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    Earth, Fire, Wind, Water: Alternative Battery Technologies

    There are a bazillion solar-powered portable batteries on the market. But they have this little problem: they need the sun in order to work. Inventors and engineers, seeing the need for portable power generation that doesn't require daylight, have been hard at work coming up with some creative ideas for alternative energy sources. Let's call them the Earth element batteries (or just call them awesome). Now you can get a portable battery powered by wind, water, fire, and even mud. Here's the science behind how these mini-generators work.

    Fire Power

    The FlameStower is a portable device that uses temperature variations to generate electricity. It's based on a simple principle called the thermoelectric effect. To put it in the most simplified way possible: all you need is to put two materials that are effective at moving electricity next to each other and add an electricity-capturing device on one end. Then you heat one side and cool the other. Electrons move from the hot side to the cool side (because they like to be where energy is lower and heat has a higher level of energy, a concept you probably know as diffusion). As they travel into the cool side they release heat energy and voila! You have a battery. Yay physics! This method of power generation is regularly used to power devices in space, where it's easy to generate heat naturally with a decaying radioactive material while subjecting it to the extreme cold temperatures of the vacuum outside.

    The FlameStower generator works over any flame or heat source (a cook stove, a campfire, or even the stove in your kitchen). You simply put one end of it over the heat, pour some water into the cold side to keep the temperature there low, and plug in any USB device. They even have a version that can charge your gadgets using a candle. Depending on how powerful your flame is, the FlameStower can produce about 3w of power, which its makers calculate out to about two to four minutes of talk time on your phone for every one minute of charging. You can get one for $70 on their website and their candle charger, which will cost $99, is expected to be available soon.

    UrtheCast Camera Footage from the ISS

    UrtheCast, a satellite imaging startup, operates two massive Iris cameras mounted on the International Space Station to capture pretty incredible footage. Objects a meter in size are visible, and software compensates for the movement of the ISS above Earth. The company, which plans to sell its video and data to companies and the government, has promised to stream live video from its cameras to the public next month.

    How Life Finds a Way in Earth's Extreme Environments

    "Life will find a way." That mantra isn't just true in Jurassic Park; nature's resilience is particularly noticeable in some of Earth's most extreme environments. From super-high flyers to super-deep swimmers, there's no shortage of strange evolutions on our planet that allow animals to perform some truly bizarre and nearly impossible feats in order to survive. A new exhibit at New York City's American Museum of Natural History rounds up some of the world's most extreme adaptations. Here's a look at just a few examples of the bizarre behaviors of Life At The Limits.

    Extreme Temperatures

    Frilly Leech — Even though it's own habitat almost never freezes, the frilly leech can survive 24 hours submerged in liquid nitrogen (-320f) in the lab. They can be stored up to 9 months at -130F and one was once revived after 2.5 years in the deep cold.

    Tardigrades — These tiny organisms, also known as water bears, can survive being completely dehydrated. They make proteins that revive their cells when water is introduced, coming back to life in as little as 4 minutes. They also can survive temperatures down to near-absolute-zero (-458F) and more than 302F.

    Ice Worm — Just like it's name says, this worm lives its entire lifecycle inside the glaciers of Alaska. If they get too close to the air and they feel sunlight warming the surface they burrow down deep to get away from the heat.

    Algorithm Turns Any Object into a Rubik's Cube

    Columbia University's Timothy Sun and Changxi Zheng presented this research paper and video illustrating a computational method to turn any 3D model into a Rubik's Cube-style puzzle. Presented at this year's SIGGRAPH, the software analyzes any user-supplied 3D model and inserts the proper twisty joints into the design, which can then be 3D printed into an interlocking puzzle. (h/t Gizmodo)

    Inside NASA's Virtual Reality Laboratory

    A fun video piece from Gizmodo: "We've seen how NASA recreates the vacuum of space right here on Earth, but what about the gravity of space? What about the forces of inertia? When large objects move and behave so differently, how to you train for a mission so you know what to expect when you get there?" Read the associated story, originally published last November, here.

    10 Incredible Stories Of Natural Disaster Survival

    Mother Nature nurtures humanity, but that doesn’t mean she’s averse to giving us a smack now and again. Hurricanes, earthquakes, avalanches and other natural disasters often show us just how helpless we really are in the grand scheme of things. But the human body is remarkably resilient, and sometimes we manage to brush off everything the Earth throws at us and still survive. Here are ten amazing stories of people who lived through insane natural disasters.di

    The Talking Room: Adam Savage Interviews Andy Weir

    Adam Savage welcomes author Andy Weir to The Talking Room! Andy wrote 'The Martian', the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars--it's a book we can't recommend enough. Adam and Andy talk about the research that went into writing the book, the portrayal of astronauts in fiction, and the upcoming film adaptation!

