Archive for May, 2015

Leveraged Freedom Chair

Being in a wheelchair and living as a paraplegic is not an easy task. However the scientific researchers and innovators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have tried to create a wheelchair revolution of sorts with the science experiment that they call the Leveraged Freedom Chair.

How is this different from the regular wheelchair? For starters it has an additional, smaller wheel up front, along with a leverage stick which the person sitting in the wheelchair can handle with hands. This is a feature that allows the wheelchair to navigate easier through tricky areas such as rocky roads and sidewalk curbs.

This is a trick which makes it a better choice over the traditional wheelchair due to added maneuverability. Also the scientists who have been designing the chair have ensured that the drivetrain of the wheelchair is made up of replaceable bike parts that can be easily found in remote areas and replaced.

This makes the Leveraged Freedom Chair a better option for developing countries where an estimated 20 million people needs a wheelchair to get around. Now this is a prime example of simple innovations in a science project making a huge difference in the lives of many people around the world.

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Trauma of Culling

Running a National Park means keeping animals in specific areas more beneficial for their survival. There is also the matter of keeping populations of specific species under control. In the mid 1960s through 90s in South Africa culling of elephants was a regular activity, and the orphaned young were relocated to the Pilanesberg National Park.

A study conducted Graeme Shannon and Karen McComb of the University of Suzzex compared the reactions of elephants at the Pilanesberg National Park to those of the ones residing in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. The elephants in Kenya had no trauma of culling in their past and responded as expected to recorded calls from familiar and unfamiliar elephants.

The bunched attentively when they heard high level threats but relaxed when they heard low level threats. On the other hand when the same recordings were played to the elephants in South Africa, the elephants responded in a most abnormal manner. There was no clear connection between the threat level and the reaction that they exhibited.

These animals were survivors of a culling and showed the symptoms experienced by people diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. While officially it is not possible to diagnose an elephant with PTSD, its a good thing that following this science project the cullings have been stopped.

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Out of Eden Walk

How many years would you be willing to dedicate yourself to a science project? One, two, may be more? For Paul Salopek, retracting our ancestors’ migration out of Africa and across the globe, on foot will take about seven years.  He started his 21000 mile journey in Ethiopia and will conclude at the tip of South America. His epic modern pilgrimage is being funded by National Geographic.

Paul is retracting the path of early humans that traveled this way more than 60,000 years ago to reach different areas in the world. He finds out about the local customs and cultures at each of his iconic and not so famous stops. His experiment in story telling is defined by him as “Slow Journalism”. In an age when everything is instantly available, it is astonishing to see how popular his project has turned out to be!

He is joined off and on by John Stanmeyer, a photographer, who helps illustrate the blog that Paul is maintaining about his journey. You can read more about it at Each blog post is an interesting capture of conversations with others, and captivating experiences. His simple but engaging writing style is what keeps the interest of his global audience focused on the next story.

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Communicating from Mines

Considering that satellite communication has made the mobile phone a necessity, rather than a luxury, you can imagine how a miner feels when he is unable to use one at work. Mining depths are usually a huge deterrent to mobile phone functioning, so how does the miner down in the mine communicate when he’s in trouble?

This is a science project that has received some serious consideration over the years. At Robinson Run, in West Virginia a wireless system has been put in place to help keep miners in communication with the team on the surface while they mine coal from the knot of tunnels that are actually bigger than Manhattan in size.

An explosion proof transceiver has been rigged up below the ground to enable the miners to send out messages using the conductivity of the magnetic field. Voice or text messages can be sent between 1500 to 2000 feet laterally. It can cut through rock, coal and metal without any trouble. The message barely takes a minute to be transmitted.

Needless to say if you are miner who is likely to get trapped in a cave in, you would surely want to be in the vicinity of this transceiver to be able to ask for help getting out. Till science comes up with something better to help miners, this will have to do.



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Arcimboldo in Photographs

Painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo  made a study of portraits in a manner most unique. Rather than using his palate of colors in the traditional manner he actually made a departure and painted vegetables and fruits or branches and flowers to depict his “people” in pictures.

Recently photographer Klaus Enrique took on a project of redefining these 400 year old Arcimboldo painting through photography. Enrique studied all the famous paintings and then went about reconstructing them with real life vegetables, fruits, flowers, etc., to recreate them.

Once they had been recreated to the closest approximation that he could reach, he photographed these replicas of the original paintings. Enrique feels that actual photographs bring a rawness to the image that paintings could never begin to conceive. Inspired by his success with the older paintings, he has now set about constructing faces of newer celebrities such as Princess Diana.

How would you go about constructing your own face in fruits and vegetables? What berries or bark could go into making such an image? Why not set up a science project where you reconstruct a popular person’s portrait using the Arcimboldo  technique and then the modern ease of using a photograph to preserve it for eternity?

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