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True PDF release: storemags & fantamag
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True PDF release: storemags & fantamag
storemags & fantamag - magazines for all

Cummins is a registered trademark of Cummins, Inc.


True PDF release: storemags & fantamag
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CONTENTS
THIS MONTH’S GUIDE TO INNOVATION AND DISCOVERY NOVEMBER ’10
VOLUME 277 #5

FEATURES
THE OBSESSIVES
ON THE COVER: NICK KALOTERAKIS; THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: NICK KALOTERAKIS; COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS; COURTESY BENOIT MARCOTTE; JOHN B. CARNETT (3); COURTESY ADITI RISBUD;

50 MARS IN 39 DAYS
NASA wants to send humans to
Mars, but its preferred rocket
technology is too slow. Former
astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz
has a plan—and an engine—to
make the trip a reality.
By Sam Howe Verhovek

50
INNOVATORS
69 BRILLIANT 10
Meet the brightest
young researchers
in America, 10
emerging scientists
who are creating bullets
out of sound waves,
making robots that school
with fish, and predicting
the next flu pandemic.
JOHN B. CARNETT (5); KEVIN HAND; JOHN B. CARNETT

HOW IT WORKS FIELDWORK


66 PERFECT TIMING 56 DINNER
Strontium atomic DETECTIVES
clocks are three Scientists deploy
times as accurate as DNA forensics to
the current standard. protect vanishing
Here’s how they tick. species.
By Erika Villani By Laura Allen

POPSCI.COM NOVEMBER 2010 POPULAR SCIENCE 05


CONTENTS
20
REGULARS 19
MEGAPIXELS
14 Purple worms; guiding a stem cell.
WHAT’S NEW
19 GADGETS CHECK IT OUT
HOW 2.0
A cellphone that performs electrocardiograms. 85 YOU BUILT WHAT ?!
20 THE GOODS A giant PC-controlled chess set built from Legos.
The farthest-zooming camera, and more. 88 GRAY MATTER
30 GADGETS How stuntmen light themselves on fire.
Cameras that let you film in a new dimension. 90 USE IT BETTER
32 AUTOMOTIVE Control your media with free software.
Reinventing the internal combustion engine. 92 ASK A GEEK
POPSCI ON Can I bring everything on my computer with me
HEADLINES THE iPAD anywhere on a thumb drive?
Learn more at
35 SPACE popularscienceplus
.com. FYI

96
Are American astronauts getting adequately trained
in Russia? 96 Can we repurpose

48
retired space shuttles
36 ARCHAEOLOGY as space stations?
Robots map the entire Titanic wreck in 3-D.

38 INVENTION OF THE MONTH OTHER STUFF


A better MRI, built in a basement. 10 FROM THE EDITOR
12 THE INBOX
48 SPACE TECH 112 THE FUTURE THEN
Astrobots battle for supremacy.

COURTESY SCIENCE/AAAS; COURTESY INSTITUTE OF ROBOTICS/MECHATRONICS/DLR/GERMAN AEROSPACE CENTER


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JOHN B. CARNETT; COURTESY CANON; NASA; MIKE WALKER; COURTESY MITCH EATON;
The Fiery Hand
What’s the
mystery goop
that keeps this
hand from frying?
Read the answer
Gulf Aftermath on page 88, and
The Deepwater Horizon GOT
GOT watch how it’s
well is mostly plugged. QUESTIONS?
QUESTIONS? done at popsci
Now for the harder
E-mail .com/graymatter.
challenge: assessing
the damage and fyi@popsci.com
cleaning up the Gulf. or tweet
We bring you all the @popscifyiguy.
latest at popsci
.com/gulfaftermath.

Forbidden Flavors
Eating exotic animals can be
criminal [page 56]. Find out why
people do it anyway, at popsci.com/
endangeredeating.

06 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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RUNS ADOBE FLASH. ® ®

LIKES FLASH BECAUSE 85


OF THE TOP 100 SITES USE FLASH. *

HAS THE BODY OF A PHONE


AND THE BRAINS OF A PC.
WHAT WILL YOU DO FIRST WITH
THE FIRST 4G PHONE?

sprint.com/firsts
1-800-SPRINT-1 (1-800-777-4681)

HTC EVO™ 4G: First 4G phone in the U.S. While supplies last. Phone requires a two-year Agreement and activation on a select service plan with Premium Data add-on. *“85 of the Top 100 Sites Use Flash” Claim: Based on the following statistic from
Adobe: “85 of the top 100 websites use Adobe Flash Player (Alexa).” Other Terms: Coverage is not available everywhere. The Nationwide Sprint Network reaches over 275 million people. The Sprint 4G Network reaches over 50 markets and counting, on
select devices. The Sprint 3G Network reaches over 266 million people. See sprint.com/4G for details. Not all services are available on 4G, and coverage may default to 3G/separate network where 4G is unavailable. Offers not available in all markets/retail
locations or for all phones/networks. Pricing, offer terms, fees and features may vary for existing customers not eligible for upgrade. Other restrictions apply. See store or sprint.com
for details. ©2010 Sprint. Sprint and the logo are trademarks of Sprint. The HTC logo and HTC EVO are trademarks of HTC Corporation. Adobe and Flash are either registered
trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries. Other marks are the property of their respective owners.
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FROM THE EDITOR THE
FUTURE
NOW

Editor-in-Chief Mark Jannot


Deputy Editor Jacob Ward
Creative Director Sam Syed
EDITORIAL
Executive Editor Luke Mitchell

BRILLIANT
Features Editor Nicole Dyer
Editorial Production Manager Felicia Pardo
Copy and Research Director Rina Bander
Senior Editor Martha Harbison
Senior Associate Editors Doug Cantor, Bjorn Carey, Seth Fletcher
Associate Editor Corinne Iozzio

YOUTH
Assistant Editor Susannah F. Locke
Editorial Assistant Amy Geppert
Proofreader Chris Simpson
Editor at Large Dawn Stover
Contributing Innovation Editor Mike Haney
Contributing Technology Editor Steve Morgenstern
Contributing Editors Lauren Aaronson, Eric Adams, Theodore Gray,
Eric Hagerman, Joseph Hooper, Preston Lerner, Gregory Mone, Rena
Marie Pacella, Catherine Price, Dave Prochnow, Jessica Snyder Sachs,
Rebecca Skloot, Mike Spinelli, Elizabeth Svoboda, Kalee Thompson,
Phillip Torrone, James Vlahos, Speed Weed
I CAN TELL YOU PRECISELY where I got hooked when I first read our cover Contributing Troubadour Jonathan Coulton
Editorial Interns Lana Birbrair, Katie Peek, Victor Zapana
story on Franklin Chang Díaz and his plan for propelling a rocket to Mars
ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY
in only 39 days [page 50]: in the second paragraph, when writer Sam Howe Art Director Matthew Cokeley
Photo Editor Kristine LaManna
Verhovek notes that Chang Díaz has been working on his plasma-engine Staff Photographer John B. Carnett
concept for nearly 40 years, batting aside skeptics all the way. The revelation Senior Designer Stephanie O’Hara
Junior Designer Ashley Smestad
that he’d set his sights on becoming an astronaut as a seven-year-old in Costa Contributing Artists Kevin Hand, Nick Kaloterakis,
Graham Murdoch, Bob Sauls, Paul Wootton
Rica, and eventually became a U.S. citizen in single-minded pursuit of that Photo Intern Jack Forbes

dream—well, that sealed the deal. POPSCI.COM


Digital Content Director John Mahoney

A soft spot for When I was starting out in


this business, an editor told me
that any magazine profile can be
Associate Web Editor Paul Adams

BONNIER’S TECHNOLOGY GROUP


VP, Publishing Gregg R. Hano

convention- read as a biography not only of


its subject but also of its author,
Group Director, Sales and Marketing Steven B. Grune
Associate Publisher Anthony Ruotolo
Executive Assistant Christopher Graves
Associate Publisher, Marketing Mike Gallic

busting quests revealing the writer’s priorities


and passions as clearly as those of
Financial Director Tara Bisciello
New York Advertising Manager Matthew Bondy
Northeast Advertising Office Shani Ben-Moshe,
David Ginsberg, Sara Schiano

and bullheaded the person he’s writing about. If


that insight applies to magazines
Ad Assistants Andrea Licata
Midwest: Manager John Marquardt 312-252-2838
Ad Assistant Krissy Van Rossum
West Coast Account Managers Robert Hoeck, Bob Meth 310-227-8963
Ad Assistant Kate Gregory

visionaries as a whole (why not?), then what


POPULAR SCIENCE reveals about
me and the other editors here is
Detroit: Manager Edward A. Bartley 248-502-2172
Ad Assistant Diane Pahl
Southern: Manager Jason A. Albaum jason@afatlanta.com
Classified Advertising Sales Patrick Notaro 212-779-5555,
Chip Parham 212-779-5492
Classified Assistant Jessica Steinhoff
that we harbor a soft spot for convention-busting quests and the bull- Direct Response Sales Alycia Isabelle 800-280-2069
Interactive Sales Manager Chris Young
headed visionaries who pursue them, often from a young age. Digital Project Coordinator Amanda Alimo
Integrated Sales Development Director Alexis Costa
One benefit of youth, of course, can be the immunity it provides from Integrated Sales Development Managers Brian Graser, Mike Kelly
Integrated Sales Development Planner Lauren Brewer
the preconceived notions that, over time, rust our brains. That’s the takeaway Group Director, Creative Services/Events Mike Iadanza
Director of Events Michelle Cast
from our Brilliant 10 awards [page 69], which we’ve been bestowing for nine Special Events Manager Erica Johnson
Digital Days Manager Susan Vonella
years on young scientists who are doing work that’s shaking up their fields. Marketing Art Directors Lindsay Krist, Shawn Woznicki
Promotions Manager Eshonda Caraway
This year, our honorees include an engineer who builds robots to pied-piper Consumer Marketing Director Bob Cohn
Associate Directors Lauren Rosenblatt, Andrew Schulman
endangered sea creatures to safety and a physicist who creates potentially Senior Planning Manager Raymond Ward
New Business Manager Cliff Sabbag
Retention Manager Connie Cotner
tumor-pulverizing “bullets” out of amplified sound waves. Single Copy Sales Director Vicki Weston
Publicity Manager Amanda McNally
I particularly like the story of Michael Bartl, who, while Human Resources Manager Kim Putman
peering in high magnification at the shell of a Brazilian CHECK IT OUT Production Associate Erika Hernandez
Group Production Director Laurel Kurnides
Operations Director Mimi Rosenfeld
beetle, made a discovery that could reinvent computing.
Why was he looking at the beetle in the first place?
Chairman Jonas Bonnier
Because a local high-school student had e-mailed and
FROM TOP: JOHN B. CARNETT; COURTESY APPLE

Chief Executive Officer Terry Snow


Chief Operating Officer Dan Altman
asked to borrow time Chief Financial Officer Randall Koubek
SVP, Corporate Sales & Marketing Mark Wildman
on his scanning light Vice President, Consumer Marketing Bruce Miller
Vice President, Production Lisa Earlywine
microscope. We’re Vice President, E-Media Bill Allman
Vice President, Digital Sales & Marketing John Haskin
keeping an eye on Vice President, Enterprise Systems Shawn Larson
Vice President, Human Resources Cathy Hertz
that teenager—I’m
POPSCI ON
Vice President, Corporate Communications Dean Turcol
Vice President, Media Development Michael Starobin
laying odds on her as a
Brilliant 10 candidate,
THE IPAD Brand Director John Miller
Director, Licensing & Merchandising Stanley Weil
MARK JANNOT Read this issue of
Publishing Consultant Martin S. Walker
Corporate Counsel Jeremy Thompson
circa 2025. mark.jannot@bonniercorp.com Popular Science on For service anytime, please use our Web site: www.popsci.com/cs
Apple’s tablet. You may also call 386-597-4279
Or you can write to POPULAR SCIENCE, P.O. Box 420235,
Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235

10 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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IT’S TIME TO LOOK AT THE WORLD


FROM A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE.

Introducing the new Canon EOS 60D. Featuring


our first ever 270-degree 3.0-inch LCD screen
that allows you to express yourself from any
angle, whether it’s an extreme high angle,
low angle, or even self-portrait. And with an
18 Megapixel CMOS sensor, 5.3 fps shooting
and multiple aspect ratios, you’ll capture
stunning photography from every direction.
Then see beyond the still in 1080p Full HD video.

I n s p i r e d . B y C a n o n.

Image Simulated. ©2010 Canon U.S.A., Inc. Canon and EOS are registered trademarks of Canon Inc. in the United States. IMAGEANYWARE is a trademark of Canon. All rights reserved.
THE INBOX
KIDS TODAY. They have way too
much fun. That was apparent
in September’s college issue.
Contributing editor Rena
Pacella surveyed the nation’s
the new car ™
coolest laboratories and met
students who blow things up,
the 100 % electric, no-gas swim with sharks, and climb
trees, all for college credit. Kids
Nissan LEAF ™

today are smart, too. In our


annual “Scouting Guide to the
Top High-School Inventors,”
we turned up teen geniuses Super article. I was particularly taken
capable of building energy- by Daniel Wang’s idea for putting
harvesting wallpaper, magnetic noise-recycling piezoelectric material
space sails and basement fusion into subway stations. Why not also use
reactors—some before they the piezo-paper as a speaker? You could
were even old enough to drive. broadcast subway announcements on
the platform and reuse the piezoelectric
panels for another purpose.
The Young and the Inventive Simon O’Riordan
I was disappointed that the top high- Hampshire, England
school inventors were selected only from
students attending schools, not home- War. What Is It Good For?
schoolers as well. I would have liked to Reading Sharon Weinberger’s article
see the best inventions overall, not just “Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime” [about
the best from public and private schools. the Pentagon’s plans for future warfare]
Joel Ketola made me question the assumption that
Locke, N.Y. there is intelligent life on Earth. The
fact that our government spends ob-
Editors’ note: We should have made scene amounts of money on these frivo-
our methodology more transparent. Our lous and irrelevant paranoid endeavors
search evaluated more than 2,000 stu- while cutting back on services for
dents, including those schooled at home. people with real needs shows just how
We, too, were surprised that none made inverted modern thinking has become.
the roster this year, since a quarter of last Trevor Briggs
year’s awardees were home-schooled. Gulfport, Fla.

SUBSCRIPTION For inquiries regarding


innovation for the planet. THE
FUTURE
NOW
INQUIRIES international licensing
or syndication, please con-
Report changes of
innovation for all. MAIN OFFICE address and subscription tact syndication@popsci.com. For licensing and reprints of
2 Park Ave., 9th Floor problems to: Popular Science content, contact
nissanusa.com New York, NY 10016 Popular Science LETTERS Wright’s Reprints at 877-652-5295.
Fax: 212-779-5108 P.O. Box 420235 Send letters to the editor to
Web: popsci.com Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235 letters@popsci.com. Send The paper used for this
Phone: 386-597-4279 science questions to fyi@ magazine comes from certified
NEW Web: popsci.com/cs popsci.com. Comments may forests that are managed in a
SUBSCRIPTIONS be edited for length and clar- sustainable way to meet the social,
popsci.com/customer INTERNATIONAL ity. We regret that we cannot economic and environmental needs
service/subscribe EDITIONS answer unpublished letters. of present and future generations.

subject to availability of public


charging in your market.
always wear your seat belt,
and please don’t drink and drive. 12 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM
©2010 Nissan North America, Inc.

