Supporting endangered insect populations with designer flora.
The troubling collapse of bee populations worldwide gets more worrisome with every spring. According to BBC News, “Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this. Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75 percent over almost 30 years.”
Matilde Boelhouwer, a graduate of the Netherlands' Artez Institute of the Arts, decided to do something about it. According to Boelhouwer’s site, designers are “obliged to think about new possibilities and opportunities and show new perspectives instead of only making more beautiful products.”
That obligation drove her to use her design skills in a positive, impactful way. Boelhouwer learned that jeopardized insects often faced a lack of food accompanied by exhaustion. She realized that if she could produce some type of artificial flower that would attract not only bees, but also the other important pollinators of the insect world (hoverflies, butterflies, and moths), these flowers could become a source of nourishment and respite for the insects.
Boelhouwer tapped her artistic talents and worked with entomologists to determine which design elements and other attractants would entice insects to feed at these auxiliary stations. This collaboration of art and science, according to an article in Fast Company, resulted in the production of artificial flowers that can be used repeatedly in urban areas.
Boelhouwer continues her mission from her studio, where she hopes to make people understand the importance of nature while also raising awareness of new ideas and solutions. Her recent creations include insect terraria and sweets made from insects.
Published on OvertureGlobal.com
If you've taken a shot of hard liquor, you know how badly it burns on the way down. But how can a room-temperature or even a cool liquid cause this burning sensation? The answer isn't what you might think.
If You Can't Stand the Heat
Your body's normal temperature hovers at, or very close to, 98.6 degrees (37 degrees Celsius). When you drink something cold, that beverage becomes slightly warmer as it travels down your throat and into your stomach. When you drink a hot beverage, the opposite happens: Your body absorbs some of that heat.
And your body can take a lot of heat. For example, coffee drinkers prefer their cup of joe around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science. So even when you sip on something nearly 30 degrees hotter than your core body temperature, you don't feel like your throat is on fire.
To protect your insides, your mouth and throat both have pain sensors called vanilloid receptor-1, or VR1. VR1 are finely tuned to react to food's temperature and acidity by stimulating neurons to transmit the sensation of pain to the brain. These receptors are super sensitive to both actual high temperatures and perceived heat from compounds like capsaicin, making them react similarly to a sizzling hot slice of pizza as they do to a habanero-laden scoop of salsa.
Fool Me Once
Things change when alcohol comes into play. Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages such as tequila. Unlike capsaicin, which makes VR1 think a food is hot to the touch, ethanol binds to these receptors and makes them more sensitive to heat. This bond actually changes the heat threshold, lowering it to just 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius). This might not seem like a big swing in temperature, but it's enough to cause a flurry of responses in your skin, esophagus, and spinal cord, giving you a sudden sensation of warmth all over and a nasty burn in your throat.
The human body has warning signals in place to protect you from danger. Whether it's a sudden release of adrenaline in life-threatening situations or a pain signal when you eat something that's too hot, reactions in your body are there to tell you not to do something. In the case of downing a shot of liquor, that burning sensation isn't real heat; it's your own body's warning signals gone awry.
Live on Curiosity.com
To understand a Quick Response (QR) code and its power, you first need to get familiar with a regular bar code.
Bar codes are optical, machine-readable representations of data. This data is represented in a linear, or one-dimensional, fashion with each bar of a bar code embedded with certain information. The cumulative set of these bars provides a snapshot of factual data about the item that it is placed with a level of end-user interactivity that is limited. Data in bar codes is merely part of a brief, one-way knowledge exchange: how much does the item cost, who signed for the package; how much does the pallet weigh, etc.?
With QR codes, data can be embedded on a two-dimensional matrix – both vertically and horizontally. This arrangement allows much more storage per code – up to several hundred times the amount of data carried by ordinary bar codes. It also allows the flexibility of embedding different types of data, including those that encourage further information discovery and active engagement on the part of the user. For example, hotlinks to websites; contact information that can be stored, dialed or e-mailed by touch; sales material like menus with usable coupons; garden planting guides; movie reviews in video format; interactive maps and more can be readily and quickly accessed from devices (typically smart phones) with reader applications. This act of linking from a user’s device directly to physical world objects is called “object hyperlinking” or “hardlinking.”
A PRACTICAL BENEFIT OF A QR CODE CAN BE SEEN IN THIS SCENARIO
For a high school science class, each student is assigned a chemical element and told to explain all aspects about the element. One student is researching Oxygen, and collects almost everything he wants to include in his report, but is still looking for something unique. After a little extra digging, he comes across a poster of the periodic table where QR codes have been used to represent each element. He scans the code for Oxygen and goes directly to a documentary video clip from the University of Nottingham, giving him just the information he needs for his report. Want to know what he found? Scan the QR code in the image or check out “The Periodic Table of Videos” – a great collection of QR codes put to use.
