NASA Makes Pens to Work in Space; Soviets Take Pencils.I’ve seen this thing going around for years about NASA astronauts inventing a pen to work in space while the Russians simply took pencils. THIS IS FALSE. Both the Americans and Soviets initially used pencils. However there is an element of truth to this story in that there is a pen specifically manufactured for use in space called the Fisher Space Pen (pictured) that works using pressurized ink cartridges. These pens are used to this day (By both the Russians and Americans)  due to the hazards posed by pencils such as broken lead injuring people in zero gravity or as a fire hazard (seriously), but no development cost was paid by NASA or requested by Fisher.Image

NASA Makes Pens to Work in Space; Soviets Take Pencils.

I’ve seen this thing going around for years about NASA astronauts inventing a pen to work in space while the Russians simply took pencils. THIS IS FALSE. Both the Americans and Soviets initially used pencils. However there is an element of truth to this story in that there is a pen specifically manufactured for use in space called the Fisher Space Pen (pictured) that works using pressurized ink cartridges. These pens are used to this day (By both the Russians and Americans)  due to the hazards posed by pencils such as broken lead injuring people in zero gravity or as a fire hazard (seriously), but no development cost was paid by NASA or requested by Fisher.

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(Source: snopes.com)

Fluroantimonic AcidBack in high school I did something most people would think stupid: I tasted sulfuric acid, not a lot, but enough to know that it was incredibly sour. You wouldn’t however get me to do the same with the above chemical, known as Fluroantimonic Acid, or more colloquially “The World’s Strongest Acid”. While the above structure may seem a little odd in that it appears to just have a proton chilling doing its own thing this superacid is in fact made of two components, firstly antimony pentafluoride and secondly hydrogen fluoride, itself an acid strong enough to corrode glass. The hydrogen itself is actually weakly connected to the antimony-fluorine complex by a dative bond and it’s this weak bond that makes it so acidic.So just how acidic is it? Well it’s 20 quintillion times stronger than sulfuric acid and reacts vigorously (read: explodes) with almost all solvents including water. Furthermore it’s capable of protonating all organic compounds, something that is no small feat.

Fluroantimonic Acid

Back in high school I did something most people would think stupid: I tasted sulfuric acid, not a lot, but enough to know that it was incredibly sour. You wouldn’t however get me to do the same with the above chemical, known as Fluroantimonic Acid, or more colloquially “The World’s Strongest Acid”. While the above structure may seem a little odd in that it appears to just have a proton chilling doing its own thing this superacid is in fact made of two components, firstly antimony pentafluoride and secondly hydrogen fluoride, itself an acid strong enough to corrode glass. The hydrogen itself is actually weakly connected to the antimony-fluorine complex by a dative bond and it’s this weak bond that makes it so acidic.

So just how acidic is it? Well it’s 20 quintillion times stronger than sulfuric acid and reacts vigorously (read: explodes) with almost all solvents including water. Furthermore it’s capable of protonating all organic compounds, something that is no small feat.

Electrons in a Magnetic FieldCharged particles in magnetic fields have a force that acts perpendicular to its motion, thus resulting in circular motion of the charge. This photo shows this in action. The purple lines show the trajectory of electrons within an applied magnetic field. The purple colour is generated by the excitation of gas within the bulb, giving rise to an ethereal, glowing hoop.Image

Electrons in a Magnetic Field

Charged particles in magnetic fields have a force that acts perpendicular to its motion, thus resulting in circular motion of the charge. This photo shows this in action. The purple lines show the trajectory of electrons within an applied magnetic field. The purple colour is generated by the excitation of gas within the bulb, giving rise to an ethereal, glowing hoop.

