Category Archives: science

In Vitro Meat Consortium

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I find this highly unappetizing (especially the close up of mouse muscle). But is it inevitable?

The world has seen the first international conference on manufacturing meat. This is the process, tested so far only at laboratory scale, of growing pork, chicken, or beef through cell culture in vats instead of raising and slaughtering animals.

Read the rest…

[dot earth]

Cycling Jacket – With Lights!

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Safe AND stylish! Inventor Michael Chen, who says he got inspiration from Wii & iPhone, uses an accelerometer in his waterproof cycling jacket that senses when the wearer is accelerating and braking and a tilt switch to sense when turning. The sensors switch on the appropriate LED lights in the Reactiv Cycling Jacket. The design has won the 2008 James Dyson international design award. Check a BBC interview with Chen here.

Michael Chen, 28, won a £6,000 prize for his Reactiv cycle jacket, which changes colour as the cyclist brakes.

The inspiration for the jacket came from wanting to feel safer when cycling the streets of London.

Chen said: “I cycled round London in the dark wearing my first prototype. It was a £10 waterproof jacket with LEDs stuck on by gaffer tape.”

He continued: “For the first time, I noticed that cars passed me more slowly, gave me more room, and that the drivers and passengers were even making eye contact.”

[BBC News]

Andrew Maynard’s Suburb-Eating Robots

You all most definitely must go check out ArchitectureMNP‘s recent feature of Andrew Maynard Architects‘ silly/crazy/ingenious Suburb-Eating Robots:

Andrew Maynard has what some may consider to be a peculiar vision for the future of the Australian suburb – lush forest wilderness, or otherwise natural untouched land devoid of cookie-cutter human settlements. And it would all be thanks [if he had his way, perhaps?] to something resembling the image above.

That’s right, my ninjas – Maynard has developed a proposal for giant suburb-devouring robots, that will both consume the existing suburbs as they pass AND do a little terraforming while there at it. Who could ask for more?

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[Image: Andrew Maynard Architects’ CV08]

The CV08 is like a late night infomercial on steroids: it slices, it dices, it consumes entire towns – and it even cleans up after itself. The satirical hexapod will descend upon the suburbs, gathering the abandoned homes and cars through it’s front legs [dubbed ‘demo legs’, seen below] – crushing everything in its path and packaging it neatly for recycling. The CV08 then releases new flora+fauna through the middle legs [which are kept, obviously, in carbonite freeze until deployment] – immediately populating the newly reclaimed land.

Lastly, the rear legs of the CV08 will serve as a means of power-collection: they pull chubby Australian suburbanite stragglers up into a liposuction chamber, which draws out all of their excess fat [which then powers the CV08]. The now trim Aussies are then shot out of the backside [read: ass] of the robot, parachuting down to safety – along with a brand new bicycle constructed from recycled suburbs.

Read the rest, including an exclusive interview with Maynard himself, at ArchitectureMNP.

DORmino Mouse

I don’t use a mouse, but this would be pretty nice if it could be used to power other devices, like speakers.

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Overheating laptops will do more than just burning your legs if this amazing mouse makes it to the stores. No, I am not joking but am saying this because the designers of this mouse believes that they can make use of the heat generated in your notebook computer to power this trendy looking mouse dubbed the DORmino. Actually the whole mechanism does not rest in the mouse but in the giant mousepad that extends from under the notebook to the right hand side where the mouse rests. The mouse pad absorbs all the heat that is expelled from the notebook to power the mouse. This amazing concept comes from Cheong Yian Ling and his team from Singapore, who have submitted the design to the Greener Gadgets Design Competition 2008.

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[ecofriend]

R.I.P. Sir Arthur Charles Clarke: 16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qLdeEjdbWE[/youtube]

This past Wednesday marked the end of the orbit for Sir Arthur C. Clarke, scientist, wiseman and most famously, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In his list of three departing wishes, kicking our planet’s oil habit was second, along with finding evidence of extraterrestrial life and ending the civil conflict in Sri Lanka, his adopted home of 50 years.

