THE WORLD belongs to engineers. I mean no offense to designers. As a journalist, I covered design for several years and developed a high opinion of it. If nothing else, design humanizes research and technology. But for a fundamental task—a suit that will keep astronauts' blood from boiling in space, a bridge across an impossible chasm—call an engineer.
Hands-on teaching ["Lab Is in Session," September 2013] worked well in my middle-school science class, but I have to pay out of my own pocket for supplies. In many public schools, the science-department budget is the same as other departments, but a microscope is far more expensive than construction paper.
After a 2001 earthquake severely damaged the double-decker section of Seattle's Route 99 highway, state and city officials decided to move the main thoroughfare underground. In July, they unleashed Bertha, the world's largest-diameter tunnel-boring machine.
In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke created HAL 9000, the sentient computer in his Space Odyssey series. Now, more than 60 years later, the company Ivee has launched something similar, albeit less villainous. The Sleek draws individual smart-home devices into a single hub and adds artificial intelligence so that users gain voice control over them all.
1 With the TiVo Roamio DVR, a user can watch recorded shows almost anywhere. Any iOS device can connect to the cable box, which has built-in Wi-Fi and can record six shows at a time. It stores up to 450 hours of media. TiVo Roamio Pro $600 2 The Helios Bars have integrated Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS so they can give cyclists turn-by-turn directions.
Most hybrid-auto makers have the efficiency thing down, but they still can’t build a high-performance car that’s both fun to drive and efficient. At least, not until now. To create the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid engineers married a supercharged V6 with a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Wanting only a glass or two of wine puts drinkers in a tough spot. Once the bottle’s opened, the wine starts to oxidize and lose its flavor. No rubber stopper will halt the process, leaving partial bottles to go to waste. Greg Lambrecht, a medical-device entrepreneur, figured out a way to solve the problem.
Interested in the wine on the table? The Drync image-recognition app can identify one million bottles by label, provide information on the wine’s taste and origins, and, coming soon, suggest similar wines. And if a repeat experience is in order, 30,000 bottles are available for purchase through the app—the selected wine shop ships them directly.
AT THE END OF MAY, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off all its staff photographers. The paper would instead use newswires, freelancers, and reporters armed with iPhones. It was not the first time traditional media turned to untrained photojournalists—consider the Instagram photos NBC published after the Boston Marathon bombing or CNN’s iReport—but it was the first time any outlet made a policy of doing so.
How Waffle House became a disaster indicator for FEMA
FOR SHELTER and supplies after a devastating storm, communities turn to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But for a clear sense of how bad things are, FEMA turns to Waffle House. Nearly a decade ago, Florida’s emergency management chief, W. Craig Fugate, noticed that when information was scarce after a disaster, the status of a 24-hour Waffle House restaurant often indicated whether an area had electricity, gas, and passable roads.
NOVEMBER 26, 2011 The Mars rover Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral at 10:02 EST, aboard the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft. AUGUST 6, 2012 Landed in Mars’s Gale Crater at 1:32 a.m. EDT. It took its first photo soon after. AUGUST 19, 2012 Shot a million-watt laser, designed to plasmify rock.
The outdoors is a horribly inconsistent place to do science. That’s why many ecologists work in laboratories, where they can exactly replicate an experiment many times over, although with the understanding that their results may not fully reflect what would happen in nature.
An Italian scientist, Nicola Pugno, discovered that tying a slipknot in a length of fiber dramatically increased its toughness, defined as the energy a material can absorb before breaking. That's it. Tying a knot. As the loop slides, the fiber takes in extra energy before it snaps.
This month, two fossilized dinosaurs, locked in eternal battle, will be auctioned off at Bonhams in New York City. Experts expect them to fetch one of the highest ever prices for a fossil, up to $9 million. The pair's prehistoric fight was intense.
In August, Silicon Valley darling Elon Musk—CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors—unveiled his concept for the Hyperloop, a high-speed system of 28-person pods that would shoot through low-pressure tubes on air bearings. Musk's published proposal calls for the Hyperloop to link San Francisco and Los Angeles; pods would blast down the 1-5 corridor at 760 mph, reducing the journey from five and a half hours by car to just 35 minutes.
