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Mercury: A result of early hit-and-run collisions

July 9, 2014 11:02 am | by Nikki Cassis, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

Planet Mercury’s unusual metal-rich composition has been a longstanding puzzle in planetary science. According to a study published online in Nature Geoscience, Mercury and other unusually metal-rich objects in the solar system may be relics left behind by collisions in the early solar system that built the other planets.

Virtual crowds produce real behavior insights

July 8, 2014 7:55 pm | Videos | Comments

A Brown Univ. group has developed a wireless virtual reality system to study a phenomenon that scientists don’t yet understand: How pedestrians interact with each other and how those individual behaviors, in turn, generate patterns of crowd movement. The system, which uses motion capture technology can immerse up to four people in a carefully controlled, realistic virtual crowd.

Using sand to improve battery performance

July 8, 2014 7:43 pm | by Sean Nealon, Univ. of California, Riverside | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of California, Riverside have used a quartz-rich material to fabricate a lithium-ion battery that outperforms the current industry standard by three times. This key material? Sand. Through a heating process with salt and magnesium, the scientists created a porous nano-silicon sponge that greatly increases active surface area.  

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New research shows that friction and fracture are interrelated

July 8, 2014 12:51 pm | News | Comments

Overturning conventional wisdom stretching all the way to Leonardo da Vinci, new research from Israel shows that how things break and how things slide are closely interrelated. The breakthrough study marks an important advance in understanding friction and fracture, with implications for describing the mechanics that drive earthquakes.

Forgotten vials of smallpox found in storage room

July 8, 2014 12:29 pm | by Mike Stobbe, AP Medical Writer | News | Comments

Government officials say workers cleaning a storage room at National Institutes of Health in Maryland made a startling discovery last week. Decades-old vials of smallpox had been forgotten in a cardboard box. The only other known smallpox samples are in super-secure labs in the U.S. and Russia.

Scientists report contradictory findings on the effect of full moon on sleep

July 8, 2014 10:24 am | by Krister Svahn, Univ. of Gothenberg | News | Comments

Studies through the years have attempted to prove or disprove the hypothesis that lunar phases affect human sleep. But results have been hard to repeat. A Swiss research study conducted last year showed that the full moon does affect sleep. The findings demonstrated that people average 20 minutes less sleep, take five minutes longer to fall asleep and experience 30 minutes more of REM sleep, during which most dreaming is believed to occur.

Artificial cilia: Scientists develop nanostructured transportation system

July 7, 2014 3:40 pm | News | Comments

For billions of years, bacteria have moved themselves using cilia. Now, researchers have constructed molecules that imitate these tiny, hair-like structures. The innovation was possible by nanofabricating artificial cilia that would respond in just one direction to provide a net displacement of motion.

Consider the “anticrystal”

July 7, 2014 3:12 pm | News | Comments

For the last century, the concept of crystals has been a mainstay of solid-state physics. Crystals are paragons of order; crystalline materials are defined by the repeating patterns their constituent atoms and molecules make. Now physicists have evidence that a new concept should undergird our understanding of most materials: the anticrystal, a theoretical solid that is completely disordered.

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A young star's age can be gleaned from nothing but sound waves

July 7, 2014 9:42 am | News | Comments

Determining the age of stars has long been a challenge for astronomers. Recent experiments by researchers in Belgium show that “baby” stars can be distinguished from “adolescent” stars by measuring the acoustic waves they emit. This is because stars can vibrate due to sound waves bouncing inside, and those waves are detectable through subtle changes in stellar brightness.

“Nanojuice” could improve how doctors examine the gut

July 7, 2014 8:05 am | by Cory Nealon, Univ. at Buffalo | News | Comments

Located deep in the human gut, the small intestine is not easy to examine: X-rays, MRIs and ultrasound images each suffer limitations. Univ. at Buffalo researchers are developing a new imaging technique involving nanoparticles suspended in liquid to form “nanojuice” that patients would drink. Upon reaching the small intestine, doctors would strike the nanoparticles with laser light, providing a non-invasive, real-time view of the organ.

Japanese gold leaf artists worked on the nanoscale

July 2, 2014 3:10 pm | News | Comments

Ancient Japanese gold leaf artists were truly masters of their craft. An analysis of six of these Japanese paper screens show that these artifacts are gilded with gold leaf that was hand-beaten to the nanometer scale. The study was able to prove this without any damage to the screens through the use of x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy.

Nature of solids and liquids explored through new pitch drop experiment

July 2, 2014 12:47 pm | News | Comments

Known as the “world's longest experiment”, an experiment at the University of Queensland in Australia was famous for taking ten years for a drop of pitch, a black, sticky material, to fall from a funnel. A new test in the U.K. is using a different bitumen, or pitch, which is 30 times less viscous than the Queensland experiment, so that the flow can be seen at a faster rate and hopefully provide more insights.

New NIST metamaterial gives light a one-way ticket

July 2, 2014 11:58 am | News | Comments

The light-warping structures known as metamaterials have a new trick in their ever-expanding repertoire. Researchers at NIST have built a silver, glass and chromium nanostructure that can all but stop visible light cold in one direction while giving it a pass in the other. The device could someday play a role in optical information processing and in novel biosensing devices.

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Muscle-powered bio-bots walk on command

July 2, 2014 9:28 am | News | Comments

Engineers at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated a class of walking “bio-bots” powered by muscle cells and controlled with electrical pulses, giving researchers unprecedented command over their function. The design is inspired by the muscle-tendon-bone complex found in nature. They have a backbone of 3-D printed hydrogel, strong enough to give the bio-bot structure but flexible enough to bend like a joint.

Research may help prevent eye injury among soldiers

July 1, 2014 11:50 am | by K.C. Gonzalez, UTSA | News | Comments

In a basement laboratory at Fort Sam Houston military base in Texas, a research team has spent the last two years simulating improvised explosive device blasts on postmortem pig eyes using a high-powered shock tube. Their most striking discovery is that these blasts can damage the optic nerve, and these injuries can occur even at low pressures, causing visual defects that until now have been associated traumatic brain injuries.

Nineteenth-century math tactic gets makeover, speeds answers up to 200 times

July 1, 2014 11:50 am | News | Comments

A relic from long before the age of supercomputers, the 169-year-old math strategy called the Jacobi iterative method is widely dismissed today as too slow to be useful. But thanks to a Johns Hopkins Univ. engineering student and his professor, it may soon get a new lease on life. With just a few modern-day tweaks, the researchers say they’ve made the rarely used Jacobi method work up to 200 times faster.

Engineers envision electronic switch just three atoms thick

July 1, 2014 9:53 am | by Tom Abate, Stanford Engineering | News | Comments

Computer simulation has shown Stanford Univ. engineers how to make a crystal that would toggle like a light switch between conductive and non-conductive structures. This flexible, switchable lattice, just three atoms thick, can be turned on or off by mechanically pushing or pulling, and could lead to flexible electronic materials.

Scientists develop force sensor from carbon nanotubes

June 30, 2014 2:05 pm | News | Comments

A group of researchers from Russia, Belarus and Spain, including MIPT professor Yury Lozovik, have developed a microscopic force sensor based on carbon nanotubes. The device consists of two nanotubes placed so that their open ends are opposite to each other. Voltage of just 10 nA is then applied to the nanocircuit and force is measured by the change in position of the nanotubes.

“Compressive sensing” provides new approach to measuring a quantum system

June 27, 2014 3:14 pm | News | Comments

In quantum physics, momentum and position are an example of conjugate variables, connected by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which says that both quantities cannot be simultaneously measured precisely. Univ. of Rochester physicists have recently shown that a technique called compressive sensing that offers a way to measure both variables at the same time without violating the Uncertainty Principle.

Diamond plates create nanostructures through pressure, not chemistry

June 27, 2014 3:09 pm | News | Comments

You wouldn’t think that mechanical force could process nanoparticles more subtly than the most advanced chemistry. But researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have created a newly patented and original method that uses simple pressure to produce finer and cleaner results in forming silver nanostructures than do chemical methods, which are not only inflexible in their results but leave harmful byproducts.

Cosmic caffeine: Astronauts getting espresso maker

June 27, 2014 2:37 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Talk about a cosmic caffeine jolt. The International Space Station is getting a real Italian espresso machine. Astronauts of all nationalities have long grumbled about the tepid instant coffee served in pouches and drunk with straws 260 miles above Earth. The pouches and straws aren't going away, but at least the brew will pack some zero-gravity punch thanks to the ISSpresso, which can also make tea and consommé.

Electric eel genome sequence unlocks shocking secrets

June 27, 2014 12:17 pm | News | Comments

For the first time, the genome of the electric eel has been sequenced. This discovery has revealed the secret of how fishes with electric organs have evolved six times in the history of life to produce electricity outside of their bodies. This research has shed light on the genetic blueprint used to evolve these complex, novel organs.

Study: Squashed extinct volcanoes cause tsunamis

June 27, 2014 9:58 am | News | Comments

Tsunami earthquakes happen at relatively shallow depths in the ocean and are small in terms of their magnitude. However, they create very large tsunamis: just 5.6 on the Richter scale can produce a 10-m wave. New research reveals that tsunami earthquakes may be caused by extinct undersea volcanoes causing a “sticking point” between two sections of the Earth’s crust called tectonic plates, where one plate slides under another.

Controlling movement with light

June 27, 2014 9:29 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT | News | Comments

For the first time, neuroscientists have shown they can control muscle movement by applying optogenetics, a technique that allows scientists to control neurons’ electrical impulses with light, to the spinal cords of animals that are awake and alert. Previously, scientists have used electrical stimulation or pharmacological intervention to control neurons’ activity, but these approaches were not precise enough.

Engineers turn LEGOs into a scientific tool to study plant growth

June 27, 2014 9:25 am | News | Comments

Iowa State University assistant professor of materials science and engineering Ludovico Cademartiri wanted something modular, scalable and structurally precise to serve as the building blocks for controlled environments to support his study of plants. Microfluidics was too expensive and complex, so he turned to the toy aisle.

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