Archive for January, 2013



DNA tags label rioters and other criminals so cops can find them “at a less confrontational time for officers.”

DNA Gun In Action

Riots are a tough nut for law enforcement in part because of the sheer number of people involved–it’s impossible to stop and arrest every person involved in a skirmish. That’s why cops have some pretty high-tech methods for catching suspects, from facial recognition software to debilitating sonic cannons. But none is as bizarre as this new DNA gun from a UK security firm.

The SelectaDNA High Velocity System works like it sounds–it shoots people with pellets containing a unique DNA fingerprint. Unlike rubber-pellet guns, Tasers or tear gas canisters, the technology does not deter or disable the suspect–he or she can get away seemingly unscathed. But later, authorities can track down the suspect and arrest him or her “at a less confrontational time for officers,” according to the company. Portable readers equipped with ultraviolet light scanners would be able to verify the synthetic DNA.

Continue reading

Researchers exploit the strange properties of a liquid metamaterial to watch Minkowski spacetimes leap in out and of existence.

Metamaterials are synthetic substances with nanoscale structures that manipulate light. This ability to steer photons makes them the enabling technology behind invisibility cloaks and has generated intense interest from researchers.

The ability to guide light has more profound consequences, however. Various theoreticians have pointed out that there is a formal mathematical analogy between the way certain metamaterials bend light and the way spacetime does the same thing in general relativity. In fact, it ought to be possible to make metamaterials that mimic the behaviour of not only our own spacetime but also many others that cosmologist merely dream about.

Indeed, a couple of years ago we looked at a suggestion by Igor Smolyaninov at the University of Maryland in College Park that it ought to be possible to use metamaterials to create a multiverse in which different regions of the material corresponded to universes with different properties.

Today, Smolyaninov and a couple of buddies announce the extraordinary news that they have done exactly this. They’ve created a metamaterial containing many “universes” that are mathematically analogous to our own, albeit in the three dimensions rather than four.

Continue reading


Architects and designers have utilized 3D printing technology as part of their work for many years, but it is only now that an architect has come forward with a design for an actual, habitable residence using that same technology.

Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Universe Architects has designed a residence in collaboration with mathematician and artist Rinus Roelofs that they hope to begin construction on using a 3D printer by 2014.

The design for the building, the Landscape House, has been getting as much curiosity as the mode by which the designers plan to produce it. Based on the concept of a Moebius Strip – a single length of any material that forms a continuous loop with just one side – the Landscape House takes the form of a twisted but continuous loop in which the floor becomes the ceiling and the ceiling the floor.

Ruijssenaars explains that he and his colleagues at Universe Architects first became fascinated with the concept after being inspired by the scenery they saw when in Ireland in 2009. “We didn’t want to influence the landscape, so asked the question if it was possible to make something that resembled the landscape, something that does not have a beginning or an end,” says Ruijssenaars.

Continue reading



Khalil Chishtee takes an unwanted, meddlesome material — the plastic grocery bag — and creates sculptures that express feelings of sorrow, dejection and even victimhood. Chishtee builds human figures from these discarded objects, leaving the bags’ rough, torn edges visible to add a sense of fragility to the works.

A new DARPA program called VAPR, for Vanishing Programmable Resources, is seeking to create “transient electronics” that can ‘vapr’ize themselves when they’re no longer being used:

“Transient electronics developed under VAPR should maintain the current functionality and ruggedness of conventional electronics, but, when triggered, be able to degrade partially or completely into their surroundings. Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.”

Apparently, electronics have become so pervasive that after combat they’re littered all over the battlefield to the extent that picking them all up would be impractical. The concern is that “the enemy” is able to “repurpose and study” said electronics, compromising our “strategic technical advantage.” So great, let’s just make ‘em all disappear instead!

DARPA, of course, has no idea how these disappearing electronics will actually work, but the concept is that something as complicated as an encrypted radio signal or as simple as a change in temperature would set any VAPR electronics off. The first incarnation is likely to be some sort of cheap sensor that could be deployed in a hostile area, send back data, and then melt into uselessness, but there are a lot of different places you could go if you got something like this to work properly. The danger, of course, is that an evil genius manages to crack your radio signal or whatever, and that your fancy new arsenal melts right before your eyes.

Researchers have discovered that dung beetles can navigate in straight lines using nothing more than the soft glow from our home galaxy.

That’s kind of awesome, but it’s worth asking, at this point, just why the heck dung beetles have any need to navigate. They find poo. They make poo into balls. They roll the balls off somewhere, and then lay their eggs in them and bury them. Seems straightforward, right? But that’s the amazing thing: it’s absolutely straightforward. Once a dung beetle has created a ball of poo, it heads away from the pile as fast as it can go in a dead nuts straight line. It goes around whatever obstacles are in its way, but continues going straight, which is quite remarkable considering that it’s often traveling backwards and partially upside-down.

