Not really (except for maybe magicians and hockey players). But what about us regular folks? Given half a chance, just about anyone can walk on a non-Newtonian fluid as shown in this intriguing Malaysian bank commercial.

Jun
27
2014

Why not dig a dinosaur this summer?
Why not dig a dinosaur this summer?Courtesy Mark Ryan
After exploring the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, you might say to yourself, "Gee, I wish I could be on one of those swell dinosaur digs."

Of course, the movies and other media have created the impression that working on a dinosaur dig is a romantic and thrilling endeavor full of excitement and constant discovery. In reality, it most likely involves long, sweaty hours with a shovel, removing tons of overburden, walking for miles and finding nothing or lying in the dirt, under a boiling hot sun, carefully uncovering crumbling fossil bones or wrapping them in a sticky concoction of burlap strips dipped in plaster. Afterwards you get to help lift several 3/4-ton blocks of encased bones and rock onto the back of a flatbed truck. If it happens to rain during your time in the field, you'll spend hours, maybe days, stuck inside a humid tent getting to know all about Larry from Cedar Rapids' chronic hip pain, and eating hard tack. Sounds like a blast, doesn't it?

So, if you're still interested, then you'll be happy to learn that there are lots of opportunities available out there to join an actual dinosaur dig. Here's a list of several organizations that will be more than happy to let you pay them to do their manual labor for them. Most are located out West where conditions and rock exposures are most ideal for dinosaur fossils but some digs originate with a museum or fossil related organizations in the East or Midwest.

Now that I think of it, it does sound like a blast. And who knows? Maybe, if you're lucky enough, you'll stumble upon something completely unknown like a Haplocanthosaurus skull or even the next, great "largest dinosaur ever found" (there seems to be a new one each month).

SOURCE
io9 story

Additional Digs
(PLEASE NOTE: Neither I nor the Science Museum of Minnesota endorse the above or following field trips. The links are offered only as a service. Readers are responsible in ascertaining that each organization listed is reputable before sending any money for deposit or downpayment.)
Judith River Dinosaur Institute
Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs, LLC
ZRS Fossils Field Trip
Frommer's suggested digs
Paleo World Research Foundation
Wild West Vacations & Travel
The Hideout in Shell, Wyoming
Prehisoric Planet
And for all the homebodies out there.

Jun
24
2014

A boy and his dye - Alex Rudine at Portland State University
A boy and his dye - Alex Rudine at Portland State UniversityCourtesy OMSI
Dye-sensitized solar cell ready to be tested
Dye-sensitized solar cell ready to be testedCourtesy OMSI
Did you know that you can make small solar cells out of things like berries, tea, and doughnuts – yum! Berries and teas have dyes (organic molecules that absorb light) that give them color. Instead of using berries, there are researchers synthesizing dyes to use in solar cells. These solar cells are called dye-sensitized solar cells - DSSC for short. DSSCs convert sunlight energy into electrical energy. They work like this. Love that Scottish accent!

Most commercial solar panels are made with silicon because silicon absorbs much of the light spectrum in sunlight. Silicon solar cells absorb a wider range of the light spectrum than DSSCs currently do. The best silicon solar cells are about 20% efficient. The best DSSCs are about 11% efficient. Why use dyes instead of silicon to make solar cells? Dyes are much cheaper and less resource intensive to make. Most silicon cells are made from purified single-crystal silicon. About 40% of the crystal is lost as it is sliced into thin wafers.

I recently met scientists at Portland State University (PSU) in Portland, Oregon who are working on making dye-sensitized solar cells more efficient. Alex Rudine has been manipulating porphyrin dyes to get them to absorb more of the light spectrum. The advantage of using porphyrins is that they absorb light well and their structure is versatile and relatively easy to manipulate.

In a DSSC, as sunlight hits the dye, an electron is excited and moves to an electron acceptor. An electron flows from the electron donor to fill the hole, creating an electrical current. One of the challenges of DSSCs is that a wet solution of iodide is the typical medium for the electron donor. There are labs working on synthesizing a solid state medium. Carl Wamser’s lab at PSU in Portland, Oregon is one of those. They have synthesized a porphyrin with a nanofiber structure with a very high surface area. A high surface area means there are more places where the energy conversion can happen.

