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Microscopic Robots Learn To Move Like White Blood Cells

Popular Science News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 16:41

Microscopic beads Juan Aragones, Josh Steimel, and Alfredo Alexander-Katz

In the 90s kids show The Magic School Bus, eccentric teacher Ms. Frizzle took her class for a wild ride in a sick student’s immune system -- only to be attacked by white blood cells. White blood cells tracked the bus using the same chemical traces they follow to find infected sites or navigate their way to viruses. If microscopic robots could replicate this complex navigation system, which is shared by many different cells and bacteria, doctors could use them to provide real-time updates on internal structures or distribute drugs to specific targets within a body.

MIT physicists have begun to work toward this vision by developing a microscopic machine that can imitate certain movements of white blood cells and bacteria. In the study, published in Physical Review Letters, scientists used two tiny metal beads to model the tumbling action of bacteria as they migrate toward areas of higher friction.

The simple robot was manipulated with a rotating magnetic field, which propelled the machine to walk, or tumble, forward on a modeled cell surface. The model housed a complex terrain with varying degrees of friction created by layering vitamin particles and protein molecules to simulate the terrain of a cell surface. Through this artificial landscape, the machines automatically gravitated towards vitamin particles, areas that created higher friction.

Now, replace this model cell surface with an actual cell surface. The friction isn't created by particles on glass, it's created by the cell's surface receptors. The binding sites of these receptors are often the targets for many drugs.

“We could eventually use this as a way to tag on things and take them to remote places in your body and monitor different conditions in your body. That’s really far down the future,” says Alfredo Alexander-Katz, a professor at MIT and an author of the study.

The next step for scientists is to test the robot on live cells created in-vitro, says Alexander-Katz. It’s much different to create machines that will bind to a real cell than a model surface. So for now, tiny robots that infiltrate your body may be just as fictional as a magic morphing school bus.

Gas-Spewing Icelandic Volcano Stuns Scientists

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 15:54
The sulfur-rich eruption defied preparations for an ashy blast

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Future Airplanes Might Replace Windows With OLED Screens

Popular Science News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 14:50

Windowless Airplane Concept Centre for Process Innovation

There may be no such thing as a window seat on the airliners of the future. A concept released by the U.K.’s Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) envisions airliners with thinner walls, made by doing away with cabin windows altogether. In their place, CPI sees OLED screens lining entire interior walls, which would show passengers the sky around them.

Weirdly, the OLED screens aren’t CPI’s selling point. Instead, their stated goal is fuel efficiency. A lighter airplane uses less fuel, and ultimately generates fewer emissions. From CPI:

For every 1% reduction in weight, the approximate fuel saving is 0.75%. If you save weight, you save fuel. And less fuel means less CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and lower operational cost... everyone wins.

Riding a metal tube through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour is strange enough with only a small portal to see the world below. Using OLED screens instead of windows means that passengers could see much much more of the sky than they’re used too. (Perhaps too much, if these humorous photoshopped versions of the concept art are any indication). 

OLED screens are thin, lightweight, and flexible. Arrayed in panels along the cabin walls and ceiling, the screens could show the outside world (as captured by wide-angle panoramic cameras on the outside of the plane) at a resolution of 150 dpi. CPI expects that the technologies needed to manufacture large OLED panels will be ready in about five years. Introduction into airplanes, along with airplanes specifically made without windows, will come later.

Until then, enjoy every window seat.

Watch a video about the concept below:

Big Pic: Jupiter Gets An Eye In Its Storm

Popular Science News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 14:05

True-Color Jupiter, April 21, 2014 NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)

When the Hubble Telescope snapped this true-color image in April, NASA scientists found Jupiter staring right back at them. That black dot is Ganymede's shadow, crossing Jupiter's Great Red Spot, creating an eerily blank-looking eye. It is almost certainly the eye of a large and emotionally stunted monster.

The shadows of Jupiter's four major moons--Ganymede, Io, Europa, and Callisto--often cross its surface, the Hubble team reports. So this image is actually not so rare, just well-aligned. Ganymede is the solar system's largest moon, so its shadow is especially impressive.

For another example of unintentionally spooky stuff in space, check out this image of the sun that NASA captured earlier this month.

