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    Meet Pleurobot, an Amphibious Salamander Robot

    We meet Pleurobot, a Salamander-like robot that can both walk on land and swim in the water (with a wetsuit!) Kishore, our new science correspondent, chats with professor Auke Ijspeert of the EPFL about how Pluerobot's movements were programmed and how biorobotics engineers studied the physiology of salamanders in making this robot.

    Paul Giamatti Experiences 'Rubber Hand' Illusion

    Actor and director Paul Giamatti is the host of a new National Geographic show "Breakthrough", which takes him around the world exploring new research in science and technology (like exoskeletons!). In this clip, he partakes in the "rubber hand" experiment, which challenges the brain's perception of its own body. It's an example of proprioceptive drift, which may have applications in virtual reality research.

    General Relativity Explained in Three Minutes

    From Fusion, author and biographer Walter Isaacson explains Einstein's theory of general relativity in just under three minutes: "One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein completed his general theory of relativity, which explains how the gravitational force works. This made Einstein an international celebrity during his time, and the theory is widely recognized as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science." (h/t Adam)

    Adam and Jamie at White House Astronomy Night

    This evening, Jamie and Adam were in Washington DC for the White House's Astronomy Night. In this clip from the livestream, they chat with scientists, astronauts, and NASA administrators (including upcoming Tested: The Show guest Dava Newman!) about what we're learning from space travel. The evening concluded with a Q&A with Jamie and Adam.

    10 Secret Places Hidden in Plain Sight of People in Big Cities

    In the era of Google Maps and a camera in every pocket, it's hard to imagine that anything can stay hidden for very long. And, in fact, the ten amazing places we're going to tell you about in this article aren't technically hidden, because we know about them (and probably some other people). But what's cool about these spots is that they're nestled away inn the middle of bustling metropolises where 99% of the residents walk by them every day without realizing it. Sometimes hiding in plain sight is the best stealth technique of them all.

    10 Things Drone Pilots Didn't Expect To See

    The hills are alive with the sound of remote-controlled aircraft. It seems like just about everywhere you look this year, there's a drone in the air. Prices have dropped to make robust, durable copters a reasonable purchase for photographers and hobbyists, and drones are flying into lots of pretty unusual places while the FAA tries to figure out how to regulate them. In this feature, we'll run down ten unmanned aircraft expeditions that brought back some unusual discoveries - some are scientifically valuable, while others are just straight up ridiculous.

    ISS Astronauts Testing RED 4K Camera

    Beautiful footage from the ISS, using a new Red Dragon camera. "Once again, astronauts on the International Space Station dissolved an effervescent tablet in a floating ball of water, and captured images using a camera capable of recording four times the resolution of normal high-definition cameras. The higher resolution images and higher frame rate videos can reveal more information when used on science investigations, giving researchers a valuable new tool aboard the space station."

    Inside NASA's Yearlong Isolation Dome

    From The Guardian: "Water has been found on Mars – but if the red planet can support life, what will it be like for any humans who go there? Six future crew members of a possible Nasa mission spend up to 12 months in confinement in a Mars-like landscape in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to work out how humans would react to long-duration space travel."

    Unexpected Things We're Genetically Engineering

    With all of the hubbub about genetically modified produce, it's easy to overlook that we've been messing with the basic structure of other living things for centuries. We can just do it quicker now. Most genetic engineering is done for fairly pedestrian reasons - making farm animals more disease-resistant or food crops tastier and more durable. And then there are the experiments out on the fringes of genetic science, where researchers do some truly twisted stuff to DNA. Let's look at ten of those, shall we?

    10 Homes That Can Survive Any Disaster

    We've watched enough movies to know that Mother Nature isn't particularly happy to have us around anymore. Whether it be earthquake, tsunami, tornado or other natural disaster, everything we've built can be wiped clean by the fickle finger of Fate. Or can it? Some bold builders have been working on houses specifically designed to withstand just about anything. Today, we'll give you a tour of ten houses that can take just about anything the Earth can dish out.

