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Tue, 23 Apr 2019
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Science & Technology


Engineers demonstrate a new kind of airplane wing

Variable Wing
© Eli Gershenfeld, NASA Ames Research Center
A team of engineers has built and tested a radically new kind of airplane wing, assembled from hundreds of tiny identical pieces. The wing can change shape to control the plane's flight, and could provide a significant boost in aircraft production, flight, and maintenance efficiency, the researchers say.

The new approach to wing construction could afford greater flexibility in the design and manufacturing of future aircraft. The new wing design was tested in a NASA wind tunnel and is described today in a paper in the journal Smart Materials and Structures, co-authored by research engineer Nicholas Cramer at NASA Ames in California; MIT alumnus Kenneth Cheung SM '07 PhD '12, now at NASA Ames; Benjamin Jenett, a graduate student in MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms; and eight others.

Instead of requiring separate movable surfaces such as ailerons to control the roll and pitch of the plane, as conventional wings do, the new assembly system makes it possible to deform the whole wing, or parts of it, by incorporating a mix of stiff and flexible components in its structure. The tiny subassemblies, which are bolted together to form an open, lightweight lattice framework, are then covered with a thin layer of similar polymer material as the framework.

The result is a wing that is much lighter, and thus much more energy efficient, than those with conventional designs, whether made from metal or composites, the researchers say. Because the structure, comprising thousands of tiny triangles of matchstick-like struts, is composed mostly of empty space, it forms a mechanical "metamaterial" that combines the structural stiffness of a rubber-like polymer and the extreme lightness and low density of an aerogel.


Boston Dynamics builds creepy ostrich-like "Handle" bot to replace warehouse workers

handle robot
Boston Dynamics has a new robot, entitled "Handle," which aims to be the replacement for warehouse workers loading pallets.

In a new YouTube video showing off the advancements in its robot, Boston Dynamics shows how Handle can easily pick up pallets and boxes in a warehouse environment.

You may remember the name Boston Dynamics from the infamous video showing an employee bullying Atlas by pushing it over. Since then, Atlas has evolved and is now doing parkour as Activist Post reported last year.

Unlike Atlas, Handle isn't able to do parkour because it lacks legs; it's equipped with wheels instead.

Handle originates from 2017 and was Dynamics' first "wheel-legged" robot. Boston Dynamics described the design decision on its website, stating, "Wheels are fast and efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs, Handle has the best of both worlds."


The sun's magnetic field is ten times stronger than previously believed

loop sun
© Queen's University Belfast
The new finding was discovered by Dr. David Kuridze, Research Fellow at Aberystwyth University. Dr. Kuridze began the research when he was based at Queen's University Belfast and completed it when he moved to Aberystwyth University in 2017. He is a leading authority on the use of ground-based telescopes to study the sun's corona, the ring of bright light visible during a total eclipse.

Working from the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, La Palma in the Canary Islands, Dr. Kuridze studied a particularly strong solar flare which erupted near the surface of the sun on 10 September 2017.

A combination of favourable conditions and an element of luck enabled the team to determine the strength of the flare's magnetic field with unprecedented accuracy. The researchers believe the findings have the potential to change our understanding of the processes that happen in the sun's immediate atmosphere.

Comment: See also: And check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: The Electric Universe - An interview with Wallace Thornhill

Apple Red

Nathan Lents misses forest for trees in latest review of Behe's 'Darwin Devolves'

In Nathan Lents's latest review of Darwin Devolves, published in Skeptic Magazine, the John Jay College biologist reiterates his disagreements with many of Behe's claims. His criticisms are quite understandable within his evolutionary framework, but his ingrained assumptions cause him to inadvertently make the same errors as do Behe's other critics. In particular, he misunderstands what Behe actually argues. For instance, Lents asserts the following:
[Behe] claims that random tinkering can never be the source of innovative or even improved biomolecular functioning unless every single step of the way brings clear fitness gains.
However, Behe never makes such a claim. Instead, he argues that the chance of an innovation occurring decreases quickly with the number of required specific alterations. Lents also falsely claims the following:
Behe holds modern evolutionary theory to an impossible standard, declaring it "insufficient" if we cannot pinpoint every point mutation, every intermediate genetic step, in what order, and in which ancient organisms.
To the contrary, Behe holds evolutionary theory to an entirely reasonable standard. The theory assumes that sufficient numbers of mutations capable of driving large-scale transformations have occurred in countless species to allow for the observed diversity of life. Therefore, at least some such "macromutations" should have been identified to justify this claim. Behe demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that they have not.

Cloud Lightning

Doctors discover electrical charge can reshape living tissue

electricity tissue
© Rachel Qu, Anna Stokolosa, Charlotte Cullip
A new noninvasive process can alter the curve of a cornea from that seen in blue in a) to the new position seen in red in b) to fix vision problems.
A new type of medical procedure could help replace some kinds of painful, invasive surgeries.

By using electrical current and 3D-printed molds, doctors figured out how to soften and re-shape cartilage without making a single incision - a development that could significantly shorten the recovery time for medical procedures and make the whole process less painful.

Surgery Shocker

The research, described in an American Chemical Society (ACS) press release, was presented Tuesday at the ACS' 2019 Spring national meeting. The research describes how cartilage, which shapes our noses and other features, can be made more malleable after being subjected to an electrical current.

Comment: See also:


Hell Creek fossils may provide snapshot of the day the dinosaurs died

Hell Creek
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Layers of rock in the western U.S. known as the Hell Creek Formation preserve the final millennia of the age of dinosaurs. A nearby site in North Dakota called Tanis may hold sediments laid down within minutes to hours of the asteroid impact that set off this mass extinction 66 million years ago.
These fossils may capture the day the dinosaurs died. Here's what you should know. Reports about a stunning site in North Dakota are making waves among paleontologists, who are eager to see more.

Mere minutes after a miles-wide asteroid slammed into Earth 66 million years ago, a hailstorm of tiny glass beads rained down on a flooding estuary in what's now North Dakota. As seismic waves from the impact thrashed the water, plants and animals were jumbled up and buried in the shifting sediments, which preserved the aftermath for millennia.

Now, researchers say this site-newly described in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences-represents an exceedingly rare snapshot of the moment that marked the dinosaurs' demise. Handfuls of fossils have been found before at other places that also capture this moment in the geologic record, known as the K-Pg boundary. But the North Dakota site potentially represents an entire ecosystem affected by the catastrophe.

"Essentially, what we've got there is the geologic equivalent of high-speed film of the very first moments after the impact," says lead study author Robert DePalma, a Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas and a curator at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.

Comment: It should be noted that extinction wasn't immediate for all creatures and in fact we still don't know why the reign of the dinosaurs ended:

See also:


Ancient teeth point to mysterious human relative

China gorge
The gorges of Guizhou Province glimmer in the sunlight in China. Fossil teeth found in this province suggest that millions of years ago, a cave here was home to a mysterious branch of the human family tree.
Four teeth found in a cave in the Tongzi county of southern China have scientists scratching their heads.

In 1972 and 1983, researchers extracted the roughly 200,000-year-old teeth from the silty sediments of the Yanhui cave floor, initially labeling them as Homo erectus, the upright-walking hominins thought to be the first to leave Africa. Later analysis suggested they didn't quite fit with Homo erectus, but that's where the story paused for nearly two decades.

Now, a study published in the Journal of Human Evolution takes a fresh look at these ancient teeth, using modern methods to examine the curious remains. The new analysis excludes the possibility that the teeth could come from Homo erectus or the more advanced Neanderthals, but the elusive owner remains unknown.

HUMAN ORIGINS 101: The story of human evolution began about 7 million years ago, when the lineages that lead to Homo sapiens and chimpanzees separated. Learn about the over 20 early human species that belong in our family tree and how the natural selection of certain physical and behavioral traits defined what it means to be human.


