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Which is stronger… glass, sapphire, or a gorilla? | At-Bristol Science Centre

What’s the difference between gorilla glass & sapphire? Is glass a solid or a liquid? How is glass able to support the weight of a 32-stone gorilla? Join Ross as he explores the science of glass:

Incredible New Nanothreads Could Help Us Build a Space Elevator

Engineers looking for a material strong enough to support the tremendous forces exerted by a space elevator will want to pay attention to this remarkable new breakthrough. Researchers have weaved microscopically small diamonds into ultra-thin nanothreads.

Remarkably, the never-before-seen structure appears to be stronger and stiffer than today’s nanotubes. The breakthrough was made by John Badding and his team at Penn State University, the results of which now appear at Nature Materials.

At the heart of the nanothreads are a long, thin strand of carbon atoms that are arranged like the fundamental unit of a diamond’s structure — zig-zag “cychlohexane” rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. This is the first team to coax molecules containing carbon atoms to form the strong tetrahedron shape and then link them together end-to-end to form a long, thin nanothread. The structure may also be the first member of a new class of diamond-like nanomaterials based on a strong tetrahedral core.

"It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace," Badding said in a press release. “Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful.”

It also helps that the structure has a certain thickness to it. More from the Penn State release:

The team’s discovery comes after nearly a century of failed attempts by other labs to compress separate carbon-containing molecules like liquid benzene into an ordered, diamondlike nanomaterial. “We used the large high-pressure Paris-Edinburgh device at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to compress a 6-millimeter-wide amount of benzene — a gigantic amount compared with previous experiments,” said Malcolm Guthrie of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a coauthor of the research paper. “We discovered that slowly releasing the pressure after sufficient compression at normal room temperature gave the carbon atoms the time they needed to react with each other and to link up in a highly ordered chain of single-file carbon tetrahedrons, forming these diamond-core nanothreads.”

Looking ahead, the researchers want to improve the threads, which appear to be “somewhat less than perfect.” But the main challenge will be to figure out a way to mass produce the material. Should they solve that problem — and that’s a big if — the nanothreads could be used to

protect the atmosphere, including lighter, more fuel-efficient, and therefore less-polluting vehicles. “One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a “space elevator” which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea,” Badding said.

Read the entire study at Nature Materials: “Benzene-derived carbon nanothreads”.

ENGAGING YOUTH: Journey Just Beginning for BLM Worland Intern

The Bureau of Land Management Wind River/Bighorn Basin District was lucky to employ a young woman this summer with a passion for environmental engineering. Ceirra Carlson, a 2014 graduate of Greybull High School in north central Wyoming, served as an engineering intern in the Worland area through the BLM’s Pathways Internship Program.


During her internship with the BLM, Ceirra learned to use the survey-grade global positioning system by completing a topographic survey at Castle Gardens near Ten Sleep.

The Pathways program provides students enrolled in a variety of academic fields with paid opportunities to work in agencies and explore Federal careers while still in school. This summer, Ceirra assisted the BLM with surveying, completed road and recreation site assessments and was invaluable in the office, creating spread sheets and road assessment templates.

"Cierra is the type of student that the Pathways program was designed for," said BLM Civil Engineering Technician Bryan Crawford. "She is smart, motivated and an excellent example of the kind of person the BLM wants to employ."


During her internship with the BLM, Ceirra learned to use the survey-grade global positioning system by doing a topographic survey at Castle Gardens near Ten Sleep.

Ceirra is attending Sheridan College this fall to begin an engineering degree. After two years there, she hopes to continue her education at a university, studying engineering with an environmental emphasis. She thinks she would like to work in water or air resources, or sustainability. At this point, Ceirra plans to reapply for her current Pathways position and possibly also apply for a seasonal job with the Worland Field Office.

"It is all a journey for me and I will see where it takes me because I have a passion for this type of work," Ceirra said. "I enjoy the exposure I have had with the BLM so far and without a doubt would enjoy working here in the future, but we will see what opportunities arise."

Born and raised in Wyoming, Ceirra enjoys playing sports such as basketball, volleyball and soccer in her free time. She also loves spending time in the mountains hiking, camping, fishing, four wheeling and hunting.

Story by BLM Wyoming

Dear feminists,

The mere fact that somebody chose to study a legitimate science rather than sociology or gender studies does not invalidate their opinion. In fact, it makes their opinion more valuable, because people who earn degrees in fields of importance generally have higher IQs, better diction, and contribute more to society.

Here, have a chart.

Announced in June, Obama’s $1 Billion resilience and infrastructure grant program is now live. Eligible organizations can only apply (instructions at bottom). Minimum grant award is $1 million, maximum is $500 Million(!). I consult on grant applications, so if you’re a municipality or an eligible organization, contact me to chat.

Next Generation Spacesuit like Second Skin

Scientists from MIT have designed a next-generation spacesuit that acts practically as a second skin, and could revolutionize the way future astronauts travel into space. (Photo : Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

Astronauts are used to climbing into conventional bulky, gas-pressurized spacesuits, but this new design could allow them to travel in style. Soon they may don a lightweight, skintight and stretchy garment lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. Essentially the new suit acts like a giant piece of shrink-wrap, in which the coils contract and tighten when plugged into a power supply, thereby creating a “second skin.”

