Saturday 20 July 2019

chryse planitia

Touching down on this day in 1976, the seventh anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Viking 1 became the second probe to successfully reach Mars after the Soviet Union’s Марс-3 five years earlier—beginning what would turn out to be a rather incredible six-year monitoring mission (sadly, the previous effort failed after seconds) with a battery of biological experiments to search for evidence of life.

Scientists were also able to use this distant beacon that’s sometimes occulted by the Sun to confirm the phenomenon of gravitational time dilation as predicted by the theory of General Relativity, the Sun’s gravity causing delays in transmission times. The Viking sent back this incredible panoramic vista (landing site in the title) shortly after its arrival.

Tuesday 26 March 2019


Named in honour of nineteenth century entrepreneur, physicist and lens-crafter who pioneered stellar spectrometry Joseph Ritter von Fraunhofer said to embody the goals and philosophy of association, the society for the advancement of applied science was founded in München on this day in 1949.
The largest research organisation in Europe, it has seventy-two campuses spread throughout Germany and an international presence with institutions in North and South America and Asia. The organisation is funded through the so-called Fraunhofer Model which sources thirty percent of its budget to state support and the rest in contracted fees for conducting research and development at the behest of industry and government commissions—notable projects including developing the mp3 file format and an algorithm to reassemble shredded documents.

Wednesday 13 March 2019

signal-to-noise ratio

Mathematical modelling on the part of a research team at Boston University have produced a muting, sound muffling device (really more of a function than a gadget) that deflects virtually all unwanted acoustic smog back towards its source, instead of absorbing it—the usual method of dealing with errant noises.
The sound is channelled from its source along a tube where it’s silenced on the other end by this echoing ring with no membrane to obscure the view (or non-carrier-wave flow of air) back and beyond and could be scaled up or down to make offices, apartments and other shared spaces a bit more tranquil and adjustable, perhaps even as earplugs. As much as I’d like to be able to press a mute button sometimes and relish my peace and quiet, I’m a little afraid we’d grow overly sensitive to the general din of background noise, cushioned by our filters, and we’d wither without them.

Wednesday 6 March 2019


On this day (Old Style, 18 March 1869 on the Gregorian Calendar—it’s nice that this anniversary comes around again), one hundred fifty years ago, Professor Dmitri Mendeleev having previously formulated the Period Laws formally presented his Periodic Table as a way of arranging and understanding the elements to the Russian Chemical Society, titling his presentation The Dependence Between the Properties of the Atomic Weights, positing that the element arranged according to their mass exhibit an apparent periodicity of properties and to expect the discovery of yet unknown elements from gaps in his schema.

Sunday 17 February 2019


If ultimately accepted by the Paris-based International Bureau of Weights and Measures (Bureau international des poids et mesures), Marginal Revolution informs, the ronna- and the quecca- as prefixes for the outlandishly large amounts of 1027 and 1030 (plus their microscopic and vanishingly tiny counterparts, the ronto- and quecto-) would be their first new official unit prefixes added to the metric system since 1991.
The current upper limit of the officially recognised and scientifically sanctioned scale is the yotta- and data-storage capacity is expected to reach and quickly surpass ten to the twenty-fourth power (1024, approximately the size of an individual human’s full DNA sequence, with the corollary yocto-) of bytes of information within the next decade. Though popular in common-parlance handy and a good avenue for talking about science literacy in general, the googol and related values are still vernacular and provisional.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

implosion fabrication

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a miniaturisation technique to scale, downsize any physical object to the nanoscopic level whose method and materials most laboratories already have on hand.
The process works by using a laser to etch a frame out of expanded absorbent gel at workable dimensions and then overlay this scaffold with a material skin of the engineer’s choice. After assemble, the gel is then dried out, desiccated, pulling the structure inward, effectively resizing the object. The potential applications seem rather limitless and scientists believe that we might first encounter the technique used to improve optics and to make tiny robots.

Monday 17 December 2018


Along with laboratory assistant Fritz Straßmann, chemist Otto Hahn, researcher at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, made a breakthrough on this day in 1938 that led to the understanding of the process of splitting the atom.
The results of their experiments were interpreted and explained to them by physicist Lise Meitner a few weeks later—being chemists, they interpreted the change as a chemical one—confirming that they had in fact demonstrated the previously unknown property of nuclear fission after bombarding uranium with neutrons and reducing it to barium—with attendant energy as a by-product, ushering in the Atomic Age.

Tuesday 13 November 2018


Via Kottke, we are confronted with a rather though-provoking, collaborative list of ways that artificially intelligent systems have managed to “cheat” and by-pass their programmers’ intentions in the name of efficiency and seeking the path of least resistance.
To paraphrase the words of a cognitive scientist—because I think the statement has far broader applications (e.g. confirmation bias and the reproducibility crisis in the social sciences) than our current range of experiments and fetishizing: no one will bother with an assigned task that’s more of a challenge than exploiting its reward-function, transforming a bug or loophole into a feature. The findings include: creatures instructed to evolve for speed through re-enforcement learning instead of working on their limbs or other, novel means of propulsion they simply selected to grow very tall and reached high speeds as they fell over, others became indolent cannibals or flatly refused to play at all to avoid losing. Like with all our exposure to pedantic wish-granters in fiction, I hope seeing these sort hacks take place in the sandbox prepares humanity for when it’s time to entreat the genie in earnest.