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GE. Learn more about electric vehicle charging at:


ecomagination.com/wattstation.
MEGAPIXELS THE MUST-SEE PHOTOS OF THE MONTH

NAME THAT WORM


Scientists find colorful creatures in the deep Atlantic
This animal, which lives more than a mile and a half below the ocean’s surface, is one of
three potentially novel species of acorn worms discovered on a deep-sea expedition in June.
Expedition participant Monty Priede and his team from Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen
in Scotland are currently analyzing the creature’s DNA while another member of the expedi-
tion, Nicholas Holland, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San
Diego, compares specimens with two species of acorn worm already described. The newfound
critters, which Priede describes as “very fragile,” are around five inches long when their bel-

NATUREPL.COM
lies are full but shrink to about two inches after they evacuate their guts. Very little is yet
known of these worms’ life cycles. To date, only about 5 percent of the world’s ocean habitats
have been explored. BY VICTOR ZAPANA PHOTOGRAPH BY David Shale

14 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010

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WORM RAINBOW The newly caught


species of acorn worms come in purple
[above], pink and white. The worm’s
head is facing toward the right.

POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 15


MEGAPIXELS

GROWING PINS
Certain surfaces could determine
what stem cells become
Like a child, a stem cell can grow up to be just about
anything. Eventually it picks a job, however, during a process
called differentiation. Scientists can influence, if not always
control, the outcome by applying compounds called growth
factors. Now Jianping Fu, a biomedical and mechanical
engineer at the University of Michigan, and his colleagues
have discovered that the force exerted by a stem cell onto
a surface is an important part of both predicting and altering
what type of cell it will develop into. Fu placed a stem cell
[right] on a scaffold of 13-micron-long silicone posts and
found that the amount of force the cell exerted on those
posts indicated it would eventually become a fat cell. But he
also found that when he stiffened the surface by shortening
the posts, it caused the same line of stem cells to turn into
bone. Knowing how to predict and manipulate the fate of
stem cells will make therapies based on them—for spinal-
injury repair, bone grafts, skin transplants—easier to develop.
BY lana birbrair PHOTOGRAPH BY Jianping Fu

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

16 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010

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See more amazing images at popsci.com/gallery.

POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 17


Walk on water.

®
Impossible is possible with the all-new 2011 Impreza WRX STI. A 305-hp SUBARU BOXER
engine and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive scream performance. An aggressive new body
and a re-tuned suspension give you the confidence that will make you a believer. Amazing?
Yep. Impossible? Not at all. Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.

®
WRX STI. Well-equipped at $33,995†

†MSRP excludes destination and delivery charges, tax, title and registration fees. Dealer sets actual price. 2011 Subaru WRX STI Limited pictured has an MSRP of $37,345.

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WHAT’S NEW 28 30 32
The most advanced Three ways to Your new
music mixer shoot in 3-D eco-engine

MOBILE MEDICINEAn electrocardiogram-equipped cellphone lets docs monitor your heart remotely

High-risk patients can lose hours through your body; the Sana uses tients who have abnormal rhythms.
and thousands of dollars to in- 왘 HOLD ON the same electric sensors as a As with any test, a clean reading
The Sana 210
hospital heart monitoring, but now reads your
hospital electrocardiogram (ECG) to is crucial. After three sensors under
physicians can regularly check in heart rhythm record those pulses through your the phone’s steel frame pick up the
from afar. German cellphone maker when you fingertips. The diagnostic is not as signal from your fingers, it passes
H’andy’s Sana 210 needs only 30 press your accurate as a hospital ECG, which through two barriers devised to
fingertips
seconds to measure heart rhythm to each of uses more electrodes closer to the cancel interference caused by tiny
and send it to a doctor. When your its sensors, heart, but it does provide enough movements in a patient’s arms and
heart moves, it sends electricity as shown. info for doctors to monitor pa- shoulders. A filter sits above the
circuit board to physically deflect
sound frequencies higher than the
heart’s approximate 150 hertz.
After that, the phone’s processor
runs an algorithm that extracts the
rhythm. This translates into a single
ECG wave, which patients can text-
message to their doctor.
H’andy is readying an update,
with the ability to read blood
pressure and temperature, to
submit to the FDA next year.
—Corinne Iozzio

H’ANDY SANA 210


SIZE: 4 x 2.3 x 0.7 in.
CAMERA: 1.2 megapixels
JOHN B. CARNETT

NETWORK: GSM only


PRICE: Price not set
GET IT: handysana.com

POPSCI.COM NOVEMBER 2010 POPULAR SCIENCE 19


Rapid Fire
This camera moves light unlike any other DSLR to allow its autofocus to keep up Do-More Doodling
with continuous shooting. It replaces the usual mirror with translucent glass, so The uDraw peripheral brings Pictionary (and other sketching games) to the
light can pass through to the image sensor and reflect up to the autofocus sensor, Nintendo Wii. The four-by-six-inch tablet uses a Wiimote to send swipes from
which can then focus the next image before the first one is completed. the attached stylus to your TV screen. THQ uDraw GameTablet
Sony Alpha SLT-a55VL $850 (with lens); sonystyle.com $70; worldofudraw.com

Level Up
This PC chassis keeps things cool
by giving each of its components
its own housing. This increases the
total surface area, which allows
hot air ample room to escape while
cooler air enters.
Thermaltake Level 10
$800; thermaltakeusa.com

Moisture Wick
Shocks can easily happen when water gets into empty outlets—something this
strip prevents in two ways: It cuts the power supply to any unoccupied plug,
and it funnels moisture into two side channels that run it out an escape vent
at the end of the strip. Wet Circuits Power Strip $70; wetcircuits.com

Lighter Cover
At two pounds, Easton’s tent weighs A Shot of Flavor
less than any other two-person Chefs can now add the smoky flavor of slow
sleeper. It replaces the standard cooking without applying heat, preventing
wound-aluminum cords that usually less-dense foods like veggies from becoming
hold frames together with strong soggy. This mini furnace burns wood chips in
five-inch carbon-wrapped tethers at an aluminum chamber at its front and then
the joints. Easton Kilo Tent $500; pushes only the smoke through an 18-inch
eastonmountainproducts.com tube and into any covered cooking pot.
The Smoking Gun
$100; williams-sonoma.com

20 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010

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WHAT’S NEW
Brush Off
Whiten your teeth without having to use bleach- or chemical-laden products that
can cause sensitivity. Each bristle on this toothbrush is embedded with microscopic
pellets of calcium carbonate, which gently buff off surface stains while you brush.
Reach Total Care + Whitening Toothbrush From $3; reachbrand.com
goods
THE

A dozen great ideas in gear


By Corinne Iozzio

Smart Support
The 25-pound Diffrient World chair
uses plastic rails, instead of a tension
spring, to automatically and smoothly
adjust its back support. When you
lean, two frames under its seat and
lower backrest move down a slope to
recline the chair; they rebound when
the pressure is relieved. Humanscale
Diffrient World Chair
From $740; humanscale.com

Dry Erase Long Shots


Now students’ notes won’t Should you lose sight of your
smudge over time. Instead of subject when maxing out the
solid pencil lead, this Sharpie uses category-leading 35x zoom on this
liquid graphite, which is erasable compact camera, its “zoom assist”
for about a day and bonds with button retracts the lens slightly so
paper slowly over time to become you can re-find the focal point and
a more permanent mark. quickly snap back to your previous
Sharpie Liquid Pencil magnification. Canon PowerShot
$2; sharpie.com SX30 IS $430; canon.com

Crank It Out
Moon Glasses SteriPEN’s purifier can filter water
Even if you’re 20/20, these glasses can anywhere—even where there’s no access
improve your night vision. An anti- to electricity or batteries. It’s the first of
reflective coating cuts streetlight glare, its kind with a crank-powered ultraviolet
and its faint yellow tint improves contrast light, which zaps toxins from water in its
to help pick out objects in the dark. TAG one-liter tank when you turn the crank at
Heuer Squadra Night Vision Glasses 120 rpm. SteriPEN Sidewinder
$450; tagheuer.com $100; steripen.com

POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 21


WHAT’S NEW

AIR
RESCUE
An inflatable motorcycle suit provides instant protection
Three motorcyclists competing in
the final race of the international MORE
MotoGP circuit this month will have INFO:
extra injury insurance, in the form Alpinestars
of wearable airbags. Alpinestars’s Tech Air
Tech Air Race suit uses an onboard Race suit
computer to sense the subtle $5,000 (est.);
differences between regular alpinestars
track turbulence and the motion .com
associated with an impending
crash, and it fires fall-cushioning
airbags on the shoulders and
collarbone (an oft-injured area for
racers) before the biker hits the
ground. These bags are nearly 10
times as effective at preventing
injury as other armor. With foam
pads, the impact at 200 mph is
still more than 4,000 pounds of
force; when this suit’s bags are
inflated, that number is cut to 450
pounds—the difference between a
collarbone fracture and a bruise.
Alpinestars anticipates that its
consumer-grade suit—with two
2-quart bags, like those currently
on pro tracks—will go on sale next
year, with airbag-equipped jackets
for everyday riders rolling out
around 2013.—Corinne Iozzio

HOW TO CUSHION A FALL


A 1.1-pound computer set between the rider’s shoulder blades
XXXXXX

collects G-force, vibration and tilt data from seven sensors


throughout the suit every two milliseconds. If four consecutive
readings indicate that the rider is losing control—tilting too
far into a turn, for instance—the computer triggers a nitrogen
canister, which inflates the airbags in 0.05 seconds. The bags stay
rigid for about five seconds before deflating, flattening back into
BRIAN KLUTCH

the lining in 20 seconds. A second charge is then ready to deploy


the system again should a persistent rider hop back on.

22 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010

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WHAT’S NEW RECREATION TECH TREND
MOUNT MOBILITY

BEG, B-Cycle has placed more than 400 RFID-tagged


bikes throughout downtown Denver. Next year,
each one will get GPS, to help plan expansion

BORROW,
beyond the city center based on riders’ travels.
B-Cycle powers Chicago’s bike-sharing program
and is coming soon in Hawaii. B-Cycle
From $65/year; denver.bcycle.com

WHEEL
Tracking tech finally makes U.S.
왔 LOCKDOWN The swipe of a key
card releases bikes from B-Cycle’s
custom racks.

bike-sharing services more secure

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: JESSYEL TY GONZALEZ; COURTESY NICE RIDE; SOBI/THE SOCIAL BICYCLE SYSTEM
The Trend
Urban bike-sharing in U.S. cities. Already booming
in Europe, these membership-based services start
around $5 a month, saving commuters at least $5,000 a
year on average over owning a car.

Why Now
Smartphone apps allow riders to find bikes quickly,
and inexpensive radio-frequency-identification or
GPS chips help bike companies track the riders
remotely. The chips are linked to cyclists’ credit-card
information, so they won’t be tempted to steal the bike. BIG-APPLE BIKES TWIN CITIES ON TWO WHEELS
New York’s Social Bicycles, which begins beta- Riders in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area can find
How You’ll Benefit testing this fall, mounts its locking, payment one of 700 bikes through an iPhone app. Each
Hopping on a bike is quicker—not to mention more and tracking system above the rear wheel, bike has an RFID chip to tell a central server
exhilarating—than grinding through gridlock in a allowing riders to drop off and pick up at any when it’s at a kiosk, and members swipe their
crosstown bus or taxi. Urban bike borrowers also bike rack. An account number and PIN unlocks cards to borrow a ride. Montreal and London use
dodge storage woes, the cost of ownership, and the the bike, and GPS tracks it. Social Bicycles similar systems, and Boston will soon. Nice Ride
risk of losing their own bikes to theft.—jackson lynch Price not set; socialbicycles.com From $60/year; niceridemn.org

24 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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LET’S HELP TO KEEP THE SKIES BLUE.


LET’S GO.
We all need clean air. Not just for today’s kite-flying trip, but for future generations
who want to live and play under clearer blue skies. That’s why, for example, at
Shell Brazil, we’ve created a fuel oil for factories that can cut soot emissions by up
to 75%. It should help Raul and his friends breathe a little easier. Just one of the
many things we’re doing to help build a better energy future. Let’s go.
www.shell.us/letsgo
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WHAT’S NEW GADGETS TECH REBORN

MAGIC MUSIC MACHINE


A portable digital studio that’s a one-stop solution for far-out sounds
Packing features into an electronic instrument—say, adding a recorder
or sampler—tends to make for a bulky device with a seriously compli-
cated menu system. Teenage Engineering’s OP-1, part of a category of
devices musicians call “grooveboxes,” bucks that trend. It fits all the
bells and whistles into a trim 11-by-4-inch slab that does away with
menu-digging. It’s a sophisticated, all-in-one noisemaker you
can carry, and play, with one hand.—peter kirn

GET IT
Teenage Engineering OP-1
$800 (est.; beta run in Oct.);
teenageengineering.com

RECORDER The
OP-1 lets musicians
manipulate up
SYNTHESIZER to four tracks at

FROM TOP: JOHN B. CARNETT; COURTESY MOOG MUSIC


Four knobs shape once, warping and
sounds, such as merging them
SAMPLER The simulated stringed together to produce
OP-1 can replay instruments and new sounds. For
sounds recorded classic vintage- example, changing
from a built-in inspired synths. the speed changes
microphone, With eight different the pitch, as with
a plugged-in synth engines an analog tape, and
INTUITIVE DISPLAY instrument, inside, the OP-1 is extreme changes
In “tape recorder” mode, the AMOLED screen a connected as flexible as a full produce glitchy
shows when you’ve reversed the sound or computer—even its suite of hardware distortion, as with
changed its speed, just like an analog tape. onboard FM radio. and software. digital audio.

FOUR MORE
Electro-Instruments
KEYPAD KEYBOARD TURNTABLE CLASSIC SYNTH E
Free apps let musi- Dock your iPod or The S4 marries com- Four decades ago,
cians customize this iPhone in Akai’s puter DJing with the the Minimoog intro-
minimalist 8-by- keyboard to make control of turntables. duced the world to
8-button keypad so a synthesizer. The Magnets decrease the all-in-one synth
they can do tricks piano keys control the resistance as you spin keyboard. This year’s
such as slice beats app’s synth sounds, its jog wheels faster. update has more
and produce hypnotic drum kit and beat Native Instruments keys (61 instead of Musicians can also patch its circuitry
melodies. Monome arrangements. Akai Traktor Kontrol 44) and a ribbon that to produce new sounds from scratch.
Grayscale 64 $500; SynthStation25 S4 $1,000; native- transforms sound Moog Music Minimoog Voyager XL
monome.org $100; akaipro.com instruments.com with finger pressure. $5,000; moogmusic.com

28 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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Sharpest, By Design

Shot hand-held on AP S-C D


APS-C SLR: 3
DSLR: 00mm (4
300mm 65mm equivalent) Exposure: F/13; 1/200th; IISO200;
(465mm SO200; WB: Daylight

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WHAT’S NEW GADGETS GOOD BETTER BEST

YOUR LIFE
IN 3-D
A new wave of affordable cameras
brings amateur photography into
the third dimension

GOOD
With only a handful of 3-D chan-
nels and titles available, the task
of filling the growing number
of 3-D TV screens falls to snap- SHOOT STILLS
happy vacationers and amateur Normally a camera needs two lenses (one for each eye) side to side. Once that’s done, its onboard soft-
auteurs. They finally get their to produce a 3-D image, but Sony’s Cyber-shot has the ware merges several frames from the burst into
choice of 3-D cameras this fall, speed and software smarts to create the illusion of a single eye-popping image, which you can view on
but the images they produce are depth from only one. In 3-D mode, the camera snaps a 3-D-ready HDTV. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9
not all created equal. a burst of up to 100 images as you move it slowly from $400; sonystyle.com
—steve morgenstern

FROM TOP: COURTESY SONY; COURTESY FUJIFILM; COURTESY PANASONIC


BETTER
SHOOT 720P VIDEO WITH STEREO SOUND
Shoot right out of the box: Fuji’s W3 captures 3-D
stills and video at the push of a button. Each of
two lenses is backed by a 10-megapixel sensor
that records separate, continuous video streams
for the right and left eye. The camera’s internal
processor then combines both pictures into a
single movie file, which it can send to a 3-D-
capable HDTV via HDMI. Fujifilm FinePix
REAL 3D W3 $500; fujifilmusa.com

BEST
SHOOT 1080I VIDEO WITH 5.1 SURROUND SOUND
A screw-on lens accessory turns Pana-
sonic’s top-tier high-def camcorder into a
3-D power player—while still maintaining
a full 1,080 lines of horizontal resolution.
The lens splits video into two right and
left streams, and a sensor in the cam-
corder body saves these streams side by
side in a movie file that’s viewable on a
3-D HDTV (via HDMI) in near Blu-ray qual-
ity, complete with five-channel surround
sound. Panasonic HDC-SDT750
$1,400; panasonic.com

30 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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Your music
never sounded
so good.

