Archive for July, 2010

Underwater Living

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Visual of Sub-Biosphere 2 concept for a self-sustaining marine environment for human, animal and plant life by Pauley Interactive.

Drawing from the vision of Biosphere 2, the man-made closed-ecological system in Arizona, Phil Pauley, a London-based concept designer, is looking to the build a self-sustainable underwater habitat called Sub-Biosphere 2.

Designed for ‘aquanauts,’ tourism and oceanographic life sciences as well as long-term human, plant and animal habitation, the Sub-Biosphere 2 (SBS2) will have a central supporting biome powering and controlling eight interactive living biomes – each representing a different ecosystem. According to Pauley, all life-support systems for air, water, food, electricity, and other resources will be sustained by the innovative control of variant atmospheric pressures that occur at depth. The SBS2 will also act as a seed bank supporting the human, animal and plant life in the biomes.

The SBS2 will be able to float or submerge and as it dives, the pressure at depth against the forces of air would act like a heart and lungs, sustaining the life within the biomes—which is something to consider, given the success and failure of its mentor, Biosphere 2, which was terminated in 1994 and now serves as a as a center for research, teaching and learning about Earth and its living systems, managed by the University of Arizona. Opinions vary on the eventual failure of the Biosphere 2 project, but most agree that it came down to human nature—feelings of isolation or problems with the management team. Something Pauley and his SBS2 team will have to consider with confining human beings into the SBS2.

via GizMag

Shapeshifting Materials

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Lapsed video photography of shapeshifting material via ZDNet

Scientists at Harvard University and M.I.T. have invented self-folding sheets of fiberglass that can flex themselves origami-like into shapes of airplanes and boats.

Less than a half-millimeter thick and connected by elastic silicone rubber creases, the self-folding sheets are one step closer to “programmable matter” that could one day serve to bend and crease into any three-dimensional shape.

To make the sheets self-folding, computer scientist Daniela Rus at MIT and her colleagues embedded strips just 100 microns thick — as wide as a human hair — made of a “shape-memory” nickel-titanium alloy that changes shape when heated or cooled. They also included flexible, stretchable copper-laminated plastic mesh ribbons on the sheets that served as wires.

The sheets shift from flat to bent when electricity is applied to heat the shape memory alloy strips, causing the entire sheet to fold with them.

“The underlying theme here is to have a structure that can choose different shapes on demand for whatever you might use them for,” said researcher Robert Wood, a roboticist at Harvard University.

To program each crease to fold in the right direction and order, the researchers are developing stickers that contain all the circuits needed to connect and trigger the correct actuators for making specific complex three-dimensional shapes.

The researchers foresee a number of potential applications:

* Measuring cups that fold to hold anywhere from a quarter teaspoon to multiple cups.

* Shelves that fold into as many divisions as required.

* A puckering sheet that can display information for the blind or people in the dark.

* A Swiss army knife of sorts able to form a tripod, wrench, antenna, or splint.

Currently the researchers power the sheets by wiring them to external controllers. Wood suggests that future sheets could include energy storage or energy harvesting layers, such as solar panels, and could also be wirelessly powered.

Instead of employing shape memory alloy strips, the actuators could be made of a number of other materials as well, such as artificial muscles.

via ZDNet and LiveScience

Video of programmable sheet self-folding into a boat and airplane from Harvard Microrobotics Lab

Presidential Commission Panel on Synthetic Biology

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Joel Kulper

At the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues attendees assessed the risks and benefits of synthetic biology. Advocates heralded the field’s shiny prospects for health and commerce while others cautioned against environmental hazards and potential widening of socioeconomic gaps.

Proponents included: Craig Venter, American biologist and founder of J. Craig Venter Institute who is known for sequencing the human genome; Drew Endy, synthetic biologist, assistant professor at Stanford University and leading enabler of open source biotechnology; Chemical engineer Kristala Prather, head of Prather Research Group @ MIT; and George Church, molecular geneticist who initiated the Personal Genome Project and founded the personal genomic company, Knome.

Concerned bioethicists and scientists included: Allison Snow from the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at Ohio State University; Technology historian Jim Thomas; Greg Kaebnick, Research Scholar at The Hastings Center and editor of the Hastings Center Report; and Allen Buchanan, professor of philosophy at Duke University.

According to, the Commission is requesting public input until September 1st and their report on SynBio recommendations and implications is due on Obama’s desk in November of this year.

via Biopolitical Times, the weblog of the Center for Genetics and Society

COORDINATES: Charles/West 4th St, NYC

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

“Love is the Answer”  Artwork by Mr. Brainwash

Bansky’s upcoming film: Exit through the Gift Shop

Heavenly Solar Music

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Photo of magnetic solar coronal loops via Eureka Alert by TRACE

Musical sounds created by longitudinal vibrations within the Sun’s atmosphere, have been recorded and accurately studied for the first time by experts at the University of Sheffield, shedding light on the Sun’s magnetic atmosphere.

Using state-of-the-art mathematical theory combined with satellite observations, a team of solar physicists from the University have captured the music on tape and revealed the harmonious sounds are caused by the movement of giant magnetic loops in the solar corona -the outermost, mysterious, and least understood layer of the Suns atmosphere. Most importantly, the team studied how this sound is decaying, giving an unprecedented insight into the physics of the solar corona.

