Category Archives: Shorties

Florence wide lens 2.

Astronaut tweets incredible pictures of Hurricane Florence heading for the US East Coast

From the lens of Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut currently aboard the ISS, comes a dire warning: “Watch out, America!”

Grest (Twitter link), who joined the International Space Station crew back in June, tweeted some awesome and terrifying pictures of Hurricane Florence sprawled over the planet under his feet. “Watch out, America!”, the tween also warned, “this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you”.

Eye of the storm

Hurricane Florence is currently a Category 4 storm making a beeline for the US East coast. The storm’s effects are predicted to make themselves felt throughout South and North Carolina starting Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Undeniably enormous, and frightfully powerful, the storm has captured the imagination of astronauts watching over it from orbit. Grest shot multiple pictures of the storm and posted them online for all the world to see its beauty and fury both.

Florence wide lens.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

Florence wide lens 2.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

The storm is so massive, Gerst explained in his Tweet, that he “could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens”. Hurricane Florence is currently over 500 miles (804 kilometers) in diameter.

Gerst also used a high-power telephoto lens to zoom in on the storm’s eye as the station passed overhead.

Storm eye 1.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

Storm eye 2.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

Storm eye 3.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

“Get prepared on the East Coast,” Gerst warned when Tweeting the photo.

NASA also recorded “stark and sobering” video footage of Florence from the space station on Wednesday:

Bill Nye Shares Some Facts and Opinions on Marijuana

A few weeks ago, the Rolling Stone‘s Amanda Chicago Lewis interviewed Bill Nye. One of the main topics of interest that Nye discussed was the science of marijuana which, of course, has caught everyone’s interest. He opened up and relayed some of his thoughts on weed culture and science.

The very first question thrown out to Bill Nye was: “Do you think good scientists can smoke marijuana?” He replied in the affirmative, stating it should be regulated by law in the same manner as other drugs. In the wake of instances like the “state of emergency” which Nevada declared in mid-2017 due to the state’s quickly dwindling supplies of cannabis, the Science Guy pointed to legalizations elsewhere in America which did not cultivate an excessive use of the drug.

Marijuana Scientists. Source: Medical Marijuana.

A little bit later on, the interviewer brought up the fact that Carl Sagan was an unabashed advocate of smoking pot. Sagan was known as an astronomer, cosmologist, astrobiologist, author, and speaker. A firm promoter of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, he was also a founder of The Planetary Society, an organization of which Bill Nye is now head of. This honorable mention in and of itself answers the first question asked by the interviewer: “Do you think good scientists can smoke marijuana?”

If Sagan (the leading astronomer/astrobiologist of the second half of the 20th century) smoked cannabis and maintained his brilliant foresight and ingenuity, other scientists can surely smoke it in moderation and keep their smarts. Nye said he had never been with Sagan when he was smoking pot, but he said he also knew Sagan’s widow Ann enjoys it.

Bill Nye pointed out it is possible, even perhaps likely, that the tendency to become addicted to cannabis has its roots in human DNA. He believes it is either present or not present, using alcoholism to back up his hypothesis. “Some people get addicted, some people don’t,” said Nye. “Some people get high, some people don’t.” The Science Guy concluded that cannabis is really a substance which requires our attention and a lot more studies before we can claim to truly understand its effects.


NASA releases atmospheric simulation of this year’s hurricane season

A gorgeous new animation published by NASA depicts sea salt, dust, and smoke movements in the atmosphere during this year’s hurricane season.


Because air is so hard to see, NASA uses aerosol particles to track movements in the atmosphere. By combining raw satellite data with mathematical models of atmospheric phenomena, NASA researchers can see how smoke, dust, and sea salt are transported across the globe — allowing the agency a glimpse into weather patterns that would otherwise remain hidden to our view.

For example, tracking how sea salt (blue-white) evaporates from oceans will showcase the evolution of all of 2017’s hurricanes. The animation also captures the massive wildfires in the Pacific Northwest on the smoke layer of the simulation (gray). Particles released in these fires made it all the way from Oregon to Washington, though the south, eventually reaching the UK (in early September).

