Science Sunday: Creepy tattoo acts as wireless mic

If it’s Sunday, it must be time for this week in science. And of course, an open thread.

Space News

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe is being readied for launch on November 18, on an Atlas 5 rocket. Upon arriving at Mars (hopefully) in 10 months, it will assume a highly elliptical orbit, from 3800 miles down to 93 miles above the Martian surface, including five ‘dip’ maneuvers during its mission. These will go as low as 78 miles, and within the lower boundary of Mars’ upper atmosphere. At the risk of bringing up politics, it’s a good thing this launch is going forward; it had been endangered by the GOP government shutdown.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found a genuine oddity in our solar system’s asteroid belt: An asteroid that appears to have six comet-like tails jetting in different directions. At first, astronomers weren’t sure why Asteroid P/2013 P5 has been doing this, as the tails don’t look like they were caused by impacts. The current theory is the asteroid is rotating fairly quickly and is in the process of breaking up.

Asteroid P/2013 P5, courtesy NASA, ESA, and UCLA -- and of course, the Hubble Space Telescope

Asteroid P/2013 P5, courtesy NASA, ESA, and UCLA — and of course, the Hubble Space Telescope

Human Health News

Move over, X-Men. We’re all mutants. Dr. Scot Williams at Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine has found that people can have multiple DNA mutations in different parts of their bodies — with original, non-mutated DNA in others. And furthermore, the same mutation can happen to different people.

From the asteroid discovery time-lapse video by Scott ManleyHaving multiple genotypes from mutations within one’s own body is somewhat analogous to chimerism, a condition in which one person has cells inside his or her body that originated from another person (i.e., following an organ or blood donation; or sometimes a mother and child—or twins—exchange DNA during pregnancy. Also, occasionally a person finds out that, prior to birth, he or she had a twin who did not survive, whose genetic material is still contained within their own body). Chimerism has resulted in some famous DNA cases: one in which a mother had genetic testing that “proved” that she was unrelated to two of her three biological sons.

Researchers at the University of Arizona and University of Tübingen are developing a new artificial retinal implant, which could restore sight to people otherwise completely blind. Unlike the glasses I described in last week’s post, these new implants are ambitious to the point where they’re hoping “an implant patient (can) make out a bird flying across the sky.”

Tech News

Computer code via Shutterstock

Computer code via Shutterstock

There’s a new Windows malware exploit making the rounds. Unlike the one I described in a post the other day, this is the more typical variety: Spread through email primarily, and it targets Windows systems running Microsoft Office. The exploit takes advantage of a flaw in the way TIFF graphics files are handled. You receive a booby-trapped Word doc, you click on it, and boom, infected. All versions of Windows are vulnerable if running Office 2003 or 2007. If running Office 2010, only Windows XP is vulnerable. As ever, the lessons are (1) Never, ever click on an unexpected or unknown file attachment; and (2) Use some form of up-to-date virus scanning software.

178613_hawkes_katko_0013Researchers at Duke University have come up with a way to extract energy from thin air. No, this isn’t a rerun of one of my very first posts, the backscatter transmission device, but a whole new technology. Using a power-harvesting device comprised of ‘metamaterials’ — engineered structures comprised of fiberglass and copper conductors, they were able to convert microwaves into 7.3 volts of usable DC current. (Cell phones and other USB-type devices only need 5v.) One of their thoughts is cell phones could be redesigned to charge themselves using ambient WiFi signals, or even be able to function (even if minimally) using just the energy from nearby cell transmission towers.

Fun and Weird News

Music can make solar cells more efficient. Yes, you read that correctly. Researchers at the Imperial College London found that certain sound vibrations — especially the high pitched frequencies associated with rock or pop music — can increase solar cell output by as much as 40%. They think it may have something to do with the so-called “piezoelectic effect,” whereby certain substances under pressure or vibration can generate electricity.

A few more odds and ends

3D printed gun parts by Solid Concepts

3D printed gun parts by Solid Concepts

The 3D printing company announced it successfully 3D-printed a gun out of metal. Somehow, I think we all knew this was coming.

Researchers at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University believe they’ve solved the mystery as to why warm water freezes faster than cold.

Motorola has applied for a patent for an electronic skin tattoo capable of linking with a wireless communication device (i.e., cell phone), which would act like a microphone. Right… not creepy at all, sure.

And finally, this week’s video

Some of you may have seen it before, but it’s just cool: A time-lapse video showing the discovery of asteroids dating from 1980 up through 2011, as compiled by Scott Manley. For a detailed explanation as to what’s going on, you can check out the 2012 version of the video where he narrates what’s going on (the dude has a lovely Scottish burr, too – NOTE FROM JOHN: It’s Scottie! Well, younger hotter Scottie). Personally, I prefer the version from 2010, with the haunting soundtrack by Trifonic, “Transgenic” — from the album Emergence.

