SCIENCE STUFF

With thanks to CSIRO Science by Email

GLOVE CONTROLLER

 In the world of Harry Potter, lights, machines and even castles are controlled by a flick of the wrist. Forget wands and wizards, soon you too could control the world around you.

 Jake Coppinger, from Gungahlin College in Canberra, has designed a glove that could change the way we use technology – and it is as easy as lifting a finger.

 The glove, branded ‘Swirlesque’, allows a person to control technology from a distance.  The master mitt can recognise hand gestures and control internet-connected devices such as computers, smart phones and music players. A small computer sewn into the glove – called a microcontroller – receives data from a motion sensor. The computer looks for specific patterns in the data. When it recognises a pattern, it sends instructions to the required device using wireless Bluetooth signals.

Glove Jake believes that while technology is becoming more powerful, keyboards, remotes, and other controllers have not changed much. The tech-savvy sixteen year old used his idea in a project for the CSIRO CREativity in Science and Technology (CREST) awards program. After spending 140 hours to design and program the glove, he won third place at the 2014 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards.

 Jake hopes to develop his design further to make it smaller and more user friendly. He is looking forward to completing Year 11 and meeting like-minded people in his upcoming trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in California.

 From an early age, Jake has been interested in mechatronics and filmmaking. He has taught himself programming and design skills which have been very useful in the design of Swirlesque. Once a keen Science by Email reader, Jake’s mantra is: “Don’t be afraid to reach for your dreams!”

 

 INDIA’S THIRST FOR WATER

 97 million people in India do not have easy access to clean and safe water – that is more than four times the population of Australia. 

 Many water sources in India are heavily contaminated or impure. A number of diseases can be carried in the water, making it very unsafe to drink. Untreated sewage is one of the main sources of water pollution in India. Sewage seeps into rivers as there are not enough treatment facilities available. The build up of impurities in waterways can affect fish and food crops such as rice. People can become very sick from drinking water and eating food from polluted rivers.

 Having a safe water supply and understanding water sustainability is everyone’s business in a country where only 31% of rural households have access to tap water. But many children in India don’t get the chance to learn as they must help their parents earn money.

 CSIRO’s Dr Anu Kumar travelled to India with a team of researchers to help scientists develop ways to control the effect of contaminants, including sewage and industrial chemicals, on the environment. As an extension of the project, she organised a field trip for a group of rural children to the Ganga Aquarium in Lucknow. The children learnt about fish diversity and the effects of water pollution on fish and the environment. They also learnt about keeping clean and investigated ways to conserve water. Students were encouraged to share their experiences with their families when they went home.

 Projects like this help people to help themselves build a healthier life. Anu believes that “education and awareness is the key to improving conditions in India”. 

 

SPINELESS ORIGINS

 To be called faceless or lacking a backbone is a bit insulting, however, it might now be time to face up to our simple origins. 

 Scientists have known that jawed vertebrates evolved from ‘jaw-less’ ones, but just when and how it happened has remained a mystery until recently.

 A fossil fish discovery in China indicates that placoderms gave rise to all modern fishes and vertebrates, including us. Placoderms are an extinct group of armoured fish and are thought to be the first early vertebrates to develop a jaw. The fossil uncovered new clues that challenge the current theories about the origin of the vertebrate face.

 A team of French and Swedish researchers have built upon this discovery when they studied the skull of a fossilised Romundina – an ancient placoderm that lived over 400 million years ago.

Fossil Romundina The researchers were able to trace the development from ‘jaw-less’ to jawed vertebrates with the help of high energy x-rays. The images show that the ancient fish developed two nostrils and a very big upper lip that extended in front of the nose. Over time, this upper lip disappeared and gave way to the nose. The forehead began to grow and the face lengthened.

 The arrangement of facial features in Romundina appears to be very similar to that of a human face – suggesting that our face hasn’t changed all that much over time! Fossil findings reveal fascinating results. This discovery shows that vertebrate evolution is a little fishy and we should dig deeper!

 

DEEP SEA RESEARCH ROBOTS
Is it a fish? Is it a boat? No, it’s a robotic float – ready to dive deep and collect information about the ocean!

 The ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and plays a big part in controlling global weather. The Indian Ocean is one of the main pathways by which warm water returns to the Northern hemisphere. It is also home to huge fisheries and mineral resources.

 Ocean-diving robots – known as Argo floats – have been plunging to the depths of the ocean to provide scientists with important data on underwater salinity and temperatures. Now, CSIRO scientists have teamed with leading marine scientists in India to take a closer look at the Indian Ocean climate and ecosystems. To do this, the team extended the robots’ capabilities – developing new ‘Bio Argo’ floats.

 These clever floats will collect data to help scientists understand what factors keep the Indian Ocean healthy. Over the next few years, dozens of floats will be released into the depths of the Indian Ocean.

 Undersea research robotTiny sensors on the floats measure a range of factors like ocean temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and dissolved organic material. The floats will also collect information on phytoplankton cells – underwater ‘plants’ that fuel the ocean food web. This data will ultimately help scientists better understand and predict how carbon dioxide is processed by the ocean and how much food the Indian Ocean can produce.

 The floats will free drift in the ocean from anywhere between the surface and 1000m depth, collecting data along the way. When each robot’s memory is full, it will emerge at the surface and send data to scientists via satellites. The floats will then dive back down into the ocean, continuing their mission for months or even years at a time.

 With a new set of senses, these underwater allies are ready to embark on an exciting mission. We wish them the best of luck with their journey and hope they have a whale of a time!

PENGUINS SUIT UP

 Life has never been easy for penguins, and changing weather patterns are creating more challenges for some colonies.

 The coast of Argentina is home to the world’s largest breeding colony of Magellanic penguins. Scientists from the University of Washington have found that downy chicks are struggling to cope with increasing storm activity and rainfall in the region.  

 Downy chicks haven’t yet developed waterproof feathers and are too big to snuggle under their parents for warmth. Without this protection, water can easily seep into their down – or immature feathers – during periods of heavy rainfall. The wet down makes chicks very cold and sometimes leads to death.

 PenguinsFurther south on Ross Island in the Antarctic, Adelie penguin survival depends on the form and amount of sea ice. Over recent years, sea ice in the Ross Sea has become less predictable with more ice in some years and less in others. An international team found that it is easier for Adelie penguins to forage when sea ice is low. When sea ice is high, penguins are restricted from accessing prime foraging areas. Starvation and exposure are real dangers for chicks as the adult penguins must leave the colony for longer foraging trips.

 While coping with change is a challenge for some penguins, researchers from the University of Minnesota discovered that some Adelie penguin colonies may actually benefit. With increasing temperatures, glaciers melt and retreat – opening up new nesting sites for some populations.

 Environmental change offers both challenges and opportunities for species, especially for those living in extreme climates. Scientific monitoring can help to ensure these seabirds continue to waddle on.

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