Dust (brown) also makes an appearance, most notably piggybacking on storm systems out of the Sahara and towards the Americas. Unlike sea salt, however, it doesn’t last too long in the eye of the storm. Here, dust particles are captured by cloud droplets and rain down on the ocean.

Advances in computing speed allow scientists to include more details of these physical processes in their simulations than ever before. So in time, they’re only going to become more complex and will more closely reflect reality.

Supercell gif.

Fractal: the stunning beauty of Earth’s megastorms seen through Chad Cowan’s eyes

For almost a decade now, Kansas photographer Chad Cowan has been a very busy man — he’s driven almost 100,000 miles, all across the U.S., chasing and filming clouds. Very big, very angry-looking, incredibly beautiful clouds that swirl and churn into what we call supercell thunderstorms.

Supercell gif.

Image via Vimeo.

He began the project as more of a personal hobby, following a few storms around to see how they formed. But as often happens, curiosity grew into a full-blown passion and now Cowan’s portfolio hangs heavy with recordings from hundreds of storms.

Luckily for us, since we’re in for a treat today as Cowan took the creme de la creme of all his work and condensed them to make Fractal. And I really like his outlook on his work, too. He knows what the storms he is following are, and how they form — but that doesn’t take away from his awe of nature. Watching Fractal, it’s easy to understand why.

“The ingredient based explanation for supercell thunderstorms cites moisture, wind shear, instability and lift as the reasons for their formation. I prefer to focus on the big picture,” Cowan writes in the video’s description.

“Supercell thunderstorms are a manifestation of nature’s attempt to correct an extreme imbalance. The ever ongoing effort to reach equilibrium, or viscosity, is what drives all of our weather, and the force with which the atmosphere tries to correct this imbalance is proportional to the gradient. In other words, the more extreme the imbalance, the more extreme the storm.”

FRACTAL – 4k StormLapse from Chad Cowan on Vimeo.

For more of Cowan’s storm photography be sure to check his website. He’s also a regular on Instagram.

This vinyl playing under an electron microscope is mesmerizing

Vinyl just sounds better, doesn’t it? It’s as if all the scratches and tiny imperfections in the recording work to make the sound perfect.

But how exactly does it work? How do you get sound from a piece of grooved plastic? Well, let’s start with this image tweeted by Vinyl Loop.

That huge spike you see in the picture is the player’s needle, magnified 1000 times. The groves are analog representations of sound vibrations, etched into the record. As the table turns, the needle follows the grove and moves on two axis — up and down, left and right.

The needle’s arm is attatched either to a piezoelectrical crystal or a series of small magnets placed near a coil. The arm moves the two magnets relative to the coil, generating small electrical currents which are picked up, amplified, and turned into sound — Andrei covered this in more detail here. The scratch sounds you sometimes hear on a vynil are either particles of dust cought in the grove — that needle up there is only about 1-2 mm thick — or actual scratches on the grove.

And now, through the wonder of modern technology, you can see how vynil stores sound in this video Applied Science put together of a record under the electron microscope. It’s a really nice video, but skip to ~4:25 if you’re only interested in seeing the groovy action. Enjoy!


An Israeli power plant worker might have found a hand grenade that the Crusaders used

A host of ancient treasures was retrieved from off the coast of Israel, containing what could possibly be one of the world’s oldest hand grenades, a weapon dating back to the time of the crusaders.

The artifacts were found at sea, off the coast of Israel.
Image credits Diego Barkan / Israel Antiquities Authority.

Several metal artifacts, some of which are more than 3,500 years old, were retrieved over a period of a few years by Marcel Mazliah, a late worker at the Hadera power plant in northern Israel. Mazliah’s family recently presented the objects to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA,) whose experts believe that the objects fell overboard from a medieval metal merchant’s ship.