Remembering Polio Vaccine Developer Jonas Salk a Century after His Birth

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 14:05
Routine clinical use of his vaccine forestalled the paralysis and death brought by the dreaded illness

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Shipping Containers Could Relay Quantum Information Across Oceans

Popular Science News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 13:15

Cargo Ship Glen via Flickr

Physics says that if two particles are entangled on a quantum level, they are permanently linked -- a change in one particle will instantaneously affect the other one, no matter the distance between them. That’s something that could be fantastic for quickly transporting information across vast distances … but only if we can figure out how to use it.

Scientists (and corporations) are already building working computers that rely on quantum entanglement. Now one of the biggest challenges for quantum computing is distance. Unlike our current computing networks, which swiftly move information across thousands of miles via super-speedy cables, quantum computing doesn't have the same reach yet. The longest distance over which information has been transferred via a quantum network is just 300 kilometers, which might someday be enough for conveying information around a city or region, but not really enough for international quantum computing--especially across an ocean. 

Now, scientists think they might have found a decidedly old-fashioned way to solve the ocean problem. The solution is already in use at ports around the world: the humble container ship. Scientists writing in a paper posted to have proposed using shipping containers to transport critical parts of a computing network from one side of the ocean to the other. The container ships will function kind of like a Pony Express, but instead of carrying messages, the cargo will be slightly different: they'll be moving quantum objects.

The quantum objects might be made of diamond or silicon, and they would be entangled with other particles in a similar object across the world. While the quantum objects themselves won't take up much space, keeping them stable (so that people can actually recover the information) is a big challenge. The objects that we have so far can only keep the particles secure for short periods of time and at really chilly temperatures, so refrigeration and support infrastructure would take up the rest of the shipping container.  

In the weird world of quantum computing, the objects won't contain the information itself. Once the containers get to their destination, the objects can be used to instantaneously transfer the information stored in qubits from the paired object on the other side of the world.  

Other researchers are working on building repeaters that can keep all the entangled particles intact over long distances, but they tend to be really finicky machines—and on the seafloor, if something went wrong, repairing them would be extremely difficult and impractical. Enter the cargo ship, which is large enough to store the massive amounts of equipment, and relatively accessible for repairs.

With the cargo method, the lag won't be in the information transfer, just in travel time—how long it takes for the container ship to get from one side of the ocean to another.

In an age when transportation only seems to be getting faster on a personal delivery level, with same day and drone delivery on the rise, cargo shipping can seem like it moves at a snail’s pace. (Travel time on container ships has slowed considerably in recent years out of a desire to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and is similar today to the speed of vessels back in the 1900's.) In this case, hauling the quantum objects across the ocean could take weeks. But until scientists develop the equivalent of underwater telegraph cables for quantum computing, cargo ships, even with their slow pace, might be the missing link in a growing technological field.

For the rest of us, transporting information via traditional hard drives (spy cape and aluminum briefcase optional) is going to be a more practical option.

Melting Cave Ice Is Taking Ancient Climate Data with It

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 13:00
Scientists race to sample cave ice before it’s too late

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Private Rocket to Make 2nd Launch Try Tonight

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:20
Orbital Sciences' unmanned Cygnus spacecraft is set to blast off atop an Antares rocket at 6:22 pm EDT from a NASA facility in Virginia

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Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef Is 'Inadequate,' Scientists Say

Popular Science News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:17

The Great Barrier Reef, 2003 Image provided by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Landsat Team using data courtesy the Australian ground receiving station teams

The Australian government has been working on a plan for taking care of the Great Barrier Reef over the next four decades—but scientists say it's inadequate. The Australian Academy of Science released today an 11-page critique of the government's latest draft of its "Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan."

"Basically, the plan as it's formulated currently isn't sufficient to turn around the downward trajectory of the Great Barrier Reef," biologist and academy member Terry Hughes told Australian broadcaster ABC.

Home to thousands of species of fish, coral, mollusks, and birds, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth. It's extensive enough to see from space. In 1981, UNESCO designated nearly the entire reef a world heritage site, for its beauty and scientific importance.

In recent years, however, UNESCO officials have threatened to place the site on their endangered list because of the reef's rate of deterioration. The reef has lost half its coral cover since the mid-1980s. It's also in danger due to government-approved plans to build ports and dredge parts of the reef. Many "endangered" world heritage sites are located in war-torn regions in Afghanistan and Syria, the New York Times notes. That said, the U.K.'s historic buildings in Liverpool and the U.S.' Everglades National Park are also endangered sites.