One of the things limiting more wide-spread use of solar energy is the higher set-up costs of solar panels compared to fossils fuels. If researchers can develop a commercially successful DSSC, it would be a cheaper, more sustainable source of solar energy. Unlike burning fossil fuels which releases heat-trapping gases, solar is a clean energy source that doesn’t contribute to global warming. Enough sunlight falls on the Earth in one hour that if we could collect it, we could power for one year all the machines on Earth. That’s an amazing amount of potential clean energy we could tap into.

Researchers at PSU also have a pretty cool experiment running that combines silicon photovoltaic panels with green roofs. Click here to find out more.

Sources and Links

To read this article click here:
Walter, Michael G. and Carl C. Wamser. Synthesis and characterization of electropolymerized nanostructured aminophenylporphyrin films. Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2010: 114, 7563 -7574.

To read this article click here:
Walter, Michael G., Alexander B. Rudine, and Carl C. Wamser. Porphyrins and phthalocyanines in solar photovoltaic cells. Journal of Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines 2010; 14: 759 -792.

Get the ark ready

by mdr on Jun. 22nd, 2014

Minnehaha Falls: Recent heavy rains have made the Minneapolis attraction even more attractive.
Minnehaha Falls: Recent heavy rains have made the Minneapolis attraction even more attractive.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The effects of the recent spells of hard rain will still be felt this week as flood conditions persist in Minnesota. The old single day record for rainfall at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport was shattered last Thursday (June 19, 2014) when 4.13 inches fell. On a personal level, we've never had water in our basement in the 20 we've lived in our Minneapolis home until after last Thursday's deluge. The seemingly constant rainfall has prompted me to make several trips to one of Minneapolis's favorite landmarks: Minnehaha Falls. Normally a tame, relative trickle during the summer season, it has been a roaring torrent of late, making it quite the spectacle to see and hear. And if just the sight of it doesn't blow your hair back, you can do like this Tennessee wild man and go over the falls in a kayak! But that's just crazy - and dangerous - so I'm not really suggesting you do it. Plus it's probably illegal. Local rivers will continue to rise for the next several days so who knows what it will look like later this week.

SOURCE
Star Tribune story

Evolution prevails: The teaching of creationism in science classrooms has been banned in the UK.
Evolution prevails: The teaching of creationism in science classrooms has been banned in the UK.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The government of the United Kingdom has banned the teaching of creationism as science in all academies and public schools. This is good news for the kids of Great Britain. In the newly added clauses, the UK government identifies creationism as:

"[A]ny doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution. The parties acknowledge that creationism, in this sense, is rejected by most mainstream churches and religious traditions, including the major providers of state funded schools such as the [Anglican] [Catholic] Churches, as well as the scientific community. It does not accord with the scientific consensus or the very large body of established scientific evidence; nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method, and as such it should not be presented to pupils at the Academy as a scientific theory.“

Unfortunately, despite several court victories, evolution proponents here in the good, old USA continuously have to battle against a constant barrage of anti-science legislation that creationists keep trying to insert into public school science classrooms in several US states. This really needs to change.

SOURCE
Story on io9.com

Before the next time you feel like saying someone is as smart as a potted plant, you might want to watch this MinuteEarth video.

Jun
13
2014

Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.
Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.Courtesy Margret Flinsch
So these young dudes at a bachelor party earlier this week in New Mexico suddenly discovered something really old. And it wasn't Bill Murray (who's been known to pop up unannounced at bachelor parties these days).

Cavorting about the sand mounds of Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the guys found something odd sticking up a few inches above the surface. And of course they did what most young guys would do, they started digging.

Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor party
Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor partyCourtesy Christopher William Adach
What they discovered was a near fully-intact skull and tusks of a stegomastodon, a species which dates back about 3 million years. They contacted the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, which then set up a more organized system of unearthing the skull. (The link above shows photos of the excavation work taking place.)

Stegomastodons were forerunners to the Ice Age mastodons and today's elephants. And according to paleontologists working on the project, the newly-discovered skull is one of the best skulls to be unearthed. Stegomastodons stood about nine feet tall and had curling tusks that extended up to 11 feet. Bill Murray, on the other hand, stands about six feet tall, has no protruding tusks and is believed to be somewhat younger than 3 million years old.