So why do they care about straight lines? The answer seems to be that the beetles with poo balls are just trying to get away from all the other beetles in ’round the pile as fast as they possibly can.

Making a ball of excrement that’s larger than you are is a lot of work, and once you put one together, other beetles will try and steal it. The quickest and most efficient route of escape from a poo pile is a straight line, so that’s what the beetles do. They’re quite clever about it, too, able to sense when they’ve veered off course and using light from the sun to reorient themselves. That’s all well and good during the day, when the sun’s out, but what happens at night?

Research (performed by outfitting the beetles with little hats to block their view) has shown that the bugs’ compound eyes are sensitive enough to detect light from the Moon, the stars, and most impressively, the Milky Way itself. Apparenty, all a dung beetle needs is one fixed pattern in the sky that it can recognize, and then it’s able to use that pattern to make sure that it’s always moving in a straight line. Along with its giant ball of poo. Thank you, science!



 Lasserre is known for his incredible ability to carve anatomical forms of animals, people, insects and other forms out of inanimate objects such as doors, tables, pianos, and even instruments. If you enjoy his work, check these old posts here, here and here!

New Skeletons and Insects Carved from Common Inanimate Objects by Maskull Lasserre wood sculpture animals anatomy

New Skeletons and Insects Carved from Common Inanimate Objects by Maskull Lasserre wood sculpture animals anatomy

New Skeletons and Insects Carved from Common Inanimate Objects by Maskull Lasserre wood sculpture animals anatomy

Continue reading

In space opera, it’s not uncommon for the hero’s ship to be snagged by a tractor beam that pulls him towards the enemy — think of the famous scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader’s Death Star captures Hans Solo’s spaceship, the Millennium Falcon in an invisible grasp. Scientists have now made a real tractor beam, that while not capable of snaring spacecraft yet, is able to tug on tiny particles.

Pavel Zemanek and his colleagues at the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic built a laser that moves tiny spheres of polystyrene floating in water. Changing the way the light is polarized changes the direction the spheres move. They also found that at certain sizes, the spheres arrange themselves into neat rows as they move, bound by the light itself.

“We used a relatively simple setup easily adaptable to any optical microscope and found that it works!” Zemanek told Discovery News via email. In fact Zemanek said it was so simple, one could build the tractor beam setup. All you’d need is a good microscope, a laser, tiny styrofoam balls and distilled water.

This kind of ‘tractor beam’ can’t be scaled up to spaceships – the laser power needed to do that would end up vaporizing the intended target. But the beam could be used to assemble parts in very small robots, move around tiny particles in laboratory experiments and advance medical diagnostics.

Continue reading

Sailing Stone

Mother Nature does a lot of cool things, some of which continue to elude even modern science.

Every year big rocks, known as sailing stones, appear to move across the flat desert in Death Valley, California, without any help from humans or animals.

The mysterious moving rocks, which can weigh up to 700 pounds, leave behind trails that can extend for several hundred feet and may not necessarily move in a straight line.

No one is exactly sure what causes these rocks to scuttle across the 3-mile-long swath of sun-baked terrain known as Racetrack Playa. The phenomenon has not been observed anywhere else. But most scientists think that the rocks are pushed by strong winds after a rain storm.

The rocks tumble down onto the pancake-flat ground from surrounding mountains. A thin layer of ice or mud creates a slick surface that may help the rocks glide.

Of course, we can’t be certain how this all works until someone sees the event in person. For now, we just have some very cool pictures to admire.

Sailing Stones

Continue reading

Friendly Reminder…

“There is no amount of darkness that can extinguish the inner light. The important thing is not to spend our lives trying to control the environment around us. The task is to control the environment within us.”
  Joan Chittester
Art by: Yangxueguo

Fullscreen view recommended!

A sinister airborne surveillance camera gives the U.S. military the ability to track movements in an entire city like a real-time Google Street View.

The ARGUS-IS array can be mounted on unmanned drones to capture an area of 15 sq/miles in an incredible 1,800MP – that’s 225 times more sensitive than an iPhone camera.

From 17,500ft the remarkable surveillance system can capture objects as small as 6in on the ground and allows commanders to track movements across an entire battlefield in real time.

Beat that, Google: An image taken from 17,500ft by the U.S. military's ARGUS-IS array, which can capture 1,800MP zoomable video feeds of an entire medium-sized city in real time‘It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist,’ said Yiannis Antoniades, the BAE engineer who designed the system, in a recent PBS broadcast.

The aerospace and weapons company developed the ARGUS-IS array as part of a $18.5million project funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).

In Greek mythology, Argus Panoptes, guardian of the heifer-nymph Io and son of Arestor, was a primordial giant whose epithet, ‘Panoptes’, ‘all-seeing’, led to his being described with multiple, often one hundred, eyes.

Like the Titan of myth, the Pentagon’s ARGUS-IS (a backronym standing for Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System) works by stringing together an array of 368 digital camera imaging chips.