I would like to see us kick our current addiction to oil and adopt clean energy sources. For over a decade I’ve been monitoring various new energy experiments but they’ve yet to produce commercial scale results. Climate changes have added a new sense of urgency. Our civilization depends on energy but we can’t allow oil and coal to slowly bake our planet.

[SEED (Science Is Culture)]

The End of the Earth (in 7.59 Billion years)

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If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.

Their report, to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is the latest and gloomiest installment yet in a long-running debate about the ultimate fate of our planet. Only last year, the discovery of a giant planet orbiting the faint burned-out cinder of a star in Pegasus had suggested that Earth could survive the Sun’s death.

Dr. Smith called the new result “a touch depressing” in a series of e-mail messages. But “looked at another way,” he added, “it is an incentive to do something about finding ways to leave our planet and colonize other areas in the galaxy.”

I am assuming (and hoping) Dr. Smith has a very geeky sense of humor. I am just trying to make it past 2012. If, however, we do make it through 7.59 billions years, surely we will have at least figured out time travel. If not, we probably don’t deserve to stick around anyway.

Unrelatedly, this picture kind of reminds me of the sun in the opening scene of Watership Down, which always terrified and captivated me as a child.

[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=fnfCFxvI9fQ[/youtube]

Eeeee, the scene at the end of that clip still gives me the shivers.

[NYTimes]

PopSci’s Top 50 Greenest US Cities

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I am a little behind the times, but at the beginning of February Popular Science Magazine came out with their list of America’s 50 Greenest Cities. They compiled the list based on four criteria – electricity (10 points), transportation (10 points), green living (5 points) and recycling & green perspective (5 points). Here are the top 20:

1. Portland, Ore. 23.1
2. San Francisco, Calif. 23.0
3. Boston, Mass. 22.7
4. Oakland, Calif. 22.5
5. Eugene, Ore. 22.4
6. Cambridge, Mass. 22.2
7. Berkeley, Calif. 22.2
8. Seattle, Wash. 22.1
9. Chicago, Ill. 21.3
10. Austin, Tex. 21.0
11. Minneapolis, Minn. 20.3
12. St. Paul, Minn. 20.2
13. Sunnyvale, Calif. 19.9
14. Honolulu, Hawaii 19.9
15. Fort Worth, Tex. 19.7
16. Albuquerque, N.M. 19.1
17. Syracuse, N.Y. 18.9
18. Huntsville, Ala. 18.4
19. Denver, Colo. 18.2
20. New York, N.Y. 18.2

Check the PopSci site for the full list and all the details. They also highlight 6 case studies of cities making concerted efforts to green themselves.

Oakland: Zero Emission Bus
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Chicago: Make Power, Save the Heat
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San Francisco: Sunroofs in Fog City
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Santa Rosa: Tapping Geysers for Watts
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Salt Lake City: Heating Homes from Waste
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New York City: Turning the Tides into Electricity
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Another interesting analysis of green spots in the US was listed by a PopSci reader in the comments. Check the site for an interesting interactive state-by-state look at green stat’s across the country.

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[popsci.com]

Stop Flushing Your Drugs – the Fish are Overdosing!!

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And going sterile:

NO ONE EVER planned for fish to take birth control pills. But they are. As treated wastewater flows into rivers and streams every day, fish all over the world get a tiny dose of 17α-ethinylestradiol, a synthetic steroidal estrogen that’s used in birth control pills. They also get a little sip of the anticonvulsant carbamazepine, a nip of the antidepressant fluoxetine, and a taste of hundreds of other drugs that we take to make our lives better.

Let’s face it – we are a society obsessed with drugs, pharmaceutical and otherwise. Also, increasingly so, we are a society obsessed with keeping our bodies free of toxins. Conflict of interest much? The fish think so. Male fish inhabiting waters near water treatment plants, for example, are becoming feminized (aka growing eggs in their testes) as a result of our habits.

By far, the most dramatic example of this kind of pharmaceutical pollution has been the effect of estrogenic compounds on fish. In the 1990s, scientists working in the U.K. noted that male fish living downstream from wastewater treatment plants were becoming feminized. They were making proteins associated with egg production in female fish, and they were developing early-stage eggs in their testes. Feminized male fish have now been observed in rivers and streams in the U.S. and Europe.

