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Fly Swiftly

The common swift is being eyed by aircraft engineers who want to go fast, high, and green.  Science Daily says these engineers are “inspired by nature.”     Calling Apus apus a common “swift” is like calling an orange an orange.  They are swift!  These incredible birds dart about effortlessly and spend their lives almost […]

Thanks to Clam Design, Stronger Materials Are Coming

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have produced a lightweight composite material 300 times stronger than its constituents.  How?  By taking inspiration from clams.     The team, writing in Science,1 described nacre, the shiny mother-of-pearl found inside clam shells.  Because of the way it sandwiches crystalline aragonite with layers of protein (07/26/2004), nacre resists […]

That Spring in Your Step Is Semi-Automatic

Cross-country runners know the challenge of running on uneven terrain.  What they may not know is that they are executing one of the most difficult operations for robot designers: how to make an upright, walking machine make rapid decisions on irregular surfaces without falling.     Monica Daley of the Royal Veterinary College wrote about […]

Go to the Ant, Thou Farmer

We humans boast too much.  Agribusiness?  Ants have it down to a science.  “One of the most important developments in human civilisation was the practice of sustainable agriculture,” stated Science Daily.  “But we were not the first – ants have been doing it for over 50 million years.  Just as farming helped humans become a […]

Proteins Can Tie Knots

Your job today is to invent a chain that can tie itself in a knot.  The chain can contain little magnets and electrical parts, but when you let go of the ends, a knot will spontaneously form.  This means that one end must form a loop and the other end must thread the loop.  Give […]

Cell Chaperone Is an Optimized Two-Stroke Machine

Proteins need a protected space to fold, and the cell provides it: the GroEL-GroES chaperone (see 05/05/2003, 06/07/2006, and 02/13/2007).  More details keep coming in about this “protein dressing room” as scientists continue to probe its secrets.  Two new papers in PNAS by a team at University of Maryland and College Park reveal that this […]

Scientists Marvel at Enzyme Efficiency

Many chemical reactions occur from simple collisions.  One atom may have spare electrons, another may need them.  Attracted by each other’s valences, the atoms collide and bonds form.  Not so with biological enzymes: these molecular machines owe their efficiency to their three-dimensional shapes.  Made up of hundreds of amino acids, enzymes have “active sites” where […]

Solar System Surprises

In the last few days and weeks, more amazing discoveries were made about bodies in the solar system. Mercury:  Results from the second flyby of Mercury on Oct. 6 by MESSENGER were announced Oct 29.  This pass covered more “hidden” territory that had never been seen before, bringing the coverage to 95%.  According to Space.com […]

Paley’s Watch Found in Bacteria

A clock with cogs, gears and ratchets that keeps accurate time – what more could William Paley wish for?  The 18th century natural theologian used the illustration of stumbling upon a watch in a heath as an example of reasoning from design to a Designer – as from watch to watchmaker.  Skeptics like David Hume […]

Snails Walk on Water

Why is that scientist staring at a snail?  He’s watching a miracle: walking on water.  This is not our exaggeration: Matt Kaplan on National Geographic News entitled his article, “How Snails Walk on Water Is a Small Miracle.”  If we can figure out the trick, we might be able to make little robots do it […]

How Cells Thread a Needle

Your challenge today is to invent a machine that can push a wet noodle through a straw.  It can’t pull it.  First it has to grab the end, then push it through without breaking it.  Oh, and there’s a catch; the straw has a plug at the far end and a constriction inside.  Give up?  […]

Plants Have Thermostats

Plants, being stuck in the ground, have few options when it gets hot.  They may not be able to move into the shade like animals, but they know how to cope.  They have a built-in thermostat that acts like a fire prevention department.  Science Daily tells the story.     Researchers at Michigan State identified […]

Deep Life Is Right at Home in Total Darkness

It seems every year scientists find organisms thriving in environments thought too inhospitable for life.  A new word was coined for these organisms: extremophiles – lovers of the extreme.  Two recent discoveries push the envelope of extreme environments almost to the deep limit. Pressurized fish:  The bottoms of the deep ocean trenches of the Pacific […]

Fastest Squirt Gun in the Fungi

A paper on PLoS One described the highest-speed flights in all nature: the spore discharge mechanisms in certain fungi.  A dozen scientists in Ohio worked to capture the action on ultra-high-speed cameras.  It took 250,000 frames per second to reveal how fast the projectiles accelerate.  The answer: from 20,000 to 180,000 g (where g = […]

Trees Communicate with Aspirin

Trees talk to each other in a chemical language (02/21/2006), but till now, no one realized they sound an alarm with aspirin.  Trees emit a vaporous form of aspirin when under stress, reported Science Daily, that talks on the ecological network.  This was an unexpected finding.     Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric […]
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