Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Chinese researchers have made a phenomenal breakthrough in stem cell research.

Duanqing Pei and his team from Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health have  found a way to coerce stem cells collected from urine to become induced pluripotent stem cells that can be used to generate other types of cell. They have demonstrated this potential by making teeth, though they could also make cells for other major organs.

The team are quick to point out that this technology is still very experimental, with the teeth produced not yet as hard as the teeth that humans are born with and a success rate currently running at 30%.

Their research is published in the  online open access journal Cell Regeneration.

The potential is incredible, particularly in terms of immune system responses. Just think, in future you might literally pee out the foundation for your new teeth!

It certainly lends a whole new meaning to the phrase “taking the piss”…

Read Full Post »

A slo-mo highlights reel from the Danish TV show Dumt & Farligt (“Stupid & Dangerous”) has been posted online. A series of madly hypnotic stunts, usually involving some form of explosive energy, there is something beautifully hypnotic about the results. Shot at 2500 FPS, you get to witness aspects of motion that you would never ordinarily see.

Read Full Post »

“Electronic junk narrows our life space…”

Maxim Kamanin

Sometimes it feels like Hollywood is running to catch up with real life. And sometimes, real life seems even less believable than Hollywood’s penchant for technological exaggeration.

From the middle of nowhere comes an invention that might just revolutionise the way we interact with technology – in pretty much every way. Maxim Kamanin, a youngster from a remote village in southern Russia, is the inventor of a new form of display that may eliminate the need for computer screens entirely, freeing us up to work far more creatively with technology.

Displair literally puts digital images into the air, creating fully penetrable 3D images which can be viewed and manipulated. It is completely astonishing – like something out of Star Trek. It uses a cloud-inspired technology (and not cloud as it is usually thought of in computer tech terms) which somehow remains remarkably stable across varying temperatures. The Displair wiki entry goes into more detail.

From artists, architects and designers, to teachers, surgeons and inventors, the creative ways in which it could be used are immense.

The web-film site Focus Forward Films has a video of this astonishing invention in operation:

Read Full Post »

It may sound like Day of the Triffids in reverse, but it might just be that mushrooms are about to save the planet.

Bloomberg Business Week reports on the work of Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre and the innovative work on plastic substitutes that they have been doing with mushroom fibres:

It starts with a mash of corn stalks and vegetable husks impregnated with mushroom spores. The fungus eats the plant nutrients, then grows a complex root network that fills the shapes of the molds. The final product is a foam that looks something like a big wafer of nougat candy. It is placed in an oven to stop the spores from growing and to give the material the proper texture, hardness, and elasticity.

“The products literally grow themselves. In the dark. With little to no human contact,” says McIntyre. Each mold can be treated to create a material with different qualities. Home insulation must be fire-retardant and energy efficient; cabinets have to be sturdy; a car dashboard or bumper has to be strong but with give.”

And to get rid of it?

Simply throw it on the compost heap and it is gone in weeks.

The reason this is so important?

Polystyrene.

Polystyrene is non-biodegradable and so takes hundreds of years to disappear. The blowing agents that are used to expand it can be highly flammable. Some versions of it are made with hydrofluorocarbons that are over a thousand times more potent in terms of global warming potential than carbon dioxide. It is also regularly excluded from recycling services as it is uneconomical to collect and compact (due to its lack of density versus the space it occupies).

The company behind the mushroom fibre revolution, Ecovative Design, has just signed a deal with the packaging behemoth Sealed Air, the company responsible for Bubble Wrap and Cryovac. Both Dell and Steelcase are already using the material for packaging and it promises a biodegradable revolution in how we ship stuff.

I wonder if this is something that the impressive Centre for Process Innovation should pick up here in the UK? They are the increasingly impressive outfit based in Redcar. In their own words:

“CPI helps companies to prove and scale up processes to manufacture new products and create more sustainable, efficient and economic industries of the future.”

There is some real talent out there in the British economy, particularly in the emerging green and high-tech industries. A UK angle on this would help boost manufacturing, jobs and the wider economy, whilst at the same time helping to tackle the huge waste problem there is with packaging.

Read Full Post »

We often grumble about the potholes that seem to appear overnight. Water freezes into ice, placing stress on an already cracked pavement or road, and the chunks of surface between the cracks are dislodged. Rain washes away more and more and before long we realise that what was once just a small depression is now a ruddy great hole, in danger of ruining our bikes and cars. (Those – usually Lib Dems – with a greater than normal interest in them can read more about potholes.)

