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Web bill-of-rights, cosmic popular culture, origami microscopes and more


By Tushna Commissariat

This week, the Web celebrated its silver anniversary. In March 1989 CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee proposed a rather contemporary way of linking and sharing information and so the Web was born. There have been numerous stories on the subject this week, but most interesting of all was a Guardian article where Berners-Lee called for the development of an “online Magna Carta” – a bill of rights to enshrine and protect the independence of the Web. “We need a global constitution – a bill of rights,” he said. You can read more about the 25th anniversary at the “World Wide Web Consortium”.

This week also saw the revival of well-known-and-loved 80s science TV series Cosmos, which was originally hosted by astronomer, author and presenter Carl Sagan. The new, snazzier version is hosted by another beloved astrophysicist, the author and celebrity science-communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson and is produced by popular American actor and director Seth MacFarlane. The show seems to have got off to a rather good start with many a positive review, though not everyone was entirely pleased. In the midst of all the media coverage for the series, we were rather amused, amazed and pleased to see that GQ magazine featured Tyson and MacFarlane in one of their photoshoots, with a rather debonair photograph of the two dressed in suits and sat on a half-moon, so make sure you take a look at it.

Probably one of the most intriguing things to catch our attention this week was a story on the MIT Technology blog about the “Foldscope” – an “origami-based optical microscope” that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper in less than 10 minutes. Manu Prakash and colleagues at Stanford University in the US hope that their cheap and nifty device will help tackle global health problems and support education. The Foldscope, with its minimalistic and scalable design, is made up of some paper, a ball lens (low or high magnification), a 3 V button battery, an LED, a switch and some copper tape – and the cost comes to a grand total of a mere $0.58 ( $0.97 if you prefer a high-magnification lens!). The team says that “although it costs less than a dollar in parts, it can provide over 2000× magnification with sub-micron resolution (800 nm), weighs less than two nickels (8.8 g), is small enough to fit in a pocket (70 × 20 × 2 mm3), requires no external power, and can survive being dropped from a three-story building or stepped on by a person”. Right now, you can sign up as a beta tester for the device and help put together a field-use manual.

Also,  take a look at this neat interactive on the Science Friday website celebrating “Pi day” (if you follow the US date system, it’s on 14 March or 3.14) and make sure to watch the excellent video above in which people walk, run and perform stunts over a pool containing 8000 litres of non-Newtonian fluid in Kuala Lumpur!

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