The War Against Bad Food

When you’re literally feeding an army, it’s not a good idea to leave food-borne illnesses up to chance. And that’s why researchers in the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center are testing a new way to detect bacteria or toxins, using quick-processing mass spectrometry. To assess the device’s accuracy, researchers infected 75 of 150 mounds of mashed potatoes with salmonella and checked them with the device. The tests went well, so they’re moving on to different food contaminants–and, mercifully, different foods.

Inside A Moth’s Eye

This is the eye of the hawkmoth, a native of Europe and Asia. Its body is brightly colored in browns, yellows and pinks even though the hawkmoth doesn’t take flight until late at night. But it turns out that the hawkmoth has some of the best nocturnal vision of any animal. It is able to distinguish a wide array colors at night, conditions under which humans would be totally blind.

Early Human Traits May Stem From Different Sources

For decades, scientists have agreed that many of the physical traits that make us human came about in the genus Homo about 2 million years ago in Africa. But, according to a study published this week in Science, the timing may not have been so simple. By studying skulls of various human relatives, researchers determined that characteristics such as our large brains, long legs, long maturation periods and use of tools may have come about through a smattering of smaller changes at different times over the past 4 million years.

A Cloud Of Trash

New Yorkers produce a lot of trash; between bodega coffee cups and knockoff purses, everything sort of feels disposable. But artist Jason Klimoski came up with an elegant reminder of just how much we throw away. What looks like a gently resting cloud is actually made of 53,780 used plastic bottles–the number that New Yorkers throw away in one hour, Klimoski says.

A Rocket In The Sea

Actually, this one’s not a rocket. It’s a sea urchin larva called a pluteus. This is the stage in its development right before it becomes a mature urchin. The urchin will stay in this form for five to eight weeks, floating and feeding on phytoplankton. It does have a “blast off” mechanism to move the water (and floating food) around it: rows of ciliated cells.

ISSpresso Lifts Off

Between logistically complicated showers and breakfasts accompanied by Tang, astronauts already do without many of the comforts of home. Big-time coffee company Lavazza has decided that giving up good coffee is not a compromise astronauts should have to make. Dubbing their product ISSpresso (after the International Space Station), Lavazza partnered with a group of engineers who redesigned a traditional espresso machine for the demands of space, which NASA approved this week. The drinkable espresso comes out in a pouch for easy consumption in zero gravity.

Now You See Me, Now You… Still Kind Of See Me.

Unlike many of its relatives, the domed land snail has no need for pigment. It lives in the deep, dark caves 3,000 below the surface in Croatia, and many of the creatures there don’t even have eyes because the darkness is so complete. Even by a snail’s standards the domed land snail moves slowly, often only a few centimeters per week. But the shape of its shell differs from those of other snails; its shell is longer and more dome-like, especially towards its tip.

A Concrete-Eating Robot

For a building to be demolished, it requires heavy machinery, sucks up a lot of energy, and creates huge mounds of rubble. But a Swedish design student has created the ERO (for “erosion”) robot. It uses water to break down the concrete into its different components, then stores each component in a bag for recycling.

Mammoth Baby In 3D

In 2007 and 2008, two of the best-preserved baby woolly mammoths were unearthed in Siberia. Both had suffocated after falling in mud, and were so well-preserved that one even had clotted blood and undigested milk in its stomach. But researchers from the University of Michigan didn’t want to start hacking away at the specimens to figure out their physiology and how well the specimens were preserved. So they did a CT scan, then made 3D models of the mammoths, which they published this month in the journal Paleontology. The models of the teeth, the authors wrote, are much more precise than traditional techniques of casting and molding.