US Air Force has developed unusual liquid metal conductor

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has developed a new form of liquid metal with very strange conductive properties. Usually, when a flexible, conductive material is stressed or stretched, its electrical conductivity drops and resistance increases when it's stress or stretched. Just the opposite, Air Force's novel "Polymerized Liquid Metal Networks... can be strained up to 700%, autonomously respond to that strain to keep the resistance between those two states virtually the same, and still return to their original state." The researchers published their results in the scientific journal Advanced Materials. From the Air Force:

It is all due to the self-organized nanostructure within the material that performs these responses automatically.

“This response to stretching is the exact opposite of what you would expect,” said Dr. Christopher Tabor, AFRL lead research scientist on the project. “Typically a material will increase in resistance as it is stretched simply because the current has to pass through more material. Experimenting with these liquid metal systems and seeing the opposite response was completely unexpected and frankly unbelievable until we understood what was going on.”

Wires maintaining their properties under these different kinds of mechanical conditions have many applications, such as next-generation wearable electronics. For instance, the material could be integrated into a long-sleeve garment and used for transferring power through the shirt and across the body in a way that bending an elbow or rotating a shoulder won’t change the power transferred.

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Rats trained to drive tiny cars in pursuit of Froot Loops

Researchers successfully taught rats how to drive small cars in the pursuit of Froot Loops cereal. Video below. Psychologist Kelly Lambert and her colleagues at the University of Richmond conducted the experiment to gain insight into animal cognition. Learning to drive also lowered the rats' stress as measured by hormone levels. From New Scientist:

They constructed a tiny car out of a clear plastic food container on wheels, with an aluminium floor and three copper bars functioning as a steering wheel. When a rat stood on the aluminium floor and gripped the copper bars with their paws, they completed an electrical circuit that propelled the car forward. Touching the left, centre or right bar steered the car in different directions.

The ability of rats to drive these cars demonstrates the “neuroplasticity” of their brains, says Lambert. This refers to their ability to respond flexibly to novel challenges. “I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be, and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think,” she says.

Researchers could potentially replace traditional maze tests with more complex driving tasks when using rat models to study neuropsychiatric conditions, says Lambert. For example, driving tests could be used to probe the effects of Parkinson’s disease on motor skills and spatial awareness, or the effects of depression on motivation, she says. “If we use more realistic and challenging models, it may provide more meaningful data,” she says.

"Enriched Environment Exposure Accelerates Rodent Driving Skills" (Behavioral Brain Research)

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Russian CRISPR scientist announces new controversial effort to edit genes that cause deafness

Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov claims that he's begun a gene-editing process to eventually enable couples who both carry a specific genetic mutation that causes deafness to birth children who can hear. Rebrikov formerly announced his effort to use the CRISPR tool for gene editing to create babies resistant to HIV. From Nature:

In his e-mail to Nature, Rebrikov makes clear that he does not plan to create (a gene-edited) baby yet — and that his previously reported plan to apply this month for permission to implant gene-edited embryos in women has been pushed back.

Instead, he says that he will soon publish the results of his egg experiments, which also involved testing CRISPR’s ability to repair the gene linked to deafness, called GJB2, in bodily cells taken from people with this mutation. People with two mutated copies of GJB2 cannot hear well without interventions, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. Rebrikov says these results will lay the groundwork for the clinical work.

Rebrikov adds that he has permission from a local review board to do his research, but that this does not allow transfer of gene-edited eggs into the womb and subsequent pregnancy...

Some scientists and ethicists also call into question the benefits of this procedure because hearing loss is not a fatal condition. “The project is recklessly opportunistic, clearly unethical and damages the credibility of a technology that is intended to help, not harm,” says Jennifer Doudna, a pioneer of the CRISPR gene-editing tool and a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

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What the hell is a "dimension" anyway?

Caltech theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, explains the concept of a "dimensions" at five different levels of complexity. Dr. Carroll sure has a big brane. Read the rest

Tasmanian tiger: thought to be extinct yet sighted two months ago

In 1936, the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was declared to be extinct. Yet in the last three years, there have been eight reported sightings according to Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. I hope it's true. From CNN:

While stories abound that some continue to live in the remote wilds of Tasmania, an island state off Australia's south coast, there has been no hard evidence to support this -- only claims of sightings, like the ones newly released.

One report last February said that two people, visiting Tasmania from Australia, were driving when an animal with a stiff tail and striped back walked onto the road.

The animal "turned and looked at the vehicle a couple of times" and "was in clear view for 12-15 seconds," the report read. Both people in the car "are 100% certain that the animal they saw was a thylacine."

Another report filed the same month described a striped "cat-like creature" moving through the mist in the distance.

image: Thylacines in a Washington DC zoo, c.1906 (public domain) Read the rest

Video: sea critters chow down on the carcass of a young whale

Who doesn't love a free meal?

