The Washington Post has given me something new to try not to think about during every waking hour in a recent article on robotic insects and their potential uses as spies.
At recent political events and rallies in New York and Washington there have been several suspiciously similar sightings reported of large, robot-like insects hovering just above the participants, sparking paranoia that the Department of Homeland Security might be using high-tech surveillance tools to spy on American citizens.
That last paragraph was a very long sentence, with at least one extended example of alliteration.
It has also been argued that these are, in fact, sightings of dragonflies. And, as strong as my inherent distrust of governments and insects is, when you compare the number of tiny government robots out there to the number of actual insects, this second theory seems pretty likely. Nonetheless, the Post article offers a pretty interesting look at some of the developing “robobug” technologies out there.
The Defense Department documents at least 100 models of flying robots in use today, ranging in size from something like a small plane to a songbird. The conventional rules of robotics, however, don’t work very well on a smaller scale, so making a robot as tiny as an insect is much more complicated. The CIA developed a four-winged dragonfly-like device as early as the 70s, which flew under the power of a tiny gas engine, but was abandoned due to its inability to cope with crosswinds. Several universities have since created palm-sized fliers, and a team at Harvard got a tiny fly-like robot airborne in July, its tiny, laser-cut wings flapping at 120 beats per second. It weighed only 65 milligrams, but it couldn’t be piloted, and was tethered by a power-supply cord.
Other researchers, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, have directed their efforts towards creating cyborg bugs, inserting microchips into the pupae of moths. The thought is that the nerves of the moths could grow into the chips, and that they could then be controlled and fitted with a tiny camera (or whatever). DARPA also has a similar project with beetles, where the muscles of the insects would generate the energy needed to power the various instruments they could carry. At a symposium in August, a DARPA project manager said of the research, "You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support. This science fiction vision is within the realm of reality." Even assuming that the DARPA spokesman wasn’t referring to a giant magical eagle when he mentioned “air support,” this is a very funny statement.
There are even rumors that the CIA and other organizations have developed insect robots that exist in your brain and prevent you from being productive by forcing you to think about them constantly. These robots are manufactured and reproduced by your own imagination, and, reportedly, can only be dealt with by chemical abuse and other hobbies.
The Nobel Prizes have just been given out, of course. It was truly a dynamite season (if you will) for the laureates, with jaw-dropping upsets in the “Confusing Egghead” and “Meta-meta” categories, and a Cinderella story sweep of the "Intrapersonal Relations," "Fruity Drinks Studies," and “Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghouls” awards by the Chinese team. And naturally everyone was pleased to see the Old European Man Lifetime Achievement Award given to a truly ancient European man – he really deserved it. As usual, each winner received a valuable statue, free drinks for the evening, and an extra ticket for the door-prize raffle.
More importantly, October has brought us the announcement of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The complete list of winners can be found here (including those from past years), but some of my favorites are the Aviation Prize, for research into curing hamsters of jetlag with Viagra; the Chemistry Prize, for extracting vanilla flavor from cow dung (one hates to waste it); and the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, for the proposed Gay Bomb, a non-lethal weapon that would make enemy soldiers “sexually irresistible” to each other. I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind that last one. At worst, I think it would just mean the end of camouflage uniforms.
It’s an exciting time we live in!
As both someone who has enjoyed reading previous posts about how dangerous shoes such as flip-flops and Heelys can be, and also someone who finds “Crocs” to be one ugly pair of shoes, a recent article about the dangers of wearing Crocs on escalators caught my attention.
Apparently, the grip and softness that Crocs are known for are the perfect combination to get feet caught in the teeth at the top or bottom of an escalator, or along the sides as you travel up or down. The Washington Metro has even gone so far as to post signs warning riders about wearing Crocs (and Croc knock-offs) on its escalators. Apparently the soft grippy shoes can grip the sides of the escalators and get twisted and pulled under. Or they get caught if the person wearing them does not step over the teeth at the end of the escalator ride.
Makes me wonder though – in all these cases…is the shoe really to blame? Or is it the owner? Or is it just bad luck?
With all of this talk about world wonders lately I thought I should post about some fellow museum bloggers who have just completed an amazing feat. Brendan Fletcher and Emma Nicholas, working with the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia just finished their 3000km (1864 mile) walk along the entire length of the Great Wall of China. Blogging the entire way, they were helping to add a unique perspective to the Powerhouse Museum's exhibit on the Great Wall and I should say they were quite successful.
Make sure to check out their Walking the Wall blog, which has some very interesting stories about what they found along the way.
I'd like to see more museums trying out adventurous blogs like this. We've featured some of our staff out in Antarctica, Madagascar, and I even got to bob along on a scientific drilling ship in the Pacific. What sort of web journals would you like to see from science museum folks, out in the world, adventuring along? Dino dig blog? Astronaut blog? Underground science blog (science of spelunking)? Nuclear reactor blog?
Surprisingly, Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, the only existing member of the original Seven Wonders of the World list, didn’t make the cut this time around. Thor wrote about this controversy in an earlier posting found here. Other losers included the Statues of Easter Island, the Acropolis in Greece, New York’s Statue of Liberty, England’s Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and Japan’s Kiyomizu Temple.
The New Seven Wonders were announced during an Official Declaration ceremony held in Lisbon, Spain on July 7, 2007, hosted by actors Ben Kingsley and Hillary Swank.
