Water proves to be the best solvent for nanomachines
Water proves to be the best solvent for nanomachinesCourtesy Welome Images
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have found that nanomachines work more efficiently when water is added as a "lubricant". Nanomachines are structures just one molecule in size (a few dozen atoms or so) that do work. When researchers added a small amount of water to the solvent that surrounded the nanomachines, the machines moved much faster.

Discovering how to optimize these tiny machines is important for the development of things like molecular computers and surfaces that can change properties.

In the harsh and inhospitable environment of Antarctic, there exists a bizarre waterfalls from which blood-colored water flows. Known (not surprisingly) as Blood Falls, the strange phenomenon was first discovered back in 1911 by Australian explorer Griffith Taylor who came upon the remarkable waterfalls seeping from the face of a glacier now called Taylor Glacier in his honor. But even more bizarre than the waterfalls itself, is what causes it to flow red.

A subglacial lake buried 400 meters beneath the glacier lacks heat, oxygen, and light. But an unusual group of microbes living within its waters have somehow adapted a way to survive in the harsh and super-salty environment by "breathing" iron or sulfur and converting those elements into energy. The high iron content, which the glacier accumulated by scraping up the bedrock, interacts with the air (oxidation) staining the ice around the outflow in a deep rust color.

The microbes have been trapped in the lake beneath Taylor Glacier for about 3 million years, and analyses found them to be similar in their robustness to microorganisms living in equally hostile environments in the depths of Earth's oceans. Jill Mikucki, a geomicrobiologist from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville discovered 17 types of microorganisms in water samples she collected from the lake.

The microbes seem alien in their behavior and could provide new insight into how organisms might be able to survive in the harshest of environments. They also enhance the possibility of finding similar life on Mars or other inhospitable bodies populating our Solar System.

Weather Channel story
Washington Post story
Blood Falls photos at Atlas Obscura

Invasive species in Minnesota lakes is an ongoing problem. But this story – an alligator shot by Minnesota game officials in a Scandia-area lake – may just take the cake. Oh, and they think there might be one or two more gators still in the lake.

Researchers are developing nanobots that can destroy plaque build-up in arteries. These nanobots have a magnetic core, which allows physicians to track their position in the bloodstream in real-time. The physicians can then control the bots' movements and plaque destruction via a remote monitor, like an MRI.

This means that, in the future, plaque build-up could be removed without surgery, or other invasive medical procedures. Pretty cool!

See video

In this animated TedTalk video, science writer Carl Zimmer gives a concise explanation of how avian dinosaurs (birds) developed feathers and wings and eventually took to the skies. Zimmer often writes about evolution, and his work has appeared in such publications as National Geographic and the New York Times. He has also published several books.

Earthlings wave to Saturnians
Earthlings wave to SaturniansCourtesy NASA?JPL-Caltech
Remember last month when we posted a photo of the Earth and Moon taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it looked back from its location near the planet Saturn? Well, at the time, NASA made a request of all Earthlings to send in photos of themselves waving back at Saturn, and here are the results made into a collage of our Big Blue Oasis in space:

NASA Mosaic

Click on the globe to see enlargements of the 1400 or so photographs NASA received.



Heritage went to the Sheffield on August 20th and the 21st to help out with the excavation. We learned how to screen for artifacts, measure the depth of our unit using datum points, and we learned how people use the data from geophysics to select where we should dig.

Screening: Left, Malcolm; Middle, Bilir; Right, SMM Employee Anne
Screening: Left, Malcolm; Middle, Bilir; Right, SMM Employee AnneCourtesy Science Museum of MN

Screening for artifacts is when we sift through the dirt we dug from our unit. We use a tool called a screener that lets the loose dirt through so we can see the artifacts better. To get rid of the clumpy dirt we pushed it through the screen with our hands. The first unit we were at was called Block Two and we found a lot of artifacts in that unit. We learned how to recognize what was an artifact and what was not. Lithics, or stone that have been worked, have a sharper edge and a distinct pattern when it is shaped. Bone fragments are usually lighter in color than most of the items on the screener and you can see holes that are porous spots in them that make bones lighter in weight. To identify pottery they have a certain color on one side and a different one on the other side. When you look at pottery fragments from the side it looks like it has layers and the outer and inner faces of the pottery are flat. Sometimes you see small indents in the pottery meaning that it was tempered but the temper decayed away.