    Dissecting the Technology of ‘The Martian’: NASA’s Roadmap to Mars

    The movie edition of Andy Weir's fantastically popular sci-fi novel, The Martian, is set to hit theaters in just a few days. Although the storyline is fictional, NASA has taken a keen interest in the movie, providing consultants to Hollywood and hosting a handful of promotional events. Clearly, the agency sees something to celebrate in Weir's vision of the future for manned spaceflight.

    As we have seen in the previous articles of this series, there are numerous similarities between The Martian and how NASA actually handles things in space, such as water, air, electrical power and problem solving. In this final article we'll examine NASA's current plan for visiting Mars.

    The Hermes spaceship in 'The Martian', via 20th Century Fox

    Red Planet Ambitions

    NASA is not being secretive about their plans for putting humans on Mars as early as 2030. They've even published a website with a slew of information. Yet, any plans that project 15+ years into the future are bound to be heavy with technical and financial assumptions. As the agency moves forward, the plan will certainly evolve to match the reality of the times.

    We're finding out that Mars has a very diverse landscape. Scientists are still trying to decide where the first manned Mars expeditions will land. It is a debate that will likely linger well into the next decade. Several satellites are currently orbiting Mars and mapping its surface. Lower-resolution, broad-brush mapping images will help the scientists narrow down the field of landing site candidates. Subsequent high-resolution imagery will be used to pinpoint precise landing locations.

    MSL Curiosity's Gale Crater Landing Site.

    While many fundamental aspects of a manned Martian mission remain in limbo, the basic timeline appears to be ironed out. If you've read Weir's book, you'll notice that it follows NASA's plan nearly verbatim. It goes something like this:

    In Brief: NASA Reports Signs of Liquid Water on Mars

    This morning, NASA announced that it has found the strongest evidence so far that flowing water exists on Mars. Spectral imaging from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed new insight into the 100-meter long dark streaks running down the slopes of the Martian craters, first spotted five years ago. By studying the signatures of hydrated minerals in those streaks, along with the streaks' intermittent appearance, researchers have concluded that it is caused by the seasonal flow of liquid water. (h/t NYTimes)

    Norman
    How a Retractable Ballpoint Pen Works

    From the EngineerGuy's YouTube channel: "A ballpoint pen seems simple: press a button you can write, press again and put it in your pocket. Yet inside a clever mechanisms turns that simple push into all sorts of other motions. This video uses detailed animation to look inside the iconic Parker Jotter ink pen and see how it works."

    Dissecting the Technology of 'The Martian': Solving Problems In Space

    The previous articles of this series have focused on the real-life NASA hardware which inspired the fictional equipment found in Andy Weir's novel (and imminent movie) The Martian. Specifically, we looked at many of the components that are used to process water, air, and electrical power in space. This article will be a little different.

    Readers of The Martian know that one of the recurring themes in the book deals with fixing broken equipment using whatever is on hand, combined with plenty of ingenuity. Those scenarios have a very real parallel in NASA's day-to-day operations of manned and unmanned spacecraft. Space is an extremely harsh environment and spacecraft components break…a lot. Let's take a look at how NASA deals with these in-flight failures.

    Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

    Stuff In A Box

    It would be difficult to talk about hardware problems in space without mentioning the Apollo 13 mission and the countless miracles performed by mission control to get the crew home alive. In one memorable scene from Ron Howard's 1995 movie about the ordeal, engineers in mission control begin working to reverse rising carbon dioxide levels in the Lunar Module. Someone empties a box of random-looking parts which represent the total resources of the spaceship's crew. The challenge is immediately obvious: use these parts to find a solution or people will die.

    In a recent conversation with present-day flight controller Tom Sheene, I asked if the "stuff in a box" scenario still happens. He replied, "All the time… it's the most challenging and rewarding part of my job." Sheene went on to tell me about a custom tool that his team had designed to lubricate the space station's robotic arm, and another that was used by spacewalking astronauts to free a solar array that refused to unfurl.

    Flight Controller Tom Sheene is part of the OSO group that is responsible for the maintenance and repair of all systems on the ISS.