QuietComfort 15 ®

Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones


®

Welcome to a better sounding world, where your music comes alive as never
before. The QC®15 headphones are our best, with Bose® technologies that
deliver sound more naturally than conventional headphones. And a significant
improvement in the noise reduction helps you focus on each nuance of your
music, as distractions fade into the background. Seth Porges reports in Popular
Mechanics that “Compared to the competition…the QC15s are vastly superior.”
It’s a difference you need to hear to believe. We’re so sure you’ll be delighted,
we’ll even pay to ship them to your door.

To learn more: 1-800-760-2749, ext. Q8054


Bose.com/headphones
©2010 Bose Corporation. Patent rights issued and/or pending. The distinctive design of the
headphone oval ring is a trademark of Bose Corporation. Quote reprinted with permission.
WHAT’S NEW AUTOMOTIVE WHAT’S NEXT
DOUBLE DUTY Two pistons per
cylinder yield twice the power
density of a conventional engine.

G MORE
INFO:
Ecomotors
.com

DIFFERENT STROKES
Can a distant cousin of the chainsaw engine deliver the 100-mpg car?

Carmakers have always struggled tion engine, allows the OPOC engine to EcoMotors and a former Ford executive,
with the problem of inefficiency. Internal achieve up to 20 percent greater mileage says OPOC avoids the emissions problem
combustion engines quickly convert the than the current most advanced gas or by using sophisticated engine controls
chemical energy in fuel into the kinetic diesel engines. In its key operating range, and electric-assisted turbochargers,
energy that moves cars forward, but even a diesel OPOC could convert as much as which cycle air through the combustion
the engine in the Toyota Prius, among 48 percent of its fuel’s energy into work, chamber 30 percent more efficiently than
the most efficient ever built, uses only beating today’s best diesels. Moreover, a normal two-stroke, burning fuel more
37 percent of that chemical energy—the an OPOC engine is just half the size completely and making the OPOC as
rest goes to creating unwanted heat and and weight of a comparably powered clean as a four-stroke engine.
friction. So carmakers paid attention in conventional engine, which reduces the EcoMotors is developing engines
July when Bill Gates and fellow billionaire burden of moving its own mass. that combine two OPOC “modules”—the
Vinod Khosla announced that they were The OPOC gains much of its power two-cylinder, four-piston machine shown
investing $23 million in EcoMotors, a density from a two-stroke engine cycle, here. Under light loads, one module
Michigan company that has promised to which produces power every time the would shut down for a 30 percent boost
produce an engine that would convert far crankshaft completes one revolution in mileage. Former GM chief engineer
more of its fuel energy into useful work, (compared with two go-rounds for the and EcoMotors co-founder Don Runkle
and in doing so crack 100 mpg. four-stroke engines found in most cars). says that next year the company will
The engine is called OPOC, short for The problem with two-strokes is pollu- publicly demonstrate a 300-horsepower
opposed-piston, opposed-cylinder. Inside tion. The cruder combustion cycle tends OPOC diesel, but not necessarily in a car.
each of the OPOC’s two cylinders, two to leave behind unburned fuel (and oil, Automakers aren’t the only potential
PAUL WOOTTON

pistons slide in opposite directions. Eco- which in many two-strokes is mixed with customers: Earlier this year, Eurocopter
Motors says this design, which uses half the fuel) that gets spewed out with the unveiled a concept helicopter powered
the parts of a normal internal combus- exhaust. But John Coletti, the president of by two OPOCs.—Lawrence Ulrich

32 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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WHAT IF YOU COULD KEEP YOUR ENGINE AS CLOSE


AS POSSIBLE TO FACTORY CLEAN?

TRY PENNZOIL ULTRA™: NOTHING KEEPS YOUR ENGINE CLOSER TO FACTORY CLEAN.*
Your engine is in its most perfect state the day it leaves the factory. That’s why we created Pennzoil Ultra™ full
Current Standard** Pennzoil Ultra™ synthetic motor oil. Piston at left shows the current industry standard
for clean. Piston at right underwent the same test using Pennzoil
Ultra.™ We think the results are pretty clear. No wonder it’s recom-
mended by Ferrari. Go to pennzoil.com Not just oil, Pennzoil. ®

*Based on Sequence VG sludge test using SAE 5W-30.**Pistons from standard V6 engine in ASTM Sequence IIIG test. ©2010 SOPUS Products. All rights reserved.
chevy.com/cruze

UNEXPECTEDLY
UNCOMPACT.
The all-new Chevrolet Cruze

10 air bags.1 Available Pioneer® Premium Audio System. StabiliTrak. And an interior more roomy than a Civic. Get used to more.
1 Always use safety belts and the correct restraint for your child’s age and size. Children are safer when properly secured in a rear seat in the appropriate infant, child or booster seat. Never place a rear-facing
infant restraint in the front seat of any vehicle equipped with a passenger air bag. See the Owner’s Manual and child safety seat instructions for more safety information.

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HEADLINES
36 38 48
Mapping the The homemade Space android
Titanic in 3-D MRI machine smackdown

SPACE

GROUNDED
Are budget cuts and an outsourced training
program putting NASA’s astronauts at risk?

When NASA retires its fleet of launching and landing, some NASA
space shuttles next year, the Rus- officials worry that conditions at
sian Soyuz spacecraft will become the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training
the only means of transporting Center in Star City, near Moscow,
people to the International Space could endanger astronauts once
Station. American astronauts in space. Said one high-ranking
have trained part-time on Soyuz NASA official who asked not to
craft in Moscow since the early be identified, “NASA’s Astronaut
1990s, but recent bureaucratic Office and Mike Suffredini, the
struggles and outdated equip- station program manager, feel so
ment are taking the shine off strong that it’s a problem that it’s
the Russian space program, on our Top Program Risk list.”
once famous for its reliability. One cause for concern is that
In May, for instance, a Soyuz Russia’s space operations are in
crew—two Americans and one a major upheaval, as the Russian
Russian—failed its preflight Ministry of Defense transfers
certification exam, a rare embar- control of Star City to Roskosmos,
rassment. On the ISS in July, Russia’s civilian space agency.
after retaking the exam, one crew When NASA’s Program Risk
member accidentally aborted Advisory Board met in August,
the automated docking of an it noted that NASA had called
unmanned supply vehicle, causing back some astronauts from Rus-
a delay of several days. sia before their training there
Publicly, NASA has dismissed was complete because of the
these miscues as unconnected, shortage of training staff—when
the type of thing that happens
왘 FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE Clockwise
all the time. And that might be from top: Astronaut Steve Bowen works
the case. But now that Russians on the ISS, Michael Lopez-Alegria prac-
will teach the bulk of the most tices in Star City’s Hydrolab, and Peggy
NASA

hazardous phases of spaceflight, Whitson trains for a Soyuz launch.

AUGUST 24 Ohio State students break the battery-powered electric-car speed record by 62.2 mph, averaging 307.7 mph over the mile-long course.

POPSCI.COM NOVEMBER 2010 POPULAR SCIENCE 35


HEADLINES ARCHAEOLOGY

RAISING THE TITANIC


Robotic subs image the world’s most famous shipwreck in 3-D before it crumbles

BOTTOM FEEDERS To perform the first scientific team members operated three
Bacteria eat- survey of the entire Titanic site this underwater robots around the
ing the steel summer, the crew of 30 researchers clock, scanning with sonar the
hull make needed several miles of fiber-optic ship’s exterior and the entire four
rusty icicle- cable and a phalanx of robots. Now square miles of artifacts that the
looking that they’ve imaged every surface of Titanic scattered as it sank and then
forma- the historic ruins, all you’ll need to shooting high-definition 3-D video
tions. They view their 3-D photo-real model of and more than 100,000 photos.
may also the wreck is a computer. This month the team will stitch
generate The multimillion-dollar together the sonar and optical data
electricity, mission—funded by Premier to produce a 3-D model of the bow,
contributing Exhibitions, the company that holds but it could take another year to
to the ship’s the salvage rights to the ruins— convert the 200 terabytes of data
corrosion. pairs robotic-submarine experts into a consumer product. In the
from Woods Hole Oceanographic meantime, raw footage will help
Institution in Massachusetts scientists determine exactly how
and other organizations with the ship sank. “How did the boat
archaeologists eager to conduct snap in half? Did the bow really
the first full scientific survey of plow in nose-first?” asks David
the site. Despite many previous Gallo, the co-expedition leader and
explorations, including director Woods Hole’s director of special
James Cameron’s documentary projects. “We’ll have all these
ventures to the deep, only about clues, such as the scattered pieces
60 percent of the Titanic had been of the hull’s midsection, to put
photographed. During the multi- together in detail how the Titanic
week cruise of the site, about 400 came apart. It will be like a CSI of
miles south of Newfoundland, Titanic.”—Susannah F. Locke

the center changed hands, many spacewalk to replace a failed ISS and a heavier workload. Military
experienced Star City instructors cooling pump. They did so without commanders made few upgrades to
transferred to the military, which the emergency option of using the the center in the past few decades
has also raised some doubt about Russian spacesuits and airlock and seriously neglected basic main-
the overall quality of training. because the practice of training on tenance. Instead of patching a leaky
The advisory board also noted each country’s suits and airlocks roof, for example, they hung a metal
that the agency’s own “resource was dropped a few years ago. “It sheet over a computer mainframe
limitations”—NASA-speak for a was a hard decision with known to funnel ceiling drips into buckets.
lack of qualified instructors and loss of capability,” says a NASA The deputy head of Roskosmos,
money—could affect the safety insider. “In light of the recent emer- Vitaly Davydov, says that the dilapi-
of space operations. That was gency, it will be revisited.” dated center his agency inherited
made apparent in August, when The physical condition of Star needs nearly $1 billion in repairs
astronauts performed a critical City has also worsened with time and renovations, 10 times its current

AUGUST 30 German researchers demonstrate the first real-time MRI machine, which generates images over the course of 20 milliseconds instead of several minutes.

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HOW TO MAKE A VIRTUAL TITANIC


1. SET UP THE GRID 2. SEND IN 3. FILM THE WRECK 4. BUILD A MODEL
Researchers throw two THE SONAR A remotely operated Back on land, scientists
sonar transponders Two torpedo-shaped underwater vehicle joins analyze the sonar data to
overboard. Those sink autonomous underwater the AUVs, taking high- produce a 3-D model of
2.5 miles to the seafloor vehicles (AUVs) sweep definition 3-D video the wreckage site. Then
and begin broadcasting a the four-square-mile and photos of the ship they wrap the structure
signal that will later allow site with 3-D sonar to down to the millimeter, in a mosaic of 3-D photos
robots to triangulate their outline the ship’s shape as well as any relics and video snapshots to
exact location as they and locate buried objects. on the seafloor. produce the final photo-
collect data. real, 3-D shipwreck.

annual budget. Sergey Krikalyov, only speak off record, insist they are

STAR CITY’S a decorated cosmonaut and Star


City’s new director of training, has
confident that they can work through
any difficulties. Although top offi-
COMPUTER SYSTEM complained that the center’s com-
puters and network are on par with
cials are aware of the potential
hazards, as of press time they hadn’t
IS ON PAR WITH what NASA ran in the 1980s and
can’t even connect to the Internet.
developed a solution. They need one.
Otherwise, NASA must either aban-
NASA’S FROM THE Half of its automobiles and aircraft don manned spaceflight until it can

1980S, WITH NO don’t work, making it difficult to rent out an American-manufactured


GRAHAM MURDOCH

coordinate trainees, staff and repair spacecraft or continue hoping that


INTERNET ACCESS. technicians. He rates the training
equipment as merely “functional.”
astronauts’ future errors are only
embarrassing, and not worse.
Active astronauts, who would —JIM OBERG

SEPTEMBER 7 Australian National University physicists use a laser beam to move small glass particles almost five feet. The technology might one day transport hazardous materials.

POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 37


HEADLINES INVENTION OF THE MONTH

THE DIY MRI


An MRI machine built in a basement is
STAND AND DELIVER Matthew
Rosen’s lung imager, shown here
in his new lab, can scan standing
patients to reveal airflow in
normal upright conditions.

the first to show how we really breathe

In 2002, Matthew Rosen won a


NASA grant to study how gravity HOW TO
affects the lungs. He soon found
out what lung specialists already LOOK AT
know: An MRI scanner reveals how
well a lung moves air, but it only
A LUNG
works when the patient is lying on A PATIENT
his back. What Rosen really wanted STANDS in
to see is how air moves when a the scanner,
person is upright, so the Harvard wearing a vest
University physicist built a scanner connected to a
that can look at the lungs no matter computer, and
what position the subject is in. inhales magne-
Standard MRI machines cre- tized helium. The
ate a magnetic field that orients machine’s elec-
the hydrogen within body tissues’ trified copper
water molecules in one direction. A coils generate a
computer detects those molecules weak magnetic
and constructs a 3-D visualiza- field, causing the
tion of an organ. To show how air helium atoms
moves through lung tissue, doctors to rotate. The
have patients inhale magnetized vest detects
helium gas, the molecules of which the orientation
align with the MRI’s magnetic field and position
as they pass through the lungs, of the helium
creating a map of the gas’s travel. atoms and sends
Working in his lab’s basement, the data to a
Rosen built his MRI from copper computer, which
wire and sheets of aluminum. Very turns it into an
little magnetic energy is needed image of airflow
to rotate the helium enough to through the lung. the cheaper thing is better than
create a high-resolution image, the expensive thing,” Rosen says.
allowing Rosen to forgo million- “But we’re getting the first real
dollar superconducting magnets. pictures of lungs.”
COURTESY MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL/

As a result, his machine is 1/20 the Several medical companies


cost of a typical MRI scanner. That have expressed interest in the
price cut could put it in the hands device, and Rosen thinks it could
of every pulmonologist, who could go on sale in five years. “No other
use it to examine asthmatics during system provides the details that
an attack to gauge the effective- his does,” says Bruce Rosen (no
HARVARD UNIVERSITY

ness of medication or screen relation), the director of the lab at


patients for chronic obstructive Massachusetts General Hospital
pulmonary disease, which often that is testing the scanner. “Matt’s
goes undiagnosed until its symp- work is exactly on the money.”
toms are irreversible. “It’s rare that —RENA MARIE PACELLA

SEPTEMBER 8 Personal-robotics company Willow Garage begins selling the PR2, a $400,000 open-platform robot that can fold laundry, play pool, and fetch beer.

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HEADLINES STATISTICALLY SPEAKING

Rx: BIG BROTHER


A wireless system tracks deadly bacteria in hospitals to thwart outbreaks

The fastest way to spread disease is to pack a lot of sick people such as MRSA, they enter that patient’s data into the system, and
in one place. That’s why hospitals are such a health hazard— it retraces which rooms he has visited and what equipment and
equipment and personnel move from patient to patient and carry people he has been in contact with. It then IDs and ranks other
infectious agents in the process. One solution is to keep better potential disease carriers and demarcates hot zones throughout
track of every patient, wheelchair and IV stand to locate what’s the building—high-traffic areas that could be reservoirs of dis-
spreading disease and what needs to be sterilized, and one Cana- ease. Janitorial staff can then concentrate their efforts on those
dian company is the first to deploy a system to do just that. zones, rather than wasting precious time scrubbing clean rooms.
Infonaut’s Hospital Watch Live system uses a combination During a two-year trial at a hospital in Ontario, administrators
of tracking software and inexpensive radio-frequency ID tags cut a C. difficile epidemic from 10 new cases a month to one, sav-
to record the location of anything that could possibly transport ing an estimated 36 lives. The system went on sale in June and
microbes, including the doctors and nurses themselves. Wireless may soon be implemented in several hospitals in Canada and the
receivers throughout the building transmit the position of each U.S. “Health-care-acquired infections are hospitals’ dirty little
tag to a central computer about every three seconds. When staff secret,” says Niall Wallace, the CEO of Infonaut. “We’re finding it
members identify a patient infected with hospital-borne bacteria, and stamping it out.”—DANIEL GRUSHKIN

Percentage of doctors’ Every year


NECKTIES that harbor

1.7
in the U.S.,
disease-causing
bacteria:

48
MILLION

17
hospital- Percentage of patients
with invasive
acquired MRSA
infections infections
cause 99,000 who die
from it:
deaths.

60
percentage
Increase Percentage of
OF MRSA health-care
INFECTIONS
SINCE 1995: workers who do
not clean their

867 20
hands properly:
seconds: Time needed to scrub away
bacteria with hand soap (like singing
BRIAN KAAS

“Happy Birthday” twice)

NOVEMBER The first Chevrolet Volt is expected to roll off the assembly line. GM says it will produce 10,000 Volts in model-year 2011. Base price: $41,000.

40 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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F R O M PA R A D I G M , T H E # 1 S P E A K E R B R A N D †

CALCULATE OPTIMAL BASS FOR YOUR LISTENING SPACE


PERFECT BASS KIT

“BETTER BASS THROUGH SCIENCE” – Chris Martens, AVguide

For more than 25 years Paradigm has been building the best subwoofers in the world,
but even when the best subwoofers are perfectly positioned, the room can have a
dramatic impact on performance. Room dimensions, dead spots, archways, even
furniture placement can turn a room into an additional instrument, playing alongside
musicians or movie scores with unwanted contributions of coloration and resonance.
Bass can sound bloated or boomy with poor definition.
Based on research conducted by the National Research Council, PBK uses proprietary
processing to measure the sub’s in-room frequency response, then computes the target
response to yield perfect bass in your room. Corrections are then uploaded to your
subwoofer. It’s a process that can take as little as five minutes. “Throw in the PBK and quite frankly one of the best
Why is PBK the best bass correction system on the market? 12" subs I’ve heard in its class is elevated into another
• PBK applies Infinite Impulse Response filters … that means it runs quickly and quietly category altogether.”
• PBK allows for up to 10 measurements, most correction systems allow only one or two – Dennis Burger, Home Entertainment on Paradigm’s SUB 12 with PBK

• Processing power to spare and accuracy to the n’th degree … the connected PC’s
64-bit floating point processor calculates the correction curves
• Adjusts for movies and for music
PBK IN ACTION
• Since rooms have both peaks and dips in response, unlike other systems PBK Subwoofer
110
measures both … that way response is ultra accurate
105

100

dB 95

1
90
Copyright © Paradigm Electronics Inc.

85

80
20 50 100 200 500 1k
Frequency (Hz)

1 =1st Measuring Position


Up to 10 positions can be measured. Measured Calculated Target Response

w w w . p a r a d i g m . c o m Designed for use with Paradigm subwoofers


† Inside Track annual independent nationwide survey of consumer electronics specialist retailers and custom installers.
ULORIC is a trademark of Teijin Pharma Limited registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and used
under license by Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Inc. ©2010 Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America, Inc. TXF-00526 Printed in U.S.A. 09/10

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HEADLINES THE EQUATION ORGANIZ


I CAN’T BELIEVE YOUR LIF

IT’S NOT BUTTER


A new plan could turn rancid dairy products
and sewer grease into inexpensive biofuel
Living Space
What do you do with an to other dirty solid grease.
ONE MAN’S WASTE 800-pound butter sculpture Many restaurants have their
of Benjamin Franklin that’s used frying oil converted into

Dry Storag
At any given
moment, starting to go bad? Normally, biofuel, but plenty of grease
about 500 mil- the inedible art would get washes down kitchen drains
lion gallons of tossed in a Dumpster. The and solidifies in sewers; a
wastewater

e
organizers of the Pennsylva- typical gallon of wastewa-
are running
under Amer-
nia Farm Show had a better ter contains up to 5 percent
ica’s cities. idea: Donate it to science. grease. Haas says that his
Some 25 mil- This summer, researchers process can convert the gunk
lion gallons of from the U.S. Department of into diesel at prices com-
that is grease, Agriculture and alternative- petitive with soybean biofuel,
which can be energy firm BlackGold about $2.50 a gallon.
Laundry Room
collected for Biofuels described how they Early next year, Black-
$0.02 a pound
turned that hunk of spoiled Gold will begin operating
and turned
into diesel. solid fat into biodiesel. grease-straining equipment
They melted the sculpture, at a water treatment facility

pace
strained off the water, and in San Francisco and says
added methanol. The chemi- it will use the dregs it gets
cal bonded to the end of to help power the city’s bus Hobbie S
the chains of fatty acids in fleet. If the technology is suc-
the lard, turning them into cessful, the company could
76 gallons of fatty-acid bring it to other cities in a
methyl esters, which could year.—VICTOR ZAPANA
then be refined into bio-
diesel that can be burned
FROM LEFT: SUPERSTOCK; iSTOCK; PETER BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES

in most diesel engines.


There will never be
enough butter sculptures to
churn out a significant supply
of biofuel, of course. But, says
USDA scientist Michael Haas,
the lead author of the paper,
the technique can be applied

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POPSCI.COM NOVEMBER 2010 POPULAR SCIENCE 45
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HEADLINES SPACE TECH

ASTROBOTS FACE OFF


The U.S. and Germany prepare to put the first humanoid robots into space

On spacewalks, one astronaut’s job is sometimes just to hand tools runaway tools and aid with more-complicated tasks. And whereas
to another astronaut. It’s a simple role but risky, considering that an astronaut takes at least six hours to prep for a spacewalk, Ro-

FROM LEFT: COURTESY GERMAN AEROSPACE CENTER; ROBERT MARKOWITZ/BILL STAFFORD/NASA/JSC


a tiny tear in his spacesuit could rob him of oxygen. This month, bonaut could boot up for emergency repairs in minutes.
NASA will introduce a more durable—and expendable—astronaut Recognizing the need for more spacebots, the German Aero-
when it sends the first android into space: Robonaut 2. space Center, DLR, has constructed Justin, a robotic torso with
Robonaut, built by NASA and GM, is a head, torso and arms that similar talents. “There is a friendly competition between us,” says
will be anchored inside the International Space Station. After test- Gerd Hirzinger, DLR’s head of robotics. Germany will probably need
ing and upgrades, it will graduate to spending time attached to the to work with other countries to put Justin on a Mars rover or the
station’s exterior, where it will be most useful. Astronauts’ bulky ISS, but one day the ’bot could rove on its own spacecraft, repairing
gloves make handling tools difficult; Robonaut could hang on to satellites. Here’s how the two robots match up.—Adam Hadhazy

JUSTIN The POPSCI Battle for the Awesomest Android in Space ROBONAUT 2
ROUND 1 STRENGTH
Even in microgravity, it takes force to move mass. Each Robonaut can lift just 20 pounds per arm, but that’s
of Justin’s carbon-fiber arms can lift 31 pounds. enough to shift the ISS’s giant solar batteries.
WINNER: JUSTIN
ROUND 2 VISION
Stereo vision from two high-definition cameras Stereo vision plus an infrared camera for sonar-like
and object-recognition software depth perception to easily track moving objects
WINNER: ROBONAUT
ROUND 3 HANDS
Justin’s four chunky fingers could Robonaut’s five human-size
have difficulty with normal tools, fingers let this robot use the
but its hands could swap out Mr. same tools as astronauts. No
Potatohead–style for other gadgets. special implements required.
WINNER: ROBONAUT
ROUND 4 CONTROLS
From Earth, a person would In the future, an astronaut will determine
control Justin by wearing Robonaut’s movements using a virtual-
an exoskeleton with reality helmet and a light-based motion-
force feedback. tracking system similar to an Xbox Kinect.
DRAW
ROUND 5 POWER SUPPLY
Mounted on its own space- Robonaut would wear exchange-
craft, Justin could get able battery backpacks for space-
power from solar panels, walks, with conversion equipment
with batteries for backup. to run off the ISS electrical system.
WINNER: ROBONAUT
ROUND 6 PROGRAMMED DANCE MOVES
John Travolta’s twist from Pulp Fiction Tai chi–like demonstrations of flowing grace and strength
WINNER: JUSTIN
AND THE WINNER IS . . . ROBONAUT 2 Infrared vision, five-fingered hands and a tested power scheme make it the superior spacebot.

NOVEMBER 17-18 Just before sunrise, the Leonids meteor shower, which appears near the constellation Leo, will light up the skies at the rate of about 15 meteors per hour.

48 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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The OBSeSSIVeS

NEW FRONTIER An artist’s


vision of a plasma-powered craft,
ringed by hydrogen tanks and
nuclear reactors, arriving at Mars

NICK KALOTERAKIS

50 POPULAR SCIENCE nOVeMBer 2010

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The space shuttle, or


anything built in its image,
is far too slow to get
astronauts anywhere beyond
the moon alive. Veteran
astronaut Franklin Chang
Díaz has spent four decades
developing his 123,000mph
alternative: a rocket fueled
by nuclear reactors and
liquid hydrogen. Now NASA
just might let it fly

IN 39 DAYS
By Sam Howe Verhovek photographs by john b. carnett
PoPSCI.CoM pOpular ScIence 51
The OBSeSSIVeS

You might expect to find our brightest hope for sending astro-
nauts to other planets in Houston, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, inside
a high-security multibillion-dollar facility. But it’s actually a few miles down
the street, in a large warehouse behind a strip mall. This bland and uninvit-
ing building is the private aerospace start-up Ad Astra Rocket Company,
and inside, founder Franklin Chang Díaz is building a rocket engine that’s
faster and more powerful than anything NASA has ever flown before. Speed,
MAN ON THE GO Chang Díaz believes, is the key to getting to Mars alive.
Franklin Chang
Díaz, 60, hopes In fact, he tells me as we peer into a three-story test an astronaut, and of course I want to be able to fly in
to reach Mars chamber, his engine will one day travel not just to the this,” he says of his plasma-thrust rocket. “I mean, I just
before his 80th Red Planet, but to Jupiter and beyond. can’t imagine not flying in a rocket I would build.” And
birthday: “I just I look skeptical, and Chang Díaz smiles politely. now he’s close. In four years Chang Díaz will deploy
can’t imagine not He’s used to this reaction. He has been developing the his technology for the first time in space, when his
flying in a rocket concept of a plasma rocket since 1973, when he be- company, aided by up to $100 million in private fund-
I would build.”
came a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute ing, plans to test a small rocket on the International
of Technology. His idea was this: Rocket fuel is a heavy Space Station. If this rocket, most commonly known by
and inefficient propellant. So instead he imagined its loose acronym, Vasimr, for Variable Specific Impulse
building a spaceship engine that uses nuclear reactors Magnetoplasma Rocket, proves itself worthy, he has an
to heat plasma to two million degrees. Magnetic fields aggressive timetable for constructing increasingly big-
would eject the hot gas out of the back of the engine. ger plasma-thrust space vehicles.
His calculations showed that a spaceship using such an Chang Díaz describes his dreams in relatively
engine could reach 123,000 miles per hour—New York practical terms. He doesn’t intend to go straight to
to Los Angeles in about a minute. Mars. First he will develop rockets that perform the
Chang Díaz has spent nearly his entire career more quotidian aspects of space maintenance needed
laboring to convince anyone who would listen that by private companies and by the government: fixing,
his idea will work, but that career has also taken repositioning, or reboosting wayward satellites; clear-
several turns in the process. One day in 1980, he was ing out the ever-growing whirl of “space junk” up there;
pitching the unlimited potential of plasma rockets fetching the stuff that can be salvaged. “Absolutely, fine,
to yet another MIT professor. The professor listened I’m not too proud to say it. We’re basically running
patiently. “It sounds like borderline science fiction, I a trucking business here,” he says. “We’ll be sort of a
know,” Chang Díaz was saying. Then the telephone Triple-A tow truck in space. We’re happy to be a local
rang. The professor held up a finger. “Why, yes, garbage collector in space. That’s a reliable, sustainable,
he’s right here,” the surprised engineer said into the affordable business, and that’s how you grow.”
receiver, then handed it over. “Franklin, it’s for you.” Eventually, though, Chang Díaz intends to build
NASA was on the line. The standout student from more than an extraterrestrial trucking business, and his
Costa Rica had been selected to become an astronaut, ambitions happen to coincide with Barack Obama’s call
the first naturalized American ever chosen for NASA’s for a privatized space industry that supports explora-
most elite corps. “I was so excited, I was practically tion well beyond the moon. “We’ll start by sending
dancing,” Chang Díaz recalls. “I almost accidentally astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history,”
strangled my professor with the telephone cord.” Obama said in a major NASA-related address earlier
All astronauts have big dreams, but Franklin this year at Kennedy Space Center. “By the mid-2030s,
Chang Díaz’s dreams are huge. As a college student, as I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return
a 25-year astronaut and as an entrepreneur, his single them safely to Earth.”
animating intention has always been to build—and Such a belief may seem overly ambitious, but the
fly—a rocketship to Mars. “Of course I wanted to be goals of aviation have always seemed that way. In Oc-

“WE’RE HAPPY TO BE
tober 1903, for instance, astronomer Simon Newcomb,
the founding president of the American Astronomical
Society, spelled out a series of reasons why the concept

A LOCAL GARBAGE
of powered flight was dubious. “May not our mechani-
cians,” he asked, “be ultimately forced to admit that

COLLECTOR IN SPACE.”
aerial flight is one of the great class of problems with
which man can never cope, and give up all attempts
to grapple with it?” Less than two months later, the

52 pOpular ScIence NoVEMBER 2010

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Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. And in the 1920s


a young man named Frank Whittle was coming up
with drawings for a theoretical engine very different
from the propeller-driven kind, one that might scoop
in air through turbines and fire it through a series of
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: JOHN B. CARNETT; COURTESY AD ASTRA ROCKET CO.; JOHN B. CARNETT

“jet” nozzles. “Very interesting, Whittle, my boy,” said Connecticut. Despite his limited English, he won a UNEARTHLY
one of his professors of aeronautical engineering at the University of Connecticut scholarship, one reserved GLOW
University of Cambridge. “But it will never work.” for American citizens. Somebody somehow thought A 200-kilowatt
prototype of the
Costa Rica was Puerto Rico, he recalls with a laugh, and Vasimr engine
THE CHASE after the mistake was pointed out, he was told that the test-fires inside
Chang Díaz decided he wanted to be an astronaut scholarship was being withdrawn. He appealed to uni- a pressurized
at the age of seven, when his mother explained the versity administrators, who agreed to take up his cause chamber that
U.S.-Soviet space race to him. He went out that night with the state, and part of the scholarship was restored, simulates the
to stare at the stars and look for Sputnik. But he soon enough to make it possible for him to attend college. vacuum of space.
realized that he had a problem. He happened to be His work was so outstanding there that he was
a citizen of Costa Rica, and Costa Rica had no space accepted into MIT’s doctoral program for nuclear en-
program. When he was a teenager, he sent a letter to gineering. Then he applied to be an astronaut. NASA
NASA asking how to become an astronaut. He got a turned him down. (Chang Díaz says it was probably
letter back saying that to fly with NASA, he must be an because his application for U.S. citizenship had yet to
American citizen. Boldness runs in his family—his Chi- go through.) After he became naturalized—he now
nese grandfather fought against the Qing dynasty and holds dual American–Costa Rican citizenship—he
fled to Costa Rica during a crackdown on the National- tried again, as one of nearly 4,000 applicants for 19
ist movement. So Chang Díaz was not about to let a open positions. His plasma-physics doctorate, his
thing like citizenship deter him. singular focus on spaceship engines, his superb physi-
After graduating high school, intent on join- cal condition and his obvious drive combined to make
ing NASA, Chang Díaz went to live with relatives in him one of NASA’s select.

