Recently in Science: Termite Robots and a Whole Lot of Lasers

If anyone mentions Kate Upton I will scream.

Feb 24, 2014 at 10:30am | Leave a comment

This week I wanted to try a new thing. I wanted to try a thing where I compiled all the science and tech-related things that I personally found interesting, and share them with you. Kind of like Madeline's (STILL CRYING) Pretty Things on The Internet posts, but with more lasers. Let's get one thing out of the way: I don't want to talk about Kate Upton floating around in the sky. 

Let's talk science!

1. Harvard is working on AUTONOMOUS construction robots, based on the hard-working termite. Termites are very good at building the structures of my nightmares, so why wouldn't they be good at building other things?

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The stuff of nightmares. Photo by Heinrich Pniok

These are pretty cool given the fact that they work independently of each other; once given an initial command they need no further instructions. They're kind of slow, but the fact that they can adapt to new surroundings and each other is pretty amazing.

2. Scientists are starting to think that maaaaaaaaaaaybe it's a good idea to start paying attention to giant asteroids, because one will probably hit us one day. NASA is developing the "Asteroid Redirect Mission," which will capture and redirect threatening asteroids to a safe orbit of Earth's moon for future exploration by astronauts.

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Carry on.

It looks like someone follows Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter.

3. A man named Omar Hurricane made a small step forward in nuclear fusion (not fission) by shooting a whole mess of lasers at a tiny gold-plated ball that contained a thin coating of  nuclear fuel on the inside. I'll give you a moment to fully absorb how awesome that dude's name is before we move on.

Though the total amount of energy put into the experiment as a whole (two megajoules, or roughly two sticks of dynamite) is far greater than the amount released by the fusion reactions in the fuel (about 17 kilojoules), it's worth noting that only a small amount of the energy unleashed by the lasers is being used in the reaction; only a fraction of the two megajoules is actually making it to the targeted ball of fuel.

This may seem like a giant waste of awesome lasers, but it's significant because the energy resulting from the fusion reaction is greater than the energy actually going into the reaction. The next step would be streamlining the process so the experiment consumes less energy overall.

Crushing a two-millimeter-wide pellet with 192 lasers does seem a little like using a crane to crush a fly.

4. The world of computer science has given us Twitch Plays Pokemon, which may may be the most interesting social experiment I've ever seen. Or maybe it's ridiculous. I don't even know what's real anymore. To see the live stream of hundreds of thousands of people trying to control a single game of Pokemon Red, go here.

5. It turns out we may be wrong about how stars explode. NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has created the first map of radioactive material in a supernova remnant, shedding light on how stars rip apart as they're dying. 

"Stars are spherical balls of gas, and so you might think that when they end their lives and explode, that explosion would look like a uniform ball expanding out with great power," said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. "Our new results show how the explosion's heart, or engine, is distorted, possibly because the inner regions literally slosh around before detonating."

The stars "SLOSH AROUND." I love that imagery.

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Photo via NASA

NuStar is new and exciting because it is the first mapping device of its kind which allows NASA to map radioactive material in stellar remnants, in this case titanium-44. 

Remember babies, we are all star stuff.

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Just your average fan of stars.

6. In yet another case of "Nature is an Asshole," we see that rafting ants use their babies as the VERY BOTTOM OF THE RAFT because larval and pupal ants are more bouyant. The queen is of course top and center, and protected on all sides. Bow down.

David Hu, a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology who was not involved in the study, mused “It adds a level of sophistication to the rafts that was previously not understood.” I'm not sure why they asked this bird about this, but I like his coldly detached response.

WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

So those were the six science/tech stories from around the Internet that caught my eye last week. Did you guys come across any cool science you'd like to share? Are you horrified by the ant thing? Let's discuss in the comments.

Tweet me about science or whatever. @clairelizzie