    When these custom tools are being designed, aesthetics takes a back seat to functionality. But no one seems to mind as long as they get the job done. The names given to these tools are equally low-key. Apollo's hacked carbon dioxide scrubber was the "mailbox", and the solar array tool was the "hockey stick". Tools that become a part of the permanent inventory are renamed with more scientific terms and, as with all things NASA, branded with an acronym. Case in point: Sheene's robotic arm tool graduated from "fly swatter" to "BLT" (Ball Screw Lubrication Tool).

    While a failed component on the International Space Station (ISS) rarely triggers an immediate life and death battle of wits, the stakes are invariably high. Whatever the failing component may be, it was sent up there for a reason and at great expense. You can't just roll down the window, turn up the radio, and pretend that it isn't squeaking.

    Scale Model of the Solar System

    This video's been getting a lot of play, but it's still worth sharing in case you haven't seen it. We've previously seen visual representations of the scale of the solar system in digital form, but a physical representation of the vastness of that scale strikes a more resonant chord. Wonderful project and presentation by Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh: "On a dry lakebed in Nevada, a group of friends build the first scale model of the solar system with complete planetary orbits: a true illustration of our place in the universe."

    In Brief: Three Fascinating Interviews to Watch Today

    A couple of interviews that popped up over the weekend that I think you guys should watch. The first is the latest episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Star Talk, in which he interviews Edward Snowden via a telepresence robot. It's a great conversation about surveillance and data encryption that also includes one possible answer to the Fermi Paradox. I also loved this talk by artist Theo Jansen at MIT's Media Lab, as part of the school's MLTalks series. Jansen just debuted a Strandbeest exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum, which also has a wonderful accompanying exhibition catalog (always buy the catalog). Finally, an older interview from the MLTalks series that merits watching is this conversation with director JJ Abrams--before he was attached to do Episode VII!

    Norman
    Tested Builds a Hydrogen Converter

    This week, Adam challenges Will and Norm with the task of building a hydrogen converter--a simple electrolysis rig that can split water into oxygen and hydrogen. It's a science experiment to demonstrate one way of harnessing hydrogen gas with basic chemistry! (Special thanks to John Duncan for supervising the shop for this build!)

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Tom Iliffe, Underwater Cave Explorer

    Tom Iliffe only studies animals that live in the hardest-to-reach locations -- those weird colorless, sightless organisms that exist only in the world's deepest, darkest, underwater caves. As a biologist and a diver, he has been down to 460 feet below the ocean's surface and spelunked some of the world's most remote locations all while breathing through a dive regulator. Throughout his career, Iliffe has discovered 250 new species of marine and freshwater cavernicolous invertebrates, including 3 new orders, 7 new families and 50 new genera. He talked to us about how to find your way around a previously undiscovered cave without getting lost, how to swim through tiny cracks and crevices, and what it's like to grab samples of tiny nearly-invisible animals in the darkness of an underwater cave.

    Dr. Tom Iliffe in Deep Blue cave. Image courtesy of Jill Heinerth,

    Why study caves?

    First of all, it's like any form of basic research. You may set out just to learn how something works but you never know where the path is going to lead you. Some of the most exciting scientific discoveries that have taken place were because people were curious about a phenomenon and investigated.

    So that's kind of the starting point. We have a totally unknown realm, we know nothing about it, this is a challenge, let's learn what's happening here. Not: "let's find something that has immediate commercial potential." Just because you start out at the bottom rung of the ladder, doesn't mean you can't end up making very important discoveries.

    A lot of the most important discoveries that have ever been made have been by accident, by a fortuitous discovery. You don't have to have a rationale other than scientific curiosity.

    That's to begin with.

    In Brief: Download NASA's 1975 Graphics Standards Manual

    Possibly in response to the highly publicized (and successful) Kickstarter campaign to reprint NASA's 1975 Graphics Standards Manual, the US space agency has released a PDF copy of the manual for anyone to download. The document is in the public domain, so you can print (and sell) as many copies as you want, but the graphic designers behind the Kickstarter campaign claim that their $80 copy will be better scanned and a more accurate reproduction of the original. (h/t Wired)

    Norman 3