Welcome to this week’s Saturday Science links, covering some of the best science stories of the past two weeks. This week’s edition features origami-like robots, arrow-feathered fossils, and animal selfies.
It seems like scientists in the field of robotics are continually reporting new inventions, and these past few weeks were not an exception. A team from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Technische Universität München revealed an especially fascinating robot made of sheets of PVC and a magnet. The robot’s structure is controlled by a magnetic field that can make it walk, swim, and maneuver impressive weight, relative to its tiny .3-gram body. It is self-folding, dissolvable (except for the magnet), and potentially life-saving (it is hoped to aid in surgeries in the future). All of this may sound too good to be true, but thanks to these researchers it is becoming reality.
Chef chimp? Based on a recent study entitled “Cognitive capacities for cooking in chimpanzees,” in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Academy B, Harvard scientists Felix Warneken and Alexandra G. Rosati have concluded that chimpanzees display the desires, behaviors, and skills necessary to cook. Check out the study’s abstract for a few more details.
The remains of a hummingbird-sized, Dinosaur Age bird were found in Northeast Brazil; the findings were published by lead author Ismar de Souza Carvalho of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and colleagues. The fossil dates back to the Early Cretaceous, over 100 million years ago, and was especially stunning due to its brightly colored arrow-shaped feathers that may have been used for an array of behaviors, such as communication and identification, but were not likely meant for flying.
Do animals take selfies too? Probably not, but a project set in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park that utilized 225 “camera traps,” or automatically triggered cameras, has resulted in selfie-like photos of the region’s wildlife. Started in 2010 by doctoral student and ecologist Alexandra Swanson, the project observes how predators interact with other wildlife in the region. Its findings were published in the journal Scientific Data.
On June 3, NASA celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the first United States space walk by Astronaut Ed White with the release of a documentary called “Suit Up” that features the history of humans performing spacewalks. NASA also launched a website for the “suit up” concept, encouraging people to show how they “suit up” for their everyday lives by using the hashtag #suitup.
Avid bird watchers have a reason to rejoice, as an innovative program may make their lives a bit easier. The program Merlin Bird ID was developed by Researchers from Cornell Tech, the California Institute of Technology, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and identifies birds based on a photo. Users can take and upload a photo to the program, which uses computer-vision technology to identify possible matches for the bird’s species. Currently, the software can identify 400 common North American bird species, but there are plans to expand the program’s identification capabilities to additional regions and birds.
Italian astronomer Samantha Cristoforetti, 38, set the record for the most time spent in space by a woman on Saturday, June 6. If all goes as planned, her new record (199 days, 16 hours and 42 minutes) will surpass the old record by roughly 5 days. The old record was set by astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams onboard the International Space Station in June 2007.
Typically, water is kept as far away from computers as possible, but a new computer actually needs water to operate. Stanford University assistant professor of bioengineering Manu Prakash and his students developed a synchronous computer that operates using water and magnets. “It’s not about manipulating information faster, but it’s about manipulating matter faster,” Prakash explained in the linked video. Matter is inserted into water droplets, which serve as small beakers that transport and manipulate the matter via magnetism. Researchers hope this technology can to analyze and synthesize various components, such as biological and chemical ones.
I’ll end this week’s edition of Saturday Science Links with some awe-inspiring images of creation. In honor of World Oceans Day (June 8), Google added a stunning feature to its Views page: Along with street views, it now features “ocean views,” too. These panoramic photos of the world’s oceans and the life that lives, swims, and breaths within them were collected by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, a project developed to document the world’s coral reefs. Check out the beautiful images on Google’s Views site.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/saturday-science-links-june-27-2015