Tag Archives: science

100 Discoveries: Science and Tech news you missed in the last 100 days.

A friend of mine recently asked me to help out with an art installation. Usually I say no to assisting with other people’s projects, but she’s a good friend and I was in real need of some good news after a few months of dealing with the uncertainty brought about by what historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin has labelled The Great Electoral Nut-Punch of 2016.

(Really. She called it that. I read it on Facebook.)

The project’s pretty ambitious; 100 decorated boxes are on display, and each box contains one headline you might have missed amid all the sturm and drang in the 100 days since Trump’s inauguration. I was mostly responsible for collecting, collating, writing, proofreading, Python scripting, bitlying, and tweeting the headlines, so naturally the news tends towards science and tech. Moscow mules do get a mention, though.

This being a 3D printing blog and all, there’s naturally a 3d-printed box among the decorated boxes. You can download the box from Thingiverse.

100 Days is showing April 29 10am-8pm and April 30 12-5pm at Jambalaya (413 N. Main St) in Oshkosh, WI. So if you’re in the area, swing by and give it a look.

More deetz here:

If, like 99.999% of humanity, you won’t be in Oshkosh, WI this weekend, here’s my compiled list in its entirety. Strap in, there are stories about baby goats in here.

1: Scientists coax hair cells to regrow inside the ear using stem cells.

2: A new process turns CO2 into limestone, locking it away inside concrete.

3: New and more effective malaria vaccines have been developed and tested.

4: A new pilot program at Dell is using plastic retrieved from the ocean as feedstock for packaging materials.

5: A new plastic film cools whatever it touches by 10° C, with huge implications for energy use in HVAC.

6: Doctors claim to have cured sickle-cell anemia in a patient using gene therapy.

7: Primary school students in Scotland gave their beloved goldfish a viking burial.

8: Scientists taught bees to roll a ball to receive a reward, and the bees taught other bees how to do it too.

9: Canadian scientists tracked the volume of pee in public pools using artificial sweeteners as a marker.

10: Wind power generation capacity in the US exceeded hydropower for the first time in 2016.

11: Scientists created the world’s first sample of metallic hydrogen in February, but now they can’t find it.

12: The International Potato Center (yes that’s a thing) has completed a study demonstrating that potatoes can probably grow on Mars.

13: NASA ground-based radar has found an Indian space probe that’s been missing since 2009.

14: Scientists have been working on synthesizing an artificial yeast genome, creating it from scratch.

15: Transgenic seedlings resistant to blight may replenish US forests with the nearly-extinct American Chestnut.

16: An electric plane broke a bunch of speed records.

17: A needle-free injection system won an innovation award at SXSW and the company hopes to be on the market in 2 years.

18: Google has found a way to reduce JPEG file sizes by 35%.

19: Global carbon emissions remained flat in 2016.

20: A new process removes much of the sulfur from diesel fuel without sacrificing performance.

21: The UK may use AI to reduce energy usage by up to 10%.

22: Norway is planning to build the world’s largest ship tunnel through the Stad peninsula.

23: A new solar panel has reached 25% efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity.

24: Analysis of photos from the Rosetta space probe show vast cliffs on comet 67P.

25: An octogenarian couple donated their insect collection, estimated to be worth $10 million.

26: An AI is better than human doctors at predicting heart attacks.

27: A graphene-based sieve shows promise as a new way to extract drinkable water from the sea.

28: HPV levels have fallen by 90% in Scotland since the introduction of the vaccine.

29: The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute welcomed the birth of 12 new cheetah cubs. WARNING: CUTE OVERLOAD

30: Amateur astronomers have found a planetary system with four, count ‘em FOUR exoplanets.

31: Octopuses and squid can rewrite their DNA on the fly, which might help explain why they’re so clever.

32: Astronomers turned on the Event Horizon Telescope, and hope to generate the first image of a black hole.

33: Scientists have created a sculptable, biocompatible scaffolding for regrowing bone.

34: A new spider the size of your fist has been discovered in a Mexican cave complex.

35: Researchers have created an artificial lung that fits in a backpack.

36: You can now track the movement of bears in Yosemite National Park online.

37: Indian engineers have developed an alert system to warn drivers when there’s a cow on the road.

38: Scientists recreate the female menstrual cycle on a chip.

39: DARPA has tested an electric airplane capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Oh, DARPA.

40: An Amazon gift card has been stored using DNA. Somebody already redeemed it and bought a book on machine learning.

41: A new way to rapidly thaw frozen tissue could help with organ shortages.

42: Scientists have found a way to reduce particulate emissions from jet engines using biofuel blends.

43: Kentucky Coal Museum installs solar panels, expecting to lower electricity bills by $8K. Irony bills are expected to increase.

44: A statue unearthed in a Cairo slum is not pharaoh Ramses II as originally suspected, but rather Psamtek I.

45: Your next bathroom air freshener could be transgenic moss that smells like patchouli.

46: A new Alzheimers’ treatment reprograms the patient’s own brain cells into dopamine neurons.

