Optical Tweezers Investigate Tiny Particles

No matter how small you make a pair of tweezers, there will always be things that tweezers aren’t great at handling. Among those are various fluids, and especially aerosolized droplets, which can’t be easily picked apart and examined by a blunt tool like tweezers. For that you’ll want to reach for a specialized tool like this laser-based tool which can illuminate and manipulate tiny droplets and other particles.

[Janis]’s optical tweezers use both a 170 milliwatt laser from a DVD burner and a second, more powerful half-watt blue laser. Using these lasers a mist of fine particles, in this case glycerol, can be investigated for particle size among other physical characteristics. First, he looks for a location in a test tube where movement of the particles from convective heating the chimney effect is minimized. Once a favorable location is found, a specific particle can be trapped by the laser and will exhibit diffraction rings, or a scattering of the laser light in a specific way which can provide more information about the trapped particle.

Admittedly this is a niche tool that might not get a lot of attention outside of certain interests but for those working with proteins, individual molecules, measuring and studying cells, or, like this project, investigating colloidal particles it can be indispensable. It’s also interesting how one can be built largely from used optical drives, like this laser engraver that uses more than just the laser, or even this scanning laser microscope.

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Simulating Cellular Biology In The Browser

[Technistuff] read a paper about simulating a “minimal” cell — apparently a cell with only 493 genes. This led to a goal: reproduce the simulation in TypeScript so it can run in a web browser. Why? We don’t know, but it is an interesting look at both in-depth biology and how to handle complex simulations. The code is available on GitHub.

For a point of reference, E. Coli has over 4,500 genes. The cell in question — JCVI-syn3A — actually has seven more genes than truly necessary. The data for this bacteria is available from a research lab, again, using GitHub.

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a) Schematic illustration of energy storage process of succulent plants by harnessing solar energy with a solar cell, and the solar cell converts the energy into electricity that can be store in APCSCs of succulent plants, and then utilized by multiple electrical appliances. b–d) The energy is stored in cactus under sunlight by solar cell and then power light strips of Christmas tree for decoration.

Succulents Into Supercapacitors

Researchers in Beijing have discovered a way to turn succulents into supercapacitors to help store energy. While previous research has found ways to store energy in plants, it often required implants or other modifications to the plant itself to function. These foreign components might be rejected by the plant or hamper its natural functions leading to its premature death.

This new method takes an aloe leaf, freeze dries it, heats it up, then uses the resulting components as an implant back into the aloe plant. Since it’s all aloe all the time, the plant stays happy (or at least alive) and becomes an electrolytic supercapacitor.

Using the natural electrolytes of the aloe juice, the supercapacitor can then be charged and discharged as needed. The researchers tested the concept by solar charging the capacitor and then using that to run LED lights.

This certainly proposes some interesting applications, although we think your HOA might not be a fan. We also wonder if there might be a way to use the photosynthetic process more directly to charge the plant? Maybe this could recharge a tiny robot that lands on the plants?

Some Bacteria Could Have A Rudimentary Form Of Memory

When we think of bacteria, we think of simple single-celled organisms that basically exist to consume resources and reproduce. They don’