Category Archives: Science

Implant Uses Brain Waves to Move Robotic Arm

A team of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists at Brown University and Harvard Medical School have created a specialized brain-computer interface. It is called the BrainGate Neural Interface System. The project has been going on for more than a decade. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The scientists have created an implant that is designed to enable people who are paralyzed to move a robotic arm and hand by using their mind. It is quite remarkable! The implant consists of a sensor chip that is about the size of a baby aspirin. It is implanted directly onto the motor cortex of a person’s brain. This is the part of the brain that controls movement.

The sensor picks up signals that are generated by a person’s brain cells while the person is thinking about moving his or her own arm and hand. Those signals are sent through a wire to a device that connects with a computer. The computer has been taught to read the signal it receives and to translate that signal in order to tell a robotic arm what to do. Together, this allows a paralyzed person to move a robotic arm and hand on their own, just by using their brainwaves.

Here is a video created by the BrainGate Corporation that shows a woman who is paralyzed using the BrainGate Neural Interface System to move a robotic arm and hand. The video also explains more of the science behind the system.

Image: Brain by BigStock

The Next Annular Eclipse is May 20, 2012

On Sunday, May 20, 2012, there will be a solar eclipse. This one is special because it is an annular eclipse. It has been eighteen years since an eclipse of this type was visible from the continental United States.

We know that the moon circles the Earth. However, the moon doesn’t travel in an exact circular path. Instead, it is more like an elliptical orbit. This means that the moon will, at certain times, be a little bit closer or a little bit farther from the Earth than usual. The moon’s orbit can vary from 221,457 miles to 252,712 miles away from the Earth.

When an annular eclipse happens, it looks like the moon is passing in front of the Sun. The moon won’t appear to completely block out the sun, though. This is because on May 20, 2012, the moon will be closer to the Earth than usual, at around 225,000 miles from us. The result is that the moon will look as though it has a bright ring of fire surrounding it.

Not everyone is going to be able to view the upcoming annular eclipse. It will be visible to people who are in southern Oregon and northern California, and it will become visible to people who are in Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

Much of the rest of the United States will be able to see at least some of this special eclipse. Those of you who live on the east coast of the United States will not be able to see this eclipse because the Sun will already have set. The eclipse might be visible in parts of China and Japan as well, unless the weather causes too much cloud cover while the eclipse is happening.

Obviously, one should not stare into the Sun. You shouldn’t stare directly at an eclipse, either. I highly recommend that you do a little homework and learn about what you need to do in order to safely view an eclipse. It is a special eclipse, but, your eyesight is even more precious. Be smart, and be careful!

Image: Solar Eclipse by BigStock

Charge Your Cell Phone With a Virus?

Usually, when you see the words “virus” and “phone” in the same sentence, it indicates that something bad may have happened. This time, though, the virus is one that can actually be helpful. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have been studying a special virus that can generate electricity.

The virus is called M13 bacteriophage. As the name implies, it only “eats” or attacks, bacteria. It is not able to cause harm to humans. It is a genetically engineered virus that can manufacture more of itself when water is added to it. How many more? According to Professor Seung-Wuk, “trillions or jillions” more.

The M13 bacteriophage virus has piezoelectric properties. The viruses are long and thin and have a tendency to line up next to each other, (like pencils in a box). When pressure is applied to the virus, it produces a charge. Right now, the viruses are able to generate about 25% of what comes from a AAA battery.

The hope is that in the future, scientists will find a way to use the M13 bacteriophage virus to make small, personal, generators. The generators would collect the energy from movement, such as walking or typing on a keyboard. That energy can then be used to charge your cell phone. There is potential that the virus could be used to create a self-sustainable electric source that can be implanted in the body in place of a pacemaker. The possibilities are endless!

Fun With the Periodic Table of Elements

Few things could be more geek-centric than finding amusement in playing with the Periodic Table of the Elements. There are tons of ways to take what some might see as a boring part of chemistry class and make it into something fun, interesting, and perhaps even artistic.

A chemistry teacher named Scott Byrum decided to put the entire Periodic Table of the Elements on the ceiling of his classroom. He did this as a way to get the attention of students, fearing that if he didn’t do something to make things more interesting that he would lose their attention to “Xboxes and Nintendos”.

Each element sits on its own acoustic ceiling tile. Each is color coded to represent the element’s state at standard temperature and pressure. He had a company that was local to him cut the vinyl letters for him. It is probably the largest Periodic Table of the Elements that his students have ever seen.

ThinkGeek has put the Periodic Table on everything from t-shirts, to beer glasses, and from shower curtains to refrigerator magnets. Personally, I think that the Periodic Table Building Blocks would be the most fun to play around with. The blocks are solid wood, and designed for use by geeks who are at least 2 years of age.