From Nautilus Live:

During the final dive of this year’s Nautilus expedition season, our team discovered a whale fall while exploring Davidson Seamount off central California’s coast with researchers from Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The skeletal remains of the whale lying on its back are estimated to be 4-5 meters long. The team is working to identify the species, but it is confirmed to be a baleen whale as indicated by baleen remaining along the whale’s jawbones. While evidence of whale falls have been observed to remain on the seafloor for several years, this appears to be a relatively recent fall with baleen, blubber, and some internal organs remaining. The site also exhibits an interesting mid-stage of ecological succession, as both large scavengers like eel pouts are still stripping the skeleton of blubber, and bone-eating Osedax worms are starting to consume lipids (fats) from the bones.

There's no getting past how rare a sight this must be—just listen to the excitement in the voices of the scientists who came across this whale fall for the first time. Read the rest

World's oldest leftovers found in Israel cave. Guess what food?

The oldest leftovers in world history have been discovered, stashed inside Israel's Qesem Cave Read the rest

Diet and depression: what you eat impacts your mood

For years a friend has been telling my diet was hurting my general demeanor. Read the rest

Engineers developed a mathematical model of Ooblek

A favorite kitchen chemistry (and physics) experiment of kids (and adults), Ooblek is the weird result of mixing cornstarch with water. Now, MIT engineers have developed a mathematical model that can predict and simulate how the non-Newtonian fluid switches between liquid and solid depending on the pressure applied to it. From MIT News:

Aside from predicting what the stuff might do in the hands of toddlers, the new model can be useful in predicting how oobleck and other solutions of ultrafine particles might behave for military and industrial applications. Could an oobleck-like substance fill highway potholes and temporarily harden as a car drives over it? Or perhaps the slurry could pad the lining of bulletproof vests, morphing briefly into an added shield against sudden impacts. With the team’s new oobleck model, designers and engineers can start to explore such possibilities.

“It’s a simple material to make — you go to the grocery store, buy cornstarch, then turn on your faucet,” says Ken Kamrin, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “But it turns out the rules that govern how this material flows are very nuanced...”

Kamrin’s primary work focuses on characterizing the flow of granular material such as sand. Over the years, he’s developed a mathematical model that accurately predicts the flow of dry grains under a number of different conditions and environments. When (grad student Aaron) Baumgarten joined the group, the researchers started work on a model to describe how saturated wet sand moves. It was around this time that Kamrin and Baumgarten saw a scientific talk on oobleck.

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Nobel Prize in Chemistry split 3 ways for lithium-ion battery research

From left: Akira Yoshino, Dr. M. Stanley Whittingham and Dr. John Goodenough (Charles Dharapak / Yoshiaki Sakamoto / Kyodo News / Binghamton University)

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists whose work developing lithium-ion batteries made mobile phones, iPads, laptops, and electric cars possible.

The three recipients are U.S. engineer John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham of the U.K., and Akira Yoshino of Japan. They will share the 9 million Swedish kronor ($906,000) prize awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Read the rest

Girl Scouts can now earn badges in space sciences like astronomy and the search for ET

Through a collaboration with NASA and the SETI Institute, Girl Scouts can now earn badges in space science, from astronomy to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

“Part of science literacy is understanding our place in the big world, in the solar system, in the universe," Pamela Harman, the director of education at the SETI Institute, told Air & Space Magazine. "Once we realize that, I think it’s easier to think about protecting our planet.”

From Air & Space:

Girl Scout cadettes (grades 6-8) can earn the space science researcher badge by investigating properties of light and observing the night sky; seniors (grades 9-10) can obtain the space science expert badge by classifying stars and studying their life cycles; and ambassadors (grades 11-12) seeking the space science master badge will explore exoplanets through activities such as designing a habitat for an alien world.

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In Nevada, Tyler Turnipseed desperately leads a losing battle against 'Zombie deer'

Nevada's chief game warden, Tyler Turnipseed knows they will lose the battle against 'zombie deer.' Deer infected with chronic wasting disease are infecting the Western United States.

NY Post:

Tyler Turnipseed, chief Nevada game warden, suggested in testimony about the proposed law that local populations could be infected if a hunter passing through the state from elsewhere dumps butchered waste.

Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming have all reported cases of animals with the disease — heightening concerns that the disease could spread into Nebraska, Utah, Idaho and ultimately Nevada, J.J. Goicoechea, a state Department of Agriculture veterinarian, told lawmakers.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Wolff said. “We know that we can’t wrap Nevada in a bubble.”

