Ah, summer. The gentle breezes, the warm sun, the sound of a billion bugs desperately trying to get it on before dying. . . After 17 years of underground maturation, a group of periodical cicadas is beginning to emerge in the Midwest. This particular group, known as Brood XIII, appears once every 17 years—wriggling free from the ground, shedding their last juvenile coat, and mating like mad. While non-periodical cicadas rarely live more than eight years, these not only reach the ripe old age of 17 but do so with nearly perfect synchronization. Periodical cicadas emerge in 13- and 17-year cycles, separated out by geographical range. The species in Brood XIII will infest only the Midwest (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, to be precise), leaving the rest of the country untouched (at least until next summer, when Brood XIV emerges in 13 states).Specific species of cicada evolved into hibernating creatures mainly to avoid run-ins with predators like the cicada-killer wasp and the praying mantis. Since the hibernators are out of sight for so many years, their life cycle falls out of step with the cycles of their natural enemies, making them an unreliable food source. Meanwhile, the cicadas' insane density (their population has been known to reach 1.5 million per acre) means that the opportunistic predation bound to occur when dogs, birds and rodents see the feast set forth will have no substantial effect on their numbers. Which, of course, leaves intrepid Midwesterners with only one tool to combat their massive numbers: the BBQ. We're not kidding. Mmm, good.—Abby Seiff
For more info, see:
A Trill of a Lifetime
The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Insect Divisions
Cicadas for Dinner
It sounds preposterous, and it is—just look at this thing! This striking Volkswagen GTI concept features a host of performance upgrades and some dramatic design modifications to accommodate them. Most notable are the flared wheel wells to house the really big tires, necessary to manage the 650 horsepower being delivered by a six-liter W-12 engine. Zero-to-60 in 3.7 seconds. Top speed: 202 mph. Ferrari F430: dusted. —Eric Adams
As you've probably noticed, we've had inventions on the brain here at PopSci lately. Our Invention Awards issue (on newsstands now) presents 10 stunning examples of everyday people envisioning solutions to challenging problems and not stopping until they become reality. We've shown you a rocket-powered net that could prevent insurgents from shooting down choppers; a stronger, quieter fastener that makes Velcro look positively ancient; and a compact rope-ascender unit that lets climbers rappel up a wall.
A skin-care company builds a futuristic facility to stockpile human tissue. Should you donate?
By Rebecca SklootPosted 05.24.2007 at 2:00 am 1 Comment
Discarded body tissue is a hot commodity. It's bought and sold and used for everything from anthrax vaccines to penis-enlargement products. If you donate tissue for research or leave some behind at a doctor's office after, say, a routine mole removal, those samples are sometimes stored to be used in research or turned into profitable products.
For the most part, this is good; it leads to new drugs and disease cures. But for decades, patients'-rights groups, bioethicists and lawyers have argued that patients should have control over what happens to their tissue once they've parted with it.
