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The crazy CIA ship that became an engineering historical landmark

This is the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a ship that's as important to the history of engineering as it is to the history of insanely crazy Cold War CIA schemes.

In 1970s, the CIA used this ship to capture a sunken Russian nuclear submarine — i.e., lifting a 2000-ton object from a depth of three miles to the surface. It was the most expensive intelligence operation ever and it only kind of worked.

Robot cheetah demonstrates efficient new motors

MIT researchers built a 70-pound robot "cheetah" meant to demonstrate the high efficiency of a new electric motor design. Among other improvements, the design enables the impact energy of the robot's leg hitting the ground to be captured and fed into the robot's battery. Soon, they expect the motors to enable the cheetah-bot to gallop at 35 mph which, of course, is still just half the speed of a real cheetah. However, it will hit those speeds much more efficiently than other running robots.

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What Einstein and Szilard did in their spare time

Did you know that Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd once invented a refrigerator? And a life-saving refrigerator, at that. Maggie 6

The tools of cocktail science and engineering

Popular Science has a great slideshow of tools used to make the sort of fancy, $15 cocktails that are served to you by gentlemen wearing handlebar mustaches. From CNC routers that carve ice, to drinks aged in sous-vide machines, to repurposed lab equipment like centrifuges and rotary evaporators, it's a cool behind-the-scenes view of the gadgets used by the modernist bartender. (Random shout-out to Peder at Marvel Bar!) Maggie 2

Empathy is a core engineering value

Bryan Cantrill from Joyent explains why the company expects engineers not to use gendered pronouns in documentation: "empathy is a core engineering value—and that an engineer that has so little empathy as to not understand why the use of gendered pronouns is a concern almost certainly makes poor technical decisions as well." Cory 74

How engineers freeze soil to create structurally sound solid walls of earth

In Japan, engineers are attempting to contain radioactive contamination from the Fukushima power plant by freezing the ground around it into "ice walls" that will remain frozen for years. At Nova, Jessica Morrison writes about this weird technique, which has been around for over half a century and is more commonly used as part of massive construction projects with large underground components, including Boston's Big Dig. Maggie 6

Gonzo essay on the limits of chip design

The term "gonzo journalism" gets thrown around pretty loosely, generally referring to stuff that's kind of shouty or over-the-top, but really gonzo stuff is completely, totally bananas. Case in point is James Mickens's The Slow Winter [PDF], a wonderfully lunatic account of the limitations of chip-design that will almost certainly delight you as much as it did me.

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How physics sunk the Titanic

The iceberg wasn't the only thing that took down the Titanic, explains Yale University materials scientist Anissa Ramirez. Instead, cold temperatures in the icy North Atlantic changed the behavior of the materials that made up the boat — changes that reduced the ocean liner's ability to withstand a head-on iceberg collision.

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Check out more Anissa Ramirez science videos

Ancient nanotechnology

How the ancient Romans created color-changing glass goblets that shifted colors based on what you put in them. Maggie 12

507 Mechanical Movements, with animations

507 Movements brings to life Henry T Brown's 1868 treatise "Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements, Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing, Presses, Horology, and Miscellaneous Machinery; and Including Many Movements Never Before Published and Several Which Have Only Recently Come Into Use," and includes selected animations of the mechanisms. Hypnotic and educational!

507 Mechanical Movements (via O'Reilly Radar)

How ants always land on their feet

As they move through tunnels dug in a wide variety of soils, ants do sometimes slip and fall down their own shafts. But they catch themselves, with their limbs and even with their antenna. Scientists are studying the ways ants brace against a fall to help design better robotos for search-and-rescue missions. Maggie

Life of astronaut Sally Ride honored in Kennedy Center tribute


American astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck in 1983. Photo by Apic/Getty Images, via PBS NewsHour.

Tonight, PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien will serve as master of ceremonies in a Kennedy Center gala honoring the life and legacy of astronaut Sally Ride. The tribute will highlight her impact on the space program and her lifelong commitment to promoting youth science literacy.

Her Sally Ride Science organization reached out to girls, encouraging them to pursue careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, where a gender gap persists.

At the PBS NewsHour website, read the column Miles wrote immediately following Ride's death in July 2012, 17 months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

How to: Build a better sand castle

Geoscientist Matt Kuchta explains why wet sand makes a better castle than dry sand — and what you can do to make your sand fortress even more impenetrable. Hint: The secret ingredient is window screens.

A spaceship that tastes like Grape-Nuts

This morning, Marketplace Tech Report had a story on a new cellulose-based building material that could be made by genetically engineered bacteria — altered versions of the bacteria that naturally make stuff like kombucha. This tech sounds like it's got a long way to go from laboratory to the real world, but if they can perfect the process and make it large enough quantities, what you'd end up with a strong, inexpensive goop that could be used to build everything from medical dressings, to digital paper, to spaceships. Yes, you could theoretically use this stuff to make rocket casings, according to R. Malcolm Brown, Jr., a professor of cell biology at UT Austin. And if you can build a rocket from this stuff, you could also break the same material back down into an edible, high-fiber foodstuff. Maggie

Why do trains stay on the track as they go around a curve?

The other night, Joshua Foer posed this question was posed to a table full of science journalists. Most of us started talking about friction, and/or possibly something to do with the little flanges on either side of a train wheel.

We were all wrong.

This is a Richard Feynman video, yes, but it's more about mechanics than physics. Turns out, you can learn a lot about how trains stay on the track by looking under your own car.