Hand grenades, surprisingly enough, were a common weapon in Israel during the Crusades, which spanned from the 11th century until the 13th, according to the IAA. They also saw important use in the 12th and 13h century Ayyubid period and during the Mamluk era, from the 13th to the 16th century. Haaretz reports that these early grenades were used to disperse burning liquid on enemy formations, to break them apart and soften them up before a charge.

The presumed hand grenade was found in sea sediments and is hundreds of years old.
Image credits Amir Gorzalczany / Israel Antiquities Authority.

However, some experts believe that the so-called grenades had a different purpose altogether — they may have been ancient perfume containers.

Among the artifacts found by Mazliah are a toggle pin head and a knife-head from the Middle Bronze Age, both more than 3,500 years old. Ayala Lester, a curator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that the other items found, including two pestles and candlestick fragments, date back to the 11th century Fatimid period.

“The items were apparently manufactured in Syria and were brought to Israel,” she said, in a statement. “The finds are evidence of the metal trade that was conducted during this period.”

Israel is a hot-bed for ancient artifacts. Fabrics from king Solomon’s time have been discovered at one of antiquity’s most important mining areas, and glass foundries which sold their goods all over the Roman Empire have been found here. So what do you think about this latest find? Was this a tool for destruction — or seduction?


NASA wants you to drive their Mars rover

NASA wants you to drive the Mars Rover on its quest to study the Red planet. The bad news is that I’ve already tried my hand at it and I’ve broken the rover’s wheels. Several times. Sorry, NASA.

Actual footage with the rovers, just moments before the terrible crash.
Image credits NASA.

The good news is that I’m talking about NASA’s addictive new mobile game, not the real multi-million dollar Curiosity. Teaming up with GAMEE, NASA put together a game with a simple premise but a surprisingly strong “just one more try” effect. Available for Android, iOS and desktop, the objective is to navigate Mars and gather as much data about it as you can while trying your best not to break the rover.

While the vehicle in the game isn’t named, it has similar capabilities (such as using radar to find underground bodies of water) as the Curiosity rover designed for the Mars 2020 mission.

“We’re excited about a new way for people on the go to engage with Curiosity’s current adventures on Mars and future exploration by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover too,” said manager of Mars public engagement initiatives at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Michelle Viotti.

So, wanna explore Mars? Now you can! Head over to NASA’s website and download the game here.

Freeze ray vs flamethrower video gives me hope for surviving this summer

Hands up who’s never thought about which the best superpower would be.

If you now have your hands raised you’re a liar. Put them down and listen up because TheBackyardScientist is here to answer probably the most burning question of every comic geek out there — is the freeze ray more powerful than the flamethrower?

Not exactly rigorous scientific testing, but with this heat I’m gonna let it pass — I just like to think that the cold wins in the end.

Also, you should definitely not try this at home. Cold burns are real and very, very nasty.

NOAA photographs golden retrievers swimming back home from their mating run

NOAA has released a photograph of this year’s golden retriever migration. The animals are returning to shore after their mating run, where a new generation of puppies will be born.

Every year, golden retrievers swim to the Atlantic waters in which they were born to mingle, play and mate. The Great Golden Retriever Spawn has come to an end however, and thousands upon thousands of the animals are now making their way back home.

Image credits: Imgur user goldenretrievers.

NOAA captured this image earlier today off the east coast, a few miles away from the Outer Banks.

“They land here every year, and are a major tourist attraction,” said Avon pub owner Bailey Crown. “We’re all stocked up on treats and tennis balls to welcome them.”

The animals are expected to reach the peninsula later today, where locals and dog lovers all over the country are eagerly awaiting to pet the animals and call them “good boys” after their long journey.


Yorkshire’s endangered Amir tigers cubs celebrate their first birthday

A young trio of Amur tigers celebrated their first birthday at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in style on Tuesday. Hector, Harley and Hope were filmed on their journey from adorable cubs to adorable ferocious predators and, to mark the landmark occasion, the park released an adorable video showcasing how they’ve grown.