PoPoPSCI.CoM pOpular ScIence 53


The OBSeSSIVeS

POWER HOUSE Being an astronaut, Chang Díaz says now, helped


A chamber him to focus even more on his own vision, and it left
bigger than a him with a much stronger belief that speed was of the
school bus
essence to get to Mars and beyond. “Believe me,” he says,
houses a
prototype of the “nobody will want to sit around in a spacecraft for six to
Vasimr engine. eight months if you know you can get there faster.”
Firing the In many ways, Chang Díaz sees long-range space
engine is costly, travel as the ultimate solution to the ultimate problem.
so scientists The human race, he argues, will one day inevitably
often rely on conclude that it has to live elsewhere in order to sur-
an engine vive. It is also very possible, Chang Díaz concludes, that
simulator
as resources dry up on Earth, other, potentially more
[bottom right]
to refine their profitable ones may be out there in the cosmos—some-
designs. thing vastly more useful for batteries than lithium,
perhaps, or for conductivity than copper.
“Whether we’ll find gold or riches or something we
can’t even imagine,” he says, “we’ll never know until
we arrive there to find out. I really don’t even see Mars
as the end point; I see it as more of a waypoint. We’ll
open up the entire solar system. Someday we’ll find life
out there, and everything will change.”
Chang Díaz compares space exploration as it
has been practiced thus far to exploration as it was
practiced in the early years of the American frontier,
when Lewis and Clark’s government-backed expedition
brought back a trove of knowledge about the American
West. The next phase, he believes, will be much more
like the era of growth in the mid-1800s, when private
railroads and mining outfits, helped along by land mission in which the descent capsule had landed in
grants and other government aid, opened the West to the midst of a blizzard, and it took rescuers 48 hours to
epic expansion and settlement. reach it. From now on, the Russians told him, all Soyuz
But, he says, space exploration isn’t simply a crew must train for those conditions.
question of national achievement anymore. “We no That’s a bit much, Chang Díaz remembers thinking.
longer have a big confrontation between the U.S. and “Why wouldn’t I just delay the reentry by a moment
the Soviets,” he says. “It’s totally different now. We and land in Fiji, or the Indian Ocean, or somewhere
all need each other to make this work.” He hopes U.S. else warm and pleasant?” But that was the assignment,
citizens will be involved, but even that is by no means and so the trio sat in full flight gear inside a half-buried
certain. “Countries like Brazil, India, China, some in capsule as engineers heated up the exterior to reentry
Europe—there’s a lot of the same chemistry that the temperatures with a blowtorch. “It was a sauna,” he says.
U.S. was feeling, say, 50 or 100 years ago. It’s a new The crew then had to remove their suits and don
club of developers.” survival gear. The capsule was so tight that the process
To hear Chang Díaz describe it, we’re on the verge took the better part of a day, with each astronaut taking
of a shift from a nationalistic march toward dominance turns being helped out of one suit and into the other.
to a much more open and improvisational approach Finally, they emerged into blinding snow and looked at
to innovation. If that’s true, it’s worth noting that he their manual, which told them to build a shelter. Chang
emerged from 25 years at NASA with his sense of Díaz rolls his eyes at the memory.
improvisation intact. Turning to his freezing teammates, he told them to
In 2000, as part of a joint American-Russian gather up the capsule’s parachute silk. His father-in-law,
survival-training program for crews visiting the ISS, during hunting trips in Montana, had taught him how
Chang Díaz flew 60 miles west of Moscow for a round to build a winter teepee. With the trunks of nearby
of practice drills. The instructors informed him and his birch trees and the silk, he improvised. Half an hour
two fellow crew members—Kalpana Chawla, killed in later, he had a fire burning inside, and in short order the
2003 aboard the space shuttle Columbia, and a Russian three were sitting in their socks, dry and comfortable.
cosmonaut that Chang Díaz describes as being physi- Soon a face poked through the flap. The Russians,
cally much bigger than both of them—that they would watching from a ridge through binoculars, wanted
need to simulate a mishap that had befallen an earlier to know what was going on. A teepee was not in any

54 pOpular ScIence NoVEMBER 2010

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THE FASTEST
Superconducting magnets
MARS ROCKET
The Vasimr rocket uses an
enduring electrical source,
such as a nuclear reactor or a
solar generator, to transform
hydrogen gas into plasma.
Powerful magnets force the
plasma out of the engine
to propel the rocket
at 123,000 mph.

Hydrogen tank

Hydrogen gas Plasma

Plasma jet

“MARS IS MORE OF A WAYPOINT. WE’LL


OPEN UP THE ENTIRE SOLAR SYSTEM.
SOMEDAY WE’LL FIND LIFE OUT THERE.”
manual. Was everyone all right? The crew smiled. dangers of liftoff. Plasma engines depend on the vacu-
We’re fine, Chang Díaz told them. You look so cold. um of space and still require “venerable chemical rock-
Come on in. So the observers joined them, sat down, ets,” as Chang Díaz calls them, to reach Earth orbit. But
doffed their jackets, and sipped tea. outer space is where his work stands to vastly improve
the safety of a crew. As he points out, a lot can go wrong
THE CHALLENGE en route to another planet. The limitation of space
Chang Díaz, of all people, knows how hard it is to travel with a conventional rocket is that the rocket must
return safely to Earth. His career was bookended by use its entire fuel supply at once in a single, controlled
death—death that could have been his own but for the explosion to reach Earth orbit. It then coasts along at
routine tweaks of NASA’s scheduling log. The agency a mostly uniform speed until it enters Mars’s gravity.
decided to pull him off his first scheduled mission NASA estimates that such a trip would take about seven
on the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and put him months. During that time, Chang Díaz explains, there
on the mission just before instead. Sixteen days later, is no abort procedure. The ship cannot change course.
newly returned to Earth, he watched his close friends If an accident occurs, Earth would be watching, in a
DANIEL SCHUMPERT/JASON BRINEY

and colleagues perish when Challenger exploded 73 10-minute communications delay, the slow death of the
seconds after takeoff. He went on to fly a total of seven crew. “Chemical rockets are not going to get us to Mars,”
missions between 1986 and 2002—he’s tied for the he says flatly. “It’s just too long a trip.”
all-time record among astronauts—and logged 1,601 A plasma rocket like Vasimr, on the other hand,
hours beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Then, a few months sustains propulsion over the entire journey. It ac-
after his final mission, Columbia broke apart during celerates gradually, reaching a maximum speed of
reentry, killing all seven people aboard. 34 miles per second over 23 days. That’s at least four
Chang Díaz’s invention will do little to reduce the times as fast as any chemical [continued oN page 102]

PoPSCI.CoM pOpular ScIence 55


FielDWorK

overfished

56 POPULAR SCIENCE noVeMBer 2010

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SUSTAINABLE

By Laura Allen photographs by john b. carnett


FielDWorK

1. identification
Last May, I visited a sushi restaurant in Manhattan with Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, a
biologist at the American Museum of Natural History, to learn what scientists can do to
protect endangered animals—in this case, bluefin tuna. Some species of bluefin have been
fished to near extinction, and many sushi restaurants still serve those species, but on the day
of our visit the menu identified the neat rectangles on our plate—trimmed of eyes, skin and
other identifying features—simply as “tuna,” “fatty tuna” or “medium fatty tuna.” They could
have been just about anything. The logical first step to protecting tuna, it seems, is to identify
it, and to that end Kolokotronis and his colleagues have developed a lab test that would,
within a few days, reveal our meal’s true identity. “You need just this little bit here,” he said,
prodding the ruby-colored muscle with his chopsticks. “This contains a lot of DNA. But we’ll
take more, just in case.”
As I ate, Kolokotronis laid out the larger scheme. and better data about what people are eating might
His hope was that someday the museum’s genetic raise public awareness and help governments take
techniques could be simplified to the point that concrete steps to regulate trade. Certainly I came to
concerned consumers would be able to use an regret my own meal, delicious though it was, when
inexpensive handheld device to identify any number Kolokotronis e-mailed a few days later with the test
of the hundreds of rare animals that might wind up results. The three samples of generic tuna that I had
on their table or in their shopping bag. His mentor, ordered were all Thunnus thynnus, better known as
George Amato, who directs the museum’s Sackler Atlantic bluefin, the population of which has declined
Institute of Comparative Genomics, has also led by up to 80 percent since 1950.
the development of similar means to identify lion, But identifying what is on the plate will not in itself
monkey and whale meat, not to mention pills made protect endangered animals. After all, many people
from seal bones and even crocodile-skin boots. That will want to authenticate bluefin, or monkey meat, or
knowledge could be transformative. “Sushi is one of whale, or something else precisely so they can eat it.
my favorite things to eat, but the tuna project has When representatives gathered in Doha, Qatar, this
totally changed my perception,” Kolokotronis said. March for the latest CITES conference, they voted
“I started asking, ‘What am I eating?’ And then I on, among other things, whether to ban the trade
refrained from eating bluefin, period.” of Atlantic bluefin. “The CITES proposal for bluefin
Such methods have already proven useful. Even named the new genetic methods as essential for
skilled taxonomists and caviar dealers, for instance, enforcement,” Amato says. Identification was helping.
were unable to identify the real contents of unlabeled But Japan, which consumes 80 percent of the world’s
tins of caviar until the mid-1990s, when scientists at bluefin catch, successfully lobbied against the ban
the museum developed an early genetic forensic tool with what apparently amounted to an even stronger
that could identify different types of sturgeon from argument—a ban would damage exporters’ economies.
DNA markers in their eggs. When they used the new Most conservationists expect that the Atlantic
test to survey gourmet shops in New York City, they bluefin trade will eventually face stricter regulation,
discovered that a quarter of all caviar was mislabeled. but trade in the fish will probably continue, especially
The result was an enlightening consumer story, and as prices for the newly forbidden items spike. Then
it laid the groundwork for researchers at the U.S. Fish  DRESSED the question will be how to keep endangered species
TO KILL
and Wildlife Service’s forensic laboratory in Ashland, from reaching consumers in the first place. For that,
preCeDinG paGes, tYpe treatment: Jon Valk

Skulls and
Oregon, to develop their own DNA identification tests, pelts from scientists are developing even more advanced methods
which in turn made possible a far more important protected that will identify not just what kind of animal is at
outcome. In 1997, drawing on this newly available species, hand, but where the animal was captured. In the
means of enforcing trade restrictions, the parties to the including future, even the smallest, most processed animal
United Nations Convention on the International Trade a $15,000 fragment—a snippet of tanned leather, say, or a speck
in Endangered Species, or CITES, voted to regulate the shawl of bone—could lead authorities back to its source. This
trade of all endangered sturgeon. from an ability to draw so much data from such ambiguous
endangered
As I finished my own possibly endangered meal, Tibetan
material, scientists say, is critical to enforcing existing
Kolokotronis explained that he hoped the fight to antelope laws, enacting new ones and, ultimately, to keeping
protect bluefin might undergo a similar process: More imperiled species from extinction.

58 popular science NOVEMBER 2010

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F CATCH An
inspection
room at a
U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Ser-
vices facility.

F EXAMINE
The majority
of the world’s
caviar comes
from the
Caspian
Sea, where
sturgeon
are critically
overfished.

F TEST
Unidentified
chunks of
frozen meat
await DNA
testing.
CloCkwise from top: laura allen; John B. Carnett (2); laura allen

“often we’ll see


bushmeat smuggled
at the bottom of a
shipment of smoked
fish. it’s so hacked
up that we can’t
tell what species
was killed.”
POPSCI.COM popular science 59
how to id
wildlife
contRaband
 FOOD
when presented with a suspect A hunter in
a wetland
item, such as a chess piece that
reserve in
looks like ivory, forensic scientists the Republic
ask two main questions: What is it, of Congo
and where did it come from? captures a
Different types of DNA can rare dwarf
reveal the answers. crocodile.
Poachers
prize the
WHAT IS IT? animal for
its meat,
not its hide,
dna analYsis To determine whether the item was derived which is hard
from an endangered species, scientists probe genes found in the like armor.
mitochondria of every cell.

the baRcode
One gene harbors
a DNA sequence of
just 650 units, called a DNA barcode,  FASHION
that’s unique for most species. Scien- Artisans use
tists are now attempting to isolate DNA crocodile,
barcodes for every species on Earth. lizard and
snake
species with
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? softer scales

illustrations: Jim kopp; photoGraphs, from top: CourtesY mitCh eaton (4); John B. Carnett
to make
dRilling deepeR foR dna . . . handbags
But barcodes are insufficient for determin- and belts.
ing the geographic origin of a species. In
isolated animal populations, another area of
mitochondrial DNA can reveal clues about
 SCIENCE
where the species lives. But for interbreeding
Advanced
populations such as elephants, scientists methods can
must rely on yet another genetic marker. extract DNA
samples
from tanned
and heavily
. . . and deepeR still processed
skins.
DNA in the nucleus of a cell reveals more
data. Different populations have different
patterns of nuclear DNA.
Matching the pattern
in an ivory sample, for
instance, to the pattern
from elephants in the
wild can identify the origin
of the ivory.

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FielDWorK

2. interception
A significant portion of the wildlife contraband that is captured in the U.S. is captured at
John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Every day, about 80 Customs and
Border Protection staffers stationed at the airport’s cavernous International Mail Facility
examine some 650,000 parcels and decide, based on factors ranging from country of origin
to package shape, whether any of them are likely to contain drugs, weapons or forbidden
animal products. If the answer is yes, they send the packages to an “enforcement cage,”
where customs officers scan the parcels with x-ray imagers or simply open them up and
take a look. On an average day, the answer is “yes” nearly 20,000 times—20,000 packages
and 20,000 inspections. “It’s an arduous task,” said the mail facility’s chief, Bill Rivera,
when I visited there in June. “Huge.”
In cases where suspicious animal products require concern. In one case in 2006, Japanese customs officers
more scrutiny, an officer calls in wildlife inspectors confiscated 5,310 pounds of elephant ivory. The
from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service satellite facility smuggler, who claimed that the ivory was “artificial
just a few miles down the road. I met one of the marble,” was fined the equivalent of $7,500, less than
inspectors, Ryan Bessey, inside the enforcement cage one tenth of 1 percent of the ivory’s market value.
as he examined a carved, cream-colored smoking pipe. DNA evidence can lead to tougher penalties.
“A customs officer believed it to be ivory,” he explained. Today, Fish and Wildlife inspectors at U.S. ports send
Bessey pointed out that the pipe lacked ivory’s dentine detained caviar samples to the Ashland lab for DNA
lines and telltale heft, and concluded instead that it confirmation. In one case, customs officers inspecting
was made of stone. But such determinations are rarely tins packed among a shipment of dried fish discovered
this easy. “Often we’ll see bushmeat smuggled at the 1,700 pounds of roe. Scientists later traced the roe
bottom of a cargo shipment of smoked fish,” Bessey to three species of Caspian sturgeon, putting the
said. “Sometimes the meat is hacked up into such small shipment’s value at $2.5 million. A judge sentenced
pieces that you can’t tell what species was killed.” the perpetrator, a Russian exporter, to 27 months in
Just 10 Fish and Wildlife inspectors cover all of prison. Since DNA testing, says John Sellar, the chief of
JFK airport, and only 100 such inspectors serve the enforcement assistance at CITES, “most of the caviar
whole country, but they have managed to gather an criminals said, ‘Forget the U.S. as a market anymore.’ ”
impressive collection of specimens. When I stopped Yet wildlife laws are becoming more complex, and
by the agency’s office, Paul Cerniglia, a supervisory so too must the DNA tests that enforce them. A portable
inspector, led me to a tidy room where inspectors keep device to identify species will help, but the bigger
hundreds of seized animal products “on file” to help challenge for scientists is determining the geographic
them identify suspect goods. He opened one cabinet origin of a species. An animal in one area of the world
full of reptile-skin handbags and then another of caviar may be protected, while the same species living in
tins and ivory statuettes. A nearby wardrobe was hung another part of the world may not. “We have more and
neatly with furs and skins, and on a stainless-steel shelf more laws on the books, especially those that protect
an elephant-foot stool was topped with a zebra-hide specific populations,” Cerniglia said as he locked the fur
cushion. “If it can be made, it’s here,” Cerniglia said. wardrobe. “That’s the direction we need the DNA to go
The trade in protected species is lucrative. in: beyond species and subspecies—local populations.”
According to a 2008 Congressional report, the global

as the laws pRotecting


black market may be worth more than $20 billion a
year. Cerniglia pointed at a shelf of mounted birds,

endangeRed species
tortoises and antlers. “Those trophies are worth
$35,000 each,” he said. A pound of rhino horn,

become moRe compleX,


which practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine
prescribe for fever, gout and other maladies, can fetch

so too must the dna


$22,000. Yet perpetrators are seldom caught and
rarely punished. In the U.S., Cerniglia said, inspectors
typically confiscate violators’ items and exact no further
penalty. The Fish and Wildlife Service prosecutes just tests ReQuiRed to
10,000 violations annually, and most cases are settled
before trial. Other countries demonstrate even less enfoRce them.
POPSCI.COM popular science 61
FielDWorK

3. prevention
To better understand how scientists are attempting to trace contraband animal products
back to their source, I invited Kolokotronis to another meal, this time with more guests.
Joining us would be Demian Chapman, a geneticist at the Institute for Ocean Conservation
Science at Stony Brook University, and his wife, Debra Abercrombie, a fisheries consultant.
We met at Congee Bowery, one of the dozens of restaurants in Manhattan that serve shark-
fin soup. As we crowded around a table, Chapman explained that demand for the soup
threatens several dozen of the more than 400 species of sharks, which, like bluefin tuna,
remain largely unprotected. Regulating the industry, he said, requires legislation at the
source—where the sharks are pulled out of the water. “The problem with the shark-fin trade
is that so many different countries are participating,” Chapman said, picking up his menu.
“Anyone can do whatever they want. It’s a Wild West show.”
Glancing around the dining room, I spotted a stuffed into even shorter fragments. Chapman and Kolokotronis
 TESTERS
deer and a net bulging with plastic fish. On display From left:
were eager to see if their techniques were good enough
inside a clear case was a pair of dried, bone-colored shark Shark expert to isolate the DNA from such heavily degraded samples.
fins the size of banquet platters. “Those are probably Demian Kolokotronis transferred a limp fin sample into a baggie
worth 15 grand,” Chapman said. Abercrombie identified Chapman. as I gingerly tried a few spoonfuls. The needles were
them in seconds: “basking shark.” Sergios- almost crunchy. “I just don’t see the hype,” Kolokotronis
We ordered a $40 bowl of “Braised Supreme Shark Orestis said after he nibbled a piece. I offered a taste to the shark
Fin in Broth.” Shark fin is mostly cartilage, which swells Kolokotronis scientists, who had ordered the General Tso’s chicken
and George
and separates into needle-like strands when cooked. instead, and they politely declined.
Amato
Finding usable DNA in hot soup would be challenging. extracting As we picked at our fins, Chapman explained his
The main genetic marker for species identification, DNA from method for pinpointing shark origins. Every species
which scientists refer to as a DNA barcode, is only 650 sushi samples has a unique DNA barcode, but other genetic markers
nucleotides long, and cooking can break that marker can reveal regional variations—the genetic equivalent
of a ZIP code. Step one was to perfect a test that could

i oRdeRed a $40 bowl of identify the species, even in fins that had been cut, dried,
and boiled. Step two was to identify the shark’s genetic

shaRk-fin soup. the scientist ZIP code. And the final step—a multiyear endeavor—
was to develop a DNA database of sharks in the wild,

tRansfeRRed a limp fin into a map whereby scientists could compare sample data
against known regional characteristics and make a

a baggie as i gingeRlY tRied a determination. Accurate geographic data could help


authorities intercept the hunters and ensure that trade in

spoonful. it was almost cRunchY. certain regions was sustainable.


Owing to the remarkable breakthrough of one of

62 popular science NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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FielDWorK

Chapman’s colleagues, a fisheries back to where the elephants were


scientist named Shelley Clarke, killed. They were able to show,
the technique has already given for instance, that a 2002 seizure
scientists a better picture of of 532 large tusks and 42,000
the market for shark fins. In hankos (ivory seals used in China
2001, when Clarke was living in and Japan) came from protected
Hong Kong near the fish market elephants in Zambia, Mozambique
that sold more than half of the and Angola. The group also found
world’s shark fins, she convinced that 1,094 tusks seized in Taiwan
the market’s major shark-fin and Hong Kong in 2006 were
traders to let her snip nearly poached from game reserves in
600 samples of their product. Tanzania and Mozambique. The
(“It was amazing that I got the findings have already enabled
access that I did,” she wrote in an  EVIDENCE multiple prosecutions, including the
e-mail, “given the value of the product, the fact that Samuel 2009 arrest of six officials from Tanzanian customs who
Wasser
I didn’t pay for any samples, and that the shark-fin examines a
accepted bribes from the smugglers.
traders are known for being closed and secretive.”) piece of ivory Biologist Samuel Wasser, the center’s director,
DNA tests revealed that the majority of Clarke’s cut from the says that such “preventative forensics” techniques are
shark fins derived from overfished blue shark. But base of the allowing authorities not only to track the methods of a
Chapman said he was particularly interested in the small elephant’s sophisticated organized trade but to focus scarce anti-
group identified as scalloped hammerhead shark, an tusk. poaching resources across a vast continent. “We try to
endangered species that lives worldwide and is among get the data to allow law enforcement to be in the right
the most prized in the fin trade. So he drilled deep into place and at the right time,” he says, “so they can get the
the Hong Kong samples, located their unique regional evidence they need to convict poachers and dealers.”
markers, and matched them to a reference map. His New forensic tools are also helping to preserve
results showed that that one fourth of the scalloped existing protections for elephants. At the CITES
hammerhead fins came from sharks in the western conference in March, representatives from Zambia and
Atlantic, where ecological surveys reveal a 75 to 80 Tanzania petitioned to suspend the 1989 elephant-trade
percent decline since 1972. Chapman could even specify ban in order to sell off national stockpiles of ivory.
the exact regions of the sharks’ capture, such as in the Wasser presented his DNA-derived geographic data that
Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Brazil. seriously challenged the representatives’ assertions that
The species in my soup bowl proved to be a tougher their elephants were safe from poaching. CITES voted
challenge. The first step—species identification—was to uphold the ban.
difficult yet doable. Chapman reported an extremely But shark conservationists were less successful at
weak DNA signal, and Kolokotronis had to run his CITES this year. The representatives narrowly rejected a
procedure several times, but both scientists produced proposal to regulate scalloped hammerheads and other
the same results: Prionace glauca, the near-threatened species with look-alike fins. China and Japan led the
blue shark. Unfortunately, the last two steps necessary dissent, Chapman says, arguing that the fins are difficult
to determine P. glauca’s geographic origin are not yet to tell apart, despite the recent advances.
possible. Scientists have only just begun to establish a He acknowledges that genetic data alone can’t
DNA reference map for blue shark. “Since blue sharks solve the demand problem. “The technology is not the
are highly mobile, finding distinguishing markers limitation,” he says. “The barrier is the political will to
for populations is much more challenging than for actually impose the policies that would allow more
hammerheads,” Chapman says. sampling in the wholesale markets and regulation of
The reference maps for sharks need more time, fisheries. We have the tools to build the house, but in
but geographic tracing is already exposing countries reality, we don’t have the building permit.”
that are lax about protecting other rare animals from
trade, and in some cases the technique is even helping
authorities arrest poachers. Scientists at the University Laura Allen is the editorial producer for Science Bulletins,
CourtesY samuel k. wasser

of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology are a multimedia exhibition program at the American
using geographic tracing to track massive ivory seizures Museum of Natural History.

“technologY is not the limitation,” chapman saYs. “the baRRieR


is the political will to actuallY impose the policies.”
64 popular science NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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HOW IT WORKS
STAY COOL To trap and cool
strontium atoms, a single laser
beam is split into six, each
taking a different path until
they meet in the center of the
clock’s vacuum chamber.

PERFECT TIMING
How physicists use strontium to slice a second into thinner slivers

For most of history, people have divided the is based on the measurements of some 250 atomic clocks
Earth’s motion around the sun into finer and finer units in calibrated to the cesium atom, which oscillates at slightly more
pursuit of more accurate timekeeping. In 1967, humanity than nine billion times a second. That sounds pretty precise, but
officially adopted a new method: counting atomic oscillations. physicists at JILA and the National Institute of Standards and
Specifically, this means measuring the frequency of the photons Technology, both in Boulder, Colorado, want to do even better.
absorbed or emitted by an atom’s electrons as those electrons One idea is to replace cesium atoms with strontium atoms,
gain or lose energy. These photons oscillate as reliably as Earth which oscillate 430 trillion times a second. Here’s how physicists
orbits the sun, but at much higher frequencies than once a cool and trap the strontium atoms and how they count the
year. The current international standard for defining a second “ticks” of those atoms’ electrons.—Erika Villani

SHORTEST TIME INTERVAL EVER MEASURED: 20 ATTOSECONDS That’s the lag time
between two electrons successively breaking loose from a neon atom. A team of physicists
KEVIN HAND

timed the phenomenon in June. An attosecond is one billionth of one billionth of a second.

66 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010

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WHAT MAKES ATOMS TICK Why So


Precise?
CELLPHONES
To accurately relay data, mobile-
phone networks must be synch-
ronized to a variation of no more
than one millionth of a second per
day. This is why most cell stations
are equipped with their own atomic
clocks. Without perfect timing,
conversations would be garbled.

GLOBAL
POSITIONING SYSTEM
1. COLD 2. CONFINEMENT GPS relies on a network of 24
Physicists send strontium atoms After cooling the atoms, physicists satellites, each carrying multiple
into a vacuum chamber and fire must prevent them from running atomic clocks. The clocks allow the
two different lasers at them in into each other, which can change satellites to send out precisely time-
succession. The lasers gather the the atoms’ oscillation frequency stamped signals to GPS receivers,
atoms into a group, herding them and thus limit the accuracy of which then calculate how long it
like sheepdogs. This restricts the the clock. To do so, the scientists took for the signal to reach them.
atoms’ physical motion, cooling organize some 2,000 of the atoms The more precise the timestamps,
them to just a few millionths of into groups of about 30 using a the more accurately your GPS device
a degree above absolute zero. lattice of light from a third laser. can pinpoint its position on Earth.

THE MARCH OF TIME


CESIUM CLOCK
Uses microwaves to excite cesium atoms.
Accuracy Gains or loses one second every
100 million years.
Oscillations per second 9 billion
Number of atoms 10 million

STRONTIUM CLOCK
Uses lasers to excite strontium atoms.
Accuracy Gains or loses one second
every 300 million years.
Oscillations per second 430 trillion
Number of atoms 2,000

QUANTUM LOGIC CLOCK


Uses lasers to excite an aluminum atom,
then a beryllium atom reports that excitation.
3. EXCITEMENT 4. MEASUREMENT Accuracy Gains or loses one second every
Scientists fire the clock laser, Scientists determine the laser’s 3.7 billion years.
which excites the electrons in frequency using a device called Oscillations per second 1.1 quadrillion
the strontium atoms. The closer an optical-frequency comb, which Number of atoms 2
the clock laser’s frequency combines a spectrum of known
gets to strontium’s oscillation frequencies with the clock laser, MERCURY ION CLOCK
frequency, the more atoms it to create a third, easily measured Uses lasers to excite a single mercury ion.
will excite. When most of the signal. The clock laser’s frequency Accuracy Gains or loses one second in a
strontium atoms are excited, it during optimal operation is about billion years.
indicates that the clock laser is 430 trillion cycles per second, Oscillations per second 40.5 billion
firing at the correct frequency meaning that the strontium clock Number of atoms 1
and is ready to be measured. “ticks” 430 trillion times a second.

POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 67


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PoPSci’S Youth isn’t always wasted on the young. was 24. This year’s Brilliant 10 honorees

9TH
Marie Curie received two Nobel prizes join their illustrious ranks. Whether by
before she turned 45. Francis Crick was 37 virtue of their fresh perspective, their
and James Watson only 25 when they first youthful energy or the simple desire
described the structure of DNA. Werner every kid has to mess with stuff, these

AnnUAL
Heisenberg began to develop quantum researchers have always been the sort of
mechanics—revising centuries of fuddy- minds that improve our world.
duddy physics in the process—when he After all, they’ll inherit it.