47: A new material inexpensively turns heat into electricity.

48: Extracts from maple syrup increase the effectiveness of antibiotics.

49: It’s possible to detect landlines with genetically engineered bioluminescent bacteria.

50: An AI wrote a bunch of disarmingly cute pick-up lines.

51: Entrepreneurs are creating tasty granola bars from beer-brewing waste.

52: A chemist created a pigment that’s really, really blue.

53: Scientists announced the discovery of a second Great Spot on Jupiter.

54: There’s a new pair of eaglets at the National Arboretum.

55: The Large Hadron Collider is back online after being deactivated for scheduled maintenance.

56: Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, a trait shared with humans and dolphins.

57: Scientists might have found fossilized trilobite eggs for the first time.

58: Researchers at Georgia Tech designed a robot that swings like a sloth.

59: A Chinese AI won $290,000 in a poker competition.

60: New Zealand Kea birds demonstrate infectious laughter.

61: Tools have been 3D printed using Lunar and Martian soil analogues.

62: Scientists have created biodegradable batteries made from silk.

63: A record number of (endangered) right whales have been spotted in Cape Cod bay.

64: Some ants rescue their fallen comrades in battle.

65: Saturn’s moon Enceladus is generating its own molecular hydrogen, which means that microbial life could live there.

66: Distant planetary body 2014 UZ224 (currently nicknamed “DeeDee”) might be reclassified as our solar system’s newest dwarf planet.

67: A hunter’s fossil find has led to the discovery of a new species of marine reptile.

68: A new device can pull water right from the air.

69: Researchers created two new magnetic materials after first modeling them on a computer.

70: Textiles made from cow manure recently won an award for innovation in fashion.

71: Goat yoga is trendy.

72: A UK startup hopes to reduce plastic bottle use with water-filled gel bubbles.

73: JUNGLE PUPPIES have been caught on film in the Amazon for the first time.

74: Germany’s electric grid regulators approved bids for the first non-subsidized wind farms.

75: London’s building a “super sewer” to replace its aging Victorian system. It’s expected to take 7 years to complete and cost £4.2 billion.

76: Toyota has developed a robotic leg brace to help stroke victims walk.

77: A trial of autonomous package delivery vehicles is taking place in London.

78: The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico announced plans to install $25 million worth of solar panels over the next two years.

79: The German state of North-Rhine Westphalia is proceeding with a pumped hydro energy storage project that reuses an abandoned coal mine.

80: A 6,000 ton ship is retrofitted with a huge battery, which is expected to reduce fuel use, CO2, NOX, and other greenhouse gas emissions.

81: Scientists have created an image of the dark matter web that connects galaxies.
82: The Indianapolis Zoo announced the birth of twin ring-tailed lemurs.

83: Scientists may have found the earliest evidence for the evolution of dominant hand preferences in humans.

84: Africa’s largest wind farm, the 310MW Turkana project in Kenya, is now generating electricity.

85: A $1bn Australian solar power facility with the world’s largest battery storage system will be operational by the end of 2017.

86: Iron-helmeted sperm are being tested as a novel chemotherapy delivery system.

87: A newly-discovered shrimp capable of generating 250dB sounds with its pink claw has been named after Pink Floyd.

88: The 9th largest brewery in the United States created a pale ale using water reclaimed from San Diego’s municipal sewage.

89: A 110MW Geothermal power plant just went online in Indonesia. Two more are expected to start operation in 2017 and 2018.

90: Archaeologists have found one of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ summer homes in Turkey.

91: Physicists have created a material with negative mass; when you push on it, it accelerates BACKWARDS

92: Two bars in NYC are now serving 10-pound Moscow Mules.

93: Manatees have been removed from the endangered species list. 

94: Dingoes win the competition for the world’s most interesting genome.

95: Vat-grown meat prices have dropped 30,000 times in the last five years.

96: The Hubble Space telescope has photographed auroras on Uranus

97: Scientists have created programmable biocircuits with some clever DNA hacking.

98: A new biobattery is powered by saliva and made from a single sheet of paper.

99: Researchers at Cornell University have created a self-folding origami smaller than a red blood cell.

100: Laser-wielding robots are protecting farmed salmon from sea lice.

Lao Zheng out.

There Once Was a Project ’bout Venus


Longtime readers of this blog– both of them– know that here at Zheng Labs we’ve got a couple of rugrats running around the place. The older one’s in high school now, and has a practiced eye roll that earns perfect 10’s even from the Romanian judges. She’s not the subject of this post, although you can see photos of her pupal stage here and here, and some free 3D printable models to boot.

No, my friends, this week we bring to you the chronicle of my younger spawn and his adventures at the elementary school science fair. Each year his school puts on an open house for prospective families where they might explore for themselves the Hogwarts-like environment at one of Wisconsin’s fine public charter schools.

This open house features a gymnasium full of the kids’ long-term science projects, and is always a treat for those inclined to make things that go kablooie with papier maché, baking soda, and a little CH3COOH.

