Tree on a Chip

Plants use a natural hydraulic pumping process to pull water and nutrients from the soil below to their top most branches and leaves.  This natural process has inspired the engineering students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to come up with a microfluidic pump that they call “Tree on a Chip.”

The chip pumps water for days at a time at a constant rate. One of the potential uses for the chip could be to power small robots. Anette “Peko” Hosoi, the associate department head for operations in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said that the chip’s passive pumping may be leveraged as a simple hydraulic actuator used by small robots.

Since it is expensive for engineers to make tiny movable parts and pumps to power complex movements in small robots, using the tree on a chip, would help powering hydraulic robots. The team is hoping to miniaturize and create robots like the Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog.

That is a big four legged robot that can perform many tricks such as running over rough terrain and jumping. The robot is also powered by hydraulic actuators. Future science projects would involve creating smaller robots that can do similar tricks.


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Single Molecule Diode

A diode is a semiconductor device with two terminals, typically allowing the flow of current in one direction only. They are used extensively in all fields of electronics and hardware creation. At the University of Barcelona researchers have come up with a new and improved diode which is literally formed with one molecule sandwiched between a gold and a silver electrode.

The diode was created out of a 1 nm-sized single molecule with high rectification ratios. Ismael Díez Pérez, of the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia said that in order to go to the next level of miniaturization, they had to use individual molecules as the active components of the circuits.

This approach favors the assembly of thousands of billions of diodes on a tiny silicon chip, as per Díez Pérez. Scientific studies show that the molecular diode can allow current to go in one direction 4,000 times more than in the opposite direction. This is a much higher rate of efficiency than current diodes in use.

Needless to say the ramifications of that kind of miniaturization and efficiency are mind numbing. The team is now working on elongating the life of the single molecule diode so that it can be comfortably used in commercial applications.

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How to Save Corals on The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is considered one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world. Every year Australia sees a huge influx of tourists interested in seeing the corals. Unfortunately the reef has been fighting for survival. Multiple environmental disturbances in recent years have made it difficult for the coral to thrive as they once did.

The Crown of Thorns Starfish is the latest enemy that the coral reef has been battling. Scientists have been working on different methods to solve the issue of the starfish destroying the coral without affecting the delicate ecosystem underwater. Some chemicals were found effective against the crown of thorns starfish, but the process was tedious to ensure that no other sea life was affected by it.

Then came the solution in a rather unexpected manner. The savior of the coral reef sits humbly on a shelf in your kitchen. Apparently regular vinegar can help with the menace of crown of thorns starfish while not causing a detrimental effect on anything else. This little science project showed that the vinegar simply gets too diluted to be of any real danger to anything else on the reef after it has been poured on to the starfish.

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Aurora Borealis – The Northern Lights

Aurora is the name of the Roman Goddess of Dawn. Borealis refers to the northerly winds. Quite literally these are the lights that are seen in the northern hemisphere’s polar region. The countries where you can see the Aurora Borealis are Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Alaska, Canada and rarely in Scotland.

These lights tend to show up in the sky in rainbow colors and chase each other. The spectacle is splendid to behold and have found many a mention in history as well as mythology. They have been believed to be everything from Valkyries to spirits of ancestors by different races.

What they essentially are, as per science, is charged particles from the sun. They get deflected to the polar regions of the Earth due to the magnetic pole. Here they collide with each other and release light. This is what causes that spectacular display akin to fireworks in the sky.

Of course the weather plays a part in being able to view this vision. Ideally a clear starry night is best. Also moving away from urban lights makes it easier to spot the aurora borealis. This also helps in reducing the blocks formed by air pollution. Perhaps it would make an interesting science project to check just how many sightings take place in a month!

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Gadgets From CES 2017

Consumer Electronics Show 2017 is a huge crowd puller as one gets to see the latest in technology offerings here. Of course the main draw is the small personal gadgets that companies come up with to make your life, as the customer, a little bit easier.

Some products have been long coming and solve pestering problems with ease. Unfortunately not all the gadgets displayed will do well commercially. Here are some gadgets which were showcased, now what do you think they will do at the market place.

L’Oreal came up with a Hair Coach. It is a smart hair brush which has a mike, a gyroscope and an altimeter. It can listen for the sound of split ends breaking, and then inform you via Bluetooth on your phone. Naturally you need to get the app, but it will be worth it as you will know if you are brushing your hair with the wrong technique.

The Oombrella is a smart umbrella which is packing a punch with sensors that can read the air pressure, the temperature, and the humidity. This data allows it to predict 15 minutes before it rains. That means you don’t get wet as you carry your umbrella around everywhere anyway! Wonder what the guys working on this science project were thinking.