Monday 1 October 2018

pdrc—you know, passive daytime radiative cooling

Slashdot refers us to a team of researchers at work at the Columbia School of Engineering who are developing a paint-like coating that can be applied to virtually any surface—rockets on re-entry, cars, pavements, roofs and entire buildings, that radiates and reflects heat far more efficiently than the pigments that we are used to without relying on cooling systems that ultimately contribute more to nascent heat and climate change.
These so called hierarchically porous polymers contain nanoscale cavities that redistributes heat along the surface, multiplying the effect of colour as a thermal mitigator alone and prevent energy from settling in and causing overheating that diverts resources to restoring a balance and demonstrate universal potential—especially for those areas heating up too quickly where traditional air-conditioning is impractical and a drain.

Saturday 22 September 2018

minshara class

Subject to confirmation when the patch of sky occupied by the star system undergoes detailed inspection by the TESS programme later in November, exoplanet hunting astronomers believe that they have found a rocky, terrestrial world (M-Class, spelled out from the Vulcan term above, in Star Trek parlance but not a scientific designation) approximately seventeen light years away from Earth orbiting a triennial star called 40 Eridani (in the Southern constellation Eridanus—a river in Hades that is thought to correspond with the Po or the Rhône) or properly Keid (from the Arabic qayd for eggshells) that matches the canonical location of the Vulcan home world.
There’s quite some range of possibilities for the planet and surely reality will prove more fantastic than fiction but it is within reason to believe that 40 Eridani A β (there was already one other planet found there before this suspected Super Earth) might have similar conditions to those imaged for Vulcan, arid and higher gravity. Long before Star Trek, Vulcan was the designation for the planet that astronomy needed to be subaltern of Mercury to explain its anomalous orbit, until Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity dispensed with that hypothetical world.

Monday 20 August 2018

baby’s on fire

Duck Soup directs our attention to an interesting meta-study whose aim is to explore the notion of a winning-streak and whether or not there’s something to idea of success having momentum.
I’ve been wondering myself about the more accustomed inertia of regression and how much of a boost one win can give one to persevere—which to a degree makes sense as a universal truth but research inserts factor chance back into the equation, demonstrating that perhaps counterintuitively that successes come at random intervals. Surveying the careers of thousands through the lens of one of the biggest winning-streaks of science, Albert Einstein’s prolific Annus Mirabilis (previously here, here and here), researchers found that despite the overarching random nature of when fortune visits, back-to-back triumphs do indeed seem to occur and accrue in all fields.

Saturday 28 July 2018

stacking problem

Researchers have described a new geometric solid, a scutoid, whose sides are comprised of a triangle, a hexagon, three rectangles and three pentagons that forms a sort of tapered prism, which were determined through computer modelling and observation to be the most efficient shape for cells to assume as they laid down layers upon layer of tissue during growth and development—sort of like the hexagonal frame of the cell of a beehive. The team named the new shape after the scutellum—Latin for little shield—of a beetle, part of the thorax and abdomen that incorporates most of the same eight shapes as above but head-on, across a two-dimension surface.

Tuesday 10 October 2017


microcosm: an annual photography competition invites us to explore the world around us just below the threshold of the naked eye

the luwians and the trojan war: the intriguing tale behind the lost frieze that may document the collapse of the Bronze Age

point and shoot: using algorithmic processes to inform the shutter when a photo-worth opportunity presents itself, one internet and technology giant is offering an automatic camera for home use—relatedly

gastaloops: one hundred day push to create gorgeous, encircling animations—via the Everlasting Blört

high rate of staff turn-over: activities offered at the White House adult day care facility

extinction cos-play: crocheted costumes for the common pigeon to highlight the importance of biodiversity and fighting to protect endangered species—via Nag on the Lake

trek ‘splaining: a visual physics lesson on the problem-fraught workings of as seen on TV teleportation

Saturday 3 June 2017

cubing the sphere

Via Waxy we learn that after months of work, Marc ten Bosch is releasing a toybox of four dimensional playthings that one can experience in a virtual setting and discover the “physics” of how such pieces interact.
This unstructured form of play allows users, taking wobbly baby-steps, to discover how these hybrid hyper-shapes work. The added dimension is a physical one, and not an aspect of passing time that we pretend to intuit or at least be better acquainted with, because while these forms may be impossible to render in our reality, our mechanics can be scaled algebraically to any number of extra dimensions and is only limited by our imaginations. I’ll bet that this is a pretty mind-expanding experience to immerse oneself in and recommend that you give it a try.