Pottery fragment with traces of shell tempering
Pottery fragment with traces of shell temperingCourtesy Science Museum of MN

When we are digging in a unit we have to dig across and go down layer by layer. To make sure we stay level as we dug we use a datum point. A datum point is a point we designate to measure from. We tie a string to the datum point and to make sure it’s always level to the datum point there is a line level attached to it. To measure the depth of our unit we made sure the string is taut and nothing is obstructing its path, then we take a tape measure and put it perpendicular to the string and then take the measurement in centimeters. We record the unit every time we dig down ten centimeters by taking pictures and drawing sketches of the unit.

Measuring from datum point: Jasmine and Scott use line leveler to measure depth of unit
Measuring from datum point: Jasmine and Scott use line leveler to measure depth of unitCourtesy Science Museum of MN

Geophysics is where we collect data from the ground to choose where a likely spot to dig would be. One of the machines used to determine the locations of the Sheffield units looks at the electrical resistance in the ground. Less resistance usually indicated that the ground was dug up and refilled. Resistance low areas might have been a fire pit or other settlement features thus making it a good site to look for artifacts. Another machine can spot magnetic differences in the ground. Dirt has different magnetic outputs from rocks and artifacts. One area of the site has a very different magnetic output so the team decided to put block three in that area to dig there. The last method we used to determine the location of our units was using lidar technology. Lidar is where you use shine light on an area and study how the surface reflects to map out the surface of the area.

Heritage Crew excavating under the hot sun: Left, KAYSC Malcolm; Center Right, Mankato State University student,Travis; Center Left, Dr Ed Fleming; Right, KAYSC Bilir
Heritage Crew excavating under the hot sun: Left, KAYSC Malcolm; Center Right, Mankato State University student,Travis; Center Left, Dr Ed Fleming; Right, KAYSC BilirCourtesy Science Museum of MN

Overall, I had a lot of fun at the site especially when I found pottery. I find pottery more interesting than lithics or bone for reasons I do not know why. It was really hot and humid but no one passed out so it was fine. Before we started digging we helped sift through the dirt in block two and we found a lot of pottery and debitage, or flakes, from stone tools. We even found an intact arrow point. We were assigned to dig in Block 3 where the magnetic anomaly was, but we only found one fragment of pottery and the rest were roots and rocks so digging there wasn’t so exciting. Learning from Ed, Jasmine, Mary, and Anne on the field has been very fun. I can understand why they like doing this for a living.

It sounds like a dramatic scene of a plan gone awry in a sci-fi movie, but it was real life to Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano while out on a space walk from the International Space Station last month. His helmet began filling with water, disorienting him and cutting off communications with his fellow astronauts and mission control. Click here to read his recounting of the experience and how he found his way to safety.

And here's a link to Buzz's recent feature on the risks and rewards of sending people into space. Does this spacewalk incident can or confirm your beliefs about sending humans to space?


Sheffield Site Excavation 1960
Sheffield Site Excavation 1960Courtesy SMM
Sheffield Site Location
Sheffield Site LocationCourtesy SMM
On August 20th and 27th, Heritage Crew is going on a overnight at the St.Croix Watershed where they are going to join the Sheffield Site excavation with SMM and U of M Archaeologists.
Everyone is going to have a chance to do shovel skimming, screening, mapping, photographing, and record observations in our journals.
This is the second time we're going to see a excavation, but it's the first time we're going to help out. This is very exciting because we are going to have everything we learned put into action and have fun.