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Nature Inspires Useful Products

Some day soon you may be able to extract water out of thin air, decorate your walls with detachable wallpaper, read street signs clearly in fog, and employ reusable tape underwater.  These are some of the innovations coming from biomimetics – science inspired by nature’s designs. Venus flytrap:  Alex Crosby at University of Massachusetts was […]

Inner Ear More Complex than Thought

Another level of complexity has been added to the mystery of hearing.  Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that another membrane in the cochlea of the inner ear, once thought to be passive, is actively involved in transmitting sound waves to the hair cell receptors.  Their work was published in PNAS.1     […]

New Atomizer Mimics Bombardier Beetle

There’s a new technology coming to market, thanks to a little bug.  The bombardier beetle has long been used by creationists as a creature with a weapon against evolutionary theory.  Its tightly-integrated combustion apparatus would be useless or dangerous to the beetle unless all the parts worked together from the start.  This, creationists argue, is […]

One Special Universe: Take It or Leave It

If you think this universe is odd, to what would you compare it?  Adrian Cho asked this and other basic questions in a whimsical review of cosmology since WMAP in Science.1  Closer analysis of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), as revealed in detail by WMAP (03/06/2003, 05/02/2003, 09/20/2004, 03/20/2006), has uncovered features so surprising (e.g., […]

More Impacts on Crater Count Dating

Planetary scientists have relied on crater counts to estimate the surface age of a planet or moon.  The more craters, the older the surface.  This method has recently come under closer scrutiny (see 10/20/2005) because of the phenomenon of secondary cratering.     A simplistic look at a crater-scarred planet or moon might lead one […]

Upsets: Assumptions About Genes, Atmospheres Challenged

It’s not fun when a whole superstructure of scientific theories and models is found to rest on a shaky foundation.  That’s just what may be happening in two very different fields: genetics and planetary science: Lateral pass to the opposing team:  Building evolutionary trees by comparing genomes was supposed to be simple.  Sure, geneticists knew […]

Thermodynamics: The Real Theory of Everything

Need a theory of everything?  Try thermodynamics.  Mark Haw reviewed a new book by Peter Atkins on the subject in Nature,1 Four Laws that Drive the Universe (Oxford, 2007).  He had high praise for the achievements of the “19th century grandees” Joule, Maxwell and Kelvin: Thermodynamics ought to be the cornerstone of any scientist’s understanding […]

Dust to Dust, or Dust to Life?

National Geographic gave prominent press to last month’s theory of living dust (see 08/10/2007, bullet 1).  Criticisms were mild; scientists were quoted who thought this claim raises interesting questions about the definition of life.  Tsytovich’s ideas were described by Mihaly Horanyi (U of Colorado) as “amazing.”  He said, “This is a very original, very intelligent […]

Dark Matter Sheds Light on Invisible Stars: Come Again?

Can one unknown shed light on another unknown?  That’s what some UK astronomers seem to be saying.  Before describing their model, consider this conundrum with which they ended a story in the BBC News: “We don’t know what the dark matter is, we don’t know what the first stars are.  If we bring these two […]

Eyes Do Precision Digital Sampling

What is the shutter speed of the eye?  Have you ever considered this question?  After all, the eye functions like a camera in some respects.  Shutterbugs know that shutter speed and aperture are factors in proper exposure.  Most of us know that the iris of the eye controls the aperture, but what controls the shutter […]

Saturn’s Iapetus Takes Cassini’s Spotlight

Scientists are eagerly poised for Cassini’s long-awaited ultra-close flyby of Iapetus on September 10.  The previous visit in 2005 was over 77,000 miles away; this flyby will skim the surface from less than 1,000 miles.  Moreover, it will see a portion of the moon only vaguely imaged by Voyager and Cassini before.  Jet Propulsion Laboratory, […]

Solar System News

A flurry of discoveries about the Sun’s family has some scientists smiling and others furrowing their brows.  Astrobiologists, as usual, are wielding their divining rods, looking for water.  Some of these reports surfaced at the European Planetary Science Congress last week at Potsdam, Germany; see agenda and press releases at Europlanet. Basalt assault:  How did […]

Two Ways to Look at a Fin

Two science articles this month showed very different ways to look at a fish fin.  One looked for evolution; the other looked for design.  One tried to trace an evolutionary story with no practical application; the other tried to find ways to improve our lives.     The evolutionary story involved a fossil coelacanth.  Science […]

Photosynthesis Requires the Right Kind of Star

Where can photosynthesis occur?  The answer depends on the energy of starlight, the atmosphere, the amount of water vapor, and the organisms equipped to harvest it.     A new kind of photosynthetic bacterium was just discovered in a Yellowstone hot spring (see Science Daily).  Exciting as this is (and the discoverer felt he had […]

Stars Found Almost as Old as Universe

A new record was set by a Caltech team using the Keck telescopes on Hawaii: they detected a galaxy nearly as old as the universe.  The consensus age for the universe is 13.6 billion years.  The light from this galaxy, they claim, is over 13 billion years old – “a mere 500 million years after […]
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