When a male túngara frog wants to mate, it announces its desire by inflating a vocal sac beneath its chin while making whines and chucks. Biologists Michael Ryan and Ryan Taylor (from the University of Texas at Austin and Salisbury University, respectively) wanted to change the order and timing of those calls to study mating behavior, but there was no way they could train a túngara to perform dependably on cue.
THE THOUGHT OF a robot laying tracks over Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s footprints just seems wrong. And the risk is greater than you might think. Private spaceflight is flourishing, and even the Google Lunar XPRIZE for moon rovers includes a sub-prize of up to $4 million for "a Mooncast showing the Apollo artifacts in HD."
DARK MATTER MAKES UP MUCH OF THE COSMOS, YET NO ONE KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT IT IS. SOON, PHYSICISTS MAY FINALLY SOLVE ONE OF SCIENCE’S BIGGEST MYSTERIES.
TOUCHING DARK MATTER
THE EVIDENCE FOR DARK MATTER
CREATING DARK MATTER
HUNTING DARK MATTER
TESTING THE SHADOW UNIVERSE
COREY S. POWELL
"Turn here. Take the dirt road on the right. You’ve got to see this." I park my rental car, and Rick Gaitskell directs me to a makeshift wooden observation deck overlooking the Trojan mine in Lead, South Dakota, just a mile down the road from his home.
Sure, everyone loves monkeys. But few test that love like Jake Owens. An environmental science Ph.D. candidate at Drexel University, Owens studies the ecology and behavior of drill monkeys. Typically, that involves trips to places like Bioko, an island off Africa’s western coast, where he crawls through snake-infested vegetation to collect monkey dung.
Chris Rivard has a fancy official title: principal food scientist, R&D global operations. Around Ben & Jerry's, though, he’s known as a "flavor guru." Rivard uses his degree in food sciences and nutrition to develop flavors for the ice cream giant.
Every summer, thousands of greasepainted fans of the group Insane Clown Posse (ICP) gather in a field outside Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, for the Gathering of the Juggalos. Over the course of five days, the Juggalos, as the fans call themselves, will attend rap concerts, ingest a staggering amount of mind-altering substances, and socialize at events such as “DJ Clay’s Horny Nuts and Big Butts Party.”
There are likely few researchers in the world with a stronger stomach than John Vucetich. As associate professor of ecology at Michigan Technological University, Vucetich studies the population dynamics between gray wolves and moose on Isle Royal, a national park just off the northeastern tip of Minnesota in Lake Superior.
Alex MacDonald gets paid to drive Corvettes. As a performance engineer specializing in chassis control for General Motors and a former amateur racecar driver, MacDonald tests cars on extreme surfaces—ice, gravel, and sand—to assess the performance of braking systems and to monitor their software.
The New York City subway system moves 5.4 million people a day across 660 miles of track, much of which lies deep below the city in dank, vermin-infested tunnels. While most commuters whip through the passages unaware, a small army of transportation engineers toils away, testing signals and ensuring that tracks are set properly.
Bedbugs elicit a predictable response in most people—first horror, then fury, then violence. For Scott Harrison, they inspire a strange kind of love. Harrison is a graduate student at Ohio State University and friend of the bedbug. While his lab mates spend their days trying to eradicate the pests, Harrison’s job is to raise more of them for experiments.
In 2005, Cynthia Chiang, then a physics graduate student at Caltech, had the choice to work on a telescope in Hawaii or Antarctica. “It was a no-brainer,” she says. “You can buy a plane ticket to Hawaii anytime.” So off to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station she went for a summer of -40 to -10°F degree weather, restricted menus, and long days studying cosmic background radiation through the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization telescope.
"Mud logging finds people who are willing to do a thankless job well," says Kurt Vanderyt, who did it for a year after studying geology in college. Of all the jobs on an oil rig, mud loggers are lowest on the food chain. “And nobody lets you forget It.”
To say that Glenn Gibson’s job stinks is an understatement. Gibson is a microbiology professor at the United Kingdom’s University of Reading, and he studies bacteria found in the human gut to develop treatments for such disorders as irritable bowel syndrome.
On the surface, Mark Gammage's job sounds a little dull. As the group manager of Amway’s Reliability Lab, Gammage oversees a team of four engineers who design complex product-testing equipment and software. But the group’s real directive is to invent ways to torture and destroy everything the company makes.