An airborne processor combines the video from these chips to create a single ultra-high definition mosaic video image which updates at up to 15 frames a second.

Continue reading

A controversial theory that the way we smell involves a quantum physics effect has received a boost, following experiments with human subjects.

It challenges the notion that our sense of smell depends only on the shapes of molecules we sniff in the air.

Instead, it suggests that the molecules’ vibrations are responsible.

A way to test it is with two molecules of the same shape, but with different vibrations. A report in PLOS ONE shows that humans can distinguish the two.

Tantalisingly, the idea hints at quantum effects occurring in biological systems – an idea that is itself driving a new field of science, as the BBC feature article Are birds hijacking quantum physics? points out.

But the theory – first put forward by Luca Turin, now of the Fleming Biomedical Research Sciences Centre in Greece – remains contested and divisive.

The idea that molecules’ shapes are the only link to their smell is well entrenched, but Dr Turin said there were holes in the idea.

He gave the example of molecules that include sulphur and hydrogen atoms bonded together – they may take a wide range of shapes, but all of them smell of rotten eggs.

“If you look from the [traditional] standpoint… it’s really hard to explain,” Dr Turin told BBC News.

“If you look from the standpoint of an alternative theory – that what determines the smell of a molecule is the vibrations – the sulphur-hydrogen mystery becomes absolutely clear.”

Molecules can be viewed as a collection of atoms on springs, so the atoms can move relative to one another. Energy of just the right frequency – a quantum – can cause the “springs” to vibrate, and in a 1996 paper in Chemical Senses Dr Turin said it was these vibrations that explained smell.

Continue reading

I don’t get it either!


“Why … did so many people spend their lives not trying to find answers to questions — not even thinking of questions to begin with? Was there anything more exciting in life than seeking answers?”

Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation

Art by: Dunno! You know? Lemme know!

Sketching with a Band Saw: James McNabbs Scrap Wood Cityscapes wood sculpture architecture

Sketching with a Band Saw: James McNabbs Scrap Wood Cityscapes wood sculpture architecture

Sketching with a Band Saw: James McNabbs Scrap Wood Cityscapes wood sculpture architecture

Sketching with a Band Saw: James McNabbs Scrap Wood Cityscapes wood sculpture architecture

Continue reading

UCLA researchers have for the first time measured the activity of a brain region known to be involved in learning, memory and Alzheimer’s disease during sleep. They discovered that this part of the brain behaves as if it’s remembering something, even under anesthesia, a finding that counters conventional theories about memory consolidation during sleep.

The research team simultaneously measured the activity of single neurons from multiple parts of the brain involved in memory formation. The technique allowed them to determine which brain region was activating other areas of the brain and how that activation was spreading, said study senior author Mayank R. Mehta, a professor of neurophysics in UCLA’s departments of neurology, neurobiology, physics and astronomy.

In particular, Mehta and his team looked at three connected brain regions in mice — the new brain or the neocortex, the old brain or the hippocampus, and the entorhinal cortex, an intermediate brain that connects the new and the old brains. While previous studies have suggested that the dialogue between the old and the new brain during sleep was critical for memory formation, researchers had not investigated the contribution of the entorhinal cortex to this conversation, which turned out to be a game changer, Mehta said. His team found that the entorhinal cortex showed what is called persistent activity, which is thought to mediate working memory during waking life, for example when people pay close attention to remember things temporarily, such as recalling a phone number or following directions.

“The big surprise here is that this kind of persistent activity is happening during sleep, pretty much all the time.” Mehta said. “These results are entirely novel and surprising. In fact, this working memory-like persistent activity occurred in the entorhinal cortex even under anesthesia.”

Continue reading


Pulsars — tiny spinning stars, heavier than the sun and smaller than a city — have puzzled scientists since they were discovered in 1967.

Now, new observations by an international team, including University of Vermont astrophysicist Joanna Rankin, make these bizarre stars even more puzzling.

The scientists identified a pulsar that is able to dramatically change the way in which it shines. In just a few seconds, the star can quiet its radio waves while at the same time it makes its X-ray emissions much brighter.

The research “challenges all proposed pulsar emission theories,” the team writes in the Jan. 25 edition of the journal Science and reopens a decades-old debate about how these stars work.

Like the universe’s most powerful lighthouses, pulsars shine beams of radio waves and other radiation for trillions of miles. As these highly magnetized neutron stars rapidly rotate, a pair of beams sweeps by, appearing as flashes or pulses in telescopes on Earth.

Using a satellite X-ray telescope, coordinated with two radio telescopes on the ground, the team observed a pulsar that was previously known to flip on and off every few hours between strong (or “bright”) radio emissions and weak (or “quiet”) radio emissions.

Monitoring simultaneously in X-rays and radio waves, the team revealed that this pulsar exhibits the same behavior, but in reverse, when observed at X-ray wavelengths.

This is the first time that a switching X-ray emission has been detected from a pulsar.

Continue reading


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 265 other followers

%d bloggers like this: