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22 Aug 13:45

Gamers Reveal The Inner Workings Of The Eye

by Neel V. Patel

The human retina at 480x magnification.
A player's map in EyeWire is 4.1 micrometers wide -- 1/20 the width of a human hair.
Louise Hughes/Science Photo Library

The human retina allows the eye to follow the path of a moving object, such as a Ping-Pong ball in play. Neuroscientists have been toiling for 50 years to explain how, but they lack the processing power to map the eye’s neural network. (With today’s cutting-edge modeling software, 100 people would have to work 24/7 for half a million years.)

An online game called EyeWire, developed at MIT, harnesses the power of gamers instead. Each player navigates a single nerve’s path across a tiny section of mouse retina. “It’s actually extremely challenging,” says Amy Robinson, EyeWire’s creative director. “No computer program can do it automatically.”

Some 135,000 gamers have spent a year and a half connecting retinal dots, which scientists then used to reconstruct the neural wiring in 3-D and hypothesize how the retina processes observed motion. They published their findings in Nature in May. 

Now the team is working on a game that traces nerves in the olfactory cortex to find out how the brain associates emotions with particular smells. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Popular Science.








27 Aug 20:35

Sneaky Panda Fakes Pregnancy For Extra Treats And Attention

by Loren Grush

Giant Panda

Ai Hin was all set to be a star. The 6-year-old giant panda had shown signs of pregnancy last month, and staff at the Chengdu Breeding Research Centre in China had planned to film her labor in the first ever live broadcast of a panda giving birth.

Now that momentous occasion has been cancelled, as it turns out Ai Hin’s pregnancy was all just a clever ruse. Chengdu staff revealed that the panda had experienced a “phantom pregnancy” and had likely faked symptoms to get extra attention and food.

"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care. They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo,” Wu Kongju, an expert at Chengdu, tells Xinhua.

Signs of pregnancy for pandas include a reduced appetite, less mobility and an increase in progestational hormone. However, after a two-month observation, Ai Hin’s “behaviors and physiological indexes returned to normal.”

According to Kongju, phantom pregnancy is somewhat common among endangered bears, as they notice the special treatment other bears receive when they exhibit signs of pregnancy. Many other animals, such as dogs, cats and mice, also can suffer phantom pregnancy after they've been in heat (or "estrus").

The incident is also reminiscent of Münchausen syndrome, in which individuals fake certain health issues for attention or sympathy. Perhaps Ai Hin just needed somebody to care.

[Xinhua]








05 Aug 17:37

Who Knows What Glows?

by Alexandra Ossola

Like a collection of oddly-shaped glow-sticks

On warm evenings in late summer, some of us may recall quaint memories of catching lightning bugs, rushing to put them in hole-riddled jars. What our childhood selves may not have known is that fireflies glow at night because they are bioluminescent, meaning they are able to produce and emit light on their own. 

Even though fireflies may present the most famous example of bioluminescence, the biological ability to light up is shared across different kingdoms. An enormous diversity of organisms luminesce using various biological tactics. For example, glowing sucker octopi twinkle a blue-green color due to special structures called photophores, or light-up suckers. And minuscule sea snails glow a faint green, because they contain the enzyme luciferase (as does the firefly).

Seattle-based biologist-turned-artist Eleanor Lutz created a chart of select bioluminescent species, detailing the different compounds that make them glow. Even if the chart isn't exhaustive, you can get a pretty good sense of the huge range of organisms that are bioluminescent just by taking a peek. 








29 Jul 15:27

Amazon's New Store For 3-D-Printed Products Omits The Best Parts Of 3-D Printing

by Alexandra Ossola

The site isn't quite there yet, even though I think this product is pretty cool.
Screenshot of amazon.com by A. Ossola

This week, Amazon announced its new 3-D printing store. We were immediately giddy, imagining the endless possibilities of being able to upload any design and, in Amazon fashion, have it shipped to us in solid form overnight. But the online book purveyor that has diversified to sell basically everything on the planet seems to have squandered its opportunity to transform the 3-D printing movement; the products in its new online marketplace are not customizable, fairly expensive, and slow to be delivered. 

The new 3-D printed store allows “customers [to] become designers” with a variety of goods ranging from home décor to jewelry to electronics accessories. “The introduction of our 3-D Printed Products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail - that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience,” said Petra Schindler-Carter, Director for Amazon Marketplace Sales, in a press release. This may represent a shift towards the future of online retail, but Amazon isn't doing it right. At least, not yet.

The first issue is with how customizable these products really are. Some have nearly infinite varieties, like this super cool quark pendant (Mom, note this one for my Christmas list), and really do grant the customer a fair amount of creative control. But many other products, including most of the electronics accessories and some décor, simply aren’t customizable at all. Why do I want these things 3-D printed, anyway?

Price, you say? Maybe these 3-D printed items are cheaper than their conventionally manufactured counterparts. That would be a great argument, except that it’s wrong. Take, for example, this 3-D Printed Nexus 7 Stand. The 3-D printed version sells for $52.59. A slightly more sophisticated version, on sale in another corner of Amazon’s infinite marketplace, would run you $20.48, including shipping. You can attest that price difference to “the coolness factor” of 3-D printing.

The amount of time the products need to ship, too, is long for those of us who have been spoiled by Amazon’s inhuman delivery speeds, requiring a tortoise-like 6-10 days in most cases. That’s too long for me to wait to get my “hanging ‘dawg’” sculpture.

As it stands now, the site is missing out on the best feature of 3-D printing: its infinite capacity for invention. In an ideal world, customers would be able to design something, based on their own plans or ones provided by an external company, and Amazon would print and ship with its trademark alacrity. That would make this new marketplace into a truly exciting gamechanger, bringing the power and ease of 3-D printing to people who have never had it before.








04 Aug 17:30

Pic of the Day: Jupiter Cake

Pic of the Day: Jupiter Cake

Submitted by: (via cakecrumbs)

Tagged: pics , jupiter , cakes , food
30 Jul 19:35

Octopus Broods Its Eggs For 4.5 Years, Longest For Any Animal

by Douglas Main

Octo-mom
Bruce Robison et al / PLOS ONE
In April 2007, Bruce Robison and colleagues happened upon a deep-sea octopus more than 4,500 feet below the sea off California. When they came back about a month later it was guarding a clutch of eggs that appeared quite new and small. So Robison, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and colleagues decided to take this opportunity to see how long these animals take to brood their eggs, as this hadn't been investigated before. They came back shortly thereafter to find it was still holding onto the eggs – then back, and back again, a total of 18 times. Every time, the octo-mom was still faithfully clutching her offspring-to-be.

The octopus went about brooding her eggs for a total of 53 months (aka 4.5 years), which is by far the longest on record for any animal and more than twice the lifespan of many shallow-dwelling species. The longest any octopus had previously been known to brood was 14 months. But deep-sea creatures live in much colder waters, and it was previously unknown how long they might take to "raise" their offspring. The authors of the study, published today (July 30) in PLOS ONE, compare it to other known brooding records:

The longest guarded incubation known for fish eggs is 4–5 months, by the Magellan Plunder Fish in Antarctic waters. For birds, the longest uninterrupted egg brooding is 2 months, by the Emperor Penguin. Among live-bearing species, elephants gestate for 20 to 21 months, frilled sharks carry their embryos internally for about 42 months, and the internal gestation period of alpine salamanders can reach 48 months before birth.

One of the craziest things about this: Octopus mothers aren't thought to eat when they are raising their young. So how did it survive? The scientists don't know, but the cold temperatures and slow metabolic rate of deep-sea animals may have helped. But it seemed to take a toll on the octopus, a member of the species Graneledone boreopacifica; over the course of brooding, the scientists observed her turn from a pallid purple to a much paler white, and they noticed the "diminishing size and tumescence [or swollenness] of the mantle, loss of skin texture, cloudy eyes, slack skin, and a loss of pigmentation."

One advantage to investing so much maternal care is that when these species' eggs hatch, they emerge like miniature adults and can therefore skip the juvenile stage that other octopuses have to pass through. Scientists think this gives them a better chance of surviving in the dark, mysterious world of the deep sea. 

The octopus and the eggs.
Bruce Robison et al / PLOS ONE







31 Jul 13:00

A Lick Of The Tongue Changes This Ice Cream’s Color

Xamaleón as it changes.

At first, it’s a delightful shade of periwinkle blue.  Then, it turns into a lilac purple before settling on a vibrant magenta.

No, these aren’t the stages of your old mood ring.  Believe it or not, this is the colorful transformation of the new ice cream Xamaleón, which is designed to change colors as you lick it.

The evolving dessert is the brainchild of Spanish physicist, engineer and professor Manuel Linares, who can now add “modern day Willy Wonka” to his resume.  Inspired by the likes of Charlie Francis, creator of fluorescent ice, Linares said he wanted to create a kind of ice cream that had never been seen before.

The result was Xamaleón, which is Spanish for “chameleon.” With a patent pending, Linares is staying tight-lipped on the recipe, but apparently there’s a special ingredient dubbed the “love elixir,” which must be spritzed on the ice cream before it’s eaten.  The mysterious concoction somehow reacts to your saliva and changes in temperature to transform the cream into its different delightful colors.

Linares claims the ice cream, which tastes like tutti-frutti, contains natural ingredients, such as strawberries, cocoa, almonds, bananas and more.  At his ice cream parlor in Calella de Mar in Barcelona, business is through the roof, according to the Mirror.

And the former physicist isn’t stopping there.  Phys.org notes he’s planning on making another ice cream called Xamán, which contains medicinal plants from Peru and Africa that produce an aphrodisiac effect.  I think I’ll hold out for that flavor instead.








24 Jul 13:00

"Night's Slow Poison": An Excerpt From Our Sci-Fi Special Issue

by Ann Leckie

"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
Illustration by Lisa Kay

This is an excerpt from Popular Science's special issue, Dispatches From The Future. Visit iTunes to download the edition onto your iPad, or return to our list of excerpts.

The Jewel of Athat was mainly a cargo ship, and most spaces were narrow and cramped. Like the Outer Station, where it was docked, it was austere, its decks and bulkheads scuffed and dingy with age. Inarakhat Kels, armed, and properly masked, had already turned away one passenger, and now he stood in the passageway that led from the station to the ship, awaiting the next.

The man approached, striding as though the confined space did not constrain him. He wore a kilt and embroidered blouse. His skin was light brown, his hair dark and straight, cut short. And his eyes . . . Inarakhat Kels felt abashed. He had thought that in his years of dealing with outsiders he had lost his squeamishness at looking strangers in the face.

The man glanced over his shoulder, and cocked an eyebrow. “She was angry.” The corners of his mouth twitched in a suppressed grin.

“One regrets.” Inarakhat Kels frowned behind his mask. “Who?”

“The woman in line before me. I take it you refused to let her board?”

“She carried undeclared communication implants.” Privately, Kels suspected her of being a spy for the Radchaai, but he did not say this. “One is, of course, most sorry for her inconvenience, but . . . ”

“I’m not,” the man interrupted. “She nearly ruined my supper last night insisting that I give up my seat, since she was certain she was of a higher caste than I.”

“Did you?”

“I did not,” said the man. “I am not from Xum, nor are we anywhere near it, so why should I bow to their customs? And then this morning she shoved herself in front of me as we waited outside.” He grinned fully. “I confess myself relieved at not having to spend six months with her as a fellow passenger.”

“Ah,” Kels said, his voice noncommittal. The grin, the angle of the man’s jaw—now he understood why the eyes had affected him. But he had no time for old memories. He consulted his list. “You are Awt Emnys, from the Gerentate.” The man acknowledged this. “Your reason for visiting Ghaon?”

“My grandmother was Ghaonish,” Awt Emnys said, eyes sober that had previously been amused. “I never knew her, and no one can tell me much about her. I hope to learn more in Athat.”

Whoever she was, she had been from the Ghem agnate, Kels was certain. His eyes, his mouth, the line of his chin . . . With just a little more information, Kels could tell Awt which house his grandmother had been born in. “One wishes you good fortune in your search, Honored Awt,” he said, with a small bow he could not suppress.

Awt Emnys smiled in return, and bowed respectfully. “I thank you, Honored,” he said. “I understand I must disable any communications implants.”

“If they are re-activated during the voyage, we will take any steps necessary to preserve the safety of the ship.”

Awt’s glanced at the gun at Kels’ waist. “Of course. But is it really so dangerous?”

“About three months in,” said Kels, in his blandest voice, “we will pass the last ship that attempted to traverse the Crawl with live communications. It will be visible from the passengers’ lounge.”

Awt grinned. “I have an abiding wish to die old, in my bed. Preferably after a long and boring life tracking warehouse inventories.”

Kels allowed himself a small smile. “One wishes you success,” he said, and stepped aside, pressing against the wall so that Awt could pass him. “Your belongings will be delivered to your cabin.”

“I thank you, Honored.” Awt brushed Kels as he passed, awakening some unfamiliar emotion in him.

“Good voyage,” Kels murmured to the other man’s back, but there was no sign Awt had heard.

#

Ghaon is a moonless blue and white jewel orbiting a yellow sun. Its three continents provide every sort of terrain, from the great deserts of southern Lysire, and the rivers and gentle farmlands of the north and west of that same continent, to the mountains of Aneng, still fitfully smoking. Arim, the third continent, is arctic and uninhabited. Aside from the sorts of industry and agriculture that support the population of any world, Ghaon produces pearls and ingeniously carved corals, which, when they find their way outside the Crawl, are highly valued. Flutes carved from the wood of Aneng’s western forests are prized by Gerentate musicians.

According to legend, the first inhabitants of Ghaon came from a world called Walkaway, the location of which is unknown. There were thirteen original settlers, three agnates of four people each plus one eunuch priest of Iraon. The three agnates parceled out the world among themselves: Lysire, Aneng, and the surface of the sea. The priest blessed the division, and each agnate prospered and filled the world.

The legend is only that, of course. It is impossible that thirteen people would possess the genetic diversity required to populate a planet, and in any case studies show that the first human inhabitants of Ghaon, whose descendants now populate Lysire and Aneng, derived largely from the same populations that eventually made up much of the Gerentate. The ancestors of the sea-going agnates arrived several thousand years later, and their origins are obscure.

In any case, the first colonists must have either known about the Crawl before they arrived, or constructed it themselves. The latter seems staggeringly unlikely.

Gerentate explorers found Ghaon some years after that entity’s expansionist phase had run itself out, and so the only threat they presented was a trickle of ill-bred, bare-faced tourists.

But the Radch was another matter. Every soul on Ghaon, from the smallest infant at the breast to the most ancient Lysire matriarch in her tent on the edge of the drylands, believed that the nefarious Anaander Mianaai, overlord of the Radch, had cast a covetous eye on Ghaon and contemplated how he might make it his own.

To keep reading, visit iTunes and download our Dispatches From The Future special issue onto your iPad.








23 Jul 17:30

Introducing Our First Sci-Fi Special Issue For The iPad

by Popular Science Staff

Popular Science's special sci-fi digital issue
Dispatches from the Future
Popular Science

We love science fiction here at Popular Science. Many of the real-life innovations and advances that fill our pages every month, in fact, started as pie-in-the-sky ideas born by people thinking creatively about a better future. These visions only get more vivid, the stories more stimulating and innovative, as we craft each new issue.

So today we present something extra-special, called Dispatches From The Future: an entire digital issue packed with more than 100 pages of awesome science fiction and designed for the iPad. You can download a copy from iTunes here.

Our crown jewel in this edition is the first-ever graphic novel adaptation of the Isaac Asimov classic Nightfall, complete with animations. Also included are amazing short stories by award-winning sci-fi authors Will McIntosh, Ann Leckie, and Seanan McGuire. Finally, we've folded in collections of original science fiction we produced in 2013 and 2014, which feature some of the brightest minds in the field musing how we will live—on Earth and beyond—in the decades and centuries to come.

We're publishing excerpts of Dispatches From The Future here, one per day, to give you a taste of the issue. (Each cover image will stay grayed-out until that excerpt is posted.) So keep checking back throughout the week—if you can wait that long!

"The Defenders" by Will McIntosh

"The Defenders" by Will McIntosh
"The Defenders" by Will McIntosh
Illustration by Lisa Kay

Twenty-eight years ago, humanity was almost wiped out by invaders called Luyten. But human-created artificial intelligence saved humans in the nick of time. Now, after decades of self-imposed exile in Australia, the A.I. defenders are allowing a few humans to visit. The human ambassadors have no idea what is in store. [Click to read an excerpt]

"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie

"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
"Night's Slow Poison" by Ann Leckie
Illustration by Lisa Kay

Many worlds away, Inarakhat Kels paces the halls and corridors aboard an interstellar cargo ship on a six-month journey between planets. He and the other members of his security watch keep on the lookout for treacherous spies, harmful technology, and anything else that might put the ship and its inhabitants at risk of destruction. On this particular trip, a meeting with a peculiar traveller forces him to confront the memories of the home-planet he abandoned long ago, and of a lost-love he was forced to leave behind. [Click to read an excerpt]

"The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells" by Seanan McGuire

"The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells" by Seanan McGuire
Illustration by Lisa Kay

Dr. Diana Weston is a virologist and a bestselling author, with a penchant for writing medical thrillers about catastrophic disease outbreaks. But underneath her attractive smile and sharp wit lies a troubled psyche. When the fictional plots she pens start showing up in the real world, the dark side to her life begins to come out of the shadows. [Excerpt coming soon]

"Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov

"Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov
Illustration by Ryan Inzana

The scientists of Saro University have predicted civilization's impending doom, caused by the extinguishing of the planet's last light-giving star in just four hours. But some are skeptical that the Darkness will have the effect that the scientists anticipate, so a young journalist has come to seek the truth. His shocking discovery is a story for the ages. [Excerpt coming soon]

Download our entire Dispatches From The Future special issue for the iPad from iTunes.








23 Jul 02:26

Photo



16 Jul 14:21

Friends Who Are Unrelated Share A Surprising Amount Of DNA

by Alexandra Ossola

They may share more than just their lunch.
Fernando de Sousa via Wikimedia Commons

You and your best friend have a lot in common: your favorite food, your taste in music, maybe your hometown. But a new study finds that your similarities may even extend to a genetic level.

The researchers, James Fowler of University of California San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Yale University, used data collected during the famous Framingham Heart Study, running since 1948 in the small town in Massachusetts. When participants shared their DNA with researchers for the study, they shared lots of other information, too, including who they hang out with. "Because the study started in a small community, many people that were named as friends, also happened to be involved in the study," Fowler explained to the BBC. He and Christakis looked at almost 2,000 participants and identified about 1,400 pairs of friends. 

The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that people share 0.1 percent more DNA with their friends than with perfect strangers. That’s about the same genetic similarity you share with your fourth cousin.

So why might this be the case? The study authors had a few theories. Maybe people with similar genes seek out similar environments and then meet others like them. Or, people who share DNA could have comparable skill sets, so they work together better over long periods of evolutionary time.

The study has a few limitations. For one, Fowler's team didn't look across the entire human genome--they compared only about 500,000 of each person's three billion DNA base-pairs. Even though the researchers excluded anyone who was related in any way, Framingham’s population is made up mostly of descendants of Italian and Irish immigrants, so the genetic variation may not be large enough to make a broader conclusion. Evan Charney, a professor of public policy at Duke University, said that, to maintain the study’s integrity, the researchers could only study a population in which individuals are completely unrelated to one another, which is admittedly very difficult to find. Rory Bowden, a statistician at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford, also had reservations about how countries of origin could affect the communities that people seek out, such as church groups and cultural associations, which would align people with similar genetics.

But others, including the researchers, stand by the conclusions. Findings such as this, Fowler notes, could influence theories about how altruism has developed over evolutionary time.

Of course, Fowler and Christakis don’t have all the information yet. Interestingly, they found that the biggest genetic similarities were found in friends’ sense of smell. They’re not quite sure why that would be the case, but future studies may help them sniff out the answers.








16 Jul 18:00

Does 'The Ocean Cleanup' Stand Up To Peer Review?

by Emily Gertz

Dozens of small pieces of plastic found in stomach of dead sea bird
Ocean Plastic Debris
All of these pieces of plastic were removed from the stomach of a single north fulmar, a seabird, during a necropsy at the National Wildlife Health Lab.
Carol Meteyer, USGS

Dutch engineering student Boyan Slat has a plan to cull millions of tons of animal-killing, economy-hurting plastic debris out of the world's oceans. Called “The Ocean Cleanup”, the plan involves putting specially-designed V-shaped booms in the world's major marine gyres. As the water flows under the booms, specially designed filters hanging beneath them would collect the plastic.

According to its website, Slat believes his device could clean a given gyre of plastic bits in 7-10 years, at costs 33 times lower than current cleanup methods, and that “a major part of these costs” could be recouped by selling the collected plastic for re-use.

Slat came out of nowhere when he proposed this idea a couple years ago at age 17, and has become global sensation on the new-thinking, TED-talk, social enterprise circuit: The notion of using the ocean's own energy and motion to clean up our mess seems elegant. The possibility that a kid might invent something that solves a serious and all but intractable pollution problem seems Hollywood-ready.

The plan itself also has an entrepreneurial, this-can-pay-for-itself angle that flies well during a rocky economy, and the guy making it happen is a soulful, optimistic young man with the best of intentions. The project has raised over $1.16 million of a $2 million crowdfunding goal with 59 days to go, and has just released a first feasibility study.

But whether or not it can really work still seems uncertain. According to two marine scientists at Deep Sea News, the feasibility study has fundamental scientific shortcomings that include:

  • An “overarching use of average rather than extreme current speeds to estimate operational limits in the design process”
  • No real solutions for how biofouling – the growth of marine life on the boom assembly – would affect its durability and functions. “As currently designed, the moored array is under-engineered and likely to fail.”
  • Inadequate sampling of plastic pollution at depth
  • No substantial plans on how to address environmental issues, snaring unwanted critters, or “high seas law”

Deep Sea News apparently knew they were taking a tiger by the tail with this review, the first time they've covered The Ocean Cleanup since March 2013. “Originally, we had decided not to engage with this project again, since being a naysayer is neither fun nor professionally rewarding,” they note. But with the amount of approval, attention and money flowing into the project, it warrants the same kind of scrutiny that scientific work in similar fields regularly receives.

“We believe in the peer review process, both before publication and post-publication,” writes DSN. “Science is built on criticism. While peer review is by no means perfect, we have both found that a robust peer review process has greatly improved our own science. Since crowdfunding sidesteps the formal grant review process and makes funding requests public, it is appropriate that the review be public as well.”

The plastic debris problem may also be more complex than The Ocean Cleanup's initial feasibility study accounted for. A new, first-of-its-kind map of ocean plastic debris has revealed a surprising absence of the stuff on the water's surface. Scientists involved are not yet sure where the plastic is going, or which organisms may be affected. It's research that Slat probably needs to consider as he continues to develop and promote his project.








17 Jul 20:22

The Comet We've Targeted To Land On Turns Out To Be Duck-Shaped

by Sarah Fecht

At this moment, the Rosetta spacecraft is about 250,000,000 miles away from Earth and quickly approaching the (not-so-poetically named) comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The European Space Agency launched Rosetta in 2004 with a plan to send it to 67P and drop a robotic lander onto a comet's surface for the first time ever. But as Rosetta flies nearer and nearer to the comet, it has made an unexpected discovery.

When Hubble imaged 67P back in 2003, scientists concluded the comet was a giant three-by-two mile football-shaped rock. So, this is apparently what ESA expected to see once Rosetta got there:

An artist’s impression of Rosetta orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, back when ESA thought the comet was normal-shaped.
ESA, image by AOES Medialab

Scientists began noticing something weird in the photos Rosetta sent back about a week ago. As the spacecraft approached within 23,000 miles of 67P, it started to look like the comet had three big bumps on its surface

Now Rosetta is less than 8,000 miles from the comet, and it looks like 67P actually is composed of two distinct structures. “This is unlike any other comet we have ever seen before”, Carsten Güttler, who manages Rosetta's imaging system, said in a press release. “The images faintly remind me of a rubber ducky with a body and a head.” 

So far scientists aren't sure where 67P got its irregular structure from, but an ESA blogger came up with four possibilities:

1) Two comets slowly collided together

2) A single comet was pulled into the weird shape by the gravity of the Sun or Jupiter. "Perhaps the two parts of comet 67P/C-G will one day separate completely," the writer speculates.

3) A single comet deformed as the ice in its nucleus evaporated

4) A huge chunk of something slammed into the comet and ripped off big pieces of it. 

Scientists hope to find out more about the mysterious rubber ducky's composition when Rosetta's lander touches down on the comet's surface in November. 








15 Jul 06:00

Photo



10 Jul 16:40

Climate Change Likely To Lead To More Kidney Stones

by Douglas Main

A (large) kidney stone, measuring about 0.3 inches in diameter.
Robert R. Wal via Wikimedia Commons

The hotter weather expected with climate change is likely to cause a litany of figurative aches for humanity (and already is), but some of those pains may be quite literal. A new study found that higher temperatures significantly increase the risk of developing kidney stones, hard crystals that are painful to pass and which can cause damage to the organs. The idea is that hotter weather leads people to become more dehydrated, which allows minerals to concentrate and crystalize within the body.

"We found that as daily temperatures rise, there is a rapid increase in the probability of patients presenting over the next 20 days with kidney stones," said study lead author Dr. Gregory Tasian, a pediatric urologist and epidemiologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, examined the health records of more than 60,000 people in several American cities, along with weather records. People were most likely to show up at the hospital with kidney stones three days after high temperatures. In Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas (the winner of the dubious prize for most stones), people were nearly 40 percent more likely to seek medical help for the condition at temperatures of 86 degrees Fahrenheit compared to when it was only 50°F  outside.

Kidney stones have become more common in the recent past, as temperatures have risen, a trend that is likely to continue, the scientists wrote.  About one in 11 people have had kidney stones, whereas they were only found in about one in 20 people in 1994. Interestingly, the really hot days seem to make a difference, as opposed to the average conditions, as CBS News noted: 

The investigators noted that the number of hot days in a year may be a better predictor of kidney stone risk than the average annual temperature. While Atlanta and Los Angeles have the same average annual temperature -- 63 degrees Fahrenheit -- Atlanta has five times more days topping 80 degrees than Los Angeles, and almost twice the prevalence of kidney stones.

Kidney stones usually do not cause permanent damage, and can be dealt with by drinking a lot of water and taking pain medication. But they sometimes do require surgery to treat, and tend to recur in a significant percentage of people who get them.








10 Jul 20:00

Gif of the Day: Airplane Drops Fish to Repopulate Lake

Gif of the Day: Airplane Drops Fish to Repopulate Lake

It doesn't seem like this works too well, but it must...

Submitted by: (via Ted Hallows)

Tagged: nature , gifs , lakes , fish , airplanes
03 Jul 18:39

laughingsquid: Television Show ‘Community’ to Return for a...

01 Jul 18:00

A Cool New Use For Legos: Growing Lab Plants

by Douglas Main

Lego plant
Lego walls hold a transparent growth medium mimicking soil. The versatile setup allows researchers to see how plants respond to increasing levels of nutrients, which are here dyed orange.
Lind et al / PLOS ONE

Legos are great for making all kinds of things--castles, pirate ships and functioning miniature dockyards, as I can tell you from experience. But a new study found that they are absolutely excellent for something unexpected: studying the growth of plants and the delicate expansion of their roots. 

The reasoning of the researchers, from Iowa State University, went like this: Greenhouses are really large. Micro-fluidic devices used to grow plants and test unique growing conditions are really expensive. So, what about Legos? Transparent blocks of the common toy are perfect for creating the micro-environments needed to study plants and their roots, the researchers wrote in the journal PLOS ONE--they are cheap, abundant, easy to re-arrange, and can be tailor-made with CAD software. The Legos can even be sterilized in an autoclave (basically like a small oven for sanitizing lab equipment) without melting, while remaining translucent.