    The Spacesuit Fire That NASA Refuses to Forget

    These days, Joe Nowetner is an operations manager at UTC Aerospace Systems, the contractor responsible for NASA's fleet of spacesuits. Early in his career, Joe worked as an electrical technician at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) supporting the testing regimen of a new spacesuit design, the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit). One particular test served as a startling reminder that exploring space is a dangerous business…even for those who never leave the ground. Joe has never forgotten the lessons he learned that day. Neither has NASA.

    The Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) has been the suit worn by spacewalking astronauts since the beginning of the Space Shuttle Program. A mishap during development of the EMU helped to shape NASA's current safety culture.

    The EMU Fire

    The EMU design would persevere to become the spacesuit worn by spacewalking astronauts throughout the Space Shuttle Program and even today on the International Space Station. In the nearly 40-year history of the suit, truly scary moments have been so infrequent that they are still referenced in generic terms, with no distinction needed…i.e. "the water leak", "the chamber incident", "the bellows failure". In that lingo, the events of April 18, 1980 are summarized as "the EMU fire".

    At that time, the space shuttle was still ramping up for its inaugural flight and the EMU was an unproven system. Nowetner was part of a JSC team tasked to execute functional tests on an EMU unit. This task was a critical step in preparation for the first manned test of the suit, an event where space-like conditions would be simulated in a large vacuum chamber.

    Although the EMU was unmanned for the April test, the suit's life support system was exercised. Ironically, it was the life support system that caused a flash fire which burned two technicians (one severely), destroyed the EMU, and reawakened a culture of safety throughout NASA. Here's what happened.

    10 Essential Items In Your Home Disaster Relief Kit

    A natural disaster can strike without warning, leaving your family in danger. No matter where you live or what kind of catastrophes strike your area, it’s vital to have a disaster relief kit in the home to handle basic survival needs until help arrives. Today, we’ll show you ten essential items that every household should have in case of Mother Nature letting loose some bad juju.

    Suit Up: 50 Years of Spacewalks

    "This NASA documentary celebrates 50 years of extravehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalks that began with the first two EVAs conducted by Russian Alexey Leonov in March 1965 and American astronaut Edward White in June 1965 . The documentary features interviews with NASA Administrator and astronaut, Charles Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator and spacesuit designer, Dava Newman, as well as other astronauts, engineers, technicians, managers and luminaries of spacewalk history. They share their personal stories and thoughts that cover the full EVA experience-- from the early spacewalking experiences, to spacesuit manufacturing, to modern day spacewalks aboard the International Space Station as well as what the future holds for humans working on a tether in space. "

    The 10 Weirdest Creatures Hidden Deep In Earth’s Oceans

    A little over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, and because of our useless, clumsy lungs we can’t really explore it as much as we’d like. The sheer diversity of ocean life is unbelievable, especially when you head down 20,000 feet or more below the surface. Let’s commandeer a metaphorical bathysphere and discover some of the most bizarre animals living down in the depths of the ocean.

    In Brief: How JPEG Image Compression Works

    Your smartphone's camera sensor and lens are the primary factors contributing to how your photos look, but your camera app's JPEG compression algorithm is also an important factor. Not all lossy compression settings are the same, and YouTube channel Computerphile has a new series explaining JPEG compression. The latest video features image analyst Mike Pound, who explains the Discrete Cosine Transform function that is the key behind JPEG. It's a really interesting watch that's not too difficult to follow along! (h/t Petapixel)

    Norman
    Making Dessert at America's Test Kitchen!

    Our week at America's Test Kitchen appropriately concludes with some dessert! Will learns about how the cooks developed recipes for Baked Alaska--Swiss and Italian Meringues--through a rigorous testing system where every variable and procedure is examined. It's time to set that cake on fire!

    The Science of Meat Texture at America's Test Kitchen

    At America's Test Kitchen, recipe cooks use specialized scientific equipment to test ingredients, like this Texture Analyzer. Will chats with cook Dan Souza about the testing of meat texture over a range of temperatures to find the point where the meat is the most tender. How springy or gummy do you want that steak?

    Making Kale Delicious at America's Test Kitchen

    Will chats with America's Test Kitchen cook Dan Souza about the science of making Kale taste good, in salads and other dishes. We learn how to tenderize Kale to make it more palatable and how the test kitchen experiments with every variable in a recipe. Time for a taste test!