The park posted the video on YouTube on Tuesday with the message “Happy 1st birthday to our very special (not so little anymore) tiger cubs, Harley, Hector and Hope!” And indeed from helpless newborns, totally dependent on their mother Tschuna, the trio grew into fearsome cats.

Since their birth in March of 2015, the cubs have been one of the park’s greatest hit with visitors, as “they are always up to mischief,” Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s website reads. The cubs live alongside their mother, Vladimir their father and another tiger named Sayan. And as much as it saddens me to see animals in zoos, it might be for the best.

I say this because Amur (or Siberian) tigers are a dangerously endangered species, threatened by poachers, illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction from illegal loggers, conservation nonprofit World Wildlife Fund for Nature reports. There are only an estimated 540 of the regal beasts still living in the wild, in their native forests of the Russian Far East.


This is Tomatan, and he will power you through a marathon — with tomatoes

Ever felt like there was something missing while you go for a jog? Like an unsatisfied yearning, a hungering left unanswered?

If you did, you’re not alone. Japanese vegetable juice company Kagome thinks they have the answer in the shape of a wearable robot that feeds you tomatoes while you run. Weighing in at 18 pounds / 8kg, Tomatan can be worn as a tomato-headed-backpack.

At the flip of a switch Tomatan will grab a tomato with its metal arms then swing them over your head and feed the juicy treat to you. Japan-based artistic studios Maywa Denki, well known for their unusual musical instruments and other devices, designed the robot — and an inexplicably large amount of the berries were involved in the process.

“We used about 100 tomatoes to complete this machine,” said Novmichi Tosa, one of the founders of Meiwa Denki. “We focused mostly on its visual design.”

Now, I really like Tomatan. It looks awesome and seems like a great conversation starter with the mademoiselles. But there is one thing that’s still beyond my grasp…Why? Why would anyone want to bite into a tomato while he’s running?

Awesome? Undoubtedly. Useful? Well, according to Kagome, which claims to be Japan’s largest supplier of ketchup and tomato juice, people taking part in the Tokyo marathon really need this.

“Tomatoes have lots of nutrition that combats fatigue,” said Kagome employee Shigenori Suzuki.

Suzuki intends to wear Tomatan on Saturday 21st, when he will be representing Kagome in the Tokyo Marathon. During the 5km long fun run, Tosa will be running beside him with tools just in case the robot needs fixing or Suzuki encounters a problem.

Then on Sunday 22 February during the full Tokyo Marathon, a professional runner from Kagome will take part using a lighter version of the tomato robot known as Petit-Tomatan.

Petit-Tomatan weighs just 3kg and features a mini tomato holster that is worn on the back.
Image via

As this robot is much smaller, the runner will need to hold a delivery tube up to their mouth through which the tomatoes will be delivered. Petit-Tomatan also features a timer so the runner isn’t fed too many tomatoes in one go.

Robotic third arm puts your drumming into overdrive…kinda

The focus of prosthetics these days is, understandably, restoring ability, function and form to those who have lost a limb. But the same technology can be used to augment a healthy body, allowing a person to perform tasks outside of our body’s limitations.

Yes you heard me right: prosthetics can give you the power you need to finally become a super-villain.

This robotic arm was originally designed to enable a drummer who had lost an arm to play again.

In 2012, Jason Barnes was cleaning an exhaust duct on the roof a restaurant when he was electrocuted by 22,000 volts of electricity from several high voltage lines. He lost his right hand, and while he was able to continue drumming with a simple prosthetic drumstick he designed and built himself, it wasn’t very precise or easy to use. With this barrier, it seemed like his dream of becoming a professional drummer might not be possible.

Cue Gil Weinberg, professor of musical technology at Georgia Tech who built the robotic arm you see in this video to allow Jason to truly play again.

Weinberg, who had already put together a robotic percussionist and marimba player, built something more than an arm for Jason. The limb he designed can either follow the drummer’s instructions, or play along independently, creating its own music.

“Jason can pull the robotic stick away from the drum when he wants to be fully in control,” says Weinberg. “Or he can allow it to play on its own and be surprised and inspired by his own arm responding to his drumming.”

The headband you see on the user here is an electroencephalograph which is meant to enable him to control the mechanical limb — sadly that part isn’t functional yet. Instead, the arm is drumming along merrily with some awareness of what that guy is doing — it listens and tries to play along, to the best of its binary abilities.

“The robotic arm is smart for a few reasons. First, it knows what to play by listening to the music in the room. It improvises based on the beat and rhythm. For instance, if the musician plays slowly, the arm slows the tempo. If the drummer speeds up, it plays faster,” Georgia Tech explains.

“Another aspect of its intelligence is knowing where it’s located at all times, where the drums are, and the direction and proximity of the human arms. When the robot approaches an instrument, it uses built-in accelerometers to sense the distance and proximity. On-board motors make sure the stick is always parallel to the playing surface, allowing it to rise, lower or twist to ensure solid contact with the drum or cymbal. The arm moves naturally with intuitive gestures because it was programmed using human motion capture technology.”

The robot arm will respond to human gestures — if the drummer reaches for the snare, the robot will shift over to the ride cymbal. If the drummer then decides to play the instrument, the arm with shift to the high hat cymbal, and so on.

Well, it seems that in this field your choices of villain repertoire are a bit limited right now, unless you plan to enslave humanity with drumming. But a big shout out to all the guys and gals over at Georgia Tech for reminding us that a prosthesis — something we’re used to associate with injury, loss, and suffering — can be light-hearted, fun, and awesome; and for showing us that we’re quickly reaching a point in time where not our bodies, but our imagination, will be our only limiting factor.



NASA’s Thermonuclear Art is the prettiest thing you’ll see today

The Sun is easily the most recognizable and important star that humanity has ever known. And yet, those who want to study it come face to face with a tiny weensy problem — it tends to burn your retinas if you look at it.

Not ones to be daunted by ocular trauma (but not keen on the idea either,) the guys and gals of NASA put their know-how and massive budget to work and build the Solar Dynamics Observatory. In typical NASA fashion, they then strapped it to the biggest rocket they could find and launched it into orbit.


I’m happy they did though. The SDO mission is our eye on the Sun. It monitors it around the clock and help us better understand how it affects our planet. The satellite does so by filming the star 24/7 on ten different wavelengths, to make sure we don’t miss out on anything important it might do.

The latest video from NASA’s SDO team is the most detailed footage of our Sun to date and it’s mesmerizing. The 30-minute 4K ultra HD film took 300 hours to make, and shows pieces of footage taken on different wavelengths. German composer Lars Leonhard even made a soundtrack for the film that somehow makes the star feel even more immense and awesome.

So, without further ado, sit back and enjoy the video.


Fossil Friday: Opalized belemnite

Image via wikipedia

Image via wikipedia

Belemnites are an extinct order of cephalopods (“cephalo” meaning head and “pod” meaning leg) that lived during the Mesozoic era, some 200 to 65 million years ago. They were elongated organisms, resembling today’s squids, only tinier and cuter.

They were prey animals and had ten hooked tentacles that they used to catch and hold their food.

What sets them apart from squids is their internal skeleton, bullet-like structures called guards. The dazzling display you see here is one such guard that fossilized through a process known as opalization, by which organic matter is substituted with amorphous silica. In layman terms, this means replacing tissue with a non-crystallized, hydrated form of silicon dioxide.

This amorphous (glass-like) property causes opal to diffract light differently throughout its mass, giving the stone its hue and flecks of color as it catches rays of light.

Water-breathing scuba mask design still has a way to go

South Korean designer Jeabyun Yeon has just unveiled his new concept of a scuba mask that would allow anyone to breathe underwater without requiring air tanks. His design, named the Triton, includes two arms linked to a mouth piece. The branching arms are designed to extract free oxygen atoms from the water and supply breathable air directly to the user.

The Triton oxygen mask, designed by Jeabyun Yeon
Image via deepseanews

The mask’s armos are covered in plastic scales that allow water to enter through small holes under them, to be redirected to a chamber where the oxygen is separated from water. This is achieved using an internal filter made up of fine threads with holes smaller than water molecules cut into them, allowing only air to pass through.

Image via inhabitat

The gases are then compressed and stored in a miniature tank, ready for the diver to breathe it. The entire gadget is powered by a small, easily rechargeable microbattery. So far, the design is just a concept, but Yeon has high hopes that it will someday be turned into a commercial product that can completely replace an entire set of scuba gear.

That’s the theory. But I’m not sold on the Triton. My biggest issue with it is that it would just have to filter so much water to provide all the oxygen a human needs for a single breath. The average human need 500mls of air with every breath; going in, the air has a 21% oxygen concentration and a 16% concentration coming out, for a total of ~25mls of oxygen intake with every breath. Scientific literature places the concentration of oxygen at 6mg/L of ocean water so the Triton would have to go through…. about 6L of water for each breath (assuming our lungs can scrub almost all the oxygen in the air which they don’t)? I don’t really think it can do that.

That being said, finding a way to take oxygen out of seawater is a great idea. But Yeon needs to make this thing go through a lot of sea water very fast before it’s actually usable for diving. But I hope he does; this has the potential to become a James Bond-like piece of fancy gear, when and if it works.

The tiny Egloo keeps your room warm for about 20 cents a day

Winter’s here with all its holiday cheer and if you’re like me, way too much food. Also something that winter’s very good at is making the great outdoors cold and the small indoors even colder. But worry not because Marco Zagaria, a student at Rome’s Academy of Fine Arts, promises he can make your home warm and comfortable for a measly 10 cents a each 5 hours, without using any electricity.

Image via youtube

Marco’s design, which he named the Egloo, is a cute, tiny terracotta dome-like heater that harnesses the power of a few candles at a time to heat a whole room.

Image via inhabitat

“Egloo is conceived for contrasting continuous waste of electricity used for warming domestic rooms, offering, as a option, a candle-powered way that provides a cheaper and more ecological energy, taking advantage of features of terracotta that stores the heat and slowly and gradually releases it by radiation, even after it blows out,” Egloo’s website reads.

This elegant little heater was a immense success on Indiegogo, receiving 488% of the sum it needed to be put on the market. Their website is now up and running, offering deals on the Egloos, currently on a 10 discount. It’s a bit on the expensive side, with the least expensive “natural” colored dome still clocking in at 60 each, but you will easily turn a profit in time with what you’ll be saving on heating. If it works as well as the designer claims.

Do that once a day and your room will stay warm. Pretty cool. Image via reign23

“Egloo is a useful utensil to warm average rooms up with a very restrained cost, needs three candles for a complete refill, enough for warming up a 20mq environment. Each refill has a life of 5 hours with less than 10 cent,” the website details.

The two domes of the Egloo are different in thickness, with the lower dome being thinner to capture heat more easily and the top dome being thicker to retain the energy the first dome releases and radiate it over a longer period of time.

Now, I do have to admit that I haven’t tried the Egloo. I like the idea, I love the look, but as far as pure efficiency or safety is concerned I can’t vouch for the design. But in theory it seems sound and terracotta has been long used for heating implements due to its good heat-retaining properties. And as always, every lit fire is a potential danger in any household so don’t leave it unattended.

So take my enthusiasm for this tiny dome with a pinch of salt but, if you happen to have an extra 60 (~65$) lying around and are looking for what may turn out to be either a nifty way to keep warm or an ineffective heater turned elegant table accessory, give it a go.