So far the scientists have used Legos to study and produce images of the real-time growth of the roots of garden cress. The Legos are perfect for holding the see-through growth medium, a type of agar. The Legos have also allowed the researchers to study differences in soil/agar that aren't easy to produce with larger equipment, and they're great for building in air pockets, solid barriers between plots, and chemical and microbial gradients that could for example show how roots respond to increasing concentrations of fertilizer.

Lind et al / PLOS ONE

[PLOS ONE]








29 Jun 21:35

mineralists: Green Amber (fossilized tree resin from an ancient...



mineralists:

Green Amber (fossilized tree resin from an ancient relative of a tropical species called “algarroba”) from Dominican Republic

30 Jun 21:00

How I Turned Car Batteries Into A Welder [Video]

by Chris Hackett
Please enable Javascript to watch this video

If we’re lucky enough to survive Armageddon, our precious electrical grids won’t. But we needn’t pine for energy as we build a new civilization from the scraps of the old one. Inside every abandoned car is a lead-acid battery just waiting to power a makeshift arc welder. 

Saws, drills, grinders, and lathes may be more precise tools, but welding devices are unmatched for their versatility and brawn. Arc welders work by melting steel with a blinding electrical discharge. They can both sever thick beams and fuse pieces of metal together in ways that other tools can’t. Amid their showers of sparks, a pile of scrap can become a house or a boat—or even an arena for postapocalyptic blood sport.

A single car battery lacks the juice to sustain a metal-melting arc between the tip of a welding rod and a piece of steel. (Zombies holding your supply hostage? Welding rods can be made from coat hangers, silica gel, lye, and paper.) So to build my welder, I wired three car batteries in series, then clamped a set of jumper cables between the negative lead of the first battery and a chunk of steel. With another set of cables, I linked the last battery’s positive lead to a welding rod.

By scraping the rod against the steel, I was able to strike an electric arc. The batteries provided a flow of electrons powerful enough to melt steel in the rod and base metal and merge them, creating a weld. My rig has a maximum output of 300 amps, which is plenty to cut or combine thick steel. Yet it is adjustable, so it can also weld delicate sheet metal; I routed the batteries’ current through a dining fork, which provides some resistance and limits the flow of electrons.

If you can make a welder and get good at using it, you’ll have an unstoppable tool for building after the end-time. When you run out of electricity, charge the car batteries with a bike generator [see “Rebuild,” March 2014] and get to work assembling your very own Thunderdome.  

Warning: Do not attempt until lawyers no longer roam the Earth.

Hackett is Popular Science’s intrepid DIY ​columnist.

Photograph by Ray Lego

 

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Popular Science.








24 Jun 15:37

Obama Starts Task Force To Prevent Bee Deaths

by Douglas Main

Bee Hive
Andrew McMillan/Wikimedia Commons
Honeybees are vital for pollinating plants that provide the fruits, nuts, and vegetables that we eat, a service that is valued at around $15 billion annually in the United States. But these and other bees are in trouble, as you may have heard--while there were 6.5 million commercial honeybee hives in 1947, there are now only 2.5 million--and bee populations saw a 23 percent decline last winter alone. Now, the White House is getting involved, and has directed the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture to set up a task force to get to the bottom of the recent decline in bees.

The task force will have to come up with a strategy within six months to reverse this decline. In the announcement, President Obama said he will also set aside $8 million for new honeybee habitats. The initiative doesn't only focus on bees, but also addresses other pollinators, like butterflies. "The Federal Government will also work to restore the Monarch butterfly migration using research and habitat improvements that will benefit Monarchs as well as other native pollinators and honey bees," the statement said.

What's going on with bees? As the White House noted, the decline is blamed on various factors, from a lack of good habitat, to exposure to certain pesticides, to mite infestations and viruses. Part of the total $50 million is slated to "enhance research" as to a cause for the bee deaths.

Some environmental groups said that Obama didn't go far enough, and should have specifically done some about neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to bee deaths. "The administration should prevent the release and use of these toxic pesticides until determined safe," Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica told the AP.








26 Jun 18:14

Is Global Warming Creating Penguin Winners And Losers?

by Emily Gertz

Adélie penguins and chicks
Adélie penguins
The species is found only in Antarctica.
PLOS Biology via Wikimedia Commons

Planetary temperatures warmed up naturally thousands of years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age. Some Antarctic penguin populations flourished under the changes. 11,000 years later, however, some Adélie and chinstrap colonies are turning from winners into losers: As temperatures around the western Antarctic Peninsula increase at some of the fastest rates on Earth, their population numbers are falling quickly, while gentoo penguins appear to holding their own.

What's the difference between then and now?

Looking the past to learn more about how different species might fare under today's anthropogenic climate change, researcher Gemma Clucas of the University of Southhampton, U.K., and her team collected samples of feathers and blood from 537 individual Adélie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins, which live and breed near each other on the Antarctic Peninsula, and sequenced DNA from the samples.

By calculating the rate of genetic diversification revealed in the DNA, Clucas and her team were able to project how the different species' populations changed over time, and draw some tentative conclusions about why. Their findings are published in the June 12, 2014 edition of the open-access journal Scientific Reports.

Their findings suggest that while a certain absence of ice is important to improving the welfare of penguins, too little can tip things against them.

During the last Ice Age, the amount of ice covering land and water around the Antarctic Peninsula limited the growth of these penguin populations, because all three species need access to the sea to feed, and ice-free land for breeding. When snow and ice cover on both water and land decreased, the penguins were able to get at increased amounts of krill, minute shrimp which feed on algae growing beneath the ice. There was also more ice-free land available for nesting and raising chicks. Gentoo, chinstrap, and Adélie penguins all appear to have flourished for thousands of years under these conditions.

But with sea-ice further melting over the last half-century, krill habitat has also decreased. Most colonies of chinstraps and Adélie, which have krill-heavy diets, are losing numbers fast, while gentoo penguins, which eat a wider array of fish and squid in addition to krill, seem to be showing greater resilience to the shifting environment. Clucas and her colleagues think the more varied diet is a key:

This ‘reversal of fortunes’ for two former climate change ‘winners’ has resulted from anthropogenic impacts outside the range of natural variation that has occurred in the past. Rapid warming trends in the Antarctic Peninsula over the past 50 years has led to decreased sea ice, loss of winter habitat, and a reduction in krill stocks that is negatively affecting Adélie and chinstrap penguins, but not gentoo penguins5, 18, which apparently are not as reliant on krill17. While we know of no other examples of ‘reversal in fortunes’ as documented here, we expect many more will be identified as global warming proceeds and biodiversity declines.

The researchers don't want the findings to be taken as a sign that global warming is nothing to worry about, however. Says one report co-author in a statement, "We are not saying that today's warming climate is good for penguins. In fact, the current decline of some penguin species suggests that the warming climate has gone too far for most penguins."








26 Jun 21:30

Why The Supreme Court Thinks Streaming Is Cable TV

by Kelsey D. Atherton

Aereo Antenna Array
Aereo

Yesterday, in a 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court in ABC v. Aereo, the government ruled that Aereo's streaming of cable TV over the web is illegal. In the process, the Supreme Court majority showed its confusion over how the internet works—and technology in general—and put forth a strange interpretation of the term "public performance."

Here's how Aereo works (or worked, rather): A subscriber with an internet connection wants to watch a live television show. Rather than paying separately for TV service or even owning a digital TV antenna, however, the customer instead watches the show from a remote antenna that Aereo rents to them. That antenna streams the TV show, as freely broadcast over the air, to the Aereo subscriber via the internet. Aereo also offers the option to digitally record video of a broadcast to its server farm for future viewing (and stream that content, too). Many cable TV subscriptions provide a physical digital video recorder for viewers to save shows; Aereo does this on equipment in a warehouse that is controlled, in part, by each of its subscribers.

The case essentially came down to whether or not this streaming of broadcasts by Aereo counts as a distinct "performance," and if that infringes on the rights of broadcasters to exclusively air content. Here's the SCOTUS majority opinion on the matter, in case you speak legalese:

Does Aereo “perform”? See §106(4) (“[T]he owner of [a] copyright . . . has the exclusive righ[t] . . . to perform the copyrighted work publicly” (emphasis added)); §101 (“To perform . . . a work ‘publicly’ means [among other things] to transmit . . . a performance . . . of the work . . . to the public . . . ” (emphasis added)). Phrased another way, does Aereo “transmit . . . a performance” when a subscriber watches a show using Aereo’s system, or is it only the subscriber who transmits? In Aereo’s view, it does not perform. It does no more than supply equipment that “emulate[s] the operation of a home antenna and [digital video recorder (DVR)].” Brief for Respondent 41. Like a home antenna and DVR, Aereo’s equipment simply responds to its subscribers’ directives. So it is only the subscribers who “perform” when they use Aereo’s equipment to stream television programs to themselves.

After this part, the ruling gets weird. It looks back in time, which is a standard for a practice based on precedent, but the justices chose to highlight pieces of the past that are, well, strange.

One was Community Access TV (CATV), a cable precursor that Popular Science wrote about in 1970. Like Aereo, CATV allowed home viewers to watch broadcast channels, yet with higher fidelity than broadcast. Yet CATV (again, similar to Aereo) suffered a blow that changed how the law saw the service it provided; a 1976 law subjected cable companies to copyright laws in a similar way to over-the-air broadcasters.

To rule as it did on Aereo, the Supreme Court overlooked 40-some years of technological advancement since early cable television and said that, because Aereo functions somewhat like a cable company, it is one. And this is where it comes down to a definition of performance.

Copyright is big on regulating performance. It's a reason companies pay billions of dollars for exclusive rights to air rare events, like the Olympics. NBC broadcasting the Olympics is, in the eye of the law, a performance by NBC. Aereo, however, makes no content selection—its subscribers do that.

In other words: When the law defined "performance," its definition hinged on networks selecting the content they broadcast, not subscribers. And that is a major distinction from the CATV precedent, where the Court ruled that the CATV network selected programing and sent it out continuously. The ruling by Justice Stephen Breyer in ABC v. Aereo argues that emphasizing this difference "makes too much out of too little."

A Large Aereo Array
Aereo

While the Supreme Court decision ruled against Aereo by treating it like a cable company (and, in a weirder later metaphor, like a car dealership instead of a valet), the dissenting opinion better grasps how the technology works.

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, instead dispute the definition of "performance." If a future case succeeds where Aereo failed, it will likely cite this dissent when it does.

Rather than seeing Aereo as just another cable company, and one that doesn't pay for the rights to what it broadcasts, Scalia sees Aereo more in line with the technology that enables it, i.e. as an internet provider. The violation, in this line of thinking, comes not from the company that collects broadcasts, but rather hinges on the consumers. They're the ones who use the technology and choose to watch broadcasts they haven't otherwise paid for.

Scalia writes:

Internet-service providers are a prime example. When one user sends data to another, the provider’s equipment facilitates the transfer automatically. Does that mean that the provider is directly liable when the transmission happens to result in the “reproduc[tion],”§106(1), of a copyrighted work? It does not. The provider’s system is “totally indifferent to the material’s content,” whereas courts require “some aspect of volition”directed at the copyrighted material before direct liability may be imposed.

He continues, likening the copying function of recorded and stored broadcasts to that of a copy shop:

A comparison between copy shops and video-on-demand services illustrates the point. A copy shop rents out photocopiers on a per-use basis. One customer might copy his 10-year-old’s drawings—a perfectly lawful thing to do—while another might duplicate a famous artist’s copyrighted photographs—a use clearly prohibited by §106(1). Either way, the customer chooses the content and activates the copying function; the photocopier does nothing except in response to the customer’s commands. Because the shop plays no role in selecting the content, it cannot be held directly liable when a customer makes an infringing copy. See CoStar, supra, at 550

In published response to the court decision, Aereo CEO and Founder Chet Kanojia emphasizes the Scalia dissent:

“Justice Scalia’s dissent gets it right. He calls out the majority’s opinion as ‘built on the shakiest of foundations.’ (Dissent, page 7) Justice Scalia goes on to say that ‘The Court vows that its ruling will not affect cloud-storage providers and cable television systems, see ante, at 16-17, but it cannot deliver on that promise given the imprecision of its results-driven rule.’ (Dissent, page 11)”

The dissenting SCOTUS view on this case aside, Aereo and other companies must now live with the majority view. The Electronic Frontier Foundation highlights the danger the ruling poses to other technology companies:

"With this ruling, the Supreme Court said that technology companies can't rely on the words of the Copyright Act—companies can follow the letter of the law but still get shut down if a court decides that their business is somehow similar to a cable company," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "This decision will make it harder for new independent media technologies to get launched and funded without the blessing of major media companies, and that's a loss for all of us."

The Supreme Court's ruling on Aereo, in effect, protects the broadcast rights of television and cable companies while denying future technologies the same leeway that made cable broadcasting possible in the first place. And, weirdly enough, it does it on behalf of ABC—a company that still broadcasts freely over the air.








19 Jun 16:59

How To Cure Garlic Breath

by Lindsey Kratochwill

Jackie Bale/Getty Images

Counter to most vampire lore, there is no magic to the pungent odor of garlic. The stench is the result of four major sulfur-containing compounds, which, when ingested, move into the bloodstream and then out through the lungs and sweat glands. But that doesn’t make it any less repellent. In April, food scientists at Ohio State University published a paper exploring the best foods and beverages to neutralize garlic’s noxious effect. We drew a few practical conclusions:

EAT AN APPLE 

Fruits that brown when exposed to air contain an oxidating enzyme. This compound also sets off a chemical chain reaction that deodorizes offending sulfides.

SIP SOME GREEN TEA

It’s loaded with plant chemicals known as polyphenols, which work through a similar mechanism to neutralize all four sulfide compounds.

SWILL A LITTLE LEMON JUICE

Acidic beverages with a pH below 3.6 destroy the enzyme alliinase, which activates when garlic is crushed and enhances the smelly sulfuric properties.

 

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Popular Science.