Originally Published in Headline Discoveries
Consisting of a group of 15 lanthanide elements plus yttrium, the rare earth elements are all metals, grouped together on the periodic table due to their similar properties.
What sets these elements apart from others on the periodic table is the arrangement of their outer electrons. These electrons can change energy states and release visible light (fluorescence). They can absorb light or UV rays and re-emit the energy as a red or green glow. Additionally, many of the elements of this group have strong magnetic properties. When alloyed with other metals, the result is a very compact, yet strong, magnet.
It is these two main properties that have made these elements highly desirable in the production of today’s high technology devices.
Color televisions use europium and yttrium oxides to produce red colors and praseodymium and neodymium to reduce glare on screens. Cameras and binoculars with optical lenses are made with lanthanum oxide while other lanthanide compounds are used in high-intensity lighting and even street lights.
Because of their rich and varied optical properties, rare earth elements are used in glazes for earthenware (adding erbium oxide produces a pink lemonade hue). Europium, the most visible of all the rare earth elements, emits blue and red light when added to phosphors used in the production of computer monitors (even those in small, personal devices such as iPods and cell phones).
Their magnetic property has made them useful in green technology as well. Wind turbines use lanthanide-flecked supermagnets to generate electricity. Auto engines are being made more efficient by using an iron alloy of terbium and dysprosium. This blend expands and contracts efficiently in the presence of a magnetic field, helping sensors, actuators and injectors to perform better. Car batteries used in electric-powered vehicles also rely heavily on rare earth elements.
The technology explosion of the past two decades has seen a rise in demand for rare earth elements. These elements are mined in many areas around the world, including countries such as Brazil, India, China, Vietnam, the United States, Nigeria and Canada. Currently, China has the largest operations available for the mining and processing of rare earth elements. It is expected that more operations will be developed around the world in the near future as demand for high-technology devices rises and because future uses are being explored in fields such as laser technology, telecommunications and medical diagnostics.
Originally Published in Headline Discoveries
In the early 1970s, The Six Million Dollar Man (based on Cyborg, a science fiction novel by Martin Caidin) first debuted on television. The show followed the life of astronaut Steve Austin who, having been severely injured in a crash, lost functionality in two limbs and one eye. The show’s opening credits said: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.” With that, viewers got the first glimpse of a bionic man. While a far-fetched idea at the time, the state-of-the-art technology featured in the television program has come to be a reality, including the “bionic” eye, a new and quickly advancing frontier in bionic medical devices.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
To put the technicalities of a bionic eye into perspective, consider seeing something made of pixels (the small boxes used to make images on a computer monitor). The more pixels used in an image, the better the image definition. Early versions of the bionic eye used only four electrodes (representing a 2” x 2” pixel image), while current implants feature 60 electrodes. Scientists and engineers are working towards implants with 1000 electrodes, which they hope will allow facial recognition. Further down the road, scientists plans to introduce electrodes that will allow recipients to see color as well.
Originally Published in Headline Discoveries
Ever notice that when you spill coffee over the edge of your cup it always produces a ring under the bottom edge?
There is a rather complex reason for this, but it can be summed up somewhat easily. Two main factors are at play: surface tension of the molecules of the liquid and the temperature of the surrounding environment.
When a drop of coffee is splashed outside of the cup, it has an initial “pinned” spot, and from there the surface tension within the liquid causes the molecules to spread and draw more liquid away from it.
The temperature of the surrounding area then comes into play as a difference in temperature between the liquid and the air causes evaporation to begin. When an evaporating drop is checked under a microscope, there is a strong outward flow of material as the particles stream toward the edge, rather than moving around randomly. As the process continues, the molecules of the liquid continue to draw towards the edge and, because of their surface tension, they continue to draw more molecules towards them to replace liquid that has already evaporated. This continuous flow piles the material up at the edges, where it eventually dries and forms a ring.
No matter what type of liquid or different types of surface on which the liquid is spilled, all combinations still produce rings.
Scientists who have recently studied this phenomenon believe it has implications for industries that rely on the uniform deposition of solids suspended in liquid media (i.e., paints) and that dispersed solids could be deposited in a controlled fashion such as by creating tiny electronic circuits or providing a means of high-density information storage.