"It would be very damaging to Australia's reputation" to join the list, Hughes told the U.K.'s Guardian.

The 2050 sustainability plan is supposed to help keep the reef out of danger by laying out how the government will regulate and guide port development in the reef. The plan also states a number of measurable goals, such as limiting how much city runoff gets into the reef's water and plans for increasing the populations of certain sea mammals and turtles. But the Australian Academy of Science says the plan is inadequate on a number of fronts. For example, the plan doesn't have a quantifiable coral-cover recovery goal, such as "restore X percent of the coral," while some of the plan's goals, such as restoring the populations of certain fish species, don't have feasible actions to back them up.

This draft of the plan has been under fire from conservationists since its release. "Overall, it is not business as usual, but it is close enough to it," WWF-Australia campaigner Louisse Matthiesson told the New York Times in September. This seems to be an ongoing problem: Even UNESCO was none too pleased with the Australian government's efforts after an endangerment-listing warning in 2013.

Deepwater Horizon Gunk Settled Far and Wide

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:02
A survey of deep-sea sediment is helping to explain the "missing oil" from the 2010 oil spill

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Radio JOVE

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 11:50
Radio JOVE students and citizen scientists observe and analyze natural radio emissions of Jupiter, the Sun and the galaxy

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Online Personalization Means Prices Are Tailored to You, Too

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 11:05
Christo Wilson, a computer scientist at Northeastern University, says prices online are "super subjective" and vary according to your past clicks and purchases or whether you're shopping on...

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Irreversible Climate Change Would Result from Continued Inaction

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 10:55
A pending U.N. report notes that a lack of fast action to combat global warming will lead to severe impacts

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Smoke Rings And A Giant Six-Legged Robot, From Maker Faire 2014

Popular Science News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 10:15 Please enable Javascript to watch this video

In September, Popular Science attended World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science. We saw giant robots, tiny Tesla coils, and musical instruments made out of anything you can imagine. Check out some of the coolest projects with us!

Just outside of Boston, an intrepid group of humans is building a giant hexapod robot. Nicknamed Stompy, the behemoth will be large enough to crush cars beneath its feet. But before they finish Stompy (and presumably use him to take over the world), the members of Artisans Asylum came to Maker Faire to show off some of their less destructive projects…like a smoke-ring vortex cannon made out of a trashcan.

Better E-Waste Handling Helps Environment and Health

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 09:58
Plastic-removal machines will enable Ghana's e-waste recoverers to get at valuable metal guts without burning off the exteriors. David Biello reports.  

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Searching for Signs of Consciousness

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 09:00

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Searching for Signs of Consciousness

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 09:00

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Apple Pay Perturbs Prying Personal Prospectors

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 08:52
Law enforcement agencies and retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy balk at Apple's operating system and payment app privacy efforts. Larry Greenemeier reports  

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When It Comes To How We Vote on Energy Issues, Age Matters

Scientific American News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 08:49
A new poll from The University of Texas at Austin reveals markedly different perspectives on energy issues based on the age of voters, a finding that could help determine the outcome of next week's...

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Your Washing Machine Could Charge Your Smartphone Someday

Popular Science News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 08:45

Wireless Charging Alison Seiffer

Hanging out in the kitchen? Chances are, you—and your smartphone—are within 15 feet of the refrigerator. Right now, two companies are planning for a future in which that means you could get the charge on your phone topped off.

Haier, a large-appliance maker, and Energous, a wireless-charging startup, have signed an agreement to develop their products together, Computerworld reports. The companies are thinking of placing Energous' WattUp transmitters inside Haier appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines. The transmitters would send a charge through the air to any small devices nearby that have their own WattUp receivers embedded and turned on. Spend enough time in rooms with WattUp transmitters and you might never have to plug your phone or smartwatch into a charger again.

That's the idea, at least. Energous isn't selling anything yet (they're still working on their receiving chips, it seems), but they aim to roll out a product by Thanksgiving 2015, according to Computerworld. Meanwhile, its competitors are also seeking to charge your devices wirelessly and from a distance. WattUp works by sending charge over radio-frequency waves, while other products in development work via magnetic resonance (WiTriCity) and sound waves (uBeam).

In addition to sticking WattUp transmitters in other people's products, Energous seeks to make its own wireless charging "routers," analogous to WiFi routers. 


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