I have always been intrigued by the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab Kit that was only sold for a year, starting in 1951. The kit included a Geiger counter, a Wilson cloud chamber, a spinthariscope, a electroscope, and a comic book in which Dagwood splits the atom. It also came with three sources of radiation and four samples of Uranium ore, also radioactive. It's the most DEVO-esque toy I could imagine.
While it is often identified as one of the world's most dangerous toys--what with the radioactive samples and all--as one commenter to this Chicago Museum of Science and Industry video tour states: Far more dangerous is the progressive dumbing down of scientific toys that has occurred in the past few decades and its impact on childhood curiosity and discovery.
As this video points out, the kit wasn't short-lived because of its dangers ("Dagwood, don't eat the Ru-106!"), but rather, its price tag of $50, which would be around $520 today.
Image: YouTube Read the rest
The Old Weather project is a crowdsourced effort to gather data on historic climate patterns by transcribing entries from old, logbooks, some typed and some handwritten. The project is jointly run by NOAA and the Smithsonian. (via Kottke)
Read the rest
During Monday's super wolf blood moon lunar eclipse, some observers noticed a tiny flash on the surface. Turns out that was a football-sized meteorite smashing into the western surface of the moon. This was the first time a meteorite impact was spotted during a total lunar eclipse. Now, scientists will study images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to hopefully find the new crater, perhaps as large as 33 feet across. From National Geographic:
An eagle-eyed viewer on Reddit spotted the potential impact during the eclipse and reached out to the r/space community to see if others could weigh in. The news spread quickly on social media, as people from across the path of totality posted their images and video of this tiny flicker of light...
“The Earth and the moon are in such close proximity that observing the impacts on the moon can help us learn a lot more about the frequency of impacts on Earth,” explains (University of Toronto planetary scientist Sara) Mazrouei, who recently authored a study detailing an ancient spike in large meteor bombardment on the moon, and thus on our planet.
...Seeing the aftermath of smaller impacts on airless worlds like the moon can help scientists learn about the effects of larger strikes on all kinds of worlds—including our own, Madiedo says.
“By knowing what happens with smaller impacts, you could know what could happen with larger impacts without really studying a large impact on Earth.”
Read the rest
The Wildbook project conducts wild animal population censuses by combining photos of animals taken by tourists, scientists, and volunteers and then using their distinctive features (zebra stripes, whale fluke shapes, leopard spots, etc) to identify individuals and produces unprecedented data that uses creepy facial recognition tools for non-creepy purposes.
Read the rest
The Community Microscope is a fully-funded, crowdfunded open source microscope hardware kit built around a digital camera: it costs $39 and snaps together in 15 minutes.
Read the rest
Jeff writes, "7 years after 'grassroots mapping' the BP spill when journalists were denied access, the open source community Public Lab is back with an even more accessible Do-It-Yourself way to take aerial photos: the Mini Balloon and Kite Mapping Kits." Read the rest
For its first five years, Make: magazine ran a column called "MakeShift," edited by Lee D. Zlotoff, creator of the TV show MacGyver. The idea was to present Make: readers with a MacGyver-esque challenge in each issue, collect all of the submitted solutions, and then publish an analysis, along with all of the top submitters' notes and sketches, on the Make: website. The "MakeShift" challenge asked readers to ponder such conundrums as how to contain a viral outbreak on a plane, how to charge your phone with nothing but camping gear and a propane torch, how to fend off a zombie attack, and how to get help after a very bad fall.
The reader-responses were impressive. People really put a lot of thought into their solutions, sending copious notes and drawings. And in fully explaining the challenges and ranking the solutions in the follow-up website articles, Lee and Make: editor Bill Lidwell shared a lot of great MacGyvering tips and nutshell science and engineering.
Sadly, years ago, the "MakeShift" columns disappeared when a dedicated magazine area of the Make: site was discontinued. So, a few weeks ago, Make: decided to bring back "MakeShift," now publishing re-constituted columns every Wednesday. Here are the first three posted.
Dead Car Battery
You're 50 miles into mountainous woods, your battery is dead, and there's a big snowstorm bearing down. How can you revive your dead battery? On, and it's a automatic transmission.
You're in a village in East Asia and the water has become dangerously contaminated. Read the rest
When Marc Edwards was a young Virginia tech engineer, he landed a job with Cadmus Group, an EPA subcontractor who'd been hired to investigate problems with the DC water-supply, but when he discovered a lead contamination crisis and refused to stop talking about it, he was fired. Read the rest
But the microbes on your shoes are similar to the microbes on everyone else's shoes and the microbes on your phone are similar to the microbes on everyone else's phone. Read the rest
By adding a little sampling to their adventures out in the wild, explorers in hard-to-reach locations could lend a big hand to scientific research.