Originally posted in Headline Discoveries, January 2011
With all of the plastic that’s used on a daily basis comes the need to have it recycled.
Most plastic bottles produced in the United States are made from Polyethylene Terephtalate (PET). In 2005, U.S. manufacturers produced 5.1 billion pounds of PET products, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). NAPCOR has estimated that if the current rate of production remains the same, then 40 billion pounds of PET waste will be
added to landfills within a decade.
To help counteract this growth, some states offer financial incentives to consumers who bring in plastic bottles for recycling. In addition, companies are being encouraged to design bottles in ways that make them more efficient and cheaper to recycle. One of the most interesting ideas to come from this challenge is the collapsible plastic bottle.
BEGINNING OF THE COLLAPSE
In 1985, a patent was filed for a collapsible plastic bottle. According to the patent description, the bottle would be constructed with walls that would look and behave like bellows, allowing them to be squeezed together and collapse upon themselves, thus reducing the overall size of the bottle by at least half.
The technology discussed in this patent has been used over the years; however, it has been limited to products geared mostly toward outdoor enthusiasts and athletes, and for corporate promotional giveaway items.
THE CHALLENGE BEGINS
One of the greatest impacts to the environment could be if major beverage manufacturers would incorporate some form of a collapsible bottle into their product lines. For example, in early 2010, package designer Andrew Seunghyun Kim went public with a set of design
concepts aimed at repackaging 20 oz. Coca-Cola® features a square package instead of a cylindrical design. Kim’s design results in 66 percent less space being occupied than when the bottle is not collapsed. While there are many advantages to this particular
design, it is more unlikely that re-engineering the bottle in a square shape will take off due to reasons that involve engineering problems, distribution challenges and production line changes that could be too costly.
However, other companies, like Plasto Solutions, are working on further developing the idea of collapsible beverage bottles. They are staying with a cylindrical bottle design to lessen the impact on manufacturing process changes for the end user. Their design uses a complex system of ribs instead of bellows and their plastic bottle folds by slightly twisting the bottle’s body. This produces a flat circle of plastic that takes up only 10 percent of the original space.
BENEFITS OF COLLAPSE
The idea of impacting how much space is being occupied in landfills by plastic soda bottles is very appealing to those who are environmentally conscious. By reducing the amount of space that a bottle occupies, more can be placed in collection containers and thus provide a more
cost-effective means of recycling.
Written for Headline Discoveries
Abundantly found in the stardust that makes up the cosmos, space diamonds consist of carbon just like those found on Earth, but they differ in size and importance.
These gemstones, commonly called nanodiamonds, are roughly 25,000 times smaller than a grain of sand. Unlike regular diamonds that hold great monetary value the bigger they are, the tiny nanodiamonds have a different value—in the form of knowledge. With the adage of knowledge being power, some could argue that they are therefore worth much, much more by opening up new ways to learn about the universe.
Nanodiamonds, just like all objects in the universe, emit light over the entire electromagnetic spectrum and scientists believe that by studying the properties of this light, they can better understand the origins of the universe and learn more about how it has developed and changed over time.
HOW ARE THEY EVEN SEEN?
Given the right tools, technology and atmospheric conditions, this light could be seen by scientists on Earth. However, since the Earth’s atmosphere tends to block out certain types of radiation, the best way to study nanodiamonds is by locating a telescope outside of the atmosphere.
Enter the Spitzer.
SUPER EYE IN THE SKY
The Spitzer Space Telescope, a super-sensitive instrument launched in 2003, is the fourth and final of NASA's Great Observatories, and is best known for having a high sensitivity to infrared radiation.
Spitzer was specifically designed to house a cryogenic telescope assembly since its detectors and telescope must be cooled to only about five degrees above absolute zero (-450 degrees Fahrenheit, or -268 degrees Celsius).
When light from nearby stars hits the molecules that make up the nanodiamonds, energy is absorbed from infrared radiation and then excites the bonds in the molecules to a higher state of vibration. This causes the bonds to either bend, twist or stretch, resulting in distinctive wavelengths of infrared light being produced.
Spitzer’s super-sensitive infrared spectrometer then breaks that light into its component parts. Data collected is shown as an infrared spectrum, with the resulting image indicating wavelength patterns helping to identify what elements and molecules the object is made of, thus uniquely identifying the nanodiamonds based on their “infrared fingerprint.”
Considered a technological marvel, Spitzer includes many innovative features never used on previous space missions, yet the telescope’s fully functioning lifespan is limited. Its cooling system has been exhausted, allowing some components to overheat and not function. Still operable are the two shortest wavelength modules of the IRAC camera that will continue to be used, allowing further data discovery based on nanodiamond composition, but to a more limited degree.