Jun
12
2014

Gecko-inspired paddles have been invented allowing a full-grown human adult to climb up a wall of glass!
DARPA Z-Man Program demonstrates human climbing a wall like a gecko
DARPA Z-Man Program demonstrates human climbing a wall like a geckoCourtesy DARPA

The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced on June 5, 2014 that a 218-pound climber climbed up and down a 25-foot tall glass wall while caring an additional pound 50-pound load. The climb was made possible due to the use of a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles.

Geckos can climb on a wide variety of surfaces, including smooth surfaces like glass due to the nano-sized structures on their toes. These structures are very small - there are a billion nanometers in a meter.

The gecko-inspired addles were created using nanotechnology.

Technologies such as these biologically inspired climbing devices could make it possible for soldiers to scale vertical walls without ladders. DARPA's mission is to create breakthrough technologies for national security.

To read more about this research visit:
http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2014/06/05.aspx

To read more about DARPA visit:
http://www.darpa.mil/About.aspx

To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:
www.whatisnano.org

To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:
http://www.sciencebuzz.org/buzz_tags/nano

Jun
09
2014

Plastiglomerates: Characteristics of the two types of plastiglomerate. (A) In situ plastiglomerate wherein molten plastic is adhered to the surface of a basalt flow. Field book is 18 cm long. (B) Clastic plastiglomerate containing molten plastic and basalt and coral fragments. (C) Plastic amygdales in a basalt flow. (D) Large in situ plastiglomerate fragment. Adhered molten plastic was found 15 cm below the surface. Note the protected vegetated location.
Plastiglomerates: Characteristics of the two types of plastiglomerate. (A) In situ plastiglomerate wherein molten plastic is adhered to the surface of a basalt flow. Field book is 18 cm long. (B) Clastic plastiglomerate containing molten plastic and basalt and coral fragments. (C) Plastic amygdales in a basalt flow. (D) Large in situ plastiglomerate fragment. Adhered molten plastic was found 15 cm below the surface. Note the protected vegetated location.Courtesy Patricia L. Corcoran
Geologists have always considered rocks to be plastic because they are often reformed, remelted, and reshaped by tectonic forces such as heat and pressure. But now, earth scientists have declared a new type of rock they're calling plastiglomerates. It's a composition of volcanic rock and actual plastic, or a clump of rock, sand, coral and seashells all held together by a mass of melted plastic derived from human debris.

Considering we humans have been generating heaps of plastic waste since the middle of the last century (and enough to wrap up our entire planet in plastic) it's no wonder some of it has managed to find its way into the rock cycle. It's only surprising that it took us this long to notice it.

Chunks of plastiglomerate were found recently at a beach in Hawaii. Patricia Corcoran, a geologist from the University of Western Ontario, and Charles Moore, captain of the research vessel Alguita discovered plastiglomerates at 21 different sites they surveyed on Kamilo Beach located on the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. Their study appears in the latest issue of GSA Today.

Kamilo Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: the red dot marks beach's approximate location.
Kamilo Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: the red dot marks beach's approximate location.Courtesy NASA
Kamilo Beach is an isolated location that, due to ocean currents and trade winds, and its location, has long been a magnet for plastic and other trash floating on the Pacific. In the distant past, native Hawaiians collected wood from Kamilo that had floated in from the Pacific Northwest to make dugout canoes. There's no easy access to the beach - it's usually void of beach-goers and takes a two hour four-wheel drive over a jagged lava field just to reach it. But each year, 15 to 20 tons of all sorts of floating plastic - from toothbrushes to water bottles to toy green army men - pile up on the rocks and sand of Kamilo. It's not the only place of course, plastic debris has been found in different areas of ocean bottom around the world. It's not surprising that some of it ends up joined with other elements to form the new rock.

Plastiglomerates are thought to have formed probably from plastic melted in beach campfires or in lava flows, which aren't unusual on the Big Island. In the distant future, as plastic gets further buried under layers of future sedimentation or lava flows, it will likely become even more incorporated, melting and re-melting under extreme heat or pressure and filling in cracks and crevasses in the country rock much like minerals such as quartz and pyrite have done in the past. Tens or hundreds of thousands of years from now, future geologists will no doubt be able to use these traces as markers for the Anthropocene era, the name gradually gaining acceptance to describe humanity's post-agricultural or industrial time on the planet.

SOURCE and LINKS
Science (AAAS) story
LiveScience story

Ever wonder why when someone yawns it often triggers yawning in others? Here's some reasons why: