In the fall of 1840, a 19-year-old boy arrived in New York City from a farm near Albany to seek treatment for an eye disease that rendered him practically blind. After a few weeks, it was clear doctors could do nothing for him. But the ambitious young scholar remained in New York, living first in a boarding house, then with a Quaker family, and finally with his sister, who joined him as his assistant.
The do-it-yourself biology (DIYbio) amateur scientists featured in “Guess What’s Cooking in the Garage” [June] need to create a national organization dedicated to the constructive development of the field and the protection of DIYbio from repressive regulations.
Space Shuttle Enterprise was the property of the Smithsonian Institution for 27 years. The shuttle never went to space; instead, NASA used it for landing and launch-pad vibration tests. The end of the space shuttle program last year gave the Smithsonian the opportunity to get Discovery, a shuttle that actually earned its "space" moniker.
All phones have a fatal flaw: In noisy environments, it can be nearly impossible to hear someone on the other end of the line. As a remedy, some separate Bluetooth headsets use bone conduction to supplement the phone's speaker. Actuators in the earpiece translate audio signals into vibrations, which travel through the jawbone and skull and into the bones in the ear and on to the auditory nerve.
The P3 conforms to the listener's ears better than other headphones. Designers cushioned the earcups with memory foam, which molds to the ears and creates a seal that helps keep out ambient noise. Bowers & Wilkins P3 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones $200
Bowers & Wilkins
The VAMP iPhone amplifier doubles listening time while improving the quality of compressed audio. Users connect the lithium-ion-powered case to an iPhone 4 or 4S's 30-pin port. The system processes digital audio files to sound more like the original recordings. V-Moda VAMP $650
Bowers & Wilkins
The K-30 is the only consumer DSLR built to weather sandstorms, downpours and other extreme conditions. Pentax designers backed the 16-megapixel camera's seams and lens mount with dense, water-repellent foam so that dust and moisture can't get inside. Pentax K-30 $900
Bowers & Wilkins
The firmer a golfer's stance is, the more likely his shots will fly straight, so designers at Adidas created the most stable golf shoe yet. Taking a cue from barefoot-style sneakers, they widened the forefoot and thinned the sole, which gives toes room to wiggle and grip the ground. Adidas Puremotion $120
Bowers & Wilkins
The CyberQ grill monitor prevents barbecue pits from fizzling out. It's equipped with a set of heat probes, which track temperature, and a fan, which automatically turns on to act as a bellows when heat drops. BBQ Guru CyberQ Wifi $395 (fan and adapter)
Bowers & Wilkins
NEXTEC 12V Extra Capacity Battery with Light
Handymen no longer need to carry a separate flashlight along with their 12-volt power tools. Craftsman engineers added six LEDs to the bottom of their new battery pack, so users have a spotlight when they need one. Craftsman NEXTEC 12V Extra Capacity Battery with Light $35 (available Oct.)
Bowers & Wilkins
Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale
The Aria scale tracks the weight changes of up to eight people. Synced with the Fitbit website over Wi-Fi, the scale saves each user's weigh-ins and calls up his progress when it senses a number close to his last reading. Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale $130
Bowers & Wilkins
Sports Armband Water Bottle
The Kenmark Sports Armband Water Bottle is the first to double as a smartphone case. The 6.4-ounce band holds both a 16-ounce bottle and a phone or MP3 player in a protective sheath. Kenmark Sports Armband Water Bottle $30
Bowers & Wilkins
The FreeKey ring won't pinch a user's fingers when they're adding a new key. Instead of prying apart the rings, users pinch a hinged lever on the outer edge of the steel spiral, popping the ring open to slide keys on. The spiral snaps itself securely shut. FreeKey $4.50
Bowers & Wilkins
The LuminAID lamp can light up an entire tent and compress to the size of a billfold. Campers inflate the one-quart polycarbonate bag and turn on an LED to create a 35-lumen glow. LuminAID Light From $15
Bowers & Wilkins
Wireless Solar Keyboard K760
Most Bluetooth keyboards can pair with only one device at a time; the Logitech K760 pairs with three. The solar-powered keyboard's shortcut keys can each remember a different device, so users can switch between typing on their laptop and iPad with a tap. Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K760 $80
Bowers & Wilkins
The 2.3-inch, three-watt NuForce Cube is the smallest, loudest portable speaker available. The speaker driver is controlled by a high-strength neodymium magnet, which prevents the entire housing from shaking at high volumes. NuForce Cube $119
Can Bridgestone's airless tire end the era of the inner tube?
Airless Concept Tires
Since the Scottish inventor Robert Thomson patented pneumatic tires in 1845, they have become standard on every vehicle with two, four or 18 wheels. Pneumatic tires are now so durable that many drivers never even bother to check their air pressure.