In some parts of the world, however, the potholes that vex County Councils and insurers across the country pale into insignificance. Sinkholes are of a very different order of magnitude. Once again, there is an interaction between water and minerals, but the result is of a wholly different order of magnitude.

One of the most shocking stories in recent years comes from Guatemala. For weeks local residents in Guatemala City had heard rumblings and had no idea what was causing them. Then, suddenly, in February 2007, the ground suddenly fell away 30 stories almost instantly. It is quite breath-taking, both in its geometry and scale, two dying and a thousand being evacuated.

I can’t imagine it. Going to bed one night, everything as you expect it, the next day seeing a hole in your back garden hundreds of feet deep. Somehow, we develop a sense that nature changes slowly. Sinkholes join earthquakes and other “sudden change” phenomena that somehow seem unnatural.

Guatemala City

Guatemala City

In Venezuela, there is a flat-topped mountain which is punctuated with the Sarisariñama holes, four sinkholes that are particularly beautiful to look at. Each is a self-contained eco-system, some supporting species found nowhere else on Earth.

The largest sinkhole is in Egypt, where the mindbogglingly large Qattara Depression is 80km wide by 120 km long. Unlike the Sarisariñama, the Qattara Depression is completely lifeless.

For more information, the Sinkhole Report logs new sinkholes in urban and natural settings. Below is a gallery of these strange, beautiful but terrifying phenomena.

And finally, and judging by its record with Essex potholes, I hope Essex County Council doesn’t have to deal with one of these any time soon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

death-star-660x448According to the last census (2011), there were still 176, 632 Jedi Knights in the United Kingdom.  As the Guardian reported, that represented a significant decline on 2001 when around 300,000 Jedi Knights were keeping us safe from The Empire (coincidentally, George Bush was US President from 2001 to 2009), but they are still a force to be reckoned with. And thankfully, we are not in Star Wars: Episode IV “A New Hope” territory yet.

Hopefully, the ranks of aspiring Luke Skywalkers will be emboldened by the latest announcement from the White House. In responding officially to a petition on the White House website calling for America to build a Death Star, Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, offered this formal response:

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

The geopolitical ramifications of building a Death Star aside, Shawcross is quite right to remind folks that actually it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of robust design. Perhaps a little more worryingly it shows just how deeply imprinted Star Wars is on the American psyche. But let’s not go there!

Anyone wanting a little light relief and some reassurance that, just occasionally, government officials do have a sense of humour, should read his full response.

Read Full Post »

Noise.

It fills our lives. It is something that is so constant that I doubt any of us really experience true silence except perhaps on a few occasions in our lives. There is the daily burr that forms a soundtrack to our lives that we barely pay attention to any more. There are the phones chirruping away, cars passing, doors closing, papers shuffling, colleagues talking at the water cooler, footsteps in the corridor. The list is endless.

In more peaceful places there is still noise: the wind in the trees, birds singing, the sea on the shore, the rustle of grass as we walk. Even now, in this house, with no music playing, the windows double-glazed and with the heating currently off, I can hear the whirr of the computer’s fan and my fingers clicking on the keyboard (and what a joy it is to be typing on a real keyboard, not a laptop or a Blackberry). At other times there might be the creak of pipes or the sound of the house settling after the day or a distant siren howling through the town.

Interestingly, pretty much the world’s quietest place isn’t in the middle of nowhere at all. It is at Orfield Laboratories, in their anechoic chamber:

anechoic chamberAnechoic means echo free and this chamber is designed to completely absorb sound waves and create an experimental space in which there can be absolute silence. Somehow or other I suspect that I would end up being driven mad by the sound of the blood rushing in my ears!

Anyway, browsing Facebook, the feed of an old friend with whom I wish I kept in better touch flashed up a link to a blog: Noise – A human history. Starting Monday 18 March, this 30-part series will explore the role of sound in the past 100,000 years of human history As it says on the blog:

“Recorded on location around the world, it will take us from the shamanistic trance-music of our cave-dwelling ancestors, the babel of ancient Rome, the massacre of noisy cats in pre-revolutionary Paris, and the sonic assaults of trench warfare, right through to our struggle to find calm in the cacophony of a modern metropolis. This is not about sound in the abstract: it is about sound as a matter of life and death, pain and pleasure, feeling and intellect. People, and their past behaviours, are at the heart of it.”

Sound has always fascinated me – how we become attuned to some sounds and not to others, how music can bend our emotions, how people communicate, how we hear the world when we actually stop to listen. Something tells me that this series will be quite special.

Check it out – and those of you who enjoy quality radio, listen out for it.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: