By Joshua Saul
Posted 01.27.2012 at 5:30 pm 3 Comments
Ed Adams, an engineering professor at Montana State University, used to study avalanches from inside a fortified shack. He would attach his shack to a boulder on a mountain, set small explosives in the snowpack, and trigger an avalanche, surrounding the shack.
By Kaitlin Miller
Posted 01.27.2012 at 11:30 am 22 Comments
Last year, the Austrian engineering firm IAT21 set out to construct a flying machine that floated like a hummingbird, traveled as fast as a jet, was as quiet as a hot-air balloon, and was simple enough that a car mechanic could repair it. The company’s working prototype, called D-Dalus, is roughly five feet by three feet square and can lift about 100 pounds. But the size and lift are not what’s most impressive.
In 1999, professors Robert Twiggs of Stanford University and Jordi Puig-Suari of California Polytechnic State University began to standardize the satellite business. They designed a small orbital unit-–a four-inch cube with little metal feet–-that was wide enough for solar cells, basing their design on a plastic display box for Beanie Babies. Their "CubeSat" had enough room for a computer motherboard and a few other parts necessary to do limited experiments in space, such as monitoring weather or photographing Earth.
By Becky Ferreira
Posted 12.26.2011 at 4:00 pm 16 Comments
By day, Seok-Hyun Yun and Malte Gather are physicists at Massachusetts General Hospital. But at night, for the past four years, they worked on making a human cell behave like a laser. They built their human laser out of the same three components found in all lasers: a pump source, which provides the initial light energy; an optical cavity, which concentrates the light from the pump source into a beam; and a gain medium, a substance in which electrons are excited until they reach a higher-energy state and simultaneously release that energy as a beam of photons—laser light.
By Ariel Schwartz
Posted 12.12.2011 at 11:02 am 16 Comments
In the 1980s, doctors noticed that chronic-ulcer patients who received a “vagotomy”—cutting the vagus nerve that controls the stomach—lost their ulcers and ended up with an intriguing side effect: They lost weight. The vagus nerve is the main route for signals between the stomach and the brain, regulating acid production, stomach expansion and satiation. Now medical companies are working on a pair of devices that modify these signals to help people with obesity.
By Tom Krupenkin, engineer at the University of Wisconsin, as told to Flora Lichtman
Posted 12.06.2011 at 11:13 am 15 Comments
Humans are not very efficient. When we walk, we waste close to 20 watts of energy per second. Instead of turning all calories into lift or forward motion, we turn most of them into heat that’s quickly dissipated. So my colleagues and I came up with a way to harvest the wasted energy from human motion and convert it into about 10 watts of electricity.
Keeping wildlife baby-free is a hazardous business
By Katharine Gammon
Posted 09.22.2011 at 11:13 am 16 Comments
In 1989, researchers at the University of California at Davis invented PZP, the first birth-control vaccine for animals other than humans. When injected, PZP causes a female’s immune system to block sperm from her eggs, offering a humane method of keeping populations in check. The compound worked in elephants, donkeys and deer, but it had a troubling side effect: the animals stayed in heat longer than normal. In one trial, deer were fertile for six months instead of one.
By Lana Birbrair
Posted 09.19.2011 at 10:01 am 32 Comments
The design of the hypodermic needle has changed little since 1853, when French surgeon Charles Gabriel Pravaz first attached a hollow, skinpiercing cylinder to a syringe. today, medical-device designers are using micro-scale materials to make the needles shorter and thinner, which makes for less painful shots.
By Onur Kilic, as told to Flora Lichtman
Posted 09.15.2011 at 10:10 am 6 Comments
Ocean research, navigation, seafloor mapping, object-tracking (sonar, for example)—they all rely on sound, which is still the best way to transmit information through water. So we wanted to build the ultimate hydrophone, one that could listen to the quietest sounds and the loudest sounds and could work anywhere, even six miles underwater, where the atmospheric pressure is 1,000 times as much as it is up top. Whale ears were our inspiration.
In May, inventor Glenn Martin—along with fire-rescue officers and crews on board a pair of chase helicopters—watched as his jetpack flew for nine minutes and 43 seconds, soaring 3,500 feet into the New Zealand sky. Had the machine been holding a live person instead of a 150-pound dummy, it would have smashed the record for the longest and highest jetpack flight ever.
Hunting the world's most wanted man for school credit
By Paul Kvinta and Madhumita Venkataramana
Posted 09.04.2011 at 2:58 pm 0 Comments
In 2008, students in Tom Gillespie’s geography class at the University of California at Los Angeles were floating ideas for class projects. One student wanted to calculate changes in the size of refugee camps in Sudan. Another figured he could gauge the effectiveness of the military surge in Iraq by looking at aerial images of Baghdad at night. To execute these projects, the students planned to employ the methodologies and systems Gillespie had been teaching them about, primarily geographic information systems (GIS), remote-sensing and GPS.
By Adam Hadhazy
Posted 08.17.2011 at 10:11 am 21 Comments
In 2006, while flying by Saturn’s moon Titan, the radar on NASA’s Cassini orbiter discovered seas of liquid ethane and methane on the moon’s –300ºF surface, the only bodies of liquid we know of that exist anywhere but on Earth. Some of the oily seas appeared on Cassini’s radar to be larger than Lake Superior, but visibility was poor because Titan’s atmosphere is thick and hazy. Now NASA is considering sending a probe called the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) to splash down on one of Titan’s seas for a closer look.
By Victor Youk,18, MIT freshman, as told to Ryan Bradley
Posted 08.15.2011 at 10:14 am 4 Comments
Usually high-school rocket clubs launch an egg and try to have it land safely. But our teacher suggested that we do something harder: enter a competition to build a Mars rover that could be deployed from a rocket. A few of us started working on it. The goal was to launch a robot 1,000 feet in the air, have it land safely on the ground, and then drive it about 30 feet. But the robot had to fit inside a rocket that was just four inches in diameter and 20 inches long—it looked like a stick.
By Andrew Rosenblum
Posted 08.08.2011 at 10:24 am 9 Comments
In January, at the newly opened $4-billion Cosmopolitan casino in Las Vegas, a gang called the Cutters cheated at baccarat. Before play began, the dealer offered one member of the group a stack of eight decks of cards for a pre-game cut. The player probably rubbed the stack for good luck, at the same instant riffling some of the corners of the cards underneath with his index finger. A small camera, hidden under his forearm, recorded the order.
By Noreen Malone
Posted 08.01.2011 at 10:10 am 23 Comments
On Sakhalin Island, in Russia’s far east, temperatures can fall to 35 degrees below zero. Many islanders herd reindeer. And in January, oil crews drilled the world’s longest and deepest extended-reach well, 7.7 miles down into the ground and 7.1 miles out under the ocean. Seven of the 10 longest oil wells on Earth have been drilled there since Exxon Mobil launched its Sakhalin-1 project in 2003. Crews expect to keep breaking their previous records in the coming months.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.