Archive for May, 2017

How Does a Gecko Help Underwater Robotics?

A gecko is a small animal that has fantastic climbing skills. It can go up and down tree and cliff sides with great ease. Part of the reason why this lizard is able to do these feats is due to the ability of their feet to maintain a grip on the surface that they are scrambling over.

Since science always hopes to imitate nature in order to get good prototypes, the scientists at the American Chemical Society feel that studying the grip of the gecko would yield to better adhesives.

They want to come up with adhesives that are double sided, and can stick on sleek surfaces such as glass as well as rougher surfaces. Some adhesives are effective irrespective of the changes in temperature, light or magnetic field. However most of these are functional only under dry climatic conditions.

Scientists are now considering developing hydrogels which can swell and shrink in response to different acidity levels and other conditions. These can also be used on the ends of robots designed for underwater work so that they can latch on and maintain a better grip on whatever they anchor themselves to. Needless to say plenty of science projects need to follow to make such robots a possibility.

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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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