The British Crown Prosecution Service announced today that it is seeking the extradition of Russian businessman Andrei Lugovoi to face accusations that he murdered Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent who died last November after being poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210, a rare and highly toxic radioactive compound [see our story " The First Assassination of the 21st Century," from the June issue]. "I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Mr. Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning," Ken MacDonald, the director of public prosecutions, told reporters.Litvinenko, a spy turned entrepreneur who rose to prominence as an ally of expatriate tycoon Boris Berezvosky during the free-market 1990s, emigrated to England and railed loudly and publicly against the increasing authoritarianism of Russian president Vladimir Putin's regime. Litvinenko fell ill after a November 1 meeting at the Millennium Hotel in central London with Lugovoi and possibly two other associates. He suffered a slow, agonizing death, and his murder was widely believed to be retribution, directly or indirectly, for his comments about the Kremlin.Only hours after the British expatriation request, the Russian prosecutor-general said that it would not hand Lugovoi over to British officials but that it would consider using evidence collected by British investigators. "A citizen who has committed a crime on the territory of a foreign state can be prosecuted with evidence provided by the foreign state,but only on the territory of Russia," said a spokeswoman, Marina Y. Gridneva, in a televised statement.According to Russian news agencies, Lugovoi denies killing Litvinenko and said that he would soon make statements that would be "a sensation for public opinion in Britain."The poisoning highlights fears about Russia's decommissioned chemical and radioactive weapons. Several international reports on the state of the former Soviet arsenal point up the dangers of poorly guarded or unguarded weapons and substances in the region.—Jake Ward
For more information, read "The First Assassination of the 21st Century"
Science serves up caffeinated doughnuts and juicy bacteria
By Michelle BrynerPosted 05.22.2007 at 2:00 am 0 Comments
Pep up Your Pastry Now you can one-hand that coffee-and-doughnut breakfast. Robert Bohannon of Environostics, an R&D firm in North Carolina, has concocted a caffeine-laced doughnut that packs a jolt equal to two cups of coffee. Normally, caffeine in baked goods imparts a bitter taste. Bohannon has concealed the drug in tiny, edible capsules that dissolve in your stomach, not in your mouth. Look for caffeinated snacks within six months.
Flavor Factories Bacteria could soon add "freshly squeezed" taste to processed juice.
We here at PopSci are cracy about 3-D printers, and Maker Faire was flush with plenty of implementations of this amazing developing technology.
The project we featured in June, Fab@Home, had its open-source 3-D printer cranking out delicious computer-generated prototypes in cake icing:
Also filed under the "delicious 3-D printing" category was the Evil Mad Scientist Labs's CandyFab 4000, which makes its 3-D prints in sugar. A jet of hot air warms a bed of sugar one pixel at a time. Once a 2-D layer is complete, another layer of sugar is piled on and the process repeats, with each layer of sugar fusing to the next until some truly amazing sculptures are birthed:
A fresh layer of sugar gets printed.
The results.The folks at TechShop—a supercool Bay Area group that gives its members open access to a ton of high-powered tools—had an industrial-grade ABS plastic 3-D printer going in their booth. This one was making a salt shaker, complete with a threaded screw-top lid:
And finally, Bathesba Grossman is an amazing artist using 3-D printers that work in metal to generate complex geometric forms. Some of the forms, consisting of intricately interlocking bands of polished metal, would be impossible to make without a 3-D printer and a computer. —John Mahoney
Another image from the day-one slide show I couldn't let get buried: James Nick Sears and his dad's amazing "persistence of vision" project, called the ORB. The ORB is hundreds of computer-controlled LEDs soldered into a ring that spins at an impressive 1,600 rpm. A computer synchronizes the LEDs to project animated digital images in full 3-D. —John Mahoney
Of all the projects I saw on display this weekend, the one I'm most anxious to try myself is kite aerial photography. Cris Benton, one of the masters of the field, was on hand to show off his numerous kite rigs. Before taking up kites, Cris was a photographer first and a radio-controlled-airplane enthusiast second. His two hobbies came together quite nicely, inspiring him to fit his cameras with some RC controllers and take them aloft on kites. His current workhorse is a thing of beauty:
A Canon digital point-and-shoot is nestled in an ultralight wood-and-aluminum frame. The whole thing is fitted with servos allowing Cris to control the angle of the camera from the ground and squeeze the shutter when the moment is right via radio control.
The process goes like this: Cris first gets his kite flying smoothly in the air. Once satisfied with the conditions, he ties on his rig's lines to the main kite string and sends it farther up; an ingenious system of four pulleys keeps the rig (and the camera) parallel to the ground using the rig's own weight. The output can be truly stunning:
Salt ponds in Fremont, California, from Cris's Flickr stream. Check it out for more amazing shots.
Cris's current shooter is pretty tricked out, but you can make a much simpler version out of a disposable camera and some Popsicle sticks (you can see part of the instructions here on the Make site). —John Mahoney