New photo of Earth between Saturn's rings can shift your perspective on our reality

That point of light between Saturn's rings is Earth, captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 12. More about the image here at NASA JPL. It reminds me of the last photo taken by the Voyager I spacecraft before engineers shut off its imaging systems. Carl Sagan had persuaded NASA to turn Voyager I’s cameras back toward the sun on Valentine's Day 1990 and take the first ever "portrait of our solar system" from outside of it. Earth is just a speck in that photo too, a "pale blue dot" as Sagan called it. His beautiful words remind me how a single image can alter one's perspective in an instant:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there...

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Scientists ponder the possibility of quantum consciousness

As AI improves, the mystery of consciousness interests more programmers and physicists. Read the rest

Open source interface to connect your brain to your computer

Most of us need a computer interface implanted in our brains like we need a hole in our head. That said, there are benefits to bridging the gap between mind and machine. Joel Murphy is the founder of OpenBCI, an inexpensive, and non-invasive, brain-computer interface (BCI) platform. People have used OpenBCI to control robots, compose music by thinking about it, develop games, and help individuals who are "locked in" and can't control their bodies communicate with the outside world. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Joel about open source, DIY neurotech in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

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Bill Nye answered years-old Twitter questions, then filmed them

In March, brand-new Twitter account @SciSupport_BN mysteriously answered science questions, many of which had gone unanswered for years. The real fun started when Bill Nye himself filmed the replies. Read the rest

Poor Alabama county is a hotbed of "neglected tropical diseases"

The Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise worked with Houston's National School of Tropical Medicine to sample "soil and water...blood and faecal samples" from Alabama's Lowndes County, a poor rural area. Read the rest

Breathtaking space film on Cassini's final months exploring Saturn

NASA's JPL is counting down the days to the scheduled end of Cassini's mission in September. Erik Wernquist created this awe-inspiring overview of Cassini's final months of existence.

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New materials allow 2.8l/day of solar-powered desert water-vapor extraction

Researchers from MIT, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley, and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology published a paper in Science describing a solar-powered device that uses a new type of metal organic framework (MOF) to extract up to three litres of water per day from even the most arid desert air. Read the rest

Why shoelaces become untied

Why do shoelaces suddenly become untied? Mechanical engineer Oliver O'Reilly and his UC Berkeley colleagues have just published a scientific paper exploring this mystery of the ages. According to O'Reilly, understanding how simple knots work, and then don't, could lead to better knots for surgery, protect undersea optical networking cables from breaking, and enable more realistic animations of hair in computer graphics. From Nature:

The scientists expected that the knots would come undone slowly. But their slow-motion footage — focused on the shoelaces of a runner on a treadmill — showed that the knots rapidly failed within one or two strides. To figure out why, O’Reilly and his colleagues used an accelerometer on the tongue of a shoe to measure the forces acting on a knot. They found that when walking, the combined impact and acceleration on a shoelace totals a whopping 7 gs — about as much as an Apollo spacecraft on reentry to Earth’s atmosphere.

Further experiments demonstrated that simply stomping up and down wasn’t enough for a knot to fail; neither was swinging it back and forth. It took the interlaced effects of the two forces to undo the knot: the repeated impacts loosened it while the changes of direction pulled on the laces.

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How to: tickle a rat

In a new meta-analysis published in PLOS One, researchers from Purdue, Stanford and the Canadian Council on Animal Care look at the different techniques used to induce laughter in rats in order to improve their wellbeing and capture their laughter, which is delightful. Read the rest

The scientist who searches for extraterrestrials

According to astronomer Seth Shostak, the alien intelligences we'll likely encounter someday won't be "little grey guys with big eyeballs but machines." As senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, Seth has dedicated his scientific career to seeking out evidence of ET transmissions and using that research to educate the public about our place in the universe. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Seth about hunting for aliens in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

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Vacuum chamber vs giant gummi-marshmallow

Youtube has democratized the practice of using expensive industrial and scientific apparatus to torment inanimate objects, giving us all a peek into the world of the lucky few who happen to have a hydraulic press gathering dust; but if you thing compressing things is fun, wait until you've seen recreational decompression in action; as with this giant gummi-bear-shaped marshmallow, being subjected to hard vac in the name of science-adjacent fun. (via Neatorama) Read the rest

Gorgeous microscopic footage of chemical reactions

Precipitation3 is the latest in the wonderfully shot and edited series by Beauty of Science, "an educational brand that produces inspiring content for K-12 STEM education and science outreach." Read the rest

Working model of female reproductive system has first period

The EVATAR is a working model of a reproductive system made from a mouse ovary and bits of a human uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes, and liver. Developed by Northwestern University researcher Teresa Woodruff and her colleagues, the EVATAR is intended to help better test the effects of medicines and toxins on women. And now it's completed its first full menstrual cycle. From National Geographic:

The tissues produced hormones that coursed through the miniature reproductive system, their levels rising and falling over 28 days.

Eventually, multiple synthetic systems could be linked up to essentially create a “human in a dish,” some researchers hope, reducing the need to experiment directly on people or animals.

And scientists hope such devices could one day use a patient’s own tissues to tailor treatments to an individual. Woodruff imagines a future in which a person’s medical care might be tailored using a series of personalized avatar devices as their own metabolism changes through the years.

“I think the future of women’s health is bright,” (Woodruff) says.

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Photos from the Body Farm

Texas State University's Body Farm (AKA Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University or FACTS) is a 45-year-old facility where the corpses of medical body donors are left to decompose so that researchers can observe the rate at which human remains are consumed by the elements, scavengers and microbes, allowing them to accurately date the bodies of murder victims and those who died accidentally. Read the rest

The mathematics of how sperm swim

A better understanding how a sperm swims its way toward an egg could help inform new treatments for male infertility. Researchers from the University of York have now come up with a mathematical formula to model how large numbers of moving sperm interact with fluid they're swimming through. From the University:

By analysing the head and tail movements of the sperm, researchers have now shown that the sperm moves the fluid in a coordinated rhythmic way, which can be captured to form a relatively simple mathematical formula. This means complex and expensive computer simulations are no longer needed to understand how the fluid moves as the sperm swim.

The research demonstrated that the sperm has to make multiple contradictory movements, such as moving backwards, in order to propel it forward towards the egg.

The whip-like tail of the sperm has a particular rhythm that pulls the head backwards and sideways to create a jerky fluid flow, countering some of the intense friction that is created due to their diminutive sizes.

“It is true when scientists say how miraculous it is that a sperm ever reaches an egg, but the human body has a very sophisticated system of making sure the right cells come together," (says University of York mathematician Hermes Gadêlha.)

“You would assume that the jerky movements of the sperm would have a very random impact on the fluid flow around it, making it even more difficult for competing sperm cells to navigate through it, but in fact you see well defined patterns forming in the fluid around the sperm.

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Public entomologists struggle with an epidemic of delusional parasitosis

Dr Gale Ridge is a public entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, where an average of 23 people a day call, write or visit; an increasing proportion of them aren't inquiring about actual insects, they're suffering from delusional parasitosis, and they're desperate and even suicidal. Read the rest

Watch researchers modify caterpillars, revealing wing development inside cocoons

Biologist Nipam Patel and his team at UC Berkeley study how butterflies develop wing shape and color by performing surgery on caterpillars, creating translucent windows in their cocoons. Read the rest

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