In years past procrastination and lack of interest have led my son to flail helplessly in front of a sloppy trifold when the time to present his project came, and this year we were determined not to repeat that particular learning experience. We got started early, enlisted a 3D printer, and won the science fair.*

*on “winning:” the event is actually noncompetitive and the school doesn’t give out prizes. I’ll define winning as spending a couple hours in the basement with my son, teaching him how motors and voltage and switches and soldering irons and burn creams work. Plus the look of unadulterated joy on Xiao Zheng’s face when the project worked: priceless. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for the big payoff video.

Also, the kid who actually won the science fair was the one with the trifold cheerfully labeled “Exploring Uranus.” That kid’s going places and has either fantastic or clueless parents.

Astute readers may have surmised that this year’s theme was space science, and the thrumming gymnasium was packed, absolutely packed with elementary school children wearing astronomy-related costumes. One kid was a dead ringer for Carl Sagan (red turtleneck included). Galileo and Halley’s comet were easily identifable from across the room. One young man made a fantastic Pathfinder rover hand puppet, a young lady was fetchingly dressed as the day and night cycle complete with helium balloons tied to her pigtails, and much aluminium foil was spent in the pursuit of knowledge.

Soviet science was well represented, too. The neighbor kid dressed up as Sputnik, and there was even a kid in full bright-orange Yuri Gagarin drag. Imaging getting that costume past the a 1950’s school board here in Appleton, Wisconsin, hometown of national disgrace and Ted Cruz lookandthinkandsoundalike Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy’s grave is right down the street, should you feel the need to urinate.

I’d post photos of the science fair, but! Kids’ privacy issues. You know the drill. Local parents: if you’d like to share a photo of your kid’s costume, send it my way.

好久以前, back when Zheng himself was xiao, Dad and I spent many evenings in our basement laboring on school projects. In all fairness it’s safer to say that Dad did the heavy lifting and I just provided parameters, but man those projects were the envy of the other kids in elementary and middle school. I wish I had photos of the tornado diorama, or the sculpture of Zeus made of toilet paper, shellac, and Ivory soap flakes (!) or that Roman aqueduct we (Dad) made out of grout and PVC. Or the paper bag mountains with joint compound glaciers. Or the passive solar house model made out of foamboard reclaimed from the dumpster at work.

Thanks Dad, for doing those projects with me. I’m doing my best to pass your creativity down to your grandkids. Cir-cle of liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife!

But I digress. This is a 3D printing blog first and foremost, and you’re here to read about the process of creation.

We got the trifold part of the project out of the way first, and settled into working on the costume part of the presentation. Our challenge: making a wearable model of Venus. Xiao Zheng’s first idea was to hand-letter the word “VENUS” on a piece of cardboard and hang it around his neck. He’s literal that way sometimes.

A planet-like sandwich board was also considered and quickly discarded as “stupid” and uncomfortable to boot. We gnashed teeth and rended garments for a while before remembering that his bike helmet has a GoPro mount on it, and would be a perfect platform on which to place a model.

The model of Venus itself is nothing fancy, just a lightweight ball of bubble wrap shrouded in painted tissue paper. It masses approximately 116 grams. The actual planet Venus masses 4.867 × 1027 grams.


I introduced my son to the joy of inadvertently huffing spray paint fumes in the garage, which he liked. Maybe too much.


Just attaching Venus to a helmet’s really not enough when the other kids are dressed up as Saturn V rockets, so we had to take it to the next level by making the model spin. I’ve got a bunch of old DC motors kicking around because of course I do, but we quickly realized that even if we could attach the motor’s axle directly to the model, it’d spin way too quickly.

We needed to slow the spin and the solution, as it is to so many things, is gears. Fortunately, I’ve already got some at the ready.

So a few minutes’ modification in Maya and we’re off and printing. Pro tip: gaffer tape works astonishingly well as a print surface for ColorFabb’s PLA/PHA. Note that there’s a cup integrated into the top of this gear to give the planet more surface area for adhesives.


Next we’ve got to get the gears onto the helmet, and fortunately there’s a GoPro-compatible mounting system in the Forge. A few more minutes of vertex wrangling and a couple of test prints and the mounting system looks like so:


(You can download the models here if you’d like to take a peek at them.)

The rotation is controlled with a momentary switch hidden in the kid’s pocket. Hold the button down and Venus spins faster and faster. Of course, my kid’s teachers aren’t pants-wetting bigots and he’s white as Wisconsin snow and not named Ahmed, so nobody batted an eyelash at this suicide-bomber-looking pushbutton setup. It’s even RED.


Fun fact: Venus’ day is 243 earth days long. I learned this from the aforementioned girl dressed as the day-night cycle.

Everything’s gaffer-taped together to insulate the solder joints and the wires are hidden under clothing.

The project survived the entire night on one set of 4 AA batteries and finally met its demise when my son, in an all-too-typical display of spazzy exuberance, head-butted the kid dressed up as a Soyuz capsule during cleanup and Venus went spinning across the gym floor and into the hallway.

Lao Zheng out. Thanks again, Dad, for teaching me how to do a science fair project right.