(WIRED.com) Slimy mats of bacteria called biofilms may be the most liquid-repellent materials in nature, researchers have discovered.
“There are a few man-made materials that can perform better, and they have to be made in clean rooms. They’re incredibly expensive and brittle,” said materials scientist Alexander Epstein
of Harvard University, co-author of the new study. “Making biofilm is as easy as growing bacteria.”
The goo secreted by Bacillus subtilis
bacteria not only deflects water like a lotus leaf, but also repels concentrated alcohol, acetone and even vaporized liquid, according to a study
published Jan. 18 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Biofilms are communities of bacteria that stick together using a mixture of sugars and proteins called the extracellular matrix, which takes on a wrinkled form under powerful microscopes (see image below). Since the discovery of bacteria in the late 1600s, most research has covered individual cells. It’s only since the 1990s that scientists have begun to understand the pervasiveness and importance of biofilms.
(Space Ship Two, Virgin Galactic)
(NPR.org) As NASA somberly marks the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident, the agency is looking ahead to the retirement of its aging space shuttle fleet later this year. The next astronauts to travel to space may go instead by private spacecraft designed and owned by commercial companies such as Virgin Galactic.
But a deadly accident like Challenger could have serious ramifications for the fledgling commercial space industry as it tries to take over the job of ferrying astronauts up to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station.
Any accident would probably result in a long investigation and spaceflights being grounded — after Challenger and Columbia, it was years before the shuttles flew again. What would that do to a private company?
"A lot depends on how the private company reacts, and a lot of it depends on the root cause of the failure," says Ken Bowersox, a former NASA astronaut who now works on safety issues for SpaceX, one of the private companies vying to someday take NASA astronauts and other paying customers to orbit.
(CBS) This Edison guy - it turns out that he knew a few things. As if we needed any proof, the Wizard of Menlo Park had a keen insight into how technology would go on to shape our lives. In an interview with the Miami Metropolis
in 1911, Thomas Alva Edison sketched out a future in which:
- Electricity supplants steam as the power source for trains
- Air travel is a regular feature of our daily lives
- Steel becomes cheap and plentiful as a construction material
- An e-reader of sorts where "a book two inches thick will contain forty thousand pages, the equivalent of a hundred volumes."
Truth be told, Edison wasn't 100% clairvoyant (who is?) He predicted that mankind would have discovered how to turn iron into gold so that by today we would be able to tool around in golden taxicabs. OK, he blew that one, but still a darned good reading of the tea leaves.
Tianjin Eco City is a fascinating, 30 square kilometer development designed to showcase the hottest new green technologies and to serve as a model for future developing Chinese cities. Designed by Surbana Urban Planning Group
, the city is being built just 10 minutes away from the business parks at the Tianjin Economic-Development Area, making for a commute that should be a breeze with the development's advanced light rail transit system. Even cooler, the community's expected 350,000 residents will be able to choose different landscapes ranging from a sun-powered solarscape to a greenery-clad earthscape to enjoy.
(USA Today) Discovery is due to launch Feb. 24 and go to the space station with a load of supplies and a storage cubicle. Endeavour is to launch April 19 and also go to the space station. It will carry more supplies and a multimillion-dollar physics experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.
NASA has a final flight set for June 28. Shuttle Atlantis will take supplies to the space station and return a faulty pump. But NASA does not have funding yet for the few hundred million dollars to pay for the mission.
The mission scheduled for April was to be commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly. But Kelly's wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was critically wounded in a shooting this month, and it's not clear whether Kelly will fly his mission with her in rehabilitation.
Interim Health Director Dr. Neal Palafox Resigns Amid Unconfirmed Reports of Probe into Billing Fraud
(AP) HONOLULU - Interim Hawaii Health Director Dr. Neal Palafox abruptly quit Wednesday, the first of new Gov. Neil Abercrombie's Cabinet appointees to leave.
The reason for Palafox's resignation was a mystery, and he wouldn't say whether he was asked to resign.
Abercrombie's office said Palafox asked the Democratic governor to withdraw his nomination.
"Gov. Abercrombie accepted Dr. Palafox's request and will make a new appointment for the Health Director as soon as possible," spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said in a statement.
The Attorney General's office wouldn't comment on whether it's investigating Palafox, said Joshua Wisch, special assistant to the attorney general.
Palafox, 58, said he was surprised when he heard TV news reports citing anonymous sources claiming he was under investigation for medical billing fraud.
"I get handed these e-mails about investigations and so forth, but I have no clue. I'm lost," Palafox said.
(ABC) A surfer who nearly drowned after being pummeled and washed through rocks by a big wave in Northern California is expected to recover, hospital officials said Tuesday.
A Stanford Hospital spokesman said 30-year-old Jacob Trette was in fair condition three days after he nearly drowned while attempting to surf Mavericks, a famous break about 20 miles south of San Francisco that has claimed a number of lives over the years.
Trette was rescued on Saturday by an Australian firefighter, Russell Ord, who was on a personal watercraft taking photographs of the surfers when a large "freak set" caught a pack of them too close to shore.
Saturday featured average-sized waves by Mavericks standards, maybe 15-to-18 foot surf, Ord said. The waves can get 30-foot or higher at certain times of year.
All of a sudden a rogue set of waves that Ord estimated at about 25 feet high appeared on the horizon.
"You could see that first wave coming, all of the surfers started paddling toward it," Ord told The Associated Press.
A group of about five surfers did not make it over the encroaching wave before it broke.
"I saw all the broken boards and people waving for help," he said.
Microcapsules in a Self-Healing Polymer
(Technologyreview.com) A polymer that mends itself could lead to medical implants or engine parts that fix themselves.
A new polymer material that can repeatedly heal itself at room temperature when exposed to ultraviolet light presents the tantalizing possibility of products that can repair themselves when damaged. Possibilities include self-healing medical implants, cars, or even airplane parts.
The polymer, created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Kyushu University, heals when a crack in the material is pressed together and exposed to UV light. The same treatment can cause separate chunks of the material to fuse together to form one solid piece.
The researchers were able to cut the same block into pieces and put them back together at least five times. With further refinement, the material could mend itself many more times, says CMU chemistry professor Krzysztof Matyjaszewski
, who led the research team.
In an unexpected reversal of fortune, NASA's NanoSail-D spacecraft has unfurled a gleaming sheet of space-age fabric 650 km above Earth, becoming the first-ever solar sail to circle our planet.
"We're solar sailing!" says NanoSail-D principal investigator Dean Alhorn of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. "This is a momentous achievement."
NanoSail-D spent the previous month and a half stuck inside its mothership, the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology SATellite (FASTSAT). FASTSAT was launched in November 2010 with NanoSail-D and five other experiments onboard. High above Earth, a spring was supposed to push the breadbox-sized probe into an orbit of its own with room to unfurl a sail. But when the big moment arrived, NanoSail-D got stuck.
"We couldn't get out of FASTSAT," says Alhorn. "It was heart-wrenching—yet another failure in the long and troubled history of solar sails."
Team members began to give up hope as weeks went by and NanoSail-D remained stubbornly and inexplicably onboard. The mission seemed to be over before it even began.
And then came Jan. 17th. For reasons engineers still don't fully understand, NanoSail-D spontaneously ejected itself. When Alhorn walked into the control room and saw the telemetry on the screen, he says "I couldn't believe my eyes. Our spacecraft was flying free!"
Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.
Both cases, says physicist Brian Greene, are possibilities, but if the latter is true, so is another posit: There are only so many ways matter can arrange itself within that infinite universe. Eventually, matter has to repeat itself and arrange itself in similar ways. So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.
Does that sound confusing? Try this:
Think of the universe like a deck of cards.
"Now, if you shuffle that deck, there's just so many orderings that can happen," Greene says. "If you shuffle that deck enough times, the orders will have to repeat. Similarly, with an infinite universe and only a finite number of complexions of matter, the way in which matter arranges itself has to repeat."
Greene, the author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, tackles the existence of multiple universes in his latest book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos