Stories tagged Motion


NanoDays is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future.

Most events will be taking place between March 29 - April 6, 2014.
NanoDays 2008-2014 map
NanoDays 2008-2014 mapCourtesy NISE Network

NanoDays events are organized by participants in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Network) and take place at more than 250 science and children's museums, research centers and universities across the country from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. NanoDays engages people of all ages in learning about this emerging field of science, which holds the promise of developing revolutionary materials and technologies.

To read more about NanoDays visit:

To see a full list of organizations hosting 2014 events visit:

2014 Events in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN:

To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:

To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:


Electricity from Viruses: Berkeley Lab scientists generate electricity using viruses.
Electricity from Viruses: Berkeley Lab scientists generate electricity using viruses.Courtesy Courtesy kso
Scientists from the Berkeley Lab have developed a way to generate electricity from viruses! Their method is based on the piezoelectric properties of the virus, M13 bacteriophage. Piezoelectricity is the charge that accumulates in certain solids when a mechanical stress is applied to them (squeezing, pressing, pushing, tapping, etc.) The scientists realized that the M13 virus would be a great candidate for their research because it replicates extremely rapidly (no supply problems here), it’s harmless to humans (always a good thing), and it assembles itself into well-organized films (think chopsticks in a box). It was these films that they layered and sandwiched between gold-plated electrodes to create their nearly paper-thin generator. When this postage stamp-sized generator was tapped, it created enough electricity to flash a “1” on a liquid crystal screen.

The potential here is that someday we could put these super-thin generators in any number of places, and harness electricity by doing normal, everyday tasks like walking or closing doors. I propose putting them in the shoes of marathon runners and then have cell phone charging stations along the route. Nothing is more maddening than waiting all day in the rain to get an action shot of your runner, only to find that your battery has since died by the time your slow-poke reaches the finish line. There’s always next year.


Where's the puck?: There will be no more worries for hockey fans in the stands about losing sight of the hockey puck when using the new iPuck app.
Where's the puck?: There will be no more worries for hockey fans in the stands about losing sight of the hockey puck when using the new iPuck app.Courtesy Nicholas Moreau
Just in time for the start of the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs, the NHL has announced it is partnering with California-based Satellite Solutions, Inc., to offer hockey fans a new and exciting way to watch games.

“Starting this week, hockey fans will be able to download iPuck,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “Using global positioning system technology along with a special chip embedded in the puck, fans using iPuck on their phone or other mobile device will be alerted to a goal-scoring opportunity before the player even fires a shot on goal.

“With the speed and intensity of our sport, we realize that it’s not uncommon for fans to miss that split second when a shot is fired and a goal is scored,” the commissioner said. “iPuck is sort of like a smoke detector, alerting you that a goal chance is present just before it happens.”

How does this actually work?

The electronic chips embedded into the puck and the goal posts emit a signal that is picked up and triangulated through GPS systems. In milliseconds, that system calculates the angle that the puck is being directed and if there is potential for a shot to be on net.

“In effect, fans have about a third of a second advance warning that a goal might be scored and the chance to focus their attention on the net,” Bettmen said. “One of the biggest complaints we get about our game is that fans too often miss the rare goals that are scored.”

Currently, iPuck only works for spectators present at games at the arena, but within the next couple weeks, iPuck TV should also be available for use by fans watching games on television or through a satellite feed to their iPad or iPhone.

Today, Friday, April 1, is the first day downloads of iPuck are available on iTunes. The app sells for $4.99.

Says Don Rickles: "Do you really believe this crap you hockey puck!!!!"
Says Don Rickles: "Do you really believe this crap you hockey puck!!!!"Courtesy Wikipedia
Fans will have their first opportunity to try out iPuck at Saturday’s Tampa Bay Lightning/Minnesota Wild game at Excel Energy Center. To commemorate the historic occasion, comedian and noted hockey puck fan Don Rickles will drop the ceremonial first puck.

“I am so glad to be associated with taking hockey pucks to this next level,” Rickles said. “And to realize that so many people are reading this item posted on April Fool’s Day and believe that this could really happen. What a bunch of hockey pucks.”

If iPuck is successful, the NHL has plans to develop iFight, which would embed the same technology into the gloves of notorious hockey fighters, alerting fans when those players are loosening their gloves and getting ready to punch out a hated foe.


Leaky pipe: I tried counting each particle myself, but didn't get very far.
Leaky pipe: I tried counting each particle myself, but didn't get very far.Courtesy BP
National Public Radio reported this morning about several methods being used to guess how much oil, methane, and other stuff is leaking out of the BP well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

It's interesting to see how various members of the scientific, government, and business community go about trying to guess the real size of the oil spill. NPR worked with a scientist to estimate the size of the leak by literally watching the video from the subs working on the well, and using a computer to estimate the amount of fluid gushing out over time--a technique called PIV. They got a scary big number. The Coast Guard (and BP) have been looking at satellite images of the oil slick. They look at the size of the slick and come up with an esitmate, based on what they know about how oil disperses in water. BP likes this number because it's not super big. Another group did some estimates based purely on the size of the pipe from which the oil is leaking. This number was also big, but there seems to be some scuttlebutt about the actual size of the pipe.

So what does big"" even mean? We mortals have a hard time understanding the scope of numbers after they start to get lots of zeros on them. So we contextualize these numbers. Everyone seems enamored with using the Exxon Valdez disaster as base unit for oil-spill-disasterdyness. Less than Valdez, bad, but good. Bigger than Valdez, bad. A factor of ten worse than Valdez, whoa-momma...we should really...[insert action here].

This story is a great reminder to think critically about the way we think about science in the news.

The oil spill is now X big.

Wait, how did they even come up with that number?

The oil spill has now surpassed a slightly arbitrary point in the past or record.

Um, yes, and.... Is there's a specific number past which this spill will dictate a different action? I'm totally fascinated with all these stories about the scope of the spill, but I do sort of wonder how far beyond, "really freakin' bad" we need to quantify the oil spill. What do you think?


WavesCourtesy skittzitilby
Three unusually large waves crashed into a Mediterranean cruise ship traveling between Barcelona, Spain and Genoa, Italy killing two passengers. Witnesses say the 26-foot waves smashed windows on the front of the ship. By freak wave standards these weren't by any means the largest (see Thor's huge wave post from a few years ago), but they were large enough to do damage. Rogue waves aren't uncommon, and sailing lore often mentions the "Three Sisters", abnormally large waves that come in sets of threes among smaller waves, like these recent ones did. This NOAA webpage attributes these kinds of freakish waves to storms and high winds, but is it possible these abnormal killer waves were generated by the recent earthquake in Chile? Just a thought.

BBC story


Nike's new prototype- the retro model: The running foot is soooo 2 million years ago, but you wait long enough and everything comes back.
Nike's new prototype- the retro model: The running foot is soooo 2 million years ago, but you wait long enough and everything comes back.Courtesy perpetualplum
Have you ever run barefoot? It’s great! I’ve never really thought about why I like it, but some really cool biomechanics research coming out of Harvard suggests that there may be some evolutionary reasons for my enjoyment. Homo sapiens and our early ancestors have engaged in endurance running for more than a million years, and have done so with no shoes, or with minimal footwear (sandals, moccasins, etc.). The researchers wanted to know how these early humans (and some humans today, let’s not forget) were able to run comfortably and safely sans shoes. Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, and his crew found that barefoot runners land either on the balls of their feet or mid-foot (the balls of their foot and heel at the same time), while shod runners land on their heels, or heel-strike, to use the lingo. This makes sense when you look at the structure of our feet; our strong, high arch acts like a spring when we run, and this spring can only be loaded when we first land on our forefoot. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when running shoes came equipped with highly cushioned heels that it began to seem normal to run heel-to-toe. (Some research even suggests that not just running shoes, but all shoes are detrimental to our foot health)
With some super advanced equipment (Harvard undergrads are so lucky), Lieberman saw how much of an impact heel-striking causes. When you heel-strike, your foot comes to a dead stop, causing your foot and leg to have to absorb all of that kinetic energy (a force which is 2-3 times your body weight). When you land on your forefoot, however, some of that kinetic energy is converted into rotational energy as your foot goes from toe to heel. This is obviously much less jolting. The researchers hypothesize that heel-striking is the cause of a lot of running-related repetitive stress injuries, and by avoiding heel-striking, more runners could see less of these types of injuries.
If you want to try running barefoot (and I recommend), Lieberman cautions that you shouldn’t just jump into it (especially if it is February in Minnesota), but rather start slowly. Running barefoot uses different muscles and it takes a little while for your feet to get used to it if you’ve been a shod runner your whole life. Who knows, your feet may be your new favorite shoes.