"With conventional spacesuits, you’re essentially in a balloon of gas that’s providing you with the necessary one-third of an atmosphere [of pressure,] to keep you alive in the vacuum of space," lead researcher Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, said in astatement.

"We want to achieve that same pressurization, but through mechanical counterpressure - applying the pressure directly to the skin, thus avoiding the gas pressure altogether. We combine passive elastics with active materials. … Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration."

Newman, who has worked for the past decade on a design for the next-generation spacesuit, describes the new garment in detail in the journal IEEE/ASME: Transactions on Mechatronics.

The MIT BioSuit’s coils, which are a main feature of the outfit, are made from a shape-memory alloy (SMA). At a certain temperature, the material can “remember” and spring back to its engineered shape after being bent or misshapen.

Skintight suits are not a novel idea, but in the past scientists have always struggled with the question: how do you get in and out of a suit that is so tight? That’s where the SMAs come in, allowing the suit to contract only when heated, and subsequently stretched back to a looser shape when cooled.

Though the lightweight suit may not seem at first like it can withstand the harsh environment that is outer space, Newman and his colleagues are sure that the BioSuit would not only give astronauts much more freedom during planetary exploration, but it would also fully support these space explorers.

Newman and his team are not only working on how to keep the suit tight for long periods of time, but also believe their design could be applied to other attires, such as athletic wear or military uniforms.

"An integrated suit is exciting to think about to enhance human performance," Newman added. "We’re trying to keep our astronauts alive, safe, and mobile, but these designs are not just for use in space."


Light Printing

We are exploring new modalities of creative photography through robotics and long-exposure photography. Using a robotic arm, a light source is carried through precise movements in front of a camera. Photographic compositions are recorded as images of volumetric light. Robotic light “painting” can also be inverted: the camera is moved via the arm to create an image “painted” with environmental light. Finally, adding real-time sensor input to the moving arm and programming it to explore the physical space around objects can reveal immaterial fields like radio waves, magnetic fields, and heat flows.

Via Mediated Matter (MIT)


Robots that will fold your laundry

This is “Brett” also known as The Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks.  This guy can do simple household chores. Specifically, the robot can fold laundry and is part of an ongoing project by UC Berkeley’s Pieter Abbeel.

Folding towels might seem easy to us humans, but this is actually quite complicated for a robot to do.  In fact it requires a method where the robot learns the tasks by seeing how humans do it.  Abbeel explains:

For robots to be integrated in unstructured or changing environments, such as a typical human household, they must develop the ability to learn from human experts and to even teach themselves.  

The hope is to have these robots perform everyday chores for the elderly or disabled so that they can live more independently.

You can watch more videos of this robot here

Ethical trap: robot paralysed by choice of who to save

Can a robot learn right from wrong? Attempts to imbue robots, self-driving cars and military machines with a sense of ethics reveal just how hard this is

CAN we teach a robot to be good? Fascinated by the idea, roboticist Alan Winfield of Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK built an ethical trap for a robot – and was stunned by the machine’s response.

In an experiment, Winfield and his colleagues programmed a robot to prevent other automatons – acting as proxies for humans – from falling into a hole. This is a simplified version of Isaac Asimov’s fictional First Law of Robotics – a robot must not allow a human being to come to harm.

At first, the robot was successful in its task. As a human proxy moved towards the hole, the robot rushed in to push it out of the path of danger. But when the team added a second human proxy rolling toward the hole at the same time, the robot was forced to choose. Sometimes, it managed to save one human while letting the other perish; a few times it even managed to save both. But in 14 out of 33 trials, the robot wasted so much time fretting over its decision that both humans fell into the hole. The work was presented on 2 September at the Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems meeting in Birmingham, UK.

Winfield describes his robot as an “ethical zombie” that has no choice but to behave as it does. Though it may save others according to a programmed code of conduct, it doesn’t understand the reasoning behind its actions. Winfield admits he once thought it was not possible for a robot to make ethical choices for itself. Today, he says, “my answer is: I have no idea”.

As robots integrate further into our everyday lives, this question will need to be answered. A self-driving car, for example, may one day have to weigh the safety of its passengers against the risk of harming other motorists or pedestrians. It may be very difficult to program robots with rules for such encounters.

But robots designed for military combat may offer the beginning of a solution. Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, has built a set of algorithms for military robots – dubbed an “ethical governor” – which is meant to help them make smart decisions on the battlefield. He has already tested it in simulated combat, showing that drones with such programming can choose not to shoot, or try to minimise casualties during a battle near an area protected from combat according to the rules of war, like a school or hospital.

Arkin says that designing military robots to act more ethically may be low-hanging fruit, as these rules are well known. “The laws of war have been thought about for thousands of years and are encoded in treaties.” Unlike human fighters, who can be swayed by emotion and break these rules, automatons would not.

"When we’re talking about ethics, all of this is largely about robots that are developed to function in pretty prescribed spaces," says Wendell Wallach, author ofMoral Machines: Teaching robots right from wrong. Still, he says, experiments like Winfield’s hold promise in laying the foundations on which more complex ethical behaviour can be built. “If we can get them to function well in environments when we don’t know exactly all the circumstances they’ll encounter, that’s going to open up vast new applications for their use.”

This article appeared in print under the headline “The robot’s dilemma”

Watch a video of these ‘ethical’ robots in action here