NANODIAMOND DATA PROSPECTING
Recently astrochemists have focused their efforts on Elias 1, the Orion Bar, the CS region of HD 44179 and the Red Rectangle nebula where the unique infrared emission from nanodiamonds has helped identify the chemical form of interstellar matter. This provided new knowledge about the physical properties of celestial objects and their interactions over time and is helping scientists to better understand the universe.
Mythbusters: MacGyver Myths,The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek. These popular movies and television show have something in common–but what is it?
Each relies heavily on some form of illusion to tell a story. No matter what medium is used, special effects of varying types are a big part of today’s entertainment. Especially in the film industry, what looks to most people like cinematic magic is often entirely explainable, be it huge explosions, snowy sets, creepy makeup and the like.
On Mythbusters, the cast frequently employs various chemical reactions to figure out what’s real and what’s not. On their 100th episode, they tackled television’s MacGyver by attempting to blow a hole in a wall with pure sodium metal dropped into water and they also tried to develop film using common kitchen liquids.
Snow can be created entirely artificially. Snow Business is an award-winning United Kingdom–based company that uses several methods to create the illusion of snowy sets via processes that are chemically dependent.
In sci-fi movies like Star Trek, actors are typically outfitted with extensively detailed life-like masks designed to dramatically transform their appearance. These masks are made of latex, which is derived from rubber that is harvested from trees. Because environmental conditions can affect its quality, it needs to undergo several chemical processes to ensure that the workability of the final latex material remains consistent.
The science behind this fun, intriguing and harmless type of deception is the topic addressed by this year’s National Chemistry Week, scheduled to take place October 17-23, 2010.
A DEEPER LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES
Sponsored by the American Chemical Society (ACS), National Chemistry Week is a community-based outreach program that unites ACS local sections with schools, businesses and individuals to emphasize the importance of chemistry in everyday life. The focus has traditionally been toward elementary and secondary school students; however, colleges and universities do get involved, often providing programs for younger students.
Events are held on both national and local levels and are centered on ideas presented by ACS.
This year’s theme “Behind the Scenes with Chemistry!” was chosen to help students learn that often what looks like magic or trickery is really a good example of chemistry in use. Events suggested by ACS include the following:
Originally Published in Headline Discoveries
Because of recent activity in Iceland, there have been many news reports done on volcano eruptions and the damages that can be caused by volcanic ash. So, just what is “volcanic ash?
It’s not what most people may envision. Typically, when most people think about ash, they picture something light and fluffy—like ashes in the fireplace or barbecue. So, when they hear that a volcano has erupted and everything is covered in ash, the natural assumption is that it is relatively harmless and can be easily swept away. Not true.
THE BLAST AND ITS COMPONENTS
Volcanic eruptions occur when gases in magma, or molten rock, expand and escape into the air. They also occur when water that is super-heated by magma abruptly flashes into steam, or when thermal contraction from chilling occurs after contacting water. Each
scenario leads to eruptions that occur with explosive force, causing escaping gases to shatter surrounding rock layers of the Earth. When eruptions occur in areas covered by glaciers, the resulting plume can contain glass-rich deposits that were created when melted ice quickly chilled lava prior to its explosion.
Material expelled from the volcano at this point is called ‘”tephra.” To better study components of a volcanic eruption, scientists have broken tephra into classifications based on size:
While the size of a volcanic bomb doesn’t seem so large, some perspective is needed. Take, for example, a storm producing hailstones of roughly the same size. They can
cause excessive damage to car windshields and even slate roofs. To a person struck by a volcanic bomb, the impact would feel something like getting hit with a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher due to the high rate of propulsion.
Volcanic bombs and lapilli do cause problems but, because they settle to the ground at a much quicker rate than ash, the extent of their damage is often not as far reaching. The tiny size of ash and its ability to readily travel everywhere means it can be a lot less apparent to ascertain the damages it can cause.
Much has been written about the damage to people, animals, air, soil and water, but less so the damage and chaos that ash can cause to other things, especially those that are technologically and/or mechanically based. Following are just a few things that could be heavily impacted:
These examples show that volcanic ash is dramatically more devastating than it appears and has a great potential to leech its way into so many things that are important to the day-to-day operation of life for everyone in areas affected by volcanic eruptions.
Getting to the Bottom of It
The words "tephra" and "pyroclast" both derive from the Greek language.
Properties of Volcanic Ash
Originally posted in Headline Discoveries, Fall 2010
I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!