Tag Archive: technology



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Just a quick post to say that there is plenty more from Unpopular Science coming very soon (we went a little bit quiet over the holidays). But, in the meantime, have you follwed us on twitter? We’re looking to create a buzzing online community for science buffs and nerdy nature geeks alike! So, get connected and, if you want to send us any spectacular scientific facts you happen to stumble across, that would be fantastic! Just tweet us with @Unpopsci or use #SciFacts and we’ll be certain to share them for you. Below are a list of some of the crazy ones we’ve found so far:   An adult human is comprised of roughly 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (7 octillion) atoms #SciFact The first cat in space was a French cat named Felicette. In 1963, the French blasted her into outer space and she returned alive #SciFact An adult Giant Pondskater is astoundingly large; it has a body 5 cm in length and a …

Shark Teeth Weapons

Helmet from the Gilbert Islands made of porcupine fish skin. PRM 1884.32.31  Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

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Natural History Museum collections have been used for a novel study: the past biodiversity of a remote collection of Pacific coral islands. Joshua Drew from Columbia University and colleagues have just published a paper (see below) reporting on their identification of shark teeth used in weapons made by Kiribati people from the Gilbert Islands over a hundred years ago and now in the collection of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Having no metal, but a tradition of hunting the plentiful sharks, the I-Kiribati people used shark teeth to edge coconut wood weapons, both swords and fierce-looking tridents. While the team found plenty of teeth from species of sharks that still roam the local coral reefs, like tiger sharks, two species were represented that no longer exist around the Gilbert Islands, dusky and spottail sharks. The team were excited that museum collections could be used to shed light on past ecosystems, and to highlight changes in those ecosystems over time. …

All spin and no substance – the story of the neutrino, the little neutral one.


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This is the story of the neutrino (Greek letter nu ; ν), a little piece of spinning nothing (i.e. a mass;less particle, but with angular momentum) whose existence was theoretically required by the need to balance certain equations in nuclear physics. How a mass;less thing could possibly have momentum of any sort however, was a paradox which was left unaddressed for the time being, and even today, though we mostly agree that it must have some mass, it is so miniscule (even in particle physics, where things are notoriously tiny) that we have no accurate idea of what that mass might be. It was Wolfgang Pauli who, in 1930, in order to explain how beta;decay could work while conserving mass, momentum, charge and angular momentum, postulated that there must be a new;to;nuclear;physics particle involved in the reaction. Pauli tentatively called this theoretically required particle a ‘neutron.’ However, James Chadwick discovered and named the ‘real’ neutron (i. e. the particle we now know as the neutron) in 1932. Chadwick’s neutron was a …

A new spin on computing


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Spin, as anyone who has ever heard Alistair Campbell speak, is a tricky thing to figure out. Quantum spin – a property many subatomic particles have – is equally confounding, but, if understood, could lead to a powerful new breed of computer technology called spintronics. Despite its name, quantum spin does not actually refer to a rotating ball such as the Earth. “The electron is not physically spinning around but it has a magnetic north pole and a magnetic south pole,” says Professor Philippe Jacquod, a researcher in spintronics at the University of Arizona. “Its spin depends on which pole is pointing up. It can point in either of two directions which we usually term up and down.” This property has aroused the attentions of computer engineers who recognise the similarity with traditional electronics, which use either the presence or absence of an electrical charge to represent binary data. Magnetic spin, with its similarly dual character could, if harnessed, allow …

Tomorrow’s World


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Chances are, if you’re reading this, then you’re a bit of a Science Fiction geek. But even if you do happen to be one of those weird people who remain unfazed by the latest Star Trek trailer, you’re probably still familiar with some of Sci-Fi’s most famous ‘inventions’. From Captain Kirk’s wireless communicator to Marty Mcfly’s pink hoverboard, Sci-Fi has long been predicting the future, with widely varying degrees of success. Still, every once in a while an author comes along with an idea that is so groundbreaking and so accurate that it simply beggars belief. In honour of these scientific savants, we’ve trawled through the history books to bring you Science Fiction’s top five technological predictions.   5) Invention: In Vitro Fertilization, Author: Aldous Huxley In July 1978, Louise Brown achieved instant fame when she became the first baby to be born using in vitro fertilization. As well as bringing joy to her family and friends, her arrival also …

When do You stop being You?

bicentennial man

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Canadian scientists have created a functioning virtual brain able to do many complex tasks humans take for granted – from remembering lists to recognising number. It can even do some basic components of IQ tests. The Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network – or SPAUN for short – was created by Chris Eliasmith and his team at the University of Waterloo. With its 2.5 million simulated neurons SPAUN is way ahead of the curve in terms of ability.  It can see with a virtual “eye” and has a virtual “arm” that it uses to draw.  This is all achieved by simulating what tasks the brain can carry out, rather than simulating the exact functioning of the brain. Other projects, such as The Blue Brain Project (TBBP), are taking a slightly more reductionist approach by attempting to simulate every single neuron in action. In 2005, TBBP had created its first simulated nerve cell. By 2008, it was running an artificial neocortical column consisting of 10,000 …

Inside the space shuttle Discovery


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If you really like switches, you should have become an astronaut. This 360 degree photo was taken from inside the Space Shuttle Discovery. Over its 27 year lifetime, it has spent over 365 days in space, and travelled a whopping 148 million miles – the equivalent of travelling to the Moon and back 250 times. Highlights of its illustrious career include launching the Hubble Space telescope in 1990 and docking with the Mir space station in 1994. Discovery has to operate perfectly in extreme environments – High temperatures, solar radiation, the vacuum of space – all require complex machinery. Hence, the huge number of switches, buttons, dials, monitors and joysticks. That’s why it can take up to 12 years of training before a pilot is allowed full control of the shuttle. Unfortunately, every shuttle is now out of commission, each heading for a different museum to live out the rest of its days. While plans are being carried out in …

The biology of Pokémon


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Those were the days: training up a super-squad of Pokémon on your Game Boy Classic, draining enough AA’s to power a minor principality in the process. Of course, in the sixteen years since Pokémon was first released, numerous generations of players have discovered the charm of Nintendo’s monster franchise (there’s been a staggering twenty-one games excluding spin-offs since its inception). And so, with Pokémon’s ability to influence so massive, I thought a discussion on how biological concepts are communicated through the games was in order. As anyone still reading will probably know, all the Pokémon games follow the same basic storyline; a central character (controlled by the player) travels through a fantasy world capturing and battling Pokémon in order to level-up and achieve master ranking. Now, the influence of the real outdoors throughout this fantasy region is vast: it’s split into numerous virtual habitats (deserts, forests, icy-mountains etc) and the game’s developers have designed these habitats to accurately reflect the tapestry of …

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