GOCE Satellite: The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer
GOCE Satellite: The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation ExplorerCourtesy ESA
Can it be true? Yes, for a mere $5,544 dollars round-trip airfare to Greenland! In March 2009, the European Space Agency launched the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) into orbit around our planet, which is now transmitting detailed data about the Earth’s gravity. The GOCE satellite uses a gradiometer to map tiny variations in the Earth’s gravity caused by the planet’s rotation, mountains, ocean trenches, and interior density. New maps illustrating gravity gradients on the Earth are being produced from the information beamed back from GOCE. Preliminary data suggests that there is a negative shift in gravity in the northeastern region of Greenland where the Earth’s tug is a little less, which means you might weigh a fraction of a pound lighter there (a very small fraction, so it may not be worth the plane fare)!

In America, NASA and Stanford University are also working on the gravity issue. Gravity Probe B (GP-B) is a satellite orbiting 642 km (400 miles) above the Earth and uses four gyroscopes and a telescope to measure two physical effects of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity on the Earth: the Geodetic Effect, which is the amount the earth warps its spacetime, and the Frame-Dragging Effect, the amount of spacetime the earth drags with it as it rotates. (Spacetime is the combination of the three dimensions of space with the one dimension of time into a mathematical model.)

Quick overview time. The Theory of General Relativity is simply defined as: matter telling spacetime how to curve, and curved spacetime telling matter how to move. Imagine that the Earth (matter) is a bowling ball and spacetime is a trampoline. If you place the bowling ball in the center of the trampoline it stretches the trampoline down. Matter (the bowling ball) curves or distorts the spacetime (trampoline). Now toss a smaller ball, like a marble, onto the trampoline. Naturally, it will roll towards the bowling ball, but the bowling ball isn’t ‘attracting’ the marble, the path or movement of the marble towards the center is affected by the deformed shape of the trampoline. The spacetime (trampoline) is telling the matter (marble) how to move. This is different than Newton’s theory of gravity, which implies that the earth is attracting or pulling objects towards it in a straight line. Of course, this is just a simplified explanation; the real physics can be more complicated because of other factors like acceleration.

Albert Einstein
Albert EinsteinCourtesy none
So what is the point of all this high-tech gravity testing? First of all, our current understanding of the structure of the universe and the motion of matter is based on Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity; elaborate concepts and mathematical equations conceived by a genius long before we had the technology to directly test them for accuracy. The Theory of General Relativity is the cornerstone of modern physics, used to describe the universe and everything in it, and yet it is the least tested of Einstein’s amazing theories. Testing the Frame-Dragging Effect is particularly exciting for physicists because they can use the data about the Earth’s influence on spacetime to measure the properties of black holes and quasars.

Second, the data from the GOCE satellite will help accurately measure the real acceleration due to gravity on the earth, which can vary from 9.78 to 9.83 meters per second squared around the planet. This will help scientists analyze ocean circulation and sea level changes, which are influenced by our climate and climate change. The information that the GOCE beams back will also assist researchers studying geological processes such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

So, as I gobble down another mouthful of leftover turkey and mashed potatoes, I can feel confident that my holiday weight gain and the structure of the universe are of grave importance to the physicists of the world!


Pshhhheeeewww!: Science everywhere!
Pshhhheeeewww!: Science everywhere!Courtesy SiamEye
I don’t even know where to begin today! All I can think is “OMG!!!!” And each exclamation point I think is like a blood vessel bursting in my brain!

OMG pop pop pop

So why is this a day of excitement, instead of quiet family tragedy? Because the biggest explosions today aren’t happening in little tubes in my head, they’re happening in the world of science! (I don’t consider the physiology of my head to be science. More like magic. Or trial and error.) I just don’t know what to do with all this science.

