a as recently as 56 million years ago. The Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum, often referred to as the PETM was a time when an influx of carbon in the atmosphere caused a temperature rise of 5-8 degrees celsius. Fossil evidence indicates that the event caused massive wildlife migrations. Reviewing sediments from the coast of New Jersey, scientists found the spheres when they were looking for fossils to aid them in dating the material. Since the spheres are so dark, the researchers believe they were missed in previous experiments since they would blend in to dark background of the trays used to sort the sediment. The chemical nature of the spheres excludes volcanic activity as a source and it is believed that they are microtektites of the kind caused by comets or asteroids impacting the Earth. In the same samples excess amounts of charcoal and charred plant matter were found indicating the type of heat attributable to an impact. This impact unlike the prior one 10 million years earlier (the dino-killer) is apparently one puzzle piece in a group of consequences which caused the PETM. There was also oceanic vulcanism which released organic carbon from rocks. The continuing rise of temperature may have also freed seafloor methane or caused melting of the permafrost, which also would have released methane cycling the climate into a run-away greenhouse effect. While charcoal has been found in other areas to back up the burning, additional searches for the microtektites are proving difficult. The scientists are also unsure if the impact would have global or merely local effects since they are only beginning their investigation into the nature of the impactor.

Sciency Stuff

(News from the High Frontier is focused on the nearest star so sciency stuff will handle the space news closer to home this time)


-Some times they come back. STEREO-B has finally been reached after a long silence. Mute since 2014, NASA, with the help of the International Deep Space Network, was able to restore contact with the satellite. STEREO-B was created to keep an eye on the Sun monitoring flares and coronal mass ejections. After making their connection, NASA scientists learned as much as they could about the satellite’s state and then powered it down to save its batteries. They will occasionally re-establish contact to evaluate the state of the satellite and its potential use.


-Here’s a really interesting twist on recycling and it’s actually something that’s been written about in science fiction—NASA is considering using spent fuel tanks to create habitats. If we ride them all the way up there, we might as well put them to use. A Centaur upper stage tank has 54 cubic meters of interior space. To give you something to compare that to consider the BEAM module of the International Space Station which has a volume of 16 cubic meters. The upper stage tanks actually have their own attitude control, propulsion and even a guidance system. Their interiors consist of tanks that are designed to take up to 6-7 gees of acceleration. Skylab was actually designed off of a Saturn V rocket tank. It could be might begin our experiments by linking tanks to the ISS and adapting them to produce even more space.

Sciency Stuff

July 2016

-Biohybrids are machines that incorporate biological and mechanical elements and they are popping up in the news recently. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University have created a biohybrid that crawls like a turtle on the beach using elements from a sea slug. The mechanical elements are created using a 3D printer and the muscles from the mouth of a sea slug provide the motive part. An electrical field activates the muscle tissue. A similar biohybrid was recently constructed using stingray tissue. In this case the creature uses no electronic elements to provide motion. The electronic parts are used to allow the scientists to remotely control the stingray. The robot is guided and powered by light sensitive cells taken from a rat’s heart. Returning to the seaslug biohybrid, the CWRU team is also working on developing a skin for their creation using the collagen of the sea slug. The goal of their effort is to eventually develop a purely organic machine. In the mean time, the biohybrids can used for a number of different purposes such as exploring the ocean floor and looking for lost or damaged ships. Also if they are able to develop organic robots, when their tasks are completed they could simply be left to decompose.

-In another biological development, researchers at Tufts University have developed an unusual way of monitoring healing – with wireless microcircuitry embedded in the actual sutures holding the wounds closed. The threads are filled with nanoscale sensors, electronics and wireless elements. A cell phone or a computer can read the transmitted information. While the monitoring of healing is a very commendable usage for the technology, its successful use will also pave the way for more effective wearable technology. In this case the wireless and monitoring elements would literally be built directly into the clothes.