A system that helps players see more, hear more—and plain outlast the competition
BH9420PW 3-D capable Blu-ray disc home theater system
Most surround-sound systems have five or seven speakers. LG's has nine. The receiver's processor analyzes the location of 3-D objects on a screen—enemies, aircraft, machine guns—and sends the accompanying audio to whichever speaker best corresponds to that spot. LG BH9420PW 3-D capable Blu-ray disc home theater system $749
Digital Storm Aventum
Computer components are designed to slow themselves down if they begin to overheat, an act that will bring any gaming session to a crawl. To ensure that the 4.8-gigahertz processor and 256-bit graphics card on the Aventum tower don't fail, Digital Storm engineers flanked the internals with a pair of 16.5-inch radiators that circulate subzero coolant, while the system's 13 fans channel excess heat through a rear exhaust vent. Digital Storm Aventum From $4,959
The BenQ XL2420TX is the first monitor to give players a competitive advantage. To help highlight items hidden throughout dark scenes, the 24-inch panel's processor adjusts the color balance. Viewers can also make manual adjustments by hitting a button on a controller box attached to the monitor. BenQ XL2420TX $549
A rigid chair frame can dig into a player's back and shoulders as he sits and shifts in his seat. Designers at Knoll made the entire backrest of the ReGeneration chair out of a semirigid elastic polymer that bends to cradle the changing contours of a gamer's body. ReGeneratlon by Knoll From $676
The first shirt to actually lower body temperature
Omni-Freeze ZERO Freeze Degree T-shirt
The human body already has a highly efficient cooling system: As perspiration evaporates, it draws heat away from the body. Wicking fabrics facilitate this process by distributing sweat evenly over the fabric, so that it dries more quickly.
Designers at Brooks worked with a team at the Loughborough University Sports Technology Institute in the U.K. to ensure runners wearing the Nightlife Jacket III remain visible to drivers in any light. The darker the surroundings, the more heavily eyes rely on contrast to pick out objects, so the team added black stripes to the arms and shoulders to offset the fluorescent base and better outline runners. Brooks NightLife Jacket III $115
THE DAY I ENTERED public school, I was classified as visually impaired. I have a rare genetic syndrome known as achromatopsia. I’m color blind and light sensitive, and my distance vision is flat-out awful. Even corrected, it’s closer to 20/100 than 20/20.
Why next-gen rovers could be smaller than a grain of sand
NASA's Curiosity rover, scheduled to reach the red planet this month, is the size of an SUV for good reason: It’s built to carry 165 pounds of scientific instruments over boulders and into gullies. But putting Hummer-size robots on other planets is not altogether practical.
Roku, Hex and Chimero are the world's first primate chimeras—individual monkeys made from multiple fertilized eggs of the same species. Each animal has six different sets of genes instead of one. To produce each monkey, biologist Shoukhrat Mitali-pov and his team at the Oregon Health and Science University placed six separate four-celled embryos into a petri dish and, using a micropipette, nudged them into a single aggregation.
"This squishy arm is cheap— good for search and rescue"
Our 14-inch-long robotic elephant trunk has five segments, each made of a silicone membrane with an embedded metal spring that acts like an exoskeleton. The segments are filled with dry coffee grounds and each is vacuum-controlled separately.
In the 1930s, U.S. Navy researchers stumbled upon the concept of radar when they noticed that a plane flying past a radio tower reflected radio waves. Scientists have now applied that same principle to make the first device that tracks existing Wi-Fi signals to spy on people through walls.
With an average elevation of just five feet above sea level, the Maldives—a nation comprising 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean—is the lowest country in the world. Sea level, meanwhile, has risen by about seven inches since 1900, and scientists predict that it will rise as much as two more feet by 2100, pushing much of the population (about 390,000 and growing) out of their homes.
Every year, as many as 300,000 Americans with traumatic brain injuries go undiagnosed, often because they brush off their symptoms or because nothing unusual appears on CT scans of their brains. Without a diagnosis, people risk getting another concussion on top of the one they already have, increasing the chance of complications such as coma and death.
New airplane-engine designs must prove that they can survive anything they might encounter in the air before the FAA will approve them to fly. At the 31-foot-wide outdoor wind tunnel testing facility that GE opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in February, workers raise the engine on hydraulic lifts and fire it up.
In the 1930s engineer Adolf Busemann conceived of a supersonic biplane that produced no sonic boom—the shock waves would bounce off the plane's two wings at opposing angles, nullifying each other. But the design created so much drag that the plane wouldn't have been able to fly.
Prosperity isn't how much you move—it's how you move it.
SCIENCE IS HOW people attempt to see the world as it truly is. That’s why I’m drawing the title of this new column from the wisdom of the greatest of scientists. Since Isaac Newton first stated his Second Law of Motion, we have understood that “force” is really a product of mass and acceleration: F = ma.