Have you heard Tom Leher’s song called “The Elements”? A YouTube user by the name of TimwiTerby made a video that animated the lyrics of this song in 2008. He used Visual C# Express, AviSynth, and Virtual Dub in order to make the video.

It is also fun to take the standard Periodic Table of the Elements and alter it to make new ones based on other geek related topics. Check out the Periodic Table of Rock Music, or the Periodic Table of Heavy Metals (that resembles the familiar hand sign so many Metal bands, and Metal fans, use). There is a Periodic Table of Anime Characters. Someone even created a Periodic Table of SEO Ranking!

Image: Periodic table by BigStock

Six Ways That Sound & Light Bend Your Brain

In a culture fascinated with the supernatural, it’s refreshing to see that tangible science can trump even the most fantastic effects Hollywood can conjure. Wandering around the Internet this morning, I followed a thread of videos through YouTube depicting some amazing effects sound and light can have on liquids and solids. Or, more accurately, how our eyes can be “tricked” into seeing things that might not really exist as they seem.

Check out these six mind-scrambling videos and see how sometimes the weirdest things about life happen right in our brain and not on the big screen.

Personal favorite (and the one that started this early morning foray into YouTube)? The Static Water video. Read the comments on the video for explanations on why this happens. Enjoy!

Rocket Launched With Secret Payload

Vandenburg Air Force Base, which is located 130 miles from Los Angeles, California, launched a rocket at 4:12 in the afternoon, PDT, on April 3, 2012. Originally, this rocket was planned to be launched on March 29, 2012. It was delayed because engineers needed to fix an issue with the upper stage engine of the rocket.

The rocket is a Delta IV. It was launched on a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. This is the agency that monitors the United States’ network of spy satellites. It is known that the rocket was carrying a secret payload. The details of that mission are classified, but it has been said that the mission “will help various government agencies improve national security by monitoring other parts of the world”.

My husband and I live in California, but we were too far away from Vandenburg Air Force Base for it to be convenient for us to drive over there in the hopes of being able to watch the rocket when it was launched. However, we were able to walk outside our home, look up into the sky, and see the long, white, vapor trail that the rocket left behind.

We were just coming back from picking up some take-out for a late lunch when we noticed the mark that the rocket temporarily left in the sky as it exited the planet. It isn’t something we get to see every day, and both my husband and I thought it was really cool that the vapor trail was visible from where we live. It is one thing to know that a rocket was launched. It is quite a different experience to actually see the evidence of the launch, floating in the sky, before one’s very eyes.

There is a really good video that was taken of this rocket when it was launched. It is a raw video replay that you can watch right now. Off it goes!

Image: Rocket Tail by BigStock

Neil deGrasse Tyson Testifies to Congress on Behalf of NASA

Earlier this month our favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson,  went before Congress to plead his case  for NASA.  In recent years the budget for NASA has been slashed mercilessly by the folks down in Washington DC, all many of whom have little to no clue about science and technology.

Tyson makes his case by pointing out the obvious ties between NASA and everyday technology, much of which has stemmed from NASA and military technology.  He eloquently talks of the lack of science education and new engineers and scientists in today’s United States and points out that many of today’s aging generation of scientists got their start and motivation during the 50’s and 60’s space race.

The full eight minute video has been posted to YouTube and can also be seen below.  If you aren’t familiar with Tyson, he is the head of the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s Museum of Natural History and is also the host of NOVA on PBS.  If you agree with his arguments then contact your local representative and make your voice heard now before it’s too late.

Teen Sends Lego Space Shuttle Into Space

An eighteen year old named Raul Oaida, who is from Romania, is a big fan of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. When he learned that the program had ended, he decided to see if he could manage to launch a replica of the Space Shuttle, made out of Legos, into the upper atmosphere of Earth. Surprisingly, he managed to actually succeed at doing it!

Who doesn’t love Legos? I have several fond memories of building things out of Legos with my younger brothers. We managed to put together some creative and interesting things with the little colorful blocks, but nothing that compares to what Raul Oaida created.

The teen used LinkedIn to make contact. with Steve Sammartino, a venture capitalist from Melbourne, Australia. Raul Oaida was looking for an investor who could help him to finance his project.

The two eventually ended up talking on Skype, where Raul Oaida kept asking questions of Steve Sammartino. The result was that the venture capitalist became inspired by how earnest, and excited, the teenager was about this project. He agreed to manage the funding aspects that were necessary in order to make the project happen.

