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Tag archives: biology

Live space station upgrade, more zombie physics, T-shirts for LIGO

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video (Courtesy: NASA)

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

NASA is live streaming a video of a spacewalk on its Facebook page, and you just might be able to catch it live from the International Space Station – or watch it again. The video shows astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson upgrading the space station’s power system – and it looks like hard work to me.

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Scientists officially ground Spider-Man

Image of gecko and ant

Stick together: both ants and geckos have adhesive pads that let them scale vertical surfaces. (Courtesy: A Hackmann/D Labonte)

By Tushna Commissariat

Don’t tell the kids just yet, but becoming Spider-Man, even after being bitten by a radioactive spider, is looking less and less likely for us humans – we are just too big. The latest work, done by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK, has shown that gecko-sized is pretty much the largest you can be if you realistically want to scale up walls with adhesive pads. Any bigger, and most of your surface area would need to be covered in large sticky pads to pull off the gravity-defying walk. Indeed, the team estimates that roughly 40% of an average human being’s total body surface would need to be sticky – this means a whopping 80% of your front would be covered in adhesive pads.

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Zapping head lice and a job that is out of this world

Nit picker: the cold atmospheric pressure plasma lice killer (Courtesy: Fraunhofer IST)

Nit picker: the cold plasma lice killer. (Courtesy: Fraunhofer IST)

By Hamish Johnston

Do your children have head lice again? Now you don’t have to comb their hair until your arm goes numb or cover their head with goop. Instead, you can zap them away using a plasma. I’m not suggesting that you put your child’s head into ionized gas that’s hotter than the Sun – it turns out that a “cold atmospheric pressure plasma” will do the trick.

That’s the claim of researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films in Göttingen, Germany. The team has created the above prototype, which creates a plasma using a high-voltage generator that sends short pulses to the teeth of the comb. The pulses ionize air molecules surrounding the teeth, but they are so short that the resulting plasma does not heat up. The charged ions and electrons in the plasma make short work of killing lice and their eggs, but are harmless to humans – at least according to Wolfgang Viöl and colleagues, who will be unveiling their device later this month at the MEDICA trade fair in Düsseldorf.

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New York dims its lights for birds

Photograph of birds flocking over Central Park in New York

Birds flock over Central Park. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/giovanni1232)

By James Dacey

It’s been a great week for birds – or at least those flying over the state of New York – after state governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to create safer migration routes for our feathered friends. All state buildings will now have to comply with a national US initiative that seeks to curb levels of light pollution, which can disorient birds and lead to huge numbers of avian deaths by “fatal light attraction”.

Many species of bird rely on the light from star constellations to help them navigate during spring and autumn migrations. Unfortunately, artificial light sources can throw the animals off course, and light reflected from glass can cause the birds to smack into windows, walls, floodlights and other hard surfaces. It is estimated that as many as a billion birds succumb to this cruel end each year in the US alone, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

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