From the asteroid discovery time-lapse video by Scott Manley

From the asteroid discovery time-lapse video by Scott Manley

For this post though, I’ll include the version from 2011 with support for ultra-high definition and some other music (which I don’t recognize, but which is okay). In summary, the numbers in the lower left are (1) the year and (2) the known number of asteroids discovered as of that date. The white flashes are the asteroids as they’re discovered, the green ones considered ‘safe’, and the red ones are Earth orbit crossers.


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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  • ArthurH

    Regarding 3D printers, the first commercial use is on the horizon. McDonald’s is reported (Nov. 12) to be planning use of 3D printers at its hamburger outlets so that if a kid doesn’t like the toy in his Happy Meal a substitute of his choice will be produced on the spot. Hopefully this technology won’t be expanded to the rest of the offerings.

  • patb2009

    notice you can only detect them when they are favorably illuminated by the sun? A small set of telescopes in other orbits would dramatically increase the detection rate.

  • RepubAnon

    I’m waiting for the NSA to start tattooing microphones on us, or bribing tattoo parlors to add hidden microphones to otherwise innocent designs.

  • Monoceros Forth

    How much of the lower rate of vaccination in the Jesus-freak community is actually motivated by religious belief itself? It seems more likely to me that there’s a bit of accidental correlation at work: fundie communities are far more likely to be politically right-wing and hostile to government action of any sort and thence would oppose mandatory vaccination as a big-gummint nanny-state sort of thing.

    And let’s not forget about all the vaccination opponents from the other side, woolly-brained “alternative medicine” types who regard vaccination as some sort of Big Pharma plot and still believe in discredited reports about vaccines causing autism. (I’d rather be autistic than dead of diphtheria myself but I suppose that’s an easy thing to say.)

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    lol. You’re welcome.

  • rmthunter

    Yup. I’ve reinstituted a couple of non-politics things on my own blog, for Wednesdays and Sundays, just to have a break from the asininity/insanity. Hmm — I just had an idea for another regular feature.

    You’re magical, Becca. ;)

  • Hue-Man

    The DNA story doesn’t surprise me – for nearly 50 years, we’ve taken a mechanistic mindset to a biological construct that’s been developing for billions (and billions to quote Carl Sagan) of years. Call it hubris to think we’ve learned everything there is to learn in only a few decades.

    “It appears that you can’t dig a deep hole in Alberta without finding a duck-billed dinosaur. For the second time in weeks, construction crews have discovered the fossilized remains of a hadrosaur, a plant-eating creature that stalked the Earth about 68 million years ago. The latest discovery happened in Leduc, a city south of Edmonton.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/06/hadrosaur-fossil-leduc-alberta_n_4227086.html Leduc, which is not known for its fossils, is 260 km north of Drumheller where the major dinosaur fossil beds and the Royal Tyrrell Museum are located.

    And to end with anti-science, I would like to turn the tables and proclaim: “Religion Causes Measles!” First the good news: “Measles – a once-common illness that causes an itchy rash and fever and can, in some instances, be fatal – was eradicated from North America at the end of the 20th century – meaning there is no domestic reservoir.”

    And the bad: “A Grade 9 student who travelled to the Netherlands [where the outbreak has infected 2,000 and killed one] came home with measles. At least 18 others around the Lethbridge [Alberta] area have now been infected.”

    And the punchline: “In many fundamentalist Protestant communities the vaccination rate is
    abysmally low. Religious leaders range from ambivalent to openly hostile about vaccination. (While we don’t know the vaccine rate in specific religious communities, we do know that the vaccination rate in southern Alberta is about 50 per cent, which is one of the worst in the developed
    world.)” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/the-vaccination-problem-cant-simply-be-prayed-away/article15348786/ Good, brief summary of Canada and U.S. history of religion vs. vaccination.

  • Thom Allen

    This lady makes up for all of the Palins, Brewers, Bachmanns, Coulters and the other sick and twisted female Republicon out there today. She’s a class act. This story left me in tears. Awesome woman, awesome legislator, awesome mother. On Our Radar – A Thank You To The Jakobsson Family From The Gay Community: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/on-our-radar-a-thank-you-to-the-jakobsson-family-from-the-gay-community/marriage/2013/11/10/78237

  • lynchie

    I love these posts Becca. Nice to get your mind off politics and negative stories. Always wakes my curiosity and wonder at how much technology has changed the world in the last 50 years.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    ditto that!!!!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Thanks Pete. I enjoy putting them together. It’s fun to scour the intertoobz for non-political news.

  • PeteWa

    another great science post, thanks Becca.

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