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Core of the Earth

When we think of the Earth as a whole, we see the blue planet in orbit around the Sun. The Earth is considered a solid planet, in the sense that it has more rock than gases. Unlike the Gas Giant Jupiter which may have a huge size, but is not as rocky as our home planet.

We may feel the solid rock beneath our feet and feel that it’s terra firma. However under it all is a hot core made up of iron and nickel. A molten core which has temperatures as hot as the surface of the Sun itself.

So do you think that this molten core will ever solidify? That the planet will become a cold and hard rock? Scientists feel that it is unlikely to happen. The heat in the core of the Earth is maintained by the radioactive decay of elements such as uranium present in the mantle.

Doesn’t that mean that after sometime, say a few billions of years, the material will eventually half life enough to become inert? Yes, it would. Unfortunately before that time can come, the Sun will die, and as the star explodes it will take into it’s wake the first four planets of the solar system. Effectively destroying the planet long before the molten core has any chance to cool off completely.

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Calories from Plate to Waist

Food is the primary source of fuel for the human body. We all need to consume a certain amount of calories in order to meet the energy requirements of our body. This calorie requirement is different based on the age, activity, gender and a bunch of other variables.

What that basically means is that a mother may not have the same calorie needs as her son. Or that a brother who plays basket ball regularly will need more calories than the one who is a computer programmer and is glued to his computer all the time.

Everyone agrees that if you eat excessive calories you put on weight. Just how long do you think it takes for the calories on your plate to show up on your physical body? An Oxford University study on the subject found that the fat in your food could end up on your waistline in as short as 4 hours.

Apparently carbohydrates and proteins take longer as they need to be converted to fat first. And In case you were wondering, it takes about 9 calories of proteins or carbohydrates to make one gram of fat. So now, thanks to this science project, you know how much you are going to end up gaining.

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Why Do You Feel Sleepy When Reading?

Most students find it difficult to stay awake when faced with the task of completing their studies or homework. However it is a fact that even adults tend to feel sleepy when they are reading something besides text books. Then why do you feel sleepy while reading something?

When reading the person is typically in a comfortable physical position. They could be sitting or lying down. This reduces the physical strain we put on the body.

The spot one picks to read will also be a quiet and peaceful one which we hope will allow us to concentrate better on the material in the book. This leads to a state of relaxation after a hectic daily routine.

Absorbing what you are reading will remove your focus from the outside world and it’s associated stress and tensions. These anxieties tend to keep us alert and when we no longer are paying attention to them we slip further closer to sleeping.

In addition, this one is for the students, if what you are reading is boring you tend to day dream rather than focus on the book. This also contributes to your being sleepy.

Wouldn’t it make a fun science project to check which books make you sleepy?

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Cassini on Its Final Approach of Saturn

The spacecraft Cassini sent by NASA to study the solar system has now come to the last bit of it’s twenty year voyage. This week the spacecraft will make it’s final close fly past of Saturn’s moon Titan before the craft head into the ringed planet.

This will be the 127th targeted mission that Cassini makes before ending a long term mission which has helped reveal many unknown details about planets and moons in our Solar System. The final mission is set for 21 April at 11.08 pm PDT.

The mission will involve the space craft passing just 979 km above the surface of the haze enshrouded Titan at a speed of about 21,000 km/hr. Over the time Cassini has been in operation it has managed to set 22 orbits that pass through Saturn and it’s rings.

The final plunge into Saturn will be on September 15th later this year. The space craft will use it’s rocket engine and thrusters to aim more accurately towards it’s last encounter with Titan before ending it’s mission.

The end of this science project should leave researchers with fresh information about the methane lakes and seas on Titan. It will be the first time the depth and composition of smaller lakes on the moon will be in focus and under study.

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The Elevator To Outer Space

In science fiction there is the huge elevator from the Earth that reaches all the way out into space. All you have to do is ride it and in a few hours you leave behind gravity and emerge in the twilight of inter planetary space.

The radical idea was first proposed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian astronautical pioneer. He wanted to use the space elevator in place of rockets to get into space. The concept was similar to the cable car being pulled up by electricity.

While the concept itself is very simple, its the implementation that offers numerous challenges. The first of course is the types of materials that need to be used to construct this elevator. The material needs to be tough enough to survive the huge amount of tension that will be experinced.

For a while researchers were of the opinion that carbon nano tubes may be the right material. However the inability to create defect free carbon nano tubes persistently has led to the material being discarded. Till the logistics of this incredible science project can be worked out, the construction will not see the light of day. However when the elevator does become a reality it will truly be a world famous attraction.

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