Maybe we can just extend the southern border wall to surround the entire state? Read the rest

For the first time, pigs have been filmed using tools

At a zoo in Paris, ecologist Meredith Root-Bernstein noticed a Visayan warty pig pick up a piece of bark in its mouth and then use it to move soil. Over the following years, she and colleagues observed the adults pigs and offspring in the enclosure using bark to build their "nests":

Although the behavior occurred in captivity, there is at least some evidence pigs have used tools in the wild:

It’s very possible that wild Visayans use tools, too, she adds. Fernando “Dino” Gutierrez, president of the Philippine conservation nonprofit Talarak Foundation, Inc., which works to protect warty pigs, agrees.

A few years ago, Gutierrez witnessed a group of wild Visayans pushing rocks toward an electric fence to test it. “As soon as they push and the rocks make contact, they would wait for the clicking sound or absence thereof,” he said by email.

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Lawyers for Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes want to quit

Elizabeth Holmes continues to struggle.

ABC7:

According to our media partner, the Mercury News, Holmes' lawyers have asked a judge to let them quit the case. They're claiming Holmes is not paying them. "Ms. Holmes has not paid Cooley for any of its work as her counsel of record in this action for more than a year," lawyers Stephen Neal, John Dwyer and Jeffrey Lombard said in the filing obtained by the newspaper. "Further, given Ms. Holmes's current financial situation, Cooley has no expectation that Ms. Holmes will ever pay it for its services as her counsel."

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Human embryos have lizard hand muscles that disappear before birth

New, high-res 3D images of human embryos show a variety of muscles that were "present in our ancestors but normally absent from the adult human." For example, there are hand muscles that temporarily appear in human embryos but usually disappear before birth. According to the researchers, our human ancestors lost those "muscles from the back of the hand about 250 million years ago as mammals and reptiles split on the evolutionary tree." From Science News:

These appearing and disappearing, or atavistic, muscles are remnants of evolution, says biologist Rui Diogo of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Such atavistic muscles are built as a base from which to start paring down to the final set of muscles that people are born with, he says. “Losing and specializing, that’s what happens in human evolution.”

Other animals have kept some of those muscles. Adult chimpanzees and human embryos have epitrochleoanconeus muscles in their forearms, but most adult humans don’t. Human’s mammalian ancestors also lost dorsometacarpales muscles from the back of the hand about 250 million years ago as mammals and reptiles split on the evolutionary tree. Lizards still have those muscles, and they appear in human embryos, but then are lost or fuse with other muscles during development and aren’t found in most adults.

"Development of human limb muscles based on whole-mount immunostaining and the links between ontogeny and evolution" (Development) Read the rest

Listen to 'dinks and donks,' Marsquakes, and other weird sounds from the Red Planet

The NASA Insight lander on the Martian surface is equipped with an ultrasensitive seismometer to detect and record vibrations, from marsquakes to soft breezes to other unidentified vibrations. Listen below. From Space.com:

If we were on Mars with our ears to the ground, our ears wouldn't be sensitive enough to detect marsquakes. Even the recordings taken by Insight are too low to be audible to humans, but by speeding up the audio and lightly processing it, you can listen to marsquakes that Insight captured earlier this year...

As of now, Insight has heard and recorded over 100 events on Mars. But while scientists are fairly certain that 21 of these events are marsquakes, the remaining could be quakes — or something else. Scientists think these remaining events could also be caused by other sources of vibration on the planet.

Being so sensitive, the SEIS instrument detects just about everything, from the movement of the lander's robotic arm to Martian wind gusts.

The Insight team has noticed that, particularly at night, the instrument picks up strange sounds that they refer to as "dinks and donks," according to the statement. They think that these strange sounds could be caused by the instrument cooling down.

More: "NASA's InSight 'Hears' Peculiar Sounds on Mars" (NASA)

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Cormac McCarthy on how to write a scientific (or any kind of) paper

For twenty years, novelist Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men) has been an unofficial "editor-at-large" for the Sante Fe Institute, where he is a trustee. McCarthy has helped numerous scientists improve the writing in their technical papers about theoretical physics, complex systems, biology, and the like. In the new issue of Nature, theoretical biologist Van Savage and evolutionary biologist Pamela Yeh present a distillation of McCarthy's advice on "how to write a great scientific paper." I think the suggestions are applicable to any kind of non-fiction writing. Here are a few of the tips, from Nature:

• Use minimalism to achieve clarity. While you are writing, ask yourself: is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can.

• Decide on your paper’s theme and two or three points you want every reader to remember. This theme and these points form the single thread that runs through your piece. The words, sentences, paragraphs and sections are the needlework that holds it together. If something isn’t needed to help the reader to understand the main theme, omit it.

• Keep sentences short, simply constructed and direct. Concise, clear sentences work well for scientific explanations. Minimize clauses, compound sentences and transition words — such as ‘however’ or ‘thus’ — so that the reader can focus on the main message.

• Don’t over-elaborate. Only use an adjective if it’s relevant. Your paper is not a dialogue with the readers’ potential questions, so don’t go overboard anticipating them.

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