Transgenic monkeys carrying human gene show human-like brain development

cloned monjeys

Zhongzhong and Huahua, the world's first monkeys cloned by using somatic cells, are taken outside to bask in the sun in Shanghai.
Researchers from China and the United States have created transgenic monkeys carrying a human gene that is important for brain development, and the monkeys showed human-like brain development.

Scientists have identified several genes that are linked to primate brain size. MCPH1 is a gene that is expressed during fetal brain development. Mutations in MCPH1 can lead to microcephaly, a developmental disorder characterized by a small brain.

In the study published in the Beijing-based National Science Review, researchers from the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of North Carolina in the United States and other research institutions reported that they successfully created 11 transgenic rhesus monkeys (eight first-generation and three second-generation) carrying human copies of MCPH1.


New research shows plants turn out to have a 'nervous system'

Arabidopsis thaliana
It's constructed differently from an animal one.

Summary and Abstract:
Rapid, long-distance signaling in plants: A plant injured on one leaf by a nibbling insect can alert its other leaves to begin anticipatory defense responses. Working in the model plant Arabidopsis, Toyota et al. show that this systemic signal begins with the release of glutamate, which is perceived by glutamate receptor-like ion channels (see the Perspective by Muday and Brown-Harding). The ion channels then set off a cascade of changes in calcium ion concentration that propagate through the phloem vasculature and through intercellular channels called plasmodesmata. This glutamate-based long-distance signaling is rapid: Within minutes, an undamaged leaf can respond to the fate of a distant leaf.


Animals require rapid, long-range molecular signaling networks to integrate sensing and response throughout their bodies. The amino acid glutamate acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter in the vertebrate central nervous system, facilitating long-range information exchange via activation of glutamate receptor channels. Similarly, plants sense local signals, such as herbivore attack, and transmit this information throughout the plant body to rapidly activate defense responses in undamaged parts. Here we show that glutamate is a wound signal in plants. Ion channels of the GLUTAMATE RECEPTOR-LIKE family act as sensors that convert this signal into an increase in intracellular calcium ion concentration that propagates to distant organs, where defense responses are then induced. --Masatsugu Toyota, Dirk Spencer, Satoe Sawai-Toyota, Wang Jiaqi, Tong Zhang, Abraham J. Koo, Gregg A. Howe ... , "Glutamate triggers long-distance, calcium-based plant defense signaling" at Science (paywall)

Microscope 2

Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?

Quantum image
© Shutterstock
Different observations of the same reality (in photons) may both be correct, according to quantum mechanics.
Every generation tends to believe that its views on the nature of reality are either true or quite close to the truth. We are no exception to this: although we know that the ideas of earlier generations were each time supplanted by those of a later one, we still believe that this time we got it right. Our ancestors were naïve and superstitious, but we are objective-or so we tell ourselves. We know that matter/energy, outside and independent of mind, is the fundamental stuff of nature, everything else being derived from it-or do we?

In fact, studies have shown that there is an intimate relationship between the world we perceive and the conceptual categories encoded in the language we speak. We don't perceive a purely objective world out there, but one subliminally pre-partitioned and pre-interpreted according to culture-bound categories. For instance, "color words in a given language shape human perception of color." A brain imaging study suggests that language processing areas are directly involved even in the simplest discriminations of basic colors. Moreover, this kind of "categorical perception is a phenomenon that has been reported not only for color, but for other perceptual continua, such as phonemes, musical tones and facial expressions." In an important sense, we see what our unexamined cultural categories teach us to see, which may help explain why every generation is so confident in their own worldview. Allow me to elaborate.

Comment: Indeed, there seem to be several layers of perception, each built on top of the other. For instance, there is conscious perception (which Alfred Whitehead called 'perception in the mode of symbolic reference', because of the memories and concepts involved, which Kastrup references above). That is built on what might be called basic sensation ('perception in the mode of presentational immediacy'), which are the 'pure' sense data before they are interpreted by reference to symbols. That's where thinkers like Descartes and Locke stopped. Whitehead added a third, more fundamental type: perception in the mode of causal efficacy, the direct experience of causation, without reference to the specifics of sense data or the concepts with which those data are interpreted.