Raul Oaida put together a small model of a Space Shuttle that was made from Lego bricks that he glued together. The glue was to help the little plastic blocks to stay connected so that the model would survive the 124mph atmospheric winds it would be exposed to during its flight. The Lego Space Shuttle had a large weather balloon attached to it. There also was a styrofoam box that contained a camera and some tracking equipment attached to the model.

The launch of the Lego Space Shuttle happened on December 31, 2011. It took place in Germany, in part because it seems that Romania has laws that do not allow people to just go ahead and launch things into space whenever they want to. The Lego Space Shuttle ascended to 130,000 feet. An impressive video was taken during the launch, which can be viewed on YouTube. I highly recommend you check it out!

Image: Space Shuttle Flying Left on White Stock Photo by BigStock

An Incredibly Clear View of Ireland From Space

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and NASA’s Earth Observatory website is celebrating by selecting a remarkably clear view of Ireland as its Image of the Day.

It is easy to see why Ireland is called “The Emerald Isle”. Several different shades of green, from a drab, olive green color, to the brightest Kelly green, cover the entire island. This is a true-color image, so what you are seeing is the intense green vegetation, which is mostly made of grassland, that covers nearly the entire country.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this image is the lack of cloud cover. According to the Irish Meteorological Service, the sky over Ireland is entirely cloudy more than 50% of the time. Fog is common. This cloud-free image of the country is an incredibly rare view to have captured.

The image was taken on October 11, 2010. It was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) that is located on NASA’s Aqua satellite. This satellite was launched on May 4, 2002, which made it the first to be launched in a group of satellites called the Afternoon Constellation, (or the A-Train). Aqua has six Earth-observing instruments on board.

The Aqua mission is part of the Earth Observing System (EOS). It is a coordinated series of polar-orbiting and low inclination satellites. Each satellite is doing a long-term global observation of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. The Aqua satellite has been gathering information about the Earth’s water cycle, soil moisture, sea ice, land ice, snow cover on the land and the ice, radiative energy fluxes, aerosols, vegetation cover on the land, phytoplankton and dissolved organic matter in the ocean, and temperatures of the air, land, and water on Earth.

The MODIS is an instrument that is on the Aqua satellite. You can think of it as the camera that took the beautiful view of Ireland. The MODIS and the Aqua satellite pass South to North over the equator in the afternoon. They view the entire surface of the Earth every one to two days.

I highly recommend that you take a moment, step away from your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and check out the Image of the Day that is on the Earth Observatory website. You will never see a more clear, green, beautiful view of Ireland than this one. It will take your breath away.

Image: Kennedy Space Center (nasa) by BigStock

Five Rockets in Five Minutes

If you live on the East coast of the United States, be sure to watch the skies tonight. NASA will be launching five rockets in five minutes from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on March 14, 2012. The launches will take place late at night.

Each rocket will release a chemical tracer that will create a milky-white tracer cloud that will glow. The glowing clouds will be visible to people who are on the ground, looking up at the sky, from South Carolina through New Jersey. All of these rockets are suborbital.

These unmanned rockets are part of the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) mission. The purpose of launching the rockets is to study the high-altitude jet stream that is located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of the earth. The winds in this upper jet stream can have speeds of 200 to 300 mph. This is the same region where electrical turbulence often occurs. Those electrical currents can adversely affect radio communications, and communications with satellites.

Two of the five rockets that will be launched have instrumented payloads. They are carrying equipment that will measure the pressure and temperature in the atmosphere. The measurements will be taken when the wind speed is at its height.

One of the rockets that will be launched is Terrier Oriole rocket. This is a two-stage rocket that uses a Terrier first stage booster and then uses an Oriole rocket motor for the second stage of its propulsion. The rocket has four fins that are placed in order to provide stability.

Two of the rockets are Terrier-Improved Orions. These are a two-stage spin stabilized rocket system. It uses either a Terrier MK 12 Mod 1 or a MK70 for the first stage. It uses an improved Orion motor for the second stage.

The remaining two rockets are Terrier-Improved Malemutes. These are high-performance, two-stage rockets that are used for payloads that weigh less than 400 pounds. The first stage booster for this rocket is a Terrier MK 12 Mod 1. The second stage propulsion unit is a Thiokol Malemute TU-758 rocket motor that has been specifically designed for high-altitude research rocket applications.

I find it interesting that NASA selected March 14 to do this launch. March 14, or 3-14, is Pi Day, obviously, because Pi = 3.1415926535….

Those who live on the East coast can end their Pi Day celebrations by gazing up into the night sky, and watching for the glowing cloud produced by the rockets. It will make Pi Day of 2012 that much more memorable!

Image: Kennedy Space Center (nasa) by BigStock