Recent studies done by John Sumpter, an ecotoxicologist at England’s Brunel University and Karen A. Kidd, a biology professor at the Canadian Rivers Institute, University of New Brunswick, confirm that the level of pharmaceutical drug contamination in the waters is affecting the fish. The drugs are getting there via several paths (see image below) – in our bodily excretions, and through our drains (I know all you ninjas have flushed a little something down your toilets at some time or another). The levels are low – as low as the parts per trillion (ppt) range, but because drugs are specifically formulated to be effective at low levels, even the ppt range can affect the water populations.

FOR THREE SUMMERS, Kidd and her colleagues spiked a lake in Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area with 17α-ethinylestradiol at a concentration of 5 ppt—a concentration that has been measured in municipal wastewaters and in river waters downstream of discharges. During the autumn that followed the first addition of the estrogenic compound, the researchers observed delayed sperm cell development in male fathead minnows—the freshwater equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. A year later, the male fathead minnows were producing eggs and had largely stopped reproducing. The minnow population began to plummet. The decline continued for an additional three years until the fish had all but disappeared from the lake.

And as the circle of life goes, the loss of one species ripples through the food chain:

The fathead minnow wasn’t the only fish to feel the effects of the trace amounts of birth control. The population of lake trout, which feed on smaller fish, fell by about 30%. “The numbers of lake trout dropped not because of direct exposure to the estrogens but because they lost their food supply,” Kidd says.

But Kidd’s story is not all doom and gloom. In 2006, three years after her team stopped adding 17α-ethinylestradiol to the lake, the fathead minnow population rebounded. “So given enough time, once you remove the estrogens from a system, the fish can recover to their original population size,” Kidd notes.

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People and animals excrete pharmaceuticals and their metabolites, which then find their way into the environment through a variety of routes—treated wastewater, agricultural runoff, and biosolids and manure that are used as fertilizers. Pharmaceuticals also enter the environment when people dispose of medications by flushing them down the toilet or pouring them down the drain.

We cannot avoid the bodily excretion of drugs that make it through our systems, but we can use other means of disposing of unused drugs. C&EN recommends:

Getting people to stop flushing away their unwanted medication is one easy way to cut down on pharmaceutical pollution. So last year, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) issued new federal guidelines for the proper disposal of prescription drugs. According to the guidelines, unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs should be removed from their original containers and thrown in the trash.

To prevent accidental poisonings or potential drug abuse, ONDCP recommends mixing meds with an undesirable substance, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. The mix should be placed into impermeable, nondescript containers, such as empty cans or sealable plastic bags, before being tossed in the trash.

In some cases, the risk of poisoning or abuse outweighs the potential environmental impact. The Food & Drug Administration recommends that certain controlled substances, such as the painkillers OxyContin and Percocet, are best disposed of down the drain. A full list is available at ONDCP’s website (whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/factsht/proper_disposal.html).

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Moral of the story: stop flushing your goods. And check C&EN for more details.

[Chemical & Engineering News]

Suprise, Suprise, Humans Are Impacting the Oceans

So, I was looking for an uploadable version of this BBC ‘fly-over’ video of some work that has been done by researchers on the severity of human impact on the oceans. This map illustrates the areas of impact in the oceans – scary.

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Only about 4% of the world’s oceans remain undamaged by human activity, according to the first detailed global map of human impacts on the seas.

However, I got distracted by this series of videos from the 2003 BBC Horizon show The Big Chill. This is basically all old (and at times prophetic) news by now, talking about the infamous ocean conveyor belt and the dire consequences that may ensue if it shuts off. But it gives a good bit of perspective on how little we still know and how much can happen in 5 years. Think about all the craziness that has gone down since 2003 concerning climate change – climatically, politically, intellectually, technologically.

Oh, and watch out for the endearingly geeky clone of a certain red-bearded ninja.

[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=bRdS_T9Hp3g[/youtube]

[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=rkOJm_ic3s0[/youtube]

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[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=kXcCtXTFjzI[/youtube]

[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=LxRxMpk0ZOs[/youtube]