See, unlike your average Friday Extravaganza, a Thursday Explosion has no focus; it’s just kind of all over the place. A mess! There are all these stories, but we really have to stretch to fit them into a single post… so the loose theme of this explosion will, fittingly, be “flying things.” Am I not helping? Just wait, you’ll see.

Normal mouse becomes flying mouse, doesn’t care!
Check it out: a baby mouse was put into a little chamber and subjected to an intense magnetic field. What happened? All the water in the mouse’s body was levitated. And because those squishy little mice are so full of water, the mouse itself levitated along with the water.

Unfortunately, the first mouse wasn’t quite ready for life as an aviator, and upon levitation, he began to, as scientists say, “flip his Schmidt.” Lil’ mousey started kicking, and spinning, and with minimal resistance in the chamber, he started spinning faster and faster. He was removed from the machine, and put wherever little mice go to relax. Subsequent floating mice were given a mild sedative before flying (pretty much the same thing my mom does), and they seemed cool with it. Now and again the floating mice would drift out of the region of the magnetic field, but upon falling back into it they’d float right back up. After remaining in a levitating state for several hours, the mice got used to it, and even ate and drank normally. Afterwards, the mice had no apparent ill-effects from the experiment (rats had previously been made to live in non-levitating magnetic fields for 10 weeks, and they seemed fine too.)

Aside from the excitement normally associated with floating mice, the experiment is promising in that it may be a useful way to study the effects of long term exposure to microgravity without bringing a subject to space.
pop pop pop

Great tits are dangerous if you’re a sleepy bat!

It’s true! Forget everything you thought you knew about great tits and get schooled once again, my friends, for great tits are killers!

I’m not talking about the senseless murder of bugs, either—everybody already knew that great tits are primarily insectivores. A population of great tits in Hungary have been observed hunting bats!

As fun as it is to keep writing “great tits” with no explanation, I suppose we should be clear that great tits are a type of song bird common in Europe and Asia. Little, bat-hunting songbirds.

Meat eating great tits had been reported in other parts of Europe, but it was thought that those individuals had only consumed already-dead animals. The tits of Hungary were actually observed flying into bat caves, where they would capture tiny, hibernating pipistrelle bats and drag them out of the cave to devour them alive. It even appeared that the birds had learned to listen for the bats’ disturbed squeaking (or, as I like to think of it, their horrified shrieking)—when the same noise (which is too high for humans to hear) was played back for captured tits, 80% of the birds became interested (read: bloodthirsty) at the sound.

If it really is just the Hungarian population that engages in this behavior, the situation also brings up the possibility of culture in the birds. That is, if this isn’t some sort of innate behavior, but something learned and taught, and passed through generations that way, it could be considered culture. Amazing! Great tits are cultured!

pop pop pop

Flying velociraptors!

Well, not so much flying as falling. But falling with purpose. (What was it Buzz Lightyear said? Oh yeah, “I’m so lonely all the time.”)

We all know about how awesome raptors are. I think it’s part of kindergarten curriculum now, just between how not to accidentally poison yourself, and why you shouldn’t swear and hit. Well, I remember reading a news item a couple years ago about how some paleontologists were thinking that raptors’ famous giant toe claws may not have been for disemboweling their prey. Instead, the scientists proposed, raptors would lodge the massive claw into the skin of their prey with a kick, and then use it to hang on to the unlucky animal while the raptor went bite-crazy. The researchers had made a simulation of a raptor claw, and found that it could easily puncture thick skin and flesh, it didn’t seem to be sharp enough to actually cut the skin. (Cutting is necessary for a good disemboweling.) One might argue over the strength and sharpness of raptor claws, considering that the fossilized bone claws we see in museums would have been covered with a tough, horny substance, which did not fossilize, but whatever—the new scenario was still pretty cool.

Now, the same group of paleontologists is proposing that raptor claws were also well suited to tree climbing. Raptors could have waited on overhanging limbs, and then pounced on their prey from above. Pretty neat! The researchers point out that the microraptor a tiny relative of the velociraptor, had feathered limbs to help it glide down from high places, so it’s not a stretch to think that its cousins were comfortable in trees too. “The leg and tail musculature,” one scientist says, “show that these animals are adapted for climbing rather than running.”