Dolphin creates underwater bubble and then plays with it

This dolphin just created a bubble ring (also called toroidal bubble) and started playing with it (I like how he eats it at the end). Surprisingly, many cetaceans such as beluga whales, dolphins and humpback whales, blow bubble rings, but only dolphins engage in such complex play behavior with it. They either puff a rapid burst of water, or a create a toroidal vortex with their flukes and inject a bubble into the helical vortex currents thus formed – as is the case here. Dolphins seem to enjoy this so much, it makes me think of a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

Ant colonies behave as a single superorganism when attacked

Ant colonies are incredibly complex systems — the tightly knit, intensely cooperative colonies are closer to a single superorganism than to human societies. Researchers form the University of Bristol wanted to know how this single mind of the hive reacted to distress, and subjected colonies of migrating rock ants to differing forms of simulated predator attack to record their response.

Led by Thomas O’Shea-Wheller, the researchers subjected ants to simulated predator attacks to investigate the extent to which colonies of rock ants behave as a single entity.
Image via phys

By studying the ants responses, the team observed different reactions depending on where the attack was performed. When targeting scouting ants, that stay primarily at the periphery of colonial activity, the “arms” of foraging ants were recalled back into the nest. But when they targeted the workers at the heart of the colony, the whole body of ants retreated from the mound, seeking asylum in a new location.

The team was able to draw some pretty interesting parallels with human behavior. The first attacks could be compared to burning your hand on a hot stove, while the ones centered on the workers were more dangerous, kind of a ‘house on fire’ scare. And in each scenario, the ants reacted surprisingly similar to any animal with a nervous system — an involuntary reflex reaction to retreat from the damaging element in the first case, and a flight response from a predator that can’t be defended against in the later simulations.

“Our results draw parallels with the nervous systems of single organisms, in that they allow appropriate, location dependent, responses to damage, and suggest that just as we may respond to cell damage via pain, ant colonies respond to loss of workers via group awareness,” said Thomas O’Shea-Wheller, a PhD student in Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences and one of the authors of the study.

The Marangoni Effect – an affair with surface tension

The Marangoni Effect says that fluid will want to flow from areas of lower surface tension to areas of higher surface tension.

Soap has a lower surface tension than Water/ Milk. And as a result, when soap is placed on the surface of a fluid (as it is, in these animations), it wants to flow away to areas of higher surface tension. A more in-depth explanation of the Marangoni effect and surface tension in general can be found a previous ZME Science post.

And this propels the small boat, causes the pepper flakes to spread away, makes the string to expand, and the dye to fan out. It is also responsible for the Tears of Wine phenomenon that you might have already witnessed. : )


PC: Flow Visualization at UC Boulder, source video, MIT, Dan Quinn

U.S. economic losses from hurricanes fueled by climate change

A recent U.S. study shows how the upward trend in economic damage from hurricanes correlates very closely to the influence global warming has on the number and intensity of hurricanes. Published in Nature Geoscience, it concludes that the commonly cited reasons for growing hurricane damage — increases in vulnerability, value, and exposure of property — don’t stand up very well to scrutiny.

Coastal damage following Hurricane Sandy.
Image via livescience

Over the past decades we’ve seen a rise in economic losses and loss of life from natural disasters, in particular hurricanes. However, there has always been a tendency to pin the blame on socioeconomic factors, such as increases in wealth and population in coastal regions or an unusually high number of extreme weather events.

Wanting to get to the bottom of it all, Francisco Estrada and co-authors used a statistical system that minimized the risk of introducing artificial trends to analyze the economic losses caused by hurricanes in the U.S from 1990 to 2005. And part of the rising trend can’t be explained by other factors than the increase in number and intensity of property-damaging hurricanes hitting the country — an increase fueled by warmer climate

The authors estimate that $2-14  billion (2-12 percent of total) of U.S. hurricane losses incurred in 2005 may be attributable to climate change.

“We should not be worried about the frequency of hurricanes; we should be worried about the frequency of intense hurricanes,” said Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not part of the study. “Climate change is causing a greater number of intense storms. The total number of storms has remained constant, but the proportion of high-intensity events has gone steadily upward in most parts of the world. Scientific models and real-world observations both suggest that the frequency of intense storms is going up,” he added.