Bernard Weber, a Swiss filmmaker came up with the idea for new wonders list in 2001, after the Taliban in Afghanistan had toppled the huge Buddha statues at Bamiyan. Part of the funds garnered by the dedication ceremony will go to rebuilding those giant sculptures.
Not everyone shares Weber’s enthusiasm, however. Christian Manhart, press officer for UNESCO, the UN body for cultural oversight, complained that the list should have included more.
“All of these wonders obviously deserve a place on the list, but what disturbs us is that the list is limited to just seven," he said. “Seven were adequate in antiquity because the antique world was much smaller than today.”
The original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were all located in an area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. That list was comprised around 200 BC.
Egypt’s head of antiquities, Zahi Hawass was unimpressed by neither the new list, nor by it’s failure to include the Great Pyramids of Giza.
"This contest will not detract from the value of the pyramids, which is the only real wonder of the world," he said. "This competition has no value because it is not the masses who write history."
A group of judges meeting in Ohio last week want to make sure it’s not that final item. But the special three-day seminar was set up due to the effects judges are seeing in their courtroom caused by episodes of the CSI TV series.
Television viewers like the mystery and intrigue shown on the Crime Scene Investigation shows, but the science presented there isn’t always correct. But jurors coming to courtrooms don’t always know that.
That all means that judges need to know a lot more about current science when managing their courtrooms. They’re the gatekeepers to the scientific data that’s presented in court cases. They have to decide if one side’s scientific expert on a case is actually sharing “junk science.”
One judge at the conference reported that a juror on a case she tried was sure that hand-writing experts can determine the gender of a writer based on information that the juror saw on a CSI show. In actuality, that’s not possible.
With the increased use of DNA evidence in court cases, science has taken on a larger role in courtrooms since the 1990s. In many cases, it can be the make-or-break piece of evidence to convict or acquit a defendant.
Another major portion of their conference was devoted to dealing with hypothetical scientific court cases of the future, such as parents who are not satisfied with the result of genetic make-up of their child that had planned to have; liability for unexpected outcomes of genetically-programmed prescription drugs; or the punishments that appropriate for certain lawbreakers who may have chemical or genetic make-ups that make them more prone to commit certain crimes; just to name a few.
It sounds like judges are going to have a lot more homework to do to handle all the new science coming to their courts.
What other areas of science do you think the law needs to be better informed about? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
The Memorial Day weekend is pretty predictable in the news cycle. Lots of attention, and rightfully so, is provided about the military men and women who’ve given their lives for our country. Then there are the usual stories about the start of summer. And don’t forget the travel delays and stories on high gas prices.
But coming from out of right field this year was Monday’s opening of the new Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio. The $27-million facility had 4,000 visitors on its opening day. Its state-of-the-art animatronics were designed by a former Universal Studios exhibit director. It shows dinosaurs co-existing with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and also riding aboard Noah’s Ark.
With this museum opening, I’ve been amused reading letters to the editor on both sides of the world debate in the local newspapers, particularly in the deep passion expressed by all writers.
My question: is there room at the table for having a museum dedicated to presenting the creationism viewpoint?
Regardless of my personal opinion on the origins of life, I have to give credit to the creationists for putting their money where their mouth is in finding a popular way to express their view. And we all have the option on spending our money and time visiting such a place.
Professionally, I work at the Science Museum of Minnesota which hosts this website. It’s only fair that I let you know where I’m coming from on this. Here’s a link to this museum’s official position on the origins of life.
As a person of faith who does believe our Earth’s origins came several billion years ago, it amazes me that most people find this issue as a non-compromiser. Creationists have an absolute trust in the science they interpret from the Bible, even though through history, Biblical interpretations on things like the shape of the Earth (flat) and it’s position in our solar system (the center) have been proven wrong. Conversely, science does an excellent job of explaining how things work, like the biology of human bodies. But it does a miserable job of explaining how and why we interact with each other: our emotions and feelings.
So let’s have a discussion here on if it’s possible to have intersections between the trajectories of faith and science. Be forewarned, moderators of this blog will not permit long diatribes on one particular point of view. Stick to the topic and your viewpoint will be heard. Let’s explore where there might be common ground between science and faith.
"Numb3rs" is currently the most-watched program on Friday nights, attracting nearly 12 million viewers. Now in its third season, Numb3rs, along with the program's co-creators, Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton, will receive a National Science Board group Public Service Award for 2007 "for their contributions toward increasing scientific and mathematical literacy on a broad scale".
The annual Public Service Award recognizes individuals and organizations for their extraordinary contributions to increase public understanding of science. Recipients are chosen for their contributions to public service in areas such as: increasing the public's understanding of the scientific process and its communication; contributing to the development of broad science and engineering policy; promoting the engagement of scientists and engineers in public outreach; and fostering awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the population. NSF
Cryptanalysis, probability theory, game theory, decision theory, principal components analysis, multivariate time series analysis and astrophysics are just some of the many disciplines employed in the series thus far. If you have not seen this show I recommend that you check it out.
A researcher in England has determined that astrology is “useless when it comes to sizing up a mate.”
No kidding. I could have told him that for free.
Dr. David Voas of the University of Manchester looked at the latest British census and compared the birthdates of 10 million married couples. He found there was no correlation between spouses’ signs. Says the doctor:
"When you have a population of 10 million couples, then even if only one pair in 1,000 is influenced by the stars you would have 10,000 more couples than expected with certain combinations of signs. “