High-resolution images taken by a number of satellites show that the solar corona is filled with large banana-shaped magnetic structures known as coronal loops. It is thought that these giant magnetic loops, some of them over a few 100,000 km long, play a fundamental role in governing the physics of the corona and are responsible for huge atmospheric explosions that occur in the atmosphere, known as solar flares.

These giant coronal loops have also been observed to undergo periodic (oscillatory) motion, which can be thought of as someone plucking a guitar string (transversal oscillations) or blowing the wind-pipe instrument (longitudinal oscillations). With the length and thickness of the string fixed, the pitch of the note is determined by the tension of the string and the tone is made up of the harmonics of the modes of oscillation. In this sense, the solar atmosphere is constantly pervaded by the music of the coronal loops.

Video from the Transitional Region and Coronal Explorer, showing eruptions from the solar corona.

via PhysOrg

COORDINATES: NYC Lafayette Street

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

“Time and Space died yesterday.”

Ten Strange Places

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Richat Structure (‘African Eye’), Sahara desert, Mauritania, Africa. Photo by NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Strange, beautiful and little known natural wonders of the Earth via Aquiziam:

1. Pamukkale, Turkey: Around for over two millennia, the terraced pools are believed to be created by fractures caused by earthquakes that exposed hot springs. These hot springs evaporated leaving a chalky material, lining the tiered pools with white. Pamukkale is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the pools have been closed to bathing.

2. Koekohe Beach, New Zealand’s South Island: Known as “Moeraki Boulders,” these large, spherical boulders were originally formed on the sea floor from sedimentary deposits that accreted around a core in the same way that a pearl will form around a particle of sand.  The erosion of the cliffs often reveals these boulders from the surrounding mudstone allowing them to join those already on the beach. Maori legend attributes their origin to the arrival of the first ancestors / giants who came in the great Araiteuru canoe which was sunk by three great waves at nearby Matakaea.

3. Nine Hells of Beppu, Japan: Located on the Japanese island of Kyūshū, Beppu is the second largest producer of geothermal water in the world. Located in the same area are the “Nine Hells” or strange geothermal springs, each with its own remarkable character and color due to the variety of minerals in the outflows.

4. Las Canadas, Tenerife, Canary Islands: At the summit of Mount Teide, one of the largest Island volcanoes in the World is the Las Cañadas caldera. The crater, which is an enourmous sixteen kilometres across, is a picture of what Hell might look like if it cooled a little.  Shear walls that formed when the caldera first collapsed encircle this dry and alien place.

5. Great Blue Hole of Belize: In the Light House Reef of Belize is a deep circular cavity known as a Blue Hole. Also throughout the Bahamas, the Blue Hole is often the entrance to cave networks, some of them up to 14 kilometres in length. Divers have reported a vast number of aquatic creatures, some of which are still new to science.  In addition, they’ve recorded chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites which only form in dry caves, which may be proof that nearly 65,000 years ago, when the world was in the grip of the last major ice age, the sea level was lower than it is today, and vast cave networks were created.  When sea levels rose again about 10,000 years ago some of these collapsed inwards and the Blue Holes were formed.

6. Hell’s Door, Turkmenistan: Located in the Kara-Kum desert of Turkmenistan, it is a result of a Soviet drilling for natural gas in 1971. The roof of the cavern collapsed leaving a crater-like sinkhole some 25 metres deep with a diameter of approximately 60 – 70 metres. It soon became evident that natural gas was still rising into the crater from even deeper sources and the story goes that the decision was made to ignite the emissions rather than risk either a concentrated build-up of gas or local poisoning.  According to various sources it has burned continuously since then and has apparently been named “The Gate to Hell” by the local people.

7. Sanqingsha, China: A small National Park near the city of Shangrao in the Jiangxi province of China has a combination of extraordinary granite geology in the form of weird outcrops and pillars combined with seasonal climate variations than often cause mists, fogs and striking sunsets. This effect is enhanced by the profusion of natural waterfalls, pools and springs.

8. Eye of Africa, Mauritania: From space this mysterious depression in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania really does look like a human eye. The image to the left is the “pupil” but a visit to Google Earth zoomed out a little will reveal the cliffs that make up the rest of the eye. This natural phenomenon is actually a richat structure caused by the dome shaped symmetrical uplifting of underlying geology now made visible by millennia of erosion. Some academics believe it is the sight of a meteor impact.

9. Suqatra Island, Yemen: Located off the coast of Yemen in the Middle East, isolated from the rest of the world its plants have evolved into many bizarre shapes and forms that are unknown in other parts of the world. One of the most famous of these is the Dragon’s Blood Tree the sap of which is used to make crystals that can be used as a dye or as an alleged aphrodisiac.

10. Racetrack Playa, California, USA: Called the ‘Sailing Stones,’ once a year the “Playa” or flat desert area experiences short winter rains and becomes slippery as the hexagonal desert floor turns back to mud. During this time the boulders and rocks move leaving clearly visible tracks behind them. Although scientists believe that high winds are responsible, some of the rocks will suddenly change directions and move at almost perfect right angles to their previous direction.