Roboticist Hod Lipson wants you to stop shopping and use his portable 3-D printer to make your own stuff
By Corey BinnsPosted 05.10.2007 at 2:00 am 3 Comments
As a child, Hod Lipson lost Lego pieces constantly. Now the 39-year-old director of Cornell University's Computational Synthesis Lab can build replacement parts on the spot. Completed last year, Lipson's fabrication machine, called a "fabber," can print thousands of three-dimensional objects, everything from toy parts to artificial muscles, using dozens of materials, including PlayDoh, peanut butter and silicone, by following simple directions sent to it by a PC.
Surprisingly little media attention has been paid to Russian president Vladimir Putin's recent attempts to rein in the power of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which has operated with a sizeable amount of autonomy since it was founded by Peter the Great in 1724. Even under the Soviet Union, the Academy managed to defy the authorities by denying unqualified Communist party officials entry and refusing to expel the physicist Andrei Sakharov, who was an active campaigner for human rights and political reform.
Perhaps it was this defiance that spurred the government to take its first steps against the Academy last year, by trying to stack the institution with members of parliament and prominent businessmen, most of whom were turned away for insufficient scientific competence. That move may have failed, but a few months ago, the government took a different tack, declaring the institute moribund and in need of a new charter. The proposed charter would place the Academy's multibillion-dollar property holdings under state control, give Putin final approval of the Academy president, and put many of the organization's decisions in the hands of government oversight committees. With this loss of autonomy, research priorities would be taken out of the hands of scientists, and basic research could lose out to more immediately profitable projects.
The scientists, not surprisingly, are quite upset by these maneuvers. In an article printed this week in Britains Sunday Telegraph, Vitaly Ginzburg, a 90-year-old Nobel Prize winner and vice president of the Academy, said that, sure, science was bad under Stalin, but not this bad. "In those days you could come up with an idea and create," he said, "That's how we put the first Sputnik satellite into space. Now the government thinks science must bring only income and profit, which is absurd." Key members of the Academy have expressed concern that the governments moves signal an attempt to seize the institutions property holdings and dismantle any challenges to Putins power. In late March, they voted almost unanimously to approve their own version of the charter, in defiance of the Kremlin's wishes, which has put the sides in a temporary stalemate.
Government officials say the Academy is in need of fresh blood and blame Russia's brain drain in part on the institutions inflexibility. But given Putin's history of consolidating power, the scientists aren't alone in viewing this as another chapter of the same old story. The international community is beginning to sound alarms about the future of science in Russia—but in the meantime, government restrictions are leaving Russian scientists nostalgic for the golden age of Sputnik. —Kevin Friedl
In a few months, NASA scientists and the press will note the passing of the 30th anniversary since the launches of Voyagers I and II. By now, both interstellar probes have passed beyond Pluto's orbit and are speeding out toward neighboring star systems, carrying with them copies of the Golden Record, a phonograph record full of images, music and recordings of life on Earth intended for any extraterrestrials who might happen upon the probe and wonder who sent it. It's the same idea behind the plaque that was bolted onto the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, both of which are currently gliding out of the solar system behind the Voyager probes.
Every so often, news of a mysterious creature at Loch Ness comes trickling out of Scotland. Usually these Nessie sightings come in the form of an odd blurry shape in the background of a tourists family photo, disappointing monster hunters everywhere when yet another floating hunk of twigs and lake kelp, or perhaps a runaway inflatable raft, is pulled from the deep. Its not often, however, that irrefutable evidence of life in Loch Ness comes from a source as highly esteemed as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A team from MIT was conducting a sonar scan to map the lake floor recently when it ran across an unexpected beast: a common toad. Rather than the toad itself being mysterious, though, scientists were more in awe of its diving abilities. It was spotted crawling around in the mud 324 feet below the surface, which apparently is pretty deep for an amphibian and well below the depth at which the researchers were expecting to find anything other than your standard bottom-dwelling fish, mollusks and supersized swimming dinosaur-lizard hybrids. Maybe the MIT team should ask the toad if its seen anything suspicious lately . . . —Bjorn Carey
What do you get when clear blue sky turns out to be filled with previously unknown, invisible particles? The twilight zone. At least according to NASA.
Last month, scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Israel's Weizmann Institute discovered that the space around clouds previously thought to be only empty atmosphere is instead composed, up to 60 percent, of transitional particles of dying and forming clouds.
Besides clouds, dry aerosols (like dust and smog) and cloud droplets influence the climate by trapping and reflecting solar energy. These known atmospheric components, however, continually failed to yield accurate climate-change predictions. The discovery of the cloud particles may be the missing key. Although the new discovery confuses the matter further by adding another unstable element—understanding and predicting climate change was already complicated by the variety and continuous movement of clouds—knowledge of its existence will undoubtedly improve prediction in the long run, as climatologists learn to account for the particle matter in modeling programs.
Currently, scientists' analysis of how solar energy is absorbed and reflected is incomplete at best. NASA believes this latest finding may provide the means for forecasting the future of global warming.—Abby Seiff
Google and NASA build a search engine for the universe
By Jonathon KeatsPosted 05.08.2007 at 2:00 am 0 Comments
Within a decade, a dream team of astronomers and computer geeks vows to bring a world-class observatory to every desktop, giving anyone with a PC access to remote galaxies and exploding supernovae. The pledge is the result of a partnership announced last winter between a network of 19 national research institutions and engineers from the search-engine giant Google.
Leading Edge Rocket Racing, which in October 2005 became the first team to join Peter Diamandiss ambitious Rocket Racing League, has officially left the organization. The league is in the process of developing rocket-powered aircraft that will race in Nascar-like events around the country. It is already more than a year behind its initial schedule, which was to have included 10 full races in 2007. As of right now, it hasnt even test-flown a prototype aircraft, let alone certified one for safe flight and produced enough for actual competitive racing.
Leading Edge, founded by former F-16 pilots Robert Rickard and Don Grantham, announced the move via a terse memo on Friday, and were vague about their reasons—though theyre clearly disgruntled. "After working with Rocket Racing League for the past 17 months, we have concluded that our vision, business practices, and communication standards are incompatible with those of the league, said Rickard in the press release. We had very high hopes for this enterprise and tried very hard to find a common way forward.
And: "There hasnt been a working relationship between our company and the RRL for some time now. This announcement makes it official so we can move on, said Grantham. It's time to focus our resources on something more compatible with Leading Edges goal of being the premiere operators of high performance rocket powered aircraft." (Neither Rickard nor Grantham could be reached for clarification or additional comment.)
RRL chief executive Granger Whitelaw didnt wish to comment on the departure, except to say that Leading Edge was welcome to come back and race whenever they get their internal organization funded and structured appropriately. When asked about the status of the RRL, Granger said, Terrific! Wonderful! before adding that the league expects to test-fly its first rocketplane this July.
So, reading between the lines (and it certainly doesnt take a rocket scientist to do that), Leading Edge seems to be implying that the Rocket Racing League is something of a sham, and the RRL thinks Leading Edge doesnt have its act together enough—most likely in terms of fund-raising—to play on the RRLs level.
Will the rocket racers ever start flying? Weve still got our hopes up, but todays news is certainly a significant obstacle for the fledgling league to overcome. —Eric Adams
Related: For more, see our February 2006 feature story on the RRL, as well as our reporting from this year's X-Prize Cup.
The repetitive graphics of most iTunes visualizers are about as appealing as The Osmond Family doing an album of Public Enemy covers. But just in time for springtime party season, The Barbarian Group (usually a crackerjack Web design team; now, all of a sudden, software developers) has released Magnetosphere, a mesmerizing new open-source plugin you can customize to pulse and glimmer according to your own personal tripping-out style.
The Bangladesh delta: rising sea levels are changing the salinity of its water
There's an interesting photo essay on the rapidly disappearing town of Shishmaref on the ABC News Web site. The coastal Alaskan village has about 600 residents and is believed to have been inhabited (on and off) for 4,000 years. Today, with water rising about 10 feet a year,* it's in danger of sinking. The population of Shishmaref may soon count themselves among the first wave of global-warming refugees.
As the effects of climate change worsen, there will be more Shishmarefs. Already there are places similarly adjusting—not just to a single awful hurricane or several bad droughts, but to a new pattern. Munshiganj, Bangladesh, is one such place. In the midst of a delta surrounded by rising seawater, the farmers in the Munshiganj district are seeing their livelihood die before them. Saltwater seeps into the groundwater, drinking water is growing scarce, rice paddies are dying out, and shrimp farming has become the new major industry. Der Spiegel has a striking slideshow.
While most of us havent voluntarily changed our lifestyle, the residents of these areas have been forcibly made to do so. It seems only a matter of time before this becomes the rule rather than the exception.—Abby Seiff
*As many have noted below, this was poor word choice on my part. Water rises up Shishmaref's coast at a rate of about 10 feet a year. This is due to a variety of factors including melting sea ice and permafrost—both of which have weakened the coastline. The sea level does not rise at that rate.—A.S.