An organization called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation hopes to bring the two professions together in the name of science.
This week, I sat in on a session at the American Geophysical Union meeting in which the speakers discussed the merits of citizen science and the potential impact that explorers could make on scientific data collection.
Many scientists are explorer and trek across the globe, but often they have responsibilities that keep them tied to the institutions where they work with limited opportunities to get into the field for data collection. If sampling techniques can be simplified and standardized so that anyone can learn how collect the necessary bits of rock, water, flora, etc. at particular sites, why not ask the people who are already out there to help out?
Additionally, those out exploring are often on the front lines of witnessing changes to our planet, and are passionate about wanting to help in some way.
Not all science can utilize the citizenry, but for those projects that can, this seems like an amazing resource on both sides of the equation.
Read the rest
Tristan writes, "The Open Source Beehives project is a partnership between the Open Tech Collaborative and Fab Lab Barcelona crowd-sourcing a solution to the bee colony collapse issue. Read the rest
A mysterious plague has manifested in the world's starfish population, quickly spreading to several regions in which starfish (also called "sea stars") are found. Starfish afflicted with the disease tear themselves to pieces, the arms crawling in opposite directions until the animals are literally torn to pieces. Unlike healthy starfish, the affected animals are not able to regenerate after they are torn apart.
The disease is largely a mystery. Researchers who are studying it are asking beach-walkers to photograph any starfish they see to tweet photos of it with the #sickstarfish tag. Starfish are important marine predators; a serious depletion of their numbers will have far-reaching consequences for marine ecosystems. Read the rest
Combining NASA data with the eyes of citizen scientists might have turned up evidence of Mars 3 — a Soviet probe that was the first to make a soft landing (as opposed to a hard crash) on the planet's surface. Mars 3 has been lost since it stopped working, approximately 15 seconds after its successful landing. Read the rest
You can build your own cicada detector and help Radiolab track the movements of a once-every-17-year cicada swarm expected to invade the US East Coast this summer. Read the rest
The Los Angeles Maker Space is an inspiring project that comes along only once in a while, and many people apparently realize this. They reached their $15K funding goal within 30 hours of starting the plea. They are now guaranteed to have an expensive laser cutter and a couple of 3D printers in their space, yay kids!
However, these amazing tools will sit unused a lot more than they should if they do not reach their secondary funding goal of $25,000. This money will pay for live, talented adults to open and supervise the space on weekends. Recent events have shown us how important our children are, and how important qualified, responsible supervision of them is. Please visit their kickstarter page today and lets see their second goal hit the rear view mirror too, done, and done.
LA Makerspace needs 3D Printers, a Laser Cutter, and Open Project Time for Members to Innovate.
(Thanks, James!) Read the rest
Here's an interesting project that combines participatory citizen science with crowdsource funding models.
American Gut is a project to catalog, analyze, and compare microbiomes of a diverse swath of Americans. Microbiomes are the bacteria that live in you (and on you). They're both separate from your body and a part of it. Scientists want to better understand what bacteria live with us, what they do, and how the populations of bacteria change depending on factors like your diet, where you live, and your ethnicity. The project is entirely funded by crowdsourcing, so how you participate is also how you donate. For instance, in exchange for a $99 donation, you'll get a kit that will enable scientists to do DNA extraction and 16sRNA sequencing on the bacteria they find in a sample of your skin, saliva, or poop. After they've studied the sample, the researchers will present you with information about your microbiome and how it compares to those of other participants.
You can sign up to donate/participate anytime between now and January 7. There are also a few opportunities available for people who want to participate, but can't donate any money right now. Read the rest
Guido sez, "The microbiome is the genome sequence of all the
different bacteria that dwell on and in us, and it is very important, since there are 10 times as many bacteria cells as there are human cells in our bodies.
My friends Zac and Jessica started a crowfunded/crowsourced project to do the sequencing of as many people as possible, and they want to do this not as a project in academia, neither as a corporate project from big pharma, but as peer-driven effort in which people will fund it, contribute with their samples and have access to their information.
They want to make correlations between our bacteria and our health issues, individuals are experts about themselves. I think that this is specially important because unlike your genome, your microbiome can be changed, you can make a difference through lifestyle and behavior. We still ignore a lot, so this is why it is important to have a massive set of users who can not only contribute with their samples, but help to make correlations and crunch the data."
The more people join the uBiome community, the more statistical power the project will have to investigate connections between the microbiome and human health. For example, with 500 people, uBiome will be able to answer questions about relatively common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. With 2,500, the project can investigate connections to breast cancer. With 50,000 people, the project can begin to address multiple sclerosis and leukemia.
uBiome [Scientific American]
(Thanks, Guido! Read the rest