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Shape-Memory AlloyA shape-memory alloy is exactly what it sounds like: an alloy of two (or more) metals that somehow can “remember” the original shape it was folded into. One of the more famous examples of this is nickel-titanium, or nitinol, will spontaneously fold from a crumpled state back to the ordered, cold forged state when heated. A video of this process can be seen here. This works because of a small phase change in the metal itself, when shaped the atoms arrange themselves into organized crystal structures. Distorting the metal then causes these crystal structures to become disorganized and energetically unfavourable, application of heat then allows the original crystal structure to be formed again by overcoming the energy barrier. The special thing about SMA’s is that the crystal structures can be reversed while in most alloys the structures naturally decay due to diffusion of atoms within the metal.Shape-memory alloys have many applications, ranging from uses in medicine and robotics right through to the more novel, as seen in this lamp designed by Japanese design group Nendo. In this case the heat from the bulb causes the lamp to “bloom” as the strips of alloy move back to their preformed shape.

Shape-Memory Alloy

A shape-memory alloy is exactly what it sounds like: an alloy of two (or more) metals that somehow can “remember” the original shape it was folded into. One of the more famous examples of this is nickel-titanium, or nitinol, will spontaneously fold from a crumpled state back to the ordered, cold forged state when heated. A video of this process can be seen here. This works because of a small phase change in the metal itself, when shaped the atoms arrange themselves into organized crystal structures. Distorting the metal then causes these crystal structures to become disorganized and energetically unfavourable, application of heat then allows the original crystal structure to be formed again by overcoming the energy barrier. The special thing about SMA’s is that the crystal structures can be reversed while in most alloys the structures naturally decay due to diffusion of atoms within the metal.

Shape-memory alloys have many applications, ranging from uses in medicine and robotics right through to the more novel, as seen in this lamp designed by Japanese design group Nendo. In this case the heat from the bulb causes the lamp to “bloom” as the strips of alloy move back to their preformed shape.

It’s a Shark Eat Shark WorldNeed another reason to be terrified of the ocean/become a marine biologist (depending on how brave you are)? Well here we go. Pictured is a remarkable scene in which a bamboo shark appears to have its head stuck inside some kind of rock. Except that’s no rock, but instead a well camouflaged wobbegong, a type of shark. The picture was taken on the fringe of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the name of the shark also comes from the Aboriginal word for “shaggy beard”.Image

It’s a Shark Eat Shark World

Need another reason to be terrified of the ocean/become a marine biologist (depending on how brave you are)? Well here we go. Pictured is a remarkable scene in which a bamboo shark appears to have its head stuck inside some kind of rock. Except that’s no rock, but instead a well camouflaged wobbegong, a type of shark. The picture was taken on the fringe of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the name of the shark also comes from the Aboriginal word for “shaggy beard”.

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Show Us What You’re Made Of!

The word "protein" is a fairly house hold term, but it seems to me that most people don’t actually know what it is to any level greater than “oh that thing in food that makes you strong!”. A protein is basically a polymer made of amino acids pictured is a basic structure), in humans (and all eukaryotes) proteins are made up from 21 types of amino acids, although the actual number of amino acids is fairly innumerable. Proteins are created at ribosomes within the cell and are coded for by mRNA which is essentially a copy of DNA. The amino acids are transported by tRNA which matches to the mRNA and thus creates the order of amino acids. It is this order which governs the shape of the protein and thus its function, as such small mutations in the DNA can be disastrous such as in sickle cell anemia. Proteins fold due to hydrophobic forces created by side chains (which would be where the R is in the diagram) of the amino acid and are stabilized due to things such as hydrogen bonds. These proteins then go on to make up a large number of structures in your body, from the enzymes that digest your food, to the protein channels that regulate the flow of chemicals in and out of your cells and right down to the haemoglobin in your blood supplying you with oxygen. The protein pictured here is known as the Green Fluorescent Protein and is what is responsible for all those genetically engineered “glow in the dark” animals.