BRILLIANT
PHoTogRAPHS By JoHn B. cARnETT

popsci.coM noVeMBer
pOpsCI.COM POPULAR
2010popular science 69
SCIENCE69
BRILLIANT10

PUPPET MASTER
Brilliant because: Her work could put lifelike physical feedback not just into videogames,
but into online shopping and the instruments used to perform remote surgery
Name: Subjects are screaming in Katherine and re-creates that interaction in a consumer product.
Kuchenbecker’s lab; they feel as if they’ve been shot. Rather than a blunted set of Nerf-like sensations, the
Katherine
Kuchenbecker is testing a vest that she and her students process gives rise to a deep tactile vocabulary.
Kuchenbecker designed to make videogames and military training more Lifelike haptography could change medicine.
AGE: 32 immersive. To simulate a bullet impact, the vest launches Kuchenbecker’s father was a surgeon. “In my dad’s day,
Field: an actuator-controlled plunger called a solenoid into there wasn’t virtual surgery,” she says. “You learned by
Haptography the unlucky gamer’s skin where a bullet would have practicing on real patients. That’s risky and stressful.”
penetrated. “People jump out of their chairs,” she says. But virtual surgery is still too clumsy, in Kuchenbecker’s
affiliation:
“Crossing that barrier from the screen to your body view. Surgeons operating with the da Vinci robotic
University of makes the experience so much more real.” surgical system—used in place of open surgery all
Pennsylvania Kuchenbecker built her career on making things feel over the world—today receive mainly visual feedback,
real. Her dream is to help make haptics, the science of and only the gentlest physical response. So last year,
incorporating touch into human-computer interaction, as Kuchenbecker designed VerroTouch, a device that
convincing as photography. At the moment, however, the measures the vibrations produced by touching flesh and
field is still immature. With even the best available haptic reproduces them in da Vinci tools. Early results suggest
interfaces (like the Phantom system by SensAble, through that surgeons using VerroTouch do more delicate work.
which users can “touch” virtual objects), “everything Kuchenbecker believes haptography could someday
feels soft and squishy,” she says. “We call it Nerf World.” capture the feel of archaeological artifacts, establishing
To better match haptic feedback to reality’s sharp edges, a haptic “fingerprint” alongside other identifying
Kuchenbecker captures tactile information using a tool characteristics, or could give online buyers the chance to
outfitted with accelerometers and other sensors. As the “touch” merchandise remotely. In the end, her work could
tool crosses a surface, it records the forces encountered. close the gap between simulation and reality for us all.
She then creates a mathematical model of the interaction —MELINDA WENNER MOYER

nAno-RAngER
Brilliant because: He by better amplifying light. And since light travels make a digital 3-D image of the structure.
more quickly than electrons, such crystals could “That’s when we discovered the beetles make
discovered the secret someday enable the first ultrafast, light-based a diamond-shaped photonic crystal,” he says—
to ultrafast computing computers. Sounds great, right? But no one has one that manipulates visible light.
been able to make diamond-based crystals Using a replica of the beetle’s scales,
in the shell of a beetle composed of patterns small enough to interact Bartl is now working to build a diamond
with visible light’s short wavelengths. nanostructure using molecular self-assembly
Name: Michael Bartl’s office is overrun with One day in 2006, as Bartl was trying—and so that it can be easily mass-produced in a
Michael Bartl dead beetles. They’re not the remains of an failing—to synthesize a photonic crystal suitable material. Bartl, a calm and soft-spoken
AGE: 37 infestation. The green corpses of Lamprocyphus in his lab, he got an e-mail from a local Austrian, is the sort that seeks out difficult
FIELD:
augustus, native to Brazil, led Bartl to one of the high-school student who had looked him up challenges. (He’s an avid runner. In 2004 a half-
most sought-after crystals in optical science. online and hoped to use his scanning light marathon in Santa Barbara involved a climb of
Materials Since the late 1980s, physicists have microscope for her science-fair project, a nearly 4,000 feet, and a 1999 race took him up
chemistry dreamed of building a so-called ideal study of the nanoscale structure of beetle an Austrian mountain.) He just didn’t expect he
affiliation: photonic crystal, a diamond-shaped repeating shells. When she showed him L. augustus, he would be using nature to meet them. He thinks
University nanostructure they could use to manipulate the saw immediately that its scales were exactly the insect world may hold the key to other
CouRTESY AdITI RISBud

of Utah behavior of light. Scientists have only been able the same color from every angle, a sign that breakthroughs, so he is studying the scales of
to make one that controls infrared light. Crystals they were manipulating visible light from other types of exotic beetles. “The more you
that use visible light instead could make solar all angles. That moment changed his career. look at these biological structures,” he says,
cells more efficient by capturing additional He dropped everything to study the insect’s “the more you find out how amazing they are.”
photons or could make for more-powerful lasers scales, assembling images of thin slices to —M.w.m.

70 popular science NOVEMBER 2010

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OH WHAT A FEELING Katherine


Kuchenbecker with her feedback-
enabled upgrades of da Vinci
virtual-surgery robotic tools

kuchenbecker’s dream is to make the science of


caPturinG touch as convincinG as PhotoGraPhy.
BRILLIANT10

cELL TRAcKER
Brilliant because: With his ability to analyze individual cells over time, he’s learning which
ones make for good drugs, which cause allergies, and which cure disease
Name: NEED TO CONDUCT multiple experiments on a single using his imprinting technique, Love discovered
cell over time? Too bad. At the cellular level, we just have that immunologists evaluating an HIV treatment’s
christopher
a wide-angle view, because the tools currently available effectiveness on individual patients were often looking
Love to biologists show only whole cell populations at once. at the wrong indicators, and he is now helping to develop
AGE: 33 But much like people, individual cells behave differently, a better test. He also found a new method of analyzing
FIELD: and each one can change the fate of many others. So the telltale markers that immune cells release in the
Immunology Christopher Love, as a chemist-turned-immunologist, presence of a food allergen. This could lead to better
has developed a technique to zero in on an individual allergy tests, which are otherwise inaccurate about a
affiliation:
cell. His goal, he says, is to “take a picture of it, ask who quarter of the time.
Massachusetts it is.” Spotting a cell’s unique quirks over time could But Love’s work isn’t focused solely on humans.
Institute of solve long-standing medical mysteries: how the immune In March he uncovered a curious property of yeast.
Technology system responds to HIV infection, what methods doctors Many pharmaceutical companies use it to produce
should use to diagnose deadly allergies, and why drug protein-based drugs like growth factors and antibodies.
production is so inconsistent, and thus so expensive. Although the populations of yeast they use are
For decades, biologists who wanted to know what genetically identical, the cells don’t behave like it;
proteins a single cell was producing got just one shot, Love found that while certain yeast cells secrete large
because the standard tests kill the cell. Love’s method amounts of a desired compound, others make nothing at
can track a cell’s secretions over time. He takes the all. He is now seeking to understand what causes these
equivalent of an ice-cube tray and fills each well with discrepancies in the hopes of improving yield, which
one or two living immune cells. over the course of an could bring down the price of some drugs significantly.
hour, he blots the cells with a material that captures the As he has shown, the world is a nuanced place, and
chemicals they have released. Repeated over time, the every individual—whether immune cell or yeast—has
process can identify the secretions and how they change. something to say.—M.w.m.

oUTBREAK SLEUTH
Brilliant because: His skills as a string theorist pinpoint the source of a mysterious disease
that was killing off farmed Atlantic salmon in
helped him trace swine flu back to swine and Norway. Using a mathematical tool he pioneered
revealed the source of a mysterious salmon plague called Frequency Analysis of Sequence Data,
he and the other researchers looked for RNA
Name: Raul Rabadan hunts deadly viruses, but he genetic mutations to sequences in heart and kidney samples taken
Raul Rabadan has no need for biohazard suits. His work does the past few months, from the fish, eventually finding evidence of a
AGE: 35 not bring him to far-flung jungles. He’s neither Rabadan compared H1N1 with the DNA of tens of previously unknown virus. The research could
FIELD: medical doctor nor epidemiologist. He’s a thousands of influenza samples dating back to lead to a vaccine to prevent future outbreaks
Computational theoretical physicist with expertise in string 1918. In this way he was able to confirm swine and preserve an important food source. “There
theory and black holes, and he cracks microbial flu’s origin in pigs, not birds or humans, as are so many unknown viruses out there,”
biology mysteries in much the same way he once other scientists had theorized. More important, Rabadan says. “It’s fascinating.”
affiliation:
tried to decode the secrets of the universe: He his work revealed swine to be a dangerous A native of Spain and a former theoretical
Columbia follows the numbers. yet underestimated breeding ground for new physicist at the European Organization for
University
CouRTESY BENoIT MARCoTTE

Take swine flu. When the frightening influenza strains. H1N1, the data showed, had Nuclear Research in Switzerland, Rabadan has
influenza strain H1N1 began sweeping the been circulating in swine for 10 years. As a no regrets about his career change. He enjoyed
nation last year, Rabadan and his team at result, public health officials are now tightening physics, he says, but takes more satisfaction
Columbia University’s Center for Computational surveillance for disease among pigs. in the practical applications of computational
Biology designed algorithms to search massive Rabadan’s computational methods biology. “I love physics, I love solving problems,
data sets for clues as to its origin. Whereas are in demand. In May he was tapped by an but I think biology can have a bigger, more
most other flu experts limited their search for international team of researchers to help immediate impact.”—Nicole Dyer

72 popular science NOVEMBER 2010

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LoVE’S
TEcHniQUE
cAn TRAcK
GROUP THERAPIST
Christopher Love showing A cELL oVER
an image of the material
he uses to observe the TiME. THERE
USEd To BE
chemical secretions
of cells

onLy onE SHoT.


MANIPULATIVE Spielman’s
experiments could make
quantum computers possible.

SEnSoR gURU
Brilliant because: His sensors could help automate everything from therapy to police work
FACINg PAgE: CouRTESY uNIVERSITY oF MEMPHIS

Name: Ten years ago, even though he was on the and might even help cure drug addiction. clever software. Affixed to a TV or a priceless
Santosh Kumar fast track at Siemens in India, Santosh Kumar His AutoWitness system, made up of painting, it first detects motion (the software
AGE: 33 abruptly quit. Coming up with code for telecom a playing-card-size sensor and a remote can recognize the difference between theft and
FIELD: switches was not how he wanted to spend his server, tracks stolen property using cellular just rearranging the living room). If the stolen
Engineering life. Instead he moved to the U.S. to pursue signals and inexpensive components. Most item winds up in a car, the sensors periodically
a Ph.D. in computer science. He had an idea tracking systems stay connected over a report data about the car’s motion over a
affiliation:
for inexpensive, low-power wireless sensor satellite network, which makes them battery- cellular network to a remote server, along with
University of technology and how it might solve serious intensive, conspicuous and prone to signal the signal’s geographic coordinates. The server
Memphis real-world problems. His leap paid off. Now loss. Kumar’s device consists of a small circuit then text-messages the car’s last known
a professor at the University of Memphis, he board, a $1 wireless sensor, an accelerometer, location to the police. Impressed with the
develops tracking systems that can foil robbers a gyroscope, a GSM radio and some very system’s ease of use and cost-effectiveness,

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BRILLIANT10

conTRoL fREAK
Brilliant because: His manipulation of atoms
chilled to near-absolute zero could help create
high-temperature superconductors
Name: OUTSIDE HIS LAB at the Maryland campus of
ian Spielman the National Institute of Standards and Technology,
AGE: 34 physicist Ian Spielman is enthusiastically talking
FIELD: about his recently published breakthrough in atomic
Physics physics. I’m trying to keep up. His research solved
affiliation: a decade-old problem that had stumped the best
National minds in the field. He explains to me that through the
creative use of radio-frequency radiation and laser
Institute of
light, he made neutral atoms move as if they held an
Standards and electric charge, manipulated by a magnetic field that
Technology didn’t actually exist. I nod, mouth slightly ajar. What?
Basically, Spielman builds model systems that
simulate real phenomena. In this case, physicists
want to make high-temperature superconductors
or quantum computers but don’t understand the
physics involved. Spielman creates the tools to figure
it out using a state of matter called a Bose-Einstein
condensate—groups of ultra-cold rubidium atoms
that have condensed until most of them exhibit the
same quantum properties—and then controls the

SPiELMAn cREATES THE TooLS atoms’ behavior precisely using electromagnetic


radiation and lasers. Being able to control the atoms

HiS fiELd nEEdS. AMong helps reveal the physics. Here, Spielman may have
brought us closer to harnessing a poorly understood

PHySiciSTS, THE gUy’S A HERo. entity—a non-Abelian anyon—that would make what’s
known as a topological quantum computer possible.
Among physicists, the guy’s a hero.
As a teenager in New Mexico, Spielman
considered becoming a fighter pilot but instead
followed his father into physics. Jet-jockey ambitions
might seem out of place for a button-down guy
who studied physics and math at the university of
oklahoma, graduated from college and married his
the police departments in Memphis and nearby stress and girlfriend on the same day, and moved to Pasadena
Jackson, Tennessee, have asked Kumar for self-destructive to pursue a doctorate in condensed-matter physics.
AutoWitness units to test this fall. behavior and But when Spielman discusses his work, it is apparent
His latest invention is AutoSense, a anticipate when the that he has a rich vein of inner crazy, hammering at
system, worn under clothing, for remotely addict is about to relapse, alerting him—or his physics problems in a berserk, merciless way until
monitoring stress levels. AutoSense uses a therapist—to his increased susceptibility. his lab gives up good data. “Ian accomplished twice as
chest band and an armband to track respiration, AutoWitness and AutoSense could one much as any other student could in the same amount
heart rate and blood pressure, and features day supply information to law-enforcement of time,” says Jim Eisenstein, Spielman’s former Ph.d.
an activity monitor. Software loaded onto a offcials and health-care providers that today adviser at the California Institute of Technology.
smartphone analyzes the data to reveal when requires a tremendous amount of labor to outside the lab, Spielman restricts the crazy to
an addict in treatment, for instance, is indoors, obtain. Meanwhile, Kumar is already starting to dinner. “I buy ingredients I’ve never heard of,” he says.
outdoors, speaking or smoking. Equipped with think about his next project: reducing the stress “We just got this sort of red celery—rhubarb, I now
that information, the software can identify drivers experience in traffc.—Doug Cantor know. I made a punch out of it.”—Martha Harbison

pOpsCI.COM popular science 75


BRILLIANT10

MASTER BLASTER
Brilliant because: She discovers the secrets of planets by re-creating their collisions
Name: WhAT MAKES the universe the way it is? Sarah vacuum chamber to ensure that the gun fires at 6,000
Sarah T. T. Stewart thinks she knows the answer. “It all comes miles per hour. And once they’ve pulled the trigger,
Stewart down to big things running into each other,” she says, they must rebuild everything—everything—because
AGE: 37 and space is full of battered rocks. Stewart studies their any equipment on the business end gets blown away.
FIELD: scars and shapes. A planet’s pockmarks can be used to “Our experiments are a little time-consuming and
Planetary predict its age—if it has many, it’s probably been around expensive,” she admits.
sciences for a while—and its contours can hint at what might lie Stewart loves to pulverize ice, since it was involved
affiliation: beneath the ground. “I use the way craters look,” she in so many formative planetary collisions. Last year,
Harvard explains, “to learn about the planet they’re on.” she used ice to solve a mystery: The Voyager 1 probe
Stewart credits Orson Scott Card novels such as discovered craters on Jupiter’s moons that contained
University
Ender’s Game for her early interest in space, because smaller, delicately formed craters inside them.
they highlighted “the crazy things that could exist out Scientists couldn’t explain the formations. Stewart
there.” She doesn’t just study phenomena, though; she modeled the bizarre craters, and she determined that
also makes it. In the basement of the Harvard Earth upon impact, if only for a few seconds, the surrounding
and Planetary Sciences building, Stewart re-creates ice entered another, alien phase. She deepened our
the collisions that may have shaped the solar system knowledge of these moons remotely, in essence
4.5 billion years ago using a 20-foot-long cannon. She observing another world without leaving her lab.
models hypotheses on a computer and tests them with Now she is turning her attention to large Earth-
smaller pieces of rock or ice in her lab. The process is like planets called super-Earths. Scientists don’t
not as simple as just bashing things together, however. know why some colliding planets form super-Earths
She and her graduate students spend weeks preparing while others simply break in the process. “We want
for each one-millisecond blast, building their target and to understand how to make them,” Stewart says.
mounting mirrors around it, hooking up temperature, Sometimes the best way to learn about something
optical and radiation monitors, and making a custom is to create—or destroy—it yourself.—M.w.m.