HOW THE FIRST AUTONOMOUS STRIKE PLANE WILL LAND ON AIRCRAFT CARRIERS, NAVIGATE HOSTILE AIRSPACE AND CHANGE THE FUTURE OF FLIGHT.
ON A CLEAR DAY EARLY NEXT YEAR, an unmanned aircraft painted in the dark gull gray of a Navy fighter jet will take off from a runway at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, bank over the Chesapeake Bay and set a course toward an aircraft carrier, motoring several miles out over the Atlantic.
SELF-PILOTED DRONES have become sophisticated enough to land on moving aircraft carriers, but put a single unexpected tree in the way, and they will crash. Now a five-university group that includes specialists in biology, computer vision and robotics is trying to teach drones to dodge obstacles on the fly.
How science is transforming the sport of MMA fighting
Greg Jackson, the single most successful trainer in the multi-billion-dollar sport of professional mixed martial arts fighting, works out of a musty old gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, not far from the base of the Sandia Mountains. On a recent morning, the 38-year-old Jackson, who has the cauliflowered ears and bulbous nose of a career fighter, watched two of his students square off inside the chain-link walls of a blood-splattered ring called the Octagon.
Shape-shifting stadiums could transform the way we watch sports
MODULAR PLAYING SURFACES
Almost as soon as RFK Stadium opened in 1961, it became clear that the stadium was a dud. Football fans complained that the low seating made it difficult to see the entire field. Baseball fans complained that they had to twist in their seats to see the action at home plate.
The modern Olympics have been running for 116 years, but many events remain unsafe and difficult to score. We propose solutions to some of the toughest problems.
Smart landing pads
Automatic goal keeper
Retractable diving board
About 100 riders are injured in eventing falls every year, and when a multimillion-dollar horse goes down, even a minor injury like a twisted ankle can end its career. Computerized bases on the ground could project holographic obstacles, such as four-foot fences and 15-foot-wide pools, in place of dangerous physical objects.
Scientists are trying to get the first direct look at the black hole at the center of our galaxy. How close will they come to seeing the unseeable?
The Dish Network
EVEN WITHOUT A TELESCOPE, it’s possible to look off the summit of Mauna Kea and see, 14,000 feet below and dozens of miles in the distance, wide swaths of rain forest touching the whitecapped Pacific. Down there, people are doing what people come to Hawaii to do: hiking to waterfalls, lying in the sand, exposing their skin to tropical solar radiation.
Richard Hamel was watching the 2010 animated film How to Train Your Dragon with his grandchildren when he noticed something odd about the tails of the flying beasts. Hamel, a longtime radio-control plane builder, realized that those appendages resembled an unconventional aircraft design feature known as an inverted V-tail.
Access a multitude of new functions from iPhone's Notification Center
STEP 1: Jailbreak the Device
STEP 2: Get New Features
Jailbreaking—altering an iPhone or iPad's firmware to access unlicensed apps—became less useful as Apple released more feature-rich iOS updates. But now developers have come up with a new reason to jailbreak iDevices: They've enabled users to add settings, music controls and more to Notification Center, iOS 5's drop-down information panel.
Pepto-Bismol tablets contain a surprisingly large amount of heavy metal
Most modern medicines are carefully synthesized organic molecules so potent that each pill contains only a few milligrams of the active ingredient. Pepto-Bismol is a fascinating exception, both because its active ingredient is bismuth, a heavy metal commonly used in shotgun pellets, and because there is a lot of it in each dose.
Few video games are more basic than Pong, but Charles Moyes and Mengxiang Jiang's version is incredibly complex. The two Cornell University students built a custom electroencephalography (EEG) device so they could control the game's onscreen paddle with their minds.
Even do-it-yourself work often requires the resources of more than one person. CollabFinder.com connects DIYers with developers, designers and other creative types who have complementary skills needed to handle complex tasks and finish projects.
The most useful testing equipment for DIY projects
In my work I rely on many pieces of test and measurement equipment just as much as my hand tools. Although I can accomplish a surprising amount with just a hammer, I can't complete any of my mechanical or electronics projects without being able to reliably quantify things like length and voltage.
Did prehistoric birds evolve flight by falling out of trees?
Possibly. The trees-down (or "arboreal") hypothesis has been around for many years, says evolutionary biologist Richard O. Prum of Yale University. Researchers guessed that the scales of tree-dwelling Triasslc reptiles elongated into feathers, which helped them leap away from predators.
Even if athletes never got any stronger or faster, and if their techniques and training never changed, they would still break records from time to time. That's because the ability of each person who decides to compete, and the outcome of each competition, are affected by random processes.
In 1975 American aerospace engineer Alvin Ellis was working on his prototype—a camera strapped to a model airplane—for the Israeli electronics company Tadiran, and started the modern drone industry. Ellis's work inspired the Mastiff, a remotely piloted surveillance craft that the Israeli military used to locate surface-to-air missile batteries during the 1982 Lebanon War.