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Hydrogen Bonding

Hydrogen bonding is a common “force” in nature, it’s what holds your DNA and proteins together and what makes water so weird and wonderful. Without it you wouldn’t be you, in fact you probably wouldn’t be anything. Hydrogen bonds are both inter and intra molecular forces in that it can act between different molecules (in the case of DNA bases) or within the same molecule (such as single chain proteins). Hydrogen bonding arises from polarity within a molecule, for this to happen a hydrogen must be bonded to an electronegative atom such as oxygen, fluorine or nitrogen (or be part of something like CHCl3). This causes the probability of an electron being around the hydrogen to decrease thus leaving it with a partial positive charge whilst the electronegative species has a slight negative charge. The slightly positive hydrogen is then attracted to other electronegative atoms that neighbor it. This causes an attractive force between them and gives an organized structure such as the crystalline form of ice or the hexagonal shape of a snowflake.

MiragesWhen it comes down to it a mirage is essentially just an invisible mirror. Which is still pretty damn cool. Mirages are simply the distortion of objects due to “layers” of air and come in three different types: inferior (where the mirage is under the real object), superior (where the mirage is above) and Fata Morgana (which is a complex, highly distorted mirage involving multiple images). The principle behind the mirage is rather a simple one. At different elevations air has different densities, typically due to heat, which in turn causes different refractive indexes. This difference in refractive indexes causes the light to bend as it crosses from hot to cold or cold to hot air due to refraction. As such the image you see is not where it really is but is simply light from the original object being bent towards you. In the example of the highway mirage above the “pool of water” is in fact simply the reflection of the sky being “bounced” towards the observer by a hot layer of air directly above the road.Image

Mirages

When it comes down to it a mirage is essentially just an invisible mirror. Which is still pretty damn cool. Mirages are simply the distortion of objects due to “layers” of air and come in three different types: inferior (where the mirage is under the real object), superior (where the mirage is above) and Fata Morgana (which is a complex, highly distorted mirage involving multiple images). The principle behind the mirage is rather a simple one. At different elevations air has different densities, typically due to heat, which in turn causes different refractive indexes. This difference in refractive indexes causes the light to bend as it crosses from hot to cold or cold to hot air due to refraction. As such the image you see is not where it really is but is simply light from the original object being bent towards you. In the example of the highway mirage above the “pool of water” is in fact simply the reflection of the sky being “bounced” towards the observer by a hot layer of air directly above the road.

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Fluorite

Fluorite is a mineral composed of calcium fluoride (CaF2) and aside from having a cool cubic structure also comes in a variety of different colours. The coolest thing about fluorite however is that it fluoresces under ultraviolet radiation. In fact the very word fluoresce comes from this mineral (fluo in latin originally means “to flow” and was given to fluorite because of its uses in iron smelting). However the fluorite itself is not the thing doing the glowing but rather impurities within its crystal structure such as yttrium, europium (which is pictured) or small organic compounds. These and other impurities also give fluorite its diverse range of colours, leading it to be dubbed the “most colourful mineral in the world”. The mechanism of fluorescence is that UV radiation is absorbed by excitation of electrons into higher energy levels. These excited electrons then fall back to the ground state and emit energy in the form of a photon of visible light in the process.

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I’ve Taken a Lichen’ To You ;D

At first glance lichens don’t exactly fill you with wonder and amazement but more a sort of “oh-cool-that-rock-has-mold-on-it…”ment. However we know better than to judge a book by its cover and you can be forgiven for this as the popular opinion about lichens up until the 1800s was that they were an example of rocks spontaneously coming to life. Instead lichens exist as a near perfect symbiotic organism between a fungus and a photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria. The fungus provides protection, water and in some cases minerals from the substrate (sometimes acquired by dissolving rocks) while the algae produces the food source via photosynthesis. The truly interesting thing about this mutualistic lifestyle is that while we can grow all species involved separately in the lab, they don’t look the same. The fungus grown without the algae is simply a mess of hyphae yet when the algae is introduced it changes into its usual form that best utilizes the photosynthetic abilities of its partner. It’s also been found that introducing different species of algae to the same species of fungus can lead to strikingly different morphologies.

Lichens are found in some of the harshest environments on Earth such as the Antarctic, deserts or even certain species on piles of toxic slag. Despite this most species are incredibly sensitive to air pollution and are a good indicator as to pollution levels.