I’ll take his word for it, I guess, but I do have some questions on that point. There’s a dromaeosaur (it looks a lot like a velociraptor) skeleton here at the museum, and I seem to remember that its tale was supposed to be very stiff—it has these cartilage rods running the length of the tail to keep it rigid. I feel like a long, stiff tail would be a pain in the butt up in a tree. It’s not the sort of thing arboreal animals invest in these days. Also, I wonder what sort of vegetation was around in the areas raptors lived. Plenty of big trees with good, raptor-supporting limbs? (I’m not implying that there weren’t, I’m just curious.)

The researchers do acknowledge that tree climbing wouldn’t have been every raptor’s cup of tea, however. Species like the utahraptor, weighing many hundreds of pounds, and measuring about 20 feet in length would have been “hard put to find a tree they could climb.”

pop pop pop

Pretty neat stuff, huh? Explosions usually are. But you see now why I couldn’t wait for three posts to get it all out there.


This jump is brought to you by: Joy.
This jump is brought to you by: Joy.Courtesy tbonzzz_6
Get your bells out, everybody, and ring them! The Chevy Volt is here! (In a year.)

GM released new details today about its new gas and electric hybrid car, the Chevy Volt. Using a plug-in battery (as opposed to current, unmodified hybrid cars, which recharge only via the gas engine), GM claims that the Volt should be able to achieve approximately 320 miles to the gallon during city driving. Estimates haven’t been completed for combined city and highway driving, by officials are confident that fuel economy will remain in the triple digits.

The car should have a range of about 40 miles, using its battery alone, at which point the gas engine would kick in. Nearly 80% of Americans, however, commute less than 40 miles each day, so most of the expended energy could come from the electrical grid (the car will plug into a standard outlet), instead of from gasoline.

GM’s chief executive calls the Volt a “game changer.”

Finally, a game-changing American car. Not like those sissy Prius drivers, making smug environmental statements by purchasing impractically expensive vehicles. Sure, the Volt will be entering the game about 9 years late, but it does so with the confidence that every environmentally conscious working-class American with $40,000 to drop on a sweet new car will… wait, what?

What about the rest of GM’s 2010 lineup? They’re cutting more than half of their 30+ mpg cars? But a few Volts on the road should bring that fleet average up, right?

And GM is pushing for environmental responsibility in other areas, at least, right? Oh, they’re pulling out of a partnership that collects toxic mercury from their old scrapped cars?

Well, it was a nice thought. And it’s comforting to hear someone say something like “game changer” now and again.

Weeellllll... it looks like the volt may be kind of an unremarkable car after all. Despite their claims last year that it would get something like 230 miles to the gallon, auto trade magazines are test driving it now, and saying it actually gets mileage in the 30 - 40 mpg range. That's less than a Prius. But don't worry, it's still super expensive. Huh. I mean, I couldn't design a "game-changing" car, but, then again, I never said I would. It turns out, too, that even though GM insisted that it wasn't really a hybrid car, and that the gasoline powered engine would only drive a generator for the battery... that's all not true. The gas engine does charge the battery, but it also will drive the wheels. Prove me wrong, Chevy (or commenters), but is this actually a crappy idea, and not a significant step towards changing our energy use?


USS SMM prepares to launch
USS SMM prepares to launchCourtesy Mark Ryan
I watched the Aquatennial's Milk Carton Boat Races today at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. One of the early heats included an entry from the Science Museum. Houston we have a problem!: Most of the ship's hull and all of the bilge had to be removed to correct flotation problems.
Houston we have a problem!: Most of the ship's hull and all of the bilge had to be removed to correct flotation problems.Courtesy Mark Ryan
I don't know who was sailing the ship but dang if science didn't prevail!

The boat looked sea-worthy enough on land but once it was placed into the water, it just didn't want to remain upright. But the hardy crew never despaired, and instead re-engineered the ship (ala Apollo 13) on the spot by removing the entire pesky bottom half and using only the deck to complete the race. Science prevails!: The crew of the reconfigured USS SMM limps bravely and safely toward the finish line with honor and dignity intact.
Science prevails!: The crew of the reconfigured USS SMM limps bravely and safely toward the finish line with honor and dignity intact.Courtesy Mark Ryan

They didn't win by any means, and at times it looked like they weren't using a boat at all, but they worked together to solve problems and got to shore safely.