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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State Government at its best?

Okay, it may not be everything, and I know it is not all roses where people in crisis and politics is concerned but I found my self nodding quite a bit at the latest Toward Q2 newsletter from the Qld government. I was particularly taken by the news on the development of solar energy systems including the Solar Kindergarten Installation Program.

Energy Oases to Green the deserts

From National Geographic

Well, maybe Isaiah saw something in his visions afterall.
35:1 The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
35:2 It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.
(King James Bible, Isaiah)

Sahara Project

Detachment vs Personal Benefit

Recently listening to a radio program about the work and the ‘ups and downs’ of Thomas Edison, I was struck by the idea that progress in the world relies upon a dogged attachment to a vision, and efforts to work toward its fulfillment. It calls for a certain obsession with the task at hand. Yet, and this I learnt from the story of Edison, it also calls for a detachment from the outcome of that work.

Perfecting this balance within individual humans and then broadly as a cultural attitude, must surely be one of the most valuable, exciting and marvellous transformations that humanity will achieve over time. This skill-of-the-mind will be the key to the next stage of evolution for homo sapien sapiens.

If we look at what has been created and destroyed through the materialist approach over recent decades we note that, while a number of material advances have been made, so to, great losses have been sustained. Not only are the losses of a material nature, but also of a social nature.

The materialist or the economic rationalist approach to live is to estimate the most likely best personal benefit from a course of action, and to use this as the vision upon which dogged persistence is attached. Yet these ‘personal benefit’ strategies, are rarely the strategies that create the innovations that help raise human society to a new level of ability. And as we have seen over the past year, and in previous economic downturns, whole nations of people actually loose capacity to develop, when the ‘personal benefit’ strategy fails.

To understand why the detached approach will be so impactful of future society, we have to look at the attitudinal and skill changes that the global society must develop.

Abdu’l-Baha outlined the idea of detachment clearly.

The vision for a detached approach is “that all humanity shall be united, the stormy sea thereof calmed, and all rough waves disappear from off the surface of life’s ocean henceforth unruffled and peaceful.” In “the court of detachment.. he seeth all differences return to a single word and all allusions culminate in a single point.”

Firstly, we must look at the world (including our own physical and mental talents) with thankfulness and gratitude as a divine bestowal, for else we become ingrates, depressed, callous. We must spend our time in appreciation of all things.

Secondly, we must serve humanity, regardless of the trade we are involved or the degree of our wealth.

Thirdly, suffering is not to be entirely avoided. “suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him.”

Fourthly, education, spiritual, moral, intellectual, and skills, must be universal and lifelong.

Fifthly, striving for excellence in a field of endeavour in life is a spiritual act and must be universally encouraged.

I think it can be seen that a culture driven by these five attitudes, is a culture that is more determined to produce beneficial gains, in both social and technical terms, for everyone, than for a particularly personal benefit.

It is certain that, without this attitude becoming widespread in society, the lack of trust in our fellow humans will dissuade even visionaries from any too swift actions in this direction. Rather, we can strive to find what balance we can between our ‘personal benefit’ and a ‘detached approach’ so that we can live to strive another day. We can encourage each other to each find a path towards the detached approach. We can be grateful for people who go out on a limb of detachment, even when they seem to fail, for they are illuminating both the sacrificial and the safer path.

Afterall, we only have one life. What else is it good for?