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:

MinuteEarth digs into the tricky balance of trying to manage invasive species.

Jun
02
2014

Drosophila melanogaster: the fly.
Drosophila melanogaster: the fly.Courtesy André Karwath aka Aka via Wikipedia Creative Commons
FlyMAD could be the best thing since sliced bread. The thermo- and opto- genetic device, created by team of scientists from the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) at Vienna University and a US lab, allows the researchers to focus visible light and heat rays onto specific regions in a fly's anatomy and manipulate the annoying insect's behavior.

Using lasers and computers, the tool can precisely target and activate certain neurons in the thorax and brain of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster raising its temperature and stirring up its courtship behaviors. In one test, the fly began "singing" (through rapid wing vibration) as it hit on various balls of wax. Another test turned the pesky bug into the King of Plop causing it to switch into courtship dance mode (they had one doing the moonwalk!) What's wild is that FlyMAD performed these manipulations while the erratic test subjects were on the move inside an enclosed box.

The science team, led by biologist Andrew Straw and his lab, documented the test results with video recordings, and published their findings in the journal Nature Methods.

The name FlyMAD, by the way, stands for "Fly Mind Altering Device". Can you think of a cooler name than that? Maybe this could lead to the building of a better fly-swatter.

SOURCE and LINKS

ScienceDaily.com
Straw Lab Blog
Vienna Biocenter story

Stromatolites at Shark's Bay in Australia: These "living fossils" are estimated to be 2000-3000 years old.
Stromatolites at Shark's Bay in Australia: These "living fossils" are estimated to be 2000-3000 years old.Courtesy Mark, Vicki, Ellaura and Mason
It's no surprise, people love taking trips to museums (like ours) to gaze upon the remains of dinosaurs (like ours), even though the non-avian branch of the ruling reptiles is long gone. Not so for artist Rachel Sussman. She likes to travel the world to seek out some of the oldest organisms still populating the Earth. We're not talking Larry King or Abe Vigoda. These things are a bit older and include sea grasses, underground trees, predatory fungus, and other organisms that have been around for more than 2000 years. In her research, Sussman collaborated with biologists and also published a book of photographs she's taken of the various ancient life titled, . You you can see a gallery of some of the photos here. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the gallery page to see and hear Sussman's TedTalk on the subject.

It's World Turtle Day!

by Anonymous on May. 23rd, 2014

Green sea turtles on Hawaii's Black Sand Beach
Green sea turtles on Hawaii's Black Sand BeachCourtesy Mark Ryan
I almost missed it but today, May 23, 2014, is indeed World Turtle Day, a day to celebrate all our shelled reptilian friends, who, by the way, have evolved a pretty successful survival strategy. Yay!

May
22
2014

Scientists at University of California Berkeley have been able to use carbon nanotbues to create light activated "smart curtains" that respond automatically to light without batteries. The curtain material can bend or straighten in response to the flick of a light switch.

To create the smart curtain, carbon nanotubes are layered onto a plastic polycarbonate membrane. The carbon nanotubes absorb light, convert the light into heat, and then transfer the heat to the plastic membrane surface. The plastic responds to the heat by expanding, but the carbon nanotubes do not, causing the two-layered material to bend blocking the light.

To read more about this research visit:
https://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/01/09/smart-curtains/

Diagrams of Smart Curtains:
http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140107/ncomms3983/fig_tab/ncomms3983_F...

Link to Smart Curtains YouTube video:

See video

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