-Pokemon Go™ has been doing a lot of unexpected things – to us. Due to the nature of the game, it’s encouraged exercise, especially to the truly devoted. In order to hatch one egg, a player may walk as many as one or more miles. It’s also more effective to visit a number of pokestop locations. The game also fosters cooperation amongst its player as well as bringing families together as parents teach their children and travel with them to the various locations in order to catch the pokemon. Pokestop locations were chosen with safety in mind and are often based around historical monuments, post offices and other public places using the Google Maps template. It’s also possible for players to spend an excessive amount of time on the game ignoring their responsibilities, travel unto private property and become obsessively attached to the game. This is really the tip of the iceberg considering the possibility of augmented reality games. We looked at Google glass and decided it wasn’t something that we really wanted. However, Pokemon Go™ demonstrates that we are looking for some aspects the glasses were capable of if it is packaged in a device we are familiar with. So it’s a very good question what’s next and will it succeed like Pokemon Go™?

Sciency Stuff

June 2016

 -Paleontologists recently took a bite from history and discovered something surprising about the stegasaurus. Most of us are familiar with the crest backed dinosaur with the spiky tail which ate plants. We might not be familiar with the fact that its teeth have puzzled scientists for years. They are just too small and their surface area is just not big enough to effectively cut and chew up the amount of vegetation necessary to keep a large animal like a stegasaur fed. It turns out that we’ve been looking at the wrong piece of evidence, in fact we should have looked harder at the jaw. 3D scans and modeling of stegasaur jaws now prove that the dinosaur’s mouth was similar to that of a sheep and the jaws were capable of quite a bit of force allowing the mouth to cut through vegetation.

-Using stem cells, scientists were able to grow pituitary cells and tissue that could be used as replacements in humans that suffer from failing or disabled pituitary glands. The gland is a sort of master control for the hormone production of the body and it failure can have lasting and catastrophic effects on the victim’s body, especially children. Stimulating the stem cells to grow and take on the characteristics of pituitary cells, scientists then inserted the cells into lab rats whose glands were removed and were able to document improvements based on the proper regulation of hormones by the implanted tissue. Current sufferers from pituitary diseases and failure have to take injections to maintain their health as long as they live. This new treatment would offer them freedom from this expense.   Pluripotent stem cells, which are readily available to the scientists, are exposed to stimuli similar to an embryonic environment to encourage maturation in to pituitary cells.



May 2016

 -How do you print delicate 3D objects in midair? Use a frickin’ laser, well something like that. Laser Assisted Direct Ink Writing is the new process allowing for the production of delicate hair thin structures in a single step. The ink is composed of silver nanoparticles, applied with a nozzle that moves in three dimensions and then activated by the precise heat of the laser to result in solidification. This new technique allows conductive wires to be printed in curved structures without the addition of support material that must be removed before use. This process will allow not only structures for delicate biomedical implants but also the production of other circuitry, which can then be encased in plastic.

-In other delicate but strong news, Scientists working to discover the structure of spider silk, which allows it to maintain tension will use their research to develop a “liquid wire”. What appears simply a single thread laid out by the spider has surprising complexity. The glue that coats the central threads of a spider’s capture spiral also reacts to collect loose thread spooling it inside its droplets. So the glue itself is taking up any slack in the threads of the web. Researchers then went on to develop a material, which compresses like a liquid but is expresses solid characteristics when extended. The trick here is to balance the surface tension of the drops and the elasticity of the filaments. Since we know understand the process, the threads can now be created from a number of different materials and may even include nanosize structures like micromotors.


April 2016

All it took was one bite from a radioactive spider and we got our favorite webslinger superhero in comics, but what happens when we have real radioactive wildlife? In areas like Fukushima, Japan and Chernobyl the human presence is kept away but
nature is already hard at work rebuilding and wildlife can flourish. Fukushima is experiencing a problem with a sudden rise in the wild boar population who are contaminated by eating irradiated plants. Since the humans are not holding the population in check, in the three years since the meltdown of the Daiichi plant, boar population has increased from 3000 to 13,000. Not do the locals have problems with the boars outside of the quarantined area, but they also have the issue of dealing with the radioactive carcasses of any that they kill. Boars have done nearly a million dollars worth of damage to the surrounding farms. Special incinerating facilities were created to control the spread of radioactive materials but these can only deal with three boars a day and became rapidly overwhelmed. Similarly, in Norway radioactive reindeer are mixed among the herds that the Sami People keep due to the Chernobyl disaster. Even though the Chernobyl meltdown happened 30 years ago, some reindeer are still testing higher than the EU limit for human consumption. The reindeer forage on fungus and lichen, both of which typically absorbed large amounts of radioactivity from the accident. Since the Sami people raise and herd the reindeer as a chief staple in their diet, the limits placed by the EU are done so that continued consumption over time will not cause harmful exposure. Spikes in the level of radioactivity occur and have been tied to periods where the weather has favored exceptional crops of wild
mushrooms. The radiation levels continue to fall but they also still effect the life of a people who maintained their way of life for centuries in a simpler wilderness. One lesson that’s obvious in this case is that the wildlife that was exposed doesn’t have to stay in the locale. Migratory species can move from the area or for that matter through the area without concern about the
exclusion and quarantine zones and transplant or acquire contamination.


 March 2016

-Burn baby burn—NASA plans on setting one of its spacecraft on fire to see just how bad things can really get and investigate methods of controlling the blaze. The Saffire-1 or Space Fire Experiment—1, will use the next Cygnus supply vehicle. The craft will be about 4 hours from the International Space Station and in a lower orbit when the experiment begins. The keywords here are that NASA wants to investigate a ‘large scale fire in space’. Smaller burns were already used in experiments but the scientists are looking for data from something that would approximate a disaster to either a spacecraft or the ISS itself. Various sensors will autonomously collect the necessary information and also hopes to de-orbit the vehicle where it can be further examined on the ground. The fire will be started by the remote ignition of a length of cotton-fiberglass and is expected to last about 15-20 minutes.

-The remains of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor are apparently killing off the robots sent in to help with clean up of the radioactivity since the 2011 meltdown. Originally designed to search out and collect the remains of melted fuel rods, the robots are succumbing to exceptionally intense radiation. Concern continues to grow as radioactive leaks from the power plant seep into the groundwater and make their way to the Pacific Ocean. Tepco, or the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has met limited success in controlling the leakage and moving the cleanup forward. So far they have removed 1535 fuel rods and assemblies from Reactor 4. They were able to accomplish this due to lower amounts of radioactivity, which allowed for human intervention. Reactor 3, where the robots were working is another story. Here there are 566 rods that require removal and since the rods melted through their containment, no one is certain exactly where they are in the reactor. It took two years to build the robots and they were specifically designed to deal with the structures in the reactors. However, they quickly became inactive when approaching the reactors because their wiring was melted. It is uncertain if Tepco can procure robots that can survive in this environment. Tepco initially said that it could take as much as 30-40 years to complete the cleanup.


 November 2015

-By 2030 you could be riding in a driverless cab (just like Total Recall!) and you could be paying less for your fare as well as being environmentally conscious. Berkely Labs recently did a study that indicates that electric self-guided vehicles could replace our current system yielding beneficial results. Part of this is sending the right size vehicle for the fare. So unless you’re planning on hiring a stretch limo, if you are traveling by yourself a smart car might show up for your trip. On the flipside taking your family to the airport would likely require a sedan. The economic point of the taxi also takes into consideration the amount of use in terms of distance traveled. The electric vehicles really don’t save until they surpass the average usage of a typical family car. At around 40k miles in a year, they are much more economically efficient than their gas counterparts. Of course by being electric they also cut into the carbon footprint.


-Instead of having many six-legged visitors to your picnic there really could be only one. Ants may react as a super-organism instead of individuals. Scientists are experimenting with colonies and their reactions. When they remove a scout ant, the entire colony tends to act as if they were poked. In order to provoke a more extreme reaction, workers were taken from the center of a colony. In this case the response was the scattering of the entire colony. Scientists are comparing this to neurologic reactions in an organism. So when you slap a scout ant on its way across your picnic table, the rest of the colony knows there’s trouble ahead.


-Elizabeth Freedman Fowler, an adjunct professor at Montana State University uncovered,Probrachylophosaurus bergei, what looks like the missing link in the development of duckbilled dinosaurs. Her dinosaur has the beginnings of an elongated bill but lacks the full crest of later evolutions.


 October 2015

-Sometimes technology catches us by surprise and it can be even more surprising when it’s suddenly in the hands of the public. The military keeps looking for a better answer to the standard gun. It could be that an electronics enthusiast nicknamed “xtamared” may have beat them to the punch. Recently, put up on Youtube, xtamared demonstrates the use of a working 3D printed hand-held railgun. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the railgun is a weapon that electromagnetically accelerates the projectile along rails instead of using the controlled explosion of gunpowder. This is similar to the maglev trains, which ride above the rails themselves accelerated by a generated electromagnetic field. xtamared’s gun can fire bullets up to 560MPH and in the case of the carbon projectiles they actually vaporized. The military has been working on the idea for some time but on a large scale for use on ships. xtamared’s gun is portable, sort of and that’s the deal breaker here. The gun is big because it’s carrying six capacitors to power it. It also has a very definite homemade look to it. Essentially, it looks like a tossed together version of a BFG from a video game. It’s not perfect, but it’s a proof of concept that works. Now this gun just didn’t come out of nowhere since xtamared said that he looked at other rail gun projects and spent a year and a half on the research and build. The thing is xtamared hasn’t hidden his creation. Instead he’s put it out there where anyone can see. Now that people know they can make one and infer the how to from the information, there’s going to be a run on people working on builds for these new weapons. It is a good question exactly what the response might be to this invention. How will the government want to regulate the technology? It’s not possible to put the genie back in the bottle and it will be interesting to see what happens next.


September 2015

Every day 3D Printing is finding new ways to improve and save our lives. The latest development, however, is quite a bit different than most. At the Salamanca University Hospital surgeons replaced one side and part of the other of a 54 year old man’s rib cage with a 3D printed replica made of titanium. The design creates caps that fit over the ends of the remaining rib portions that attach directly over the center piece for the short side of the replica. The longer side has thinner arches that take the place of four ribs. Only twelve days after the surgery the patient was released and recovering well.
The Volkswagon Bus is on the way back and this time it will be electric. The designers are saying that it will likely look very similar to the Westphalia that stopped being manufactured in 2003. Volkswagon currently manufactures two campers now the Microbus and the Bulli. The company also plans to invest 10 million dollars in electric charging infrastructure. Greenland recently gave up one of its secrets to scientists using ground penetrating radar while doing research on melting ice due to global warming. There is a canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon in depth and is two times as long. We’ve missed it before because it is completely buried under and filled by the ice sheet. Researchers discovered the canyon because they were seeing outflow from the end of the canyon from water melted due to the pressure of the ice. Speaking of surprise geologic findings, scientists in Jamtland Sweden have found the first conclusive evidence of a double simultaneous impact from asteroid fragments. A crater 7.5 kilometers was discovered 16 kilometers from another one 700 meters wide. These are believed to be the result of the a collision in the asteroid belt 470 million years ago followed by an impact 458 million years ago. At that point Jamtland was actually underwater so the impacts boiled away the water and then took the material from the bottom of the ocean throwing it all around. The similarities of the scattered sediment prove the time factor. Scientists have discovered a way of improving solar energy by collecting the hot (or high energetic) electrons more efficiently using gold nanoparticles. Not only does this layering of gold, water and aluminum separates the low energy electrons from the hot electrons increasing the energy efficiency and also separating the oxygen from the hydrogen in the water—so that’s three pluses using solar energy.

August 2015


The RTG, also known as the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator converts the heat from the decay of its internal nuclear stockpile into electricity. Despite the danger, the system has no moving parts and therefore does not suffer breakdowns due to motion and friction. The major danger is the lost of containment. RTGs were used in unmanned Soviet lighthouses as well as they more typical applications in satellites and space probes. Although they were first developed in the 50s, the first RTG powered craft was the Navy’s Transit 4A launched in 1961. New Horizons carries an RTG known as a SNAP or Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power. Viking,
Voyager, Galileo and Cassini are just a few of the other missions that contain RTGs. Tiny plutonium RTGs were at one time used to power pacemakers. There is a growing concern about the available amounts of plutonium 238 for use creating new RTGs. In the past weapons development created enough material but with nuclear bans we are no longer actively producing the material needed for the cells. Scientists believe there is enough Pu238 available to construct three more Multi Use RTGs such as the one aboard New Horizon. Also there are worries about RTGs that are unaccounted for in the Soviet Union where lighthouse locations have been forgotten or lost. These RTGs were initially designed to have a ten-year lifespan and are all currently past this date. However, their interior fuels still give off significant radiation that causes danger as well as environmental
Pure hydrazine was first created by Lobry de Bruyn, a Dutch chemist in 1895. Since then it has been used for rocket fuel, a
foaming agent when creating polymer foams, the production of air bags and in steam cycles in power plants for control corrosion caused by dissolved oxygen. F16 jets use hydrazine to run the planes’
emergency power unit. The auxiliary power units of the Space Shuttle also ran on hydrazine. An Italian manufacturer is suggesting that the replacement of hydrogen with hydrazine could create fuel cells with greater efficiency. Finally, hydrazine is even used as gun propellant that is known for its stability in terms of its pressure profile. Composed primarily of hydrogen and nitrogen, hydrazine is colorless and very flammable. There is a long list of bad things that occur to humans who are exposed to the compound including damage to the liver, spleen, lungs and central nervous system.




July 2015

-The next wireless frontier might be the one left behind by your old TV. Rice University was able to transmit wireless data via a TV broadcast. UHF, which typically covers the band from 400-700 megahertz is the next hot property.   With more and more television viewing being done through cable, satellite and other services, the areas that were previously reserved for broadcast TV may open up to wireless and this is a very good thing. There a number of positive differences between regular wireless and signals transmitted on the UHF band. UHF will penetrate walls and tree and also travel for miles. Researchers have developed an active system called WATCH the looks at nearby television receivers and can alter the range of the wireless transmission in UHF if it might interfere with television reception. As the use of the UHF spectrum decreases, the WATCH system can be added to new devices and smart TVs to allow for more efficient use of the available bandwidth,

-In 1964 two scientists George Zweig and Murray Gell-Mann postulated the existence of a pentaquark, a particle made from five quarks. Most particles we are familiar with like neutrons and protons are composed of three quarks and unstable particles which are part of cosmic rays have four quarks. Gell-Mann and Zweig’s math suggested that there may be pentaquarks and it’s taken determination and the Large Hadron Collider to prove their existence. Information derived from a number of collisions shows a statistical marker in their graph that would be indicative of a pentaquark. So far scientists have be able to identify two distinct pentaquarks and believe they will uncover more given time. It could even be that these mysterious particle which are so difficult to detect could shed light on the exact nature of things like dark matter and dark energy.

-It’s pretty amazing any more what you can do with your smart phone and because it is such a flexible device, people keep finding new adaptations. At the University of Huston, researchers have created a cheap but effective lens that can convert the camera on your cell phone into magnifying lens. The add on lens which can be attached directly to the phone’s camera lens increases the magnification of the view by 120 times essentially creating a portable microscope you can carry in your pocket. This can be invaluable for field technicians or isolated researchers who can’t carry about large equipment. Best of all is the cost- these lenses only can be made for only three cents a piece. The physical nature of the lens, similar to a contact, allows for easy adhesion and removal.


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