19 Jun 21:34

Photo



20 Jun 15:40

What Are Your Picks For The Best In Cli-Fi?

by Emily Gertz

Still image from the climate change disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow
Who'll Stop The Rain?
A still from the 2004 climate fiction-disaster epic, "The Day After Tomorrow." Director Roland Emmerich drew on real climate science to imagine the rapid onslaught of global warming impacts like the stall of the Great Atlantic current, catastrophic freezing of the global North, and a world without humor or irony.

Dan Bloom of The Wrap writes that he is organizing new annual film award: the “Cliffies,” given for excellence in “cli-fi” movies, as in climate fiction.

Problem is, few movies about global warming or its impacts appear in any given year--particularly those that deal with them fairly directly, instead of using climate change as a dystopian backdrop to some other kind of story. So for now at least, Bloom's proposition has wobbly legs.

But what would happen if we opened up the field up to other kinds of pop culture, as well as the full lineage of climate-disruption fiction that's appeared over the better part of the past half-century?

Thank you, readers, for answering that question on Twitter and Facebook; even for those nominations I disagreed with. (Good online manners much appreciated.)

We've still got plenty of categories left to cover, though like Directing; Actor, Female; Costumes; Special Effects; and any other movie or TV award categories you'd care to make the case for. And how about the best comic or graphic novel about global warming? The best YA fiction? Best music? Please tweet your nominations to @ejgertz

Here are the un-scientific, un-audited results so far:

Best Movie

Winner: Soylent Green (1973)

Nominated by: Patrick Di Justo

Why: Soylent Green is “the first Hollywood film in which the plot revolves (in part) around the greenhouse effect," writes Patrick. "Extra points for being the first Hollywood film to mention 'greenhouse effect,' ” he says, and includes some gifs to prove it.

Full Disclosure: Patrick and I are longtime companions, and co-authors on two books for Maker Media.

 

Honorable Mention: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Nominated by: Jon Lebkowsky

Why: “I don't know that it was the best, but The Day After Tomorrow was big, loud, and about as climate focused as any cli-fi film I can think of. “

 

Best Novel

Winner: The Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Nominated by: @misterinteger

Why: Robinson's characters, mostly heroic and anti-heroic scientists, debate whether and how to change the Red Planet's climate, geology, and environment: “Reds” want to keep Mars wild and largely unaltered, while “Greens” advocate total transformation of the surface to make it more easily human-habitable. Their moral and ethical arguments are proxies for contemporary fights across the spectrum of global warming politics today. “KSR's Mars is a macrocosm of climate policy on earth, a 'take two' which is also fundamentally connected to earth,” writes @misterinteger.

I'd add that Robinson's speculations on how 21st century human societies respond to the pressures of severe climate disruption ring plausible--from government by corporations, to the politics of scarcity, the future of energy, solar system colonization, and geoengineering technologies. Some are already proving prescient.

Robinson is already an acclaimed science fiction great; The New Yorker recently called him "one of the most important political writers working in America."

 

Honorable Mentions: The Windup Girl by Paolo Baciagalupi; Dune by Frank Herbert; Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver; Arctic Rising by Tobias Bucknell; The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Best Actor, Male

Winner: Kevin Costner, Waterworld (1995)

Nominated by: Mary M.

Why: “Not as bad as you remember, though pretty bad.”

In this disaster epic's vision of the future, every bit of land-bound ice on Earth has melted, raising the global ocean and flooding the continents. Humanity is turned out upon the vast sea on a ragtag fleet of ocean-going rafts; fresh water and food become commodities worth killing for. Long, slow, and confusingly written, but worth the watching for a web-fingered Costner drinking his own filtered urine.

 

Lifetime Achievement Award

Winner: Bruce Sterling, writer, speaker, futurist, design instructor

Nominated by: @rustyk5

Why: “Sterling’s been engaged with climate issues a lot longer than most. I’m thinking of Heavy Weather specifically, but also his work with Viridian Design.

On a personal note, Heavy Weather is a personal favorite, and the Viridian Movement that Sterling founded in the 1990s was a primary source for the Worldchanging blog and book that I contributed to several years ago.

 

Most Destructive Cli-Fi

Winner: State of Fear, by Michael Crichton

Nominated by: Climate skeptics

Why: State of Fear, a thriller/polemic by the late TV producer, director, and novelist Michael Crichton, has arguably done more to advance crank global warming science than any other work of pop culture. Among its impacts, Crichton was invited to testify before the powerful U.S. Senate committee on Environment and Public Works in 2005, an opportunity he used to vilify the research findings of respected climate scientist Michael Mann.

“Dead of cancer. And a medical doctor, too. I hate to see people felled by this great scourge. I feel sorry for his family,” wrote Bruce Sterling upon Crichton's death in 2008. “Still – the guy missed an awesome chance to be snatched out of his writing-chair and torn to pieces in broad daylight by a freak climate-crisis windstorm. That might have made up for the harm he did. I’d like to say that Dr Crichton’s contemptibly paranoid view of climate politics will be missed, but… well…”

 








13 Jun 19:00

Photo of the Day: Bill Nye in 9th Grade

11 Jun 19:30

Netflix is Bringing Back a Computer Animated Version of "The Magic School Bus"

Netflix is Bringing Back a Computer Animated Version of "The Magic School Bus"

The Verge reports that in an effort to push towards more children's programming, Netflix is resurrecting the popular educational cartoon from the 1990s.

The streaming service will release 26 episodes of the reimagined show, now called The Magic School Bus 360, beginning in 2016. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, told The New York Times that the original series ranks as one of the most popular educational programs in his company's catalog — despite the fact that new episodes were last produced in 1997.

(image: Scholastic Media/The New York Times)

Submitted by: (via The Verge)

10 Jun 14:00

What Happens To A Human Who Spends A Month Under The Sea?

by Brian Lam

Outside Aquarius
Brian Lam
On June 1st, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau, swam down to the last existing undersea habitat research lab in the world, Aquarius, in the Florida Keys. He'll live there for 31 days, which is a day longer than the time his grandfather spent living in his undersea habitat, Conshelf II, roughly 50 years ago. Since then, undersea bases have been created all over the world, and have since lost their funding and ceased operation. Aquarius stands as the last.

The aquanauts joining Cousteau on "Mission 31" are photographers, scientists from Northeastern and MIT specializing in marine biology and underwater engineering, and Aquarius staff. They'll all experience the unique challenge of living underwater for over a month in the pressurized saturated diving environment.

Saturated diving is a type of diving which allows the body to gradually soak up inert gases by staying at depth for a long period of time. These gases would harm a standard scuba diver by expanding like the bubbles in a shaken bottle of soda when the diver returns to the surface, causing pain, paralysis, and sometimes death. With the team sleeping in the base, at depth, and never surfacing, the divers are free to experience the most useful part of living in Aquarius: the ability to dive for 2-8 hours a day (as opposed to about an hour maximum per day that a regular scuba diver can achieve) without suffering from decompression sickness. At the end of the mission, the entire base is slowly brought back to normal pressure so that the gases can escape the diver's bodies safely, at which point the divers are free to resurface.