AUDIO AMPLIFIER
Brilliant because: She manipulates deposits. And she based her nonlinear over. “If we could train that point on, say, a
acoustic lens, a device that fires “sound tumor, we might be able to break it up while
simple laws of physics to make bullets,” on the principles of a simple toy. sparing more of the tissue around it than with
cancer-destroying “sound bullets” The lens works like Newton’s cradle, the today’s techniques,” she explains. She says
click-clack desktop toy that demonstrates bouncing the waves off organs—or airplane
Name: Chiara Daraio loves the pick and roll. As the law of conservation of momentum. Swing fuselages—could also create high-resolution
Chiara Daraio a former member of Italy’s junior national one ball into the others, and energy transfers images of structural imperfections. The jump
basketball team, she knows that although the neatly from one ball to the next, until the last from current ultrasound imaging to what the
AGE: 32
effect of the play is complex and devastating, ball swings away. Daraio’s lens consists of 21 lens could provide would be like going from
FIELD:
its parts are simple. It goes like this: Daraio parallel rows of 21 solid-steel pinball-size black-and-white to high-definition television.
Materials blocks a defender’s path, her teammate balls. A hammer strikes the rows at one end Daraio has fired the bullets into a
science darts past, Daraio rotates away from the of the array. That impact generates impulses hard polymer to map where in space
affiliation: pursuing defender and waits, unguarded, for that travel through each row in a wave. When their force converges. Next she’ll test
California her teammate’s quick pass and an open shot. the wave emerges from the last row, it spreads her nonlinear acoustic lens in water and,
Institute of Pick. Roll. Pass. Shoot. It’s a straightforward through the air like a ripple through a pond. perhaps someday, on human tissue. But
process with a sophisticated result. Daraio builds her sound bullets by first the lens needs upgrades. She’d like to
Technology
Daraio, an applied physicist, still focusing these waves into a defined point in replace the balls with other mediums whose
prefers the basics. She studies the elastic space by squeezing the balls in the outer rows focal point is easier to calibrate. Calibrate.
properties of nanofibers to develop together more tightly. Each wave’s energy Strike. Focus. “If you try to think simply,”
impact-absorbing foams. She identifies is relatively low, but when they combine, she says, “it’s generally going to work.”
ancient rocks by analyzing their carbon the total energy is amplified many times —Bjorn Carey

76 popular science NOVEMBER 2010

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THE LEnS WoRKS LiKE


nEWTon’S cRAdLE,
THE cLicK-cLAcK
dESKToP Toy THAT
dEMonSTRATES THE
LAW of conSERVATion
of MoMEnTUM.

SOUND EFFECTS
Chiara Daraio’s
lens, made up of
several of these
nonlinear wave
guides, produces
“sound bullets”
that could
someday break
apart tumors.
EMERGENCE Iain Couzin,
shown here with the fish
he uses to model school-
ing behavior, spots the
simple choices that pro-
duce complex results.

PATTERn MAKER
Name:
Brilliant because: He reveals the rules of groups
iain couzin simultaneously, he explains, “and that’s impos-
The shuffle of life—the wheeling of birds, the specific mechanisms whereby locusts swarm or sible for a human to observe.” As a biologist,
AGE: 36
silver flash of escaping fish—looks mystically schools of fish evade predators. he didn’t necessarily have the tools he needed
FIELD:
organized. Iain Couzin, who models collective As a child in Scotland, Couzin was fascinat- to see collective behavior, so he taught himself
Biology behavior in nature, identifies those patterns ed by animals, but with three brothers allergic to programming. “Using computer vision,” he says,
affiliation: mathematically. And he’s finding patterns that all things furry, most creatures were forbidden. “you can see the data you need.”
Princeton exist across otherwise unrelated units of life, “So I went with bugs,” he says. “They weren’t He still observes his subjects directly
University whether bugs or cancer cells. allergic to those. I kept them everywhere.” (in England, his lab contained a sort of running
Couzin, an assistant professor in the de- One night he saw a TV documentary about track for locusts, and at Princeton he maintains
partment of ecology and evolutionary biology a biologist who followed ants across Central an easy-to-photograph tank of fish where he
at Princeton University, films animal behavior America. After college, Couzin sought the star records their movements), but he gets his in-
and analyzes the footage in a computer to pin out at the University of Bath in England in pur- sights using powerful PCs and custom software.
down the collective decision-making process of suit of a Ph.D. Under that biologist—Nigel Franks, And by modeling the behaviors of a wide variety
animals, and how individuals affiect it. Since the now at the University of Bristol—ants became of organisms and then comparing those models
time of Aristotle, what we call emergence theory Couzin’s first animal-system subject. But, he in the abstract, Couzin has begun to identify
has shown that simple behaviors can produce says, “I could only observe one ant at a time.” certain fundamental principles across nature.
complex results. But Couzin is spotting the A colony of ants accomplishes multiple tasks Locusts, for example, seem to align according

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BRILLIANT10

WATER WiZARd
Brilliant because: His research could lead to
self-powered underwater devices that guide sea
creatures away from man-made hazards
What does an engineer do when he
needs insight? “I don’t think,” says Maurizio Porfiri.
“I watch an insane amount of movies.” He also
listens to the Cure, devours novels, and tends to
his tomatoes. That’s not to say Porfiri is a slacker.
He works across several fields to build underwater
Name: devices and puts in 12-hour days at the lab, but his
Maurizio best thoughts come to him while he’s relaxing.
Consider his idea for biologically inspired robots
Porfiri that might influence animal behavior in nature. “If we
AGE: 34 borrow design from nature to build our robots, why
cERTAin PATTERnS FIELD:
Engineering
not use the robots to assist nature?” says Porfiri,
who is an assistant professor at the Polytechnic
EXTEnd AcRoSS affiliation:
Polytechnic
Institute of New York university. “Can we close the
circle?” Maybe a robot fish could guide real fish
THE BEHAVioR of Institute of New
York University
away from power turbines or oil spills. drawing on
research that suggests that fish school by following

UnRELATEd UniTS of the wake of other fish, Porfiri designed his robot
to generate fishlike turbulence. An electric current

LifE, WHETHER BUgS from a battery makes a polymer in the tail expand
and contract like muscles, producing an eerily

oR cAncER cELLS. natural-looking and silent movement. This spring, he


put a biomimetic robot together with actual lab fish,
which followed it about 25 percent of the time.
“As a kid, I was always asking ‘Why this? Why
that?’ until the family would get fed up,” he says. That
curiosity led him to a doctorate in theoretical and
applied mechanics in his native Italy and, because
he wanted to work over here, an American one in
to the same principles that magnetic particles Couzin is collaborating with a University College engineering mechanics. Then he fell into a postdoc
do. In fact, he has learned that accurate predic- London researcher on cell migration. working on algorithms to control autonomous
tions about group behavior may not necessitate Most recently, Proceedings of the National submarines, and underwater applications became
much information about individuals. Locusts or Academy of Sciences accepted his paper on the his life’s work. The waters that cover about
cancer cells: It doesn’t matter what’s involved. effect of habitat disruption on animal migra- 70 percent of the Earth’s surface are basically
Gather enough of them and, Couzin’s models tion. It turns out that Couzin’s computer model unexplored. But underwater vehicle systems lag
show, they tend to behave similarly together. can identify not only group organization, but behind their surface counterparts in power (solar
As he puts it, “Biological transition from also how it falls apart. From herds of wilde- can’t be used in the deep) and communications
disorder to order seems to require only a few beests to flocks of birds, it reveals that there’s systems (Wi-Fi doesn’t exactly crank through 300
fundamental principles.” a point at which a fractured habitat disrupts feet of liquid). Porfiri’s lab could close that gap.
Couzin’s findings may have many practical migration. Here’s the bad news: “Repairing the He’s creating simple algorithms that could help
uses. Specialists from such fields as anthropol- habitat requires restoring it to a better condi- underwater robots form into schools, he’s been
ogy, medicine and zoology now regularly consult tion than it was in when the migration was investigating polymers that harvest kinetic energy
him for perspectives on their own research. abandoned,” he says. Perhaps Couzin’s work from water, and he’s designing a new robot—a
A researcher at the Massachusetts Institute will help create a corps of pattern detectors mammal-safe one, without external blades. If any of
of Technology and the Harvard Cancer Center who can finally pick out exactly what nature those things trip him up, he says, it will be time for a
brought him in to look at cancer metastasis, and was showing us all along.—jacob ward sixth viewing of Fargo.—sUsANNAH F. LOCKE

pOpsCI.COM popular science 79


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88
HOW 2.0
TIPS, TRICKS, HACKS AND DO-IT-YOURSELF PROJECTS
90 92
How stuntmen light Control your media Carry your computer
themselves on fire with free software on a thumb drive

YOU BUILT WHAT ?!

THE BIG GAME


A software engineer builds a supersize, computer-
operated chess set with robotic pieces
motors from Lego’s Mindstorms
robotics kit. If one wheel runs
forward and the other in reverse,
the base, and the one-to-two-foot-
tall piece on top of it, spins in place.
McRae, who once built a working
Lego ATM, took the lead on the
custom software. A touchscreen
PC connects the entire board via
A veteran designer of Lego robots plenty of wizardry of its own. ON TOP OF Bluetooth and can tell up to seven
HIS GAME
(he built one that plays Connect Hassenplug and his friends pieces at a time where to move.
Steve Has-
Four), Indiana programmer John Brost, Ron McRae and senplug Most of the pieces have moving
Steve Hassenplug was looking Bryan Bonahoom started with the says that parts, including the kings and
for something still grander. board. They chose standard Lego after seeing queens, which point their scepters,
When he watched the first Harry baseplates for each square and a magical and the knights, which kick their
Potter movie with his kids—the persuaded Lego to provide the chessboard in forelegs. The group found that this
one with the magic chessboard rest of the parts free as a sponsor. Harry Potter can influence gameplay—at one
and eight-foot-high knights— Hassenplug designed the robotic and the Sor-
convention, a young woman ignored
cerer’s Stone,
he knew he had found it. The bases for each piece, placing “it just kind of
a clear checkmate because she
MIKE WALKER

massive “Monsterchess” set he caster wheels in the four corners hit me that we wanted to win with her rook, which
created from more than 100,000 for balance, plus two drive wheels could do that fires a cannonball.
Lego pieces, however, required powered by separate electric with Lego.” —GREGORY MONE
[continued on next page]

NOVEMBER 2010 POPULAR SCIENCE 85


HOW 2.0 YOU BUILT WHAT ?! [continued from
preceding page]

HOW IT WORKS
TIME: 1 YEAR COST: $30,000
make. The group found software online for a chess-
playing robot and added code to make it control all 32
pieces. They also downloaded a chess engine to act as
a computer opponent and programmed a logic system
so the user interface would display only valid moves.
ROBO-PIECES When a player selects a move, the PC communicates
Aside from the pawns, the Brost-designed chess pieces with the robotic piece, and it begins to roll; the pieces
all have at least one moving part, so Hassenplug standing in its path make way. Players can take each
added a third rechargeable-battery-powered electric other on, play against the computer, or even have the
motor to the bases. Besides the rook’s cannonball, system demonstrate famous matches on its own.
the knight’s forelegs, and the king and queen’s
scepters, the bishops hold “candles” that flash with NAVIGATION
light. The queens also have different head pieces Each piece needs to know where it is on the board
(conceived by Hassenplug’s wife and her friend, and in what direction it’s facing to get to the correct
because they didn’t think two women would want to square. A compass would be unreliable, Hassenplug
dress alike). Brost modeled most of the other pieces figured, because all the electronics might disrupt it.
on standard chess designs but gave the knight a Instead he added color sensors to all the bases and
full horse’s body, which, Hassenplug says, “gets small four-color squares in the center of each space
more comments than all the others combined.” on the board. One section of those four-color squares
is the same color on every space, which allows the
GAMEPLAY robot to determine its orientation. The rest of the
Players make their moves on a simple graphic colors vary, and this information is stored in the PC.
interface, designed by the team, that shows the game- By reading these unique identifying color combina-
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HOW 2.0 GRAY MATTER

SAVING MY SKIN
Any scientist can tell you how people catch fire in
the movies. Only our columnist sets himself ablaze

There are a few perks to my job as a mad scientist, and WARNING


one of them, as I recently learned, is being able to tell
Do not try
my colleagues that I can’t attend their terribly important
this—people
meeting because I’m going to set my hand on fire.
who play
In the movies, people on fire stumble out of burning with fire get
buildings all the time. If you look closely, however, burned. This
you’ll notice that they are almost always fully dressed, stunt requires
and that they tend to keep moving. These are two professional
important factors that make the stunt much easier. training and
To function and avoid injury while on fire, you need preparation,
and still there
to put something between yourself and the flames.
are plenty of
But you can’t coat yourself with plain water because things that can
it just runs off. So stuntpeople use clothes containing go wrong.
super-absorbent polymer fibers, which keeps the
water in place (it’s pretty much the same material used
in diapers). A layer of clothes treated this way will keep
them cool for quite a while, but they have to continue
to move forward so the breeze keeps the flames out of
their uncovered face.
If a scene requires showing bare skin on fire,
stuntpeople use a special fire-protective gel
containing water, which can be applied in a smooth,
clear layer that is nearly invisible, especially when
the action is moving fast and there’s a lot of fire to
distract the viewer. To show you what it looks like up
close, I covered my hand in the gel and then painted
on some thinned-down contact cement, which
produces a very nice opaque yellow flame when lit.
Because we needed my hand to be perfectly
still for the camera, I couldn’t use any movement
to help stay cool, and my hand started to feel
pretty warm after just a few seconds—but not
before we got photographic proof that my meeting
excuse was for real!—Theodore Gray

HOT HEAD With a waterlogged hat THE HUMAN TORCH


for protection and the heat from the Sodium polyacry-
fire going up and away, Gray’s assis- late polymer in the
tant, Taylor Walker, could keep his gel on the author’s
head comfortably on fire for more hand protects it
than a minute. from the fire.
MIKE WALKER

For a video of this demonstration, go to popsci.com/graymatter.


88 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010

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metrokane.com 90 POPULAR SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2010 POPSCI.COM

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HOW 2.0 USE IT BETTER


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THE THINGS YOU NEED
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Can all the ele-
ments combine?

Q COULD WE USE
THE SOON-TO-
BE-RETIRED SPACE
SHUTTLES AS SPACE
STATIONS? Tom Scott, via e-mail

A
It seems like a good
idea; after all, not many
vessels are capable of
sustaining life in space,

NASA; INSET: iSTOCK


so why not recycle what we’ve
got? Unfortunately, the current
fleet just isn’t cut out for long-term
habitation. When NASA retires

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NEW! An easy-to-install station


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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 97


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This natural law exerts the power of life and death brings you the good news of the law of absolute
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FYI FOR THE


TOUGHEST
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Tuckerman says. “Plus, you’d need
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PLANET EARTH
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“Thermodynamics wins again,” he says.
“Things will always achieve equilibrium,
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stable compounds.”—B.C. J
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NOVEMBER 2010 POPULAR SCIENCE 101


The OBSeSSIVeS
[continued from page 55]

MARS IN 39 DAYS
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 111


FUTURE THEN
THE
FROM THE POPULAR SCIENCE ARCHIVES

JULY 1989

Mastering Mars
Just a few years after the shuttle
Challenger explosion in 1986, the
great space debate centered on
what to do next. Were manned
missions worth the risk? And if
so, where should NASA point its
rockets? Many scientists thought
the moon could be a launching
pad for interplanetary travel, but
Franklin D. Martin, an administrator
in NASA’s Office of Exploration,
was already looking to Mars. He
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body in low and artificial gravity
and envisioned sending rovers
to Mars to image the planet
and collect samples in advance
of a manned mission. He also
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including boosters with a capacity
to lift up to 100 tons. Some of
Martin’s plans have since been
realized—the first successful rover
landed on Mars in 1997—but no
See all of spaceship has yet ventured beyond
POPSCI’s 138 the moon. To see how engineer,
physicist, entrepreneur and former
years at astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz is
popsci.com/ planning to change that with his
archives. plasma engine, turn to page 50.
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