Weave, Little Man, Weave Like the Wind!
A pretty little time-lapse of a spider spinning a circular web. The spoked concentric rings lend a particular strength to the spider’s web.
Some physical analysis of spider silk from MIT scientists has not only discovered that its molecular structure makes it stronger than steel (pound for pound), but that its flexibility allows it to be both powerful and resilient. Human engineers, take note.
The formerly familiar swooosh as the caller rotated the dial clockwise on a rotary phone to the “finger stop” and then the click-click-click as the dial returned counter-clockwise to the start position is now a novelty application that you can install on your iPhones for nostalgic yuks. Adolescents waiting in line nearby will wonder what the heck that sound is, while we older fogies will know you’re poking fun at us and our ancient ways.
A little note to blow the kids’ minds a little wider open: Why did phones used to click?
It may be hard to believe, but the world was not always completely contained on microchips, with we mortals floating in a nutrient-rich liquid bath while plugged into the Matrix via a probe inserted through the base of our skulls. No, sir. Phones actually used to have to send a signal to tell an exchange what number to dial.
Whereas today you just enter 10 digits and it sends that information to a computer, which then locates the person you are calling and then SPACE MAGIC. That old dial up there was purely mechanical. When you turned it and it wound back, it clicked past a little electric contact, sending a pulse through the line, one pulse for one, eight pulses for eight, carefully timed and ordered on a nice round dial. Early telephone exchange machines, which replaced manual operators, counted the clicks as electric pulses through the telephone wire, and routed your call to the callee.
Radiolab did an amazing segment about a guy named Joe Engressia, Jr. He figured out a lot of those signals in order to get free calls, whose whistles, chirps and phone hacks started a movement called “Phone Phreaking”. Super-cool look at the history of phone engineering.
But using tiny loops of DNA as “bricks”, Harvard (of course) scientists have developed a Lego-like set of nucleic acid building blocks. The sequences in each loop only stick to certain neighbors in certain orientations, just like real Legos. Those rules are defined by all the standard base-pairing rules that you learned in biology class. You can see some of the shapes that they’ve developed above.
Ed Yong digs deep into the blocks at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Goldie Blox: An engineering toy set for girls that breaks up the “boys’ club”!
Debbie Sterling, a Stanford engineer, developed Goldie Blox as an engineering toy that lets young girls develop spatial reasoning and creative construction principles without pandering to them or pummeling them with princessey pink paraphernalia. It’s a non-newsflash that academic science is biased against women, but to fight that we’ve got to engage girls early, so that they are comfortable and confident in simply making science a part of their identity. I see hordes of confident, intelligent young women among my blog followers, and I’d like to see those numbers grow.
This is exactly the toy I would want my daughters to play with, if I had any.
(I suppose I could get it for my dogs, but they would probably just eat it.)
Anyway, this looks awesome. I am not a young girl, as you may have gathered by now, but not gonna lie … I want to play with Goldie Blox.
File this under things I did not know: There are species of bacteria that will eat calcium-rich food and excrete limestone. I knew that certain plankton left coastlines full of their chalky skeletons behind when they died, but this bacterial talent is news to me. Not only is it a pretty nifty trick, but human engineers are trying to exploit it to create self-healing concrete.
Long before concrete structures fail in massively destructive ways (like crumbling apart), they can be weakened by invisible micro-cracks. And it doesn’t take much space for concrete’s greatest enemy, water, to seep in.
Dutch researchers are testing a “self-healing” concrete that is impregnated with dormant spores of those limestone-excreting bacteria. When water seeps in, they can come to life, ingest the hydrated calcium from their environment, and secrete concrete “glue” to repair those micro-fractures before they become mega-fractures.
An amazing thought: One day our buildings and roads may be more “alive” than we ever thought possible.
(via BBC News)
Robots at Work and Play
A selection from a slideshow at The Atlantic, showcasing a huge collection of cute, scary, specialized and sometimes downright weird robots doing whatever it is they are built to do.
You know, besides take over the world. Just look how far we’ve come, and what we can build.
(Above, L-R: Darpa’s robotic pack mules, a German pole-dancing robot, and a self-portrait of Curiosity. More at the link.)
This new nanomolecular scale is less than one micron wide at its center. By detecting how vibrations in the central arm change when a single molecule hits it, one solitary group of atoms can be accurately weighed.
More on the technical aspects and fabrication at Surprising Science.
Mickey Mouse and the Uncanny Valley
The Hall of Presidents is about to get a whole lot more realistic. The video above is pretty tech-heavy, but what you’re seeing are the most advanced facial modeling techniques ever developed.
By using a combination of computer modeling, advanced synthetic skin and 3-D printing technologies, Disney Research Zurich (who wouldn’t want to work there, right?) can now model any face that they want, with unparalleled realism. The texture of the skin and the micro-facial movements are so accurate that they might be a little unsettling, reminding me a little too much of the uncanny valley of robot realism.
What character should they recreate first?
(via Science, Space & Robots)
If you’re an engineer, you usually try to design things that don’t collapse. But when it comes to some structures (like car crumple zones), designing instability can be very important. They are studying math, folding, origami and complex geometry. Read above about the engineers who are trying to design the artfully unstable.
Very cool stuff!
(via Nature News)