To find out what the human body and mind go through living in an underwater habitat, I spoke to various experts on living underwater, such as John Clark, Scientific Director for the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit, who researches the effects of deep dives to 1,500 feet and Navy saturation diver Marc Chase who has worked on salvage jobs like the recovery of the USS Monitor's wreck. I also spoke to Mark Patterson and Brian Helmuth, Mission 31 science advisors who have spent working time in Aquarius, and Mark Hulsbeck, the oceanographic field operations manager who will have spent 200 days in the base overall by the end of this mission.

In the end, because research about long, relatively shallow underwater living is limited, there are a lot of theories as to the effects of living underwater on human beings, but much of it is controversial, anecdotal, and unproven by even those who study it and have experienced it.

Skin

"There are two kinds of divers, those that pee in their wetsuits and those who are liars."

The greatest malady that occurs on these undersea expeditions, according to Mark Hulsbeck, is what some aquanauts call "creeping crud." This ranges from acne to rashes to diaper rash, experienced by divers that pee in their wetsuits. (Given the extended diving time afforded by saturation, urination in a wetsuit is nearly impossible to avoid. Mark Hulsbeck told me "There are two kinds of divers, those that pee in their wetsuits and those who are liars.")

The best cure for these skin maladies is to shower off after every dive and use antibacterial soap, as well as the fresh towels that are frequently delivered to the base in pressure-cooking pots, sealed with bolted lids. Proper hygiene, in other words.

Ear infections are also common, but antiseptic solutions made with aluminum acetate are used to take care of them quickly before the infections can worsen.

Some aquanauts swear that the high-pressure environment, which is 2.5 times the normal pressure at sea level, increases healing times like hyperbaric chambers do, and that cuts can heal overnight. Others believe that to be untrue; hyperbaric chambers that provide oxygen therapy have a much higher level of oxygen in them than the atmosphere in Aquarius.

Besides that, other side effects of living in underwater bases include paleness and reduced vitamin D production, from lack of exposure to the sun. When aquanauts return to the surface, they are distinctly aware of the sensation of wind, which they might have not even realized they were missing.

Taste and Hunger

Many aquanauts have reported that their sense of taste diminishes in the habitat. Mark Patterson theorizes that the higher density of air in the habitat, means that there are fewer parts per million of food odors diffused in the air for the nose to detect. Regardless of what the actual science is, many aquanauts resort to putting hot sauce on everything.

Both the extended dive time and thicker in-habitat air pull heat from divers much more rapidly than a normal sea level atmosphere would, and so their metabolisms must work harder to maintain body temperatures. People tend to eat a lot as a result. In the old days, when the habitat was positioned near land in St. Croix, near land, aquanauts were catered fresh local food like beans, rice, and lobster. After the base was relocated to the Florida Keys (after a hurricane struck St. Croix), aquanauts relied on MREs, with choices diminishing as the season progressed. (Brian Helmuth says that the Salisbury steak was particularly not good.) These days, under the management of Florida International University, Aquarius's aquanauts eat rehydrated freeze-dried camping food, which is high-calorie and varied. Hulsbeck expects the aquanauts to get sick of it before their 31 days are up.

Occasionally, aquanauts receive deliveries of pizza, hamburgers on special request (or lasagna made by Hulsbeck's wife) which are brought down in sealed containers by support divers, but those meals are rare.

 

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Sleep

In the habitat, because of the exhausting nature of being in the water several hours a day and because even time inside the habitat is busy, everyone sleeps really well at night. One aquanaut, professional photographer Kip Evans, complained that silver fish called tarpon swimming near the bedroom porthole, reflecting outside habitat lights back into the bunk room, made it difficult to sleep. The habitat does, however, have plenty of white noise from carbon dioxide scrubbers, and the general static of reef creatures like snapping shrimp and other animals living their lives on and around the base, which has become an artificial reef.

Breathing and Speaking

The greater air density causes aquanauts' speech to become slightly higher pitched when they first enter the base, but either the pitch adjusts or people's ears adjust to the higher-pitched conversation.

Navy divers, Marc Chase told me, take great care to not get respiratory diseases from their dive gear, because the sick person can't be evacuated without the entire team having to also be slowly brought to normal pressure (decompressed) and leaving, too. And in close quarters, it's easier to contaminate each other. They are careful not to let anyone who has an existing cold down into the habitat, and have never had to evacuate the lab because of infection.

Restrooms

Aquanauts use a little hut outside the moonpool, the part of the base with an open floor that gives the aquanauts access to the sea, which they call the gazebo. The gazebo has an air pocket inside of it, and to reach it, aquanauts have to hold their breath and walk or swim over, wearing a swimsuit. Bathroom breaks are often not private as the fish have learned that when a diver enters the gazebo, it's feeding time. After one too many particularly nerve-wracking incidents with fish getting nippy, the Aquarius staff have set up a bubble curtain powered by compressed air to keep the fish away.

Seeing

Other than having to get accustomed to lower amounts of light, people don't report noticing that living underwater affects their vision.

Thinking

Some aquanauts report feeling nitrogen narcosis, a syndrome not uncommonly experienced during diving, wherein at a certain depth a diver can feel drunk. Some have theorized that the depth the habitat is at is not deep enough to cause this effect immediately, but after the aquanauts' bodies become saturated with nitrogen in the habitat after 24 hours, a sense of giddiness occurs. Mark Hulsbeck believes that it might not be nitrogen narcosis at all, but just a sense of joy from doing something as cool as living in an undersea base for a few days.

Psychological Stability

The aquanauts aren't screened for psychological stability or vulnerability to claustrophobia, antisocial behavior, or cabin fever.

Navy saturation divers who plan to be on long missions spend the preceding weeks together to vet out incompatibilities in personality and work ethics, however.

Isolation and Boredom

Back in the day, there were no internet connections in Aquarius, and aquanauts could only read books or stay busy to stave off boredom. Now they can watch Netflix and call their loved ones as often as they want.

Limits

When asked if an aquanaut could stay in the base indefinitely, Mark Hulsbeck offered that it's not known what the limits are, but given the higher density of air and relatively higher amounts of oxygen taken per breath, there would be eventual damage to a human's circulation systems, which Hulsbeck referred to as "pulmonary toxicity." The relatively shallow depth of the base was chosen so that longer saturation missions like this one could be feasible, but rarely do missions come as close to being as long as this one will, as most are only 7-10 days.

 

 








03 Jun 22:14

littlelimpstiff14u2: Artist Henrique Oliveira Constructs a...





















littlelimpstiff14u2:

Artist Henrique Oliveira Constructs a Cavernous Network of Repurposed Wood Tunnels at MAC USP

Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira (previously) recently completed work on his largest installation to date titled Transarquitetônica at Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade in São Paulo. As with much of his earlier sculptural and installation work the enormous piece is built from tapumes, a kind of temporary siding made from inexpensive wood that is commonly used to obscure construction sites. Oliveira uses the repurposed wood pieces as a skin nailed to an organic framework that looks intentionally like a large root system. Because the space provided by the museum was so immense, the artist expanded the installation into a fully immersive environment where viewers are welcome to enter the artwork and explore the cavernous interior. Transarquitetônica will be on view through the end of November this year, and you can watch the video above by Crane TV to hear Oliveira discuss its creation.

Via Colossal