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Carbon Nanotubes

While not being particularly new to science, carbon nanotubes remain one of the more interesting and versatile new materials. At their basic level all they are is an allotrope of carbon in the shape of a cylinder, typically made by rolling a single atom thick sheet known as graphene or by deposition of carbon atoms. They also occur naturally in flames. The importance of carbon nanotubes lies in their incredible strength but also incredibly low density which gives them a specific strength (force per unit area divided by density or N·m·kg−1 for short) ~310 times greater than high carbon steel. Carbon nanotubes also have the predicted ability to carry an electrical current density that is 1000 times that of traditional conductors such as copper along with also being superb thermal conductors. The longest carbon nanotube to date clocks in at 18.5 cm (7.3 inches or 84% the width of a soccer ball) with the greatest length to width ratio being 132,000,000:1.

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Demodex folliculorumD. folliculorum loves you and you have no idea that he even exists, much like that girl you liked in high school. You heartbreaking asshole. If you do know about this fellow you probably think he’s gross and creepy (again much like that girl thought of you). D. folliculorum is one of two species of adorably named face mites (the other being D. brevis). This small mite spends its time snuggling into your hair follicles where it feeds off your dead skin, hormones, oils and other skin secretions. Also they’re incredibly common with half of all adults being home to these critters. Another reason you may be unfamilar with D. folliculorum is that they only really come out at night, while you’re sleeping as they’re averse to light. Fortunately you don’t suffer any harmful effects as they’re fairly tidy tenants of your face real estate, unless you have a hypersensitive immune system. Sleep well.

Demodex folliculorum

D. folliculorum loves you and you have no idea that he even exists, much like that girl you liked in high school. You heartbreaking asshole. If you do know about this fellow you probably think he’s gross and creepy (again much like that girl thought of you). D. folliculorum is one of two species of adorably named face mites (the other being D. brevis). This small mite spends its time snuggling into your hair follicles where it feeds off your dead skin, hormones, oils and other skin secretions. Also they’re incredibly common with half of all adults being home to these critters. Another reason you may be unfamilar with D. folliculorum is that they only really come out at night, while you’re sleeping as they’re averse to light. Fortunately you don’t suffer any harmful effects as they’re fairly tidy tenants of your face real estate, unless you have a hypersensitive immune system. Sleep well.

Nature’s One and Only Iridescent Mammal: The Golden MoleGolden Moles (Family: Chrysochloridae) are not true moles, but rather have converged evolutionarily on a similar body plan. Like other true moles the desert varieties of golden mole also don’t construct burrows but rather appear to “swim” through sand. Another interesting fact is that they’ve also evolved such efficient kidneys that most species don’t need to drink water. These African natives are also the only known mammal to display iridescence despite being blind. So what really is the point to this fellow’s lustrous fur? It seems this is simply a quirk of the mole’s hair and doesn’t directly convey any advantage. The hairs themselves were found to be flattened with alternating scales of light and dark, this both gives the hairs a greater surface area to reflect light and the scale colouration refracted light just like oil on water. The actual reason for this structure is thought to be that it helps to repel dirt and water whilst also making the mole more streamlined. Regardless of what the reason is I really want a shiny, blind mole.

Nature’s One and Only Iridescent Mammal: The Golden Mole

Golden Moles (Family: Chrysochloridae) are not true moles, but rather have converged evolutionarily on a similar body plan. Like other true moles the desert varieties of golden mole also don’t construct burrows but rather appear to “swim” through sand. Another interesting fact is that they’ve also evolved such efficient kidneys that most species don’t need to drink water. These African natives are also the only known mammal to display iridescence despite being blind. So what really is the point to this fellow’s lustrous fur? It seems this is simply a quirk of the mole’s hair and doesn’t directly convey any advantage. The hairs themselves were found to be flattened with alternating scales of light and dark, this both gives the hairs a greater surface area to reflect light and the scale colouration refracted light just like oil on water. The actual reason for this structure is thought to be that it helps to repel dirt and water whilst also making the mole more streamlined. Regardless of what the reason is I really want a shiny, blind mole.