A TERRIFYING EXPERIMENT ON MY EMPLOYEES FROM 3,000 MILES AWAY
I ROLL OUT OF MY OFFICE and immediately crash into a box. Across the hall, three colleagues in a group stop talking and turn to watch me. I feel intensely self-conscious. My appearance, I know, must be off-putting, but I don't actually know what I look like.
An impressive combination of sensors and motors for under six grand, but the small screen at stomach level is the fatal flaw, as the audience leans in awkwardly to see the operator. (A height extension improves things but raises the price.) Also, it's impossible to go anywhere unannounced: Its locomotion is audible from 15 feet away. $5,995 (plus annual subscription fee)
The QB is easy to drive. Its wheels can handle bumps up to 2.5 inches tall, and assisted steering self-guides it through doorways and around obstacles. Its telescoping neck ranges from 3' to 6'5", and it can handle moisture and dirt. Sadly, poor image quality and mixed audio can stifle conversation, and its somewhat goofy appearance robs it of dignity. $9,700 (plus connection fees)
A toy rather than an office solution and as much about the software as it is about the mechanical package, the Romo is for entertaining a child or connecting that child with a distant friend or family. That said, it's impressive at this price. Next, the company is working toward giving it computer vision so It can navigate obstacles on its own. $149 (iPhone not included)
With a monitor big enough to show a life-size face, dual-band radios for seamless handoffs between Wi-Fi stations, and truly lifelike audio at both ends of the conversation, the Beam is the best (and most expensive) of the bunch. It’s the little things: a quiet, fast motor, an eight-hour battery life, and reminder emails if you park it somewhere off-charger and forget. $16,000 (plus connection fees)
CAN ENGINEERED BEEF, CHICKEN, AND PORK SAVE THE WORLD?
ON AN ORDINARY spring morning in Columbia, Missouri, Ethan Brown stands in the middle of an ordinary kitchen tearing apart a chicken fajita strip. "Look at this," he says. "It’s amazing!" Around him, a handful of stout Midwestern food-factory workers lean in and nod approvingly. “I’m just so proud of it.”
Developed countries consume about 40 percent of meat worldwide. According to the UN, that figure will fall to 30 percent by 2050, driven by population growth and dietary changes in developing countries, even as total global consumption rises from 280 to 500 million tons.
As summer beat down on an outdoor music festival in Brooklyn in June, four men from Portsmouth, Virginia, took shelter beneath a tent. They were one of six teams at McCarren Park hoping to win Red Bull Creation, an annual build-off based on a surprise theme.
A do-it-yourself stereoscope makes lunar photos pop
When viewed from Earth, the moon appears flat. Stereo vision requires each eye to see an object from slightly different angles, but the intervening 239,000 miles squash the moon’s deep craters and spherical shape into a uniform, luminous pancake.
Graphic designer Giovanni Re likes to scribble his many ideas and drawings in paper notebooks. He also wants digital access to them, so Re built an inexpensive scanner using his iPhone. A stand positions the phone’s camera at the precise height and angle to take photos without shadows, which he can then archive using apps like Evernote.
Taking an electronics prototype to the next level often means soldering tiny components onto a custom-printed circuit board. Solder paste applied without a stencil, however, can ooze, cause shorts, and end a project in flames. Systems engineer Felix Rusu devised a simple process to make robust soldering stencils from soda cans.
HOW DID ENGLISH GET TO BE THE INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE?
More than 98 percent of all scientific articles published today are in English, but that hasn’t always been the case. "There used to be one language of science in Europe, and it was Latin," says Michael Gordin, a historian of science at Princeton University who is writing a book about the selection of scientific languages.
Leaves are loaded with chlorophyll, which makes them green. But all green plants also carry a set of chemicals called carotenoids. On their own, these look yellow or orange—carotenoids give color to corn and carrots, for example—but they’re invisible beneath the chlorophyllic green of a leaf for most of the year.
"For thousands of years, man has dreamed of going to the moon," wrote I.M. Levitt in the POPULAR SCIENCE May 1958 cover story. “Today, that dream is almost a reality.” Levitt, director of the planetarium at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, predicted that scientists and engineers would have to execute a five-step plan, including a mission to record surface elements using an atomic bomb, before mounting a manned moonwalk by the year 2000.