Lise Meitner: A Physicist who Never Lost her Humanity

It is said that the first casualty of war is the truth, and few wars have demonstrated that more than World War II. One scientist, whose insights would make the atomic age possible, would learn a harsh lesson at the outset of the war about how scientific truth can easily be trumped by politics and bigotry.

Lise Meitner was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Vienna in 1878. Her father, a lawyer and chess master, took the unusual step of encouraging his daughter’s education. In a time when women were not allowed to attend institutions of higher learning, Lise was able to pursue her interest in physics with a private education funded by her father. His continued support, both emotional and financial, would prove important throughout Lise’s early career. Continue reading “Lise Meitner: A Physicist who Never Lost her Humanity”

Chewing Gum Plus Carbon Nanotubes

Normally, strain sensors are limited in their flexibility by the underlying substrate. This lead researchers at the University of Manitoba to an off-the-wall solution: mixing carbon nanotubes into a chewing-gum base. You can watch their demo video below the break.

The procedure, documented with good scientific rigor, is to have a graduate student chew a couple sticks of Doublemint for half an hour, and then wash the gum in ethanol and dry it out overnight. Carbon nanotubes are then added, and the gum is repeatedly stretched and folded, like you would with pizza dough, to align the ‘tubes. After that, just hook up electrodes and measure the resistance as you bend it.

The obvious advantage of a gum sensor is that it’s slightly sticky and very stretchy. The team says it works when stretched up to five times its resting length. Try that with your Power Glove.

We’ve seen a couple different DIY flex sensor solutions around these parts, one based on compressing black conductive foam and another using anti-static bags, but the high-tech, low-tech mixture of nanotubes and Wrigley’s is a new one.

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Thomas Midgley, GM, and the Dark Side of Progress

Scientific improvements that create industries and save millions of lives often come at a price that isn’t revealed until much later. Leaded gasoline helped the automobile industry take off and synthesized Freon extended the lifespan of lifesaving vaccines, but they took an incredible toll on the environment.

Both were invented in the early 20th century by Thomas Midgley, Jr. After graduating from Cornell in 1911 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he worked briefly for National Cash Register where inventor Charles Kettering had just created the first electronic till. In 1916, Midgley started working for Kettering at Dayton Metal Products Company, which soon became the research division of General Motors.

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The Filmomat Home Film Processing System

The death of film has been widely reported, but technologies are only perfected after they’ve been made obsolete. It may not be instant photography, but there is at least one machine that will take 35mm film and 5×7″ prints and develop them automatically. It’s called the Filmomat, and while it won’t end up in the studios of many photographers, it is an incredible example of automation.

The Filmomat is an incredible confabulation of valves, tubes, and pumps that will automatically process any reasonably sized film, from 35mm to 5×7 color slides. The main body of the machine is an acrylic cube subdivided into different sections containing photo processing chemicals, rinse water, and baths. With a microcontroller, an OLED display, and a rotary encoder, different developing processes can be programmed in, the chemicals heated, developer agitated, and film processed. The Filomat is capable of storing fifty different processes that use three chemicals and a maximum of ten steps.

The video for this device is what sells it, although not quite yet; if enough people are interested, the Filmomat might be sold one day. This is likely the easiest film developing will ever get, but then again a technology is only perfected after it has been made obsolete.

Thanks [WhiteRaven] for sending this one in.

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Basic Toolkit for the Basement Biohacker

Laying hands on the supplies for most hacks we cover is getting easier by the day. A few pecks at the keyboard and half a dozen boards or chips are on an ePacket from China to your doorstep for next to nothing. But if hacking life is what you’re into, you’ll spend a lot of time and money gathering the necessary instrumentation. Unless you roll your own mini genetic engineering lab from scratch, that is.

arduino-based-biolab-data-logger-thumbTaking the form of an Arduino mega-shield that supports a pH meter, a spectrophotometer, and a PID-controlled hot plate, [M. Bindhammer]’s design has a nice cross-section of the instruments needed to start biohacking in your basement. Since the shield piggybacks on an Arduino, all the data can be logged, and decisions can be made based on the data as it is collected. One example is changing the temperature of the hot plate when a certain pH is reached. Not having to babysit your experiments could be a huge boon to the basement biohacker.

Biohacking is poised to be the next big thing in the hacking movement, and [M. Bindhammer]’s design is far from the only player in the space. From incubators to peristaltic pumps to complete labs in a box, the tools to tweak life are starting to reach critical mass. We can’t wait to see where these tools lead.

New Magnetic Semiconductor

When you think of South Dakota you generally think of Mount Rushmore and, maybe, nuclear missiles. However, [Simeon Gilbert] will make you think of semiconductors. [Simeon], a student at South Dakota State University, won first place at the annual Sigma Xi national conference because of his work on a novel magnetic semiconductor.

The material, developed in collaboration with researchers from the nano-magnetic group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a mix of cobalt, iron, chromium, and aluminum. However, some of the aluminum is replaced with silicon. Before the replacement, the material maintained its magnetic properties at temperatures up to 450F. With the silicon standing in for some of the aluminum atoms, the working temperature is nearly 1,000F.

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IndieGoGo Project Offers DNA Editing For The Home

CRISPR is the new darling of the genetics world, because it allows you to easily edit DNA. It is far more effective than previous techniques, being both precise and relatively easy to use. According to this IndieGoGo project, it is coming to your home lab soon. Genetic researchers love Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) because it allows you to very precisely edit a DNA strand. Using a protein called CAS9, CRISPR can find a very specific sequence in a DNA sequence and cut it. It occurs naturally in cells as part of the immune system: by finding and remembering parts of virus DNA, a cell can recognize and attack it when infected. For the genetics researcher, this allows them to insert new DNA sequences at specific points in the genes of any living cell.

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