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Whale Flippers Inspire Aeronautical Engineers

Have you seen the bumpy flippers on humpback whales, you know, the species whose males serenade their mates?  Don’t laugh.  Scientists have found that the ungainly flippers actually have superior lift, less drag, and are less susceptible to stalling.  Engineers are imitating the whale flippers for advanced aircraft and helicopter rotors, reports EurekAlert from studies […]

Virus: Like DNA in a Hard Plastic Shell

A European team of biophysicists studied the mechanical properties of a virus and found the shell, made of protein, to act like hard plastic.  Writing in PNAS,1 they described the coat of a bacteriophage they studied: The protective proteinaceous shells (capsids) of viruses are striking examples of biological materials engineering.  These highly regular, self-assembled, nanometer-sized […]

Fish See With Electric Eyes

Biologists knew that some electric fish shock their prey and others with weak electricity can navigate with it, but they didn’t know till recently just how much information these fish can detect with their unique sense.  French and British scientists ran some experimental tests on weakly electric fish, the African elephantnose fish Gnathonemus petersii, which […]

How Tall Can a Tree Grow?

130 meters (426 ft) seems to be the upper limit on the height of a tree, say researchers from Humboldt State, Northern Arizona University and Pepperdine University, in the April 22 issue of Nature.1  To find this out, they had to establish working stations at the tops of northern California redwoods, the tallest trees on […]

How Birds Calibrate Their Navigating Maps

Three researchers tracked birds in the wild and concluded that “night-flying thrushes set their course using a magnetic compass, which they calibrate to the setting sun before takeoff each evening.”  The team of three captured thrushes in Illinois and attached small radio transmitters to them, then followed their flight for up to 1100 kilometers.  By […]

Animals Are “Overengineered” for Navigation

Animals outshine us in many ways, but one capability that should humble us is animal navigation.  From spiders to mice, from birds to bees, the ability of animals to find their way around is truly astonishing, and James L. Gould of Princeton has raised our awareness of just how astonishing in a short article in […]

Chameleon Tongue Beats Jet Aircraft

Did you know a chameleon’s tongue is so fast as it shoots out toward its prey, it reaches 50 G’s – five times faster than a fighter jet can accelerate?  Science Now describes how the chameleon does it.  Scientists only recently found out the secret with high-speed photography and careful examination of the tongue structure, […]

Rethinking the Geological Layers

One of the most formative ideas in Darwin’s intellectual journey was the concept of gradualism, the principle of “small agencies and their cumulative effects.”  This idea became a dominant motif in his philosophy of life.  Describing how the assumption of gradualism permeated his last book (on earthworms) shortly before his death, Janet Browne, in her […]

Sugar-Dried Blood: Just Add Water

A discovery might save lives on the battlefield, or any other place where blood platelets are hard to come by.  A simple sugar named trehalose can replace water in platelets and perhaps red blood cells.  This could provide an alternative to freeze-drying, making blood platelets (necessary for clotting) available with a shelf-life of months or […]

Cellular Cowboys: How the Cell Rounds Up Chromosomes Before Dividing

Two cancer researchers from UC San Diego describe mitosis (cell division) in the Mar. 4 issue of Nature.1  Pulling together the latest findings about this elaborate and important process, they begin by describing the puzzle that the cell needs to solve: At the beginning of mitosis, the process of cell division, chromosomes are organized randomly […]

Fiber-Optic Sponge Makes Deep-Sea Lamps

Last year, it was announced that a deep-sea sponge named the Venus Flower Basket possessed glass strands similar to fiber optic cables (see 08/20/2003 headline).  Now, a five-member team from Bell Labs has performed the first detailed optical analysis of the fibers.  They indeed found these structures to be “remarkably similar to commercial silica optical […]

Respect the Conch Shell

Engineers and materials scientists seem to never run out of examples in nature that should fill us with awe.  In the Feb. 19 issue of Nature,1 Rosamund Daw brings our attention to the construction ability of the conch shell: Giant conches are seldom treated with the respect they deserve.  Their impressive shells are prized as […]

Birds Are Memory Champs

We humans lose our keys and often can’t remember the location of half a dozen identical items.  “Maybe it takes a bird brain to find the car keys,” teases Susan Milius in the cover story of the Feb. 14 issue of Science News.1  Ornithologists have been intrigued with how birds remember where they stash their […]

DNA Is a Code Operated by Another Code

The discovery in the 1950s that DNA stored a coded language was amazing, but recently a new level of complexity has come to the awareness of biochemists.  Apparently, another code determines which DNA genes will be opened for expression and which should be suppressed.     The Feb. 14 issue of Science News1 describes the […]

Your Internal Motors Can Run Nanotech

In each cell in your body, and in that of every living thing, there exists a tiny motor named ATP synthase that Science News1 calls “the ultimate molecular machine.”  It converts electrical to chemical energy, writes Alexandra Goho, “with amazing efficiency.”  Now, Japanese have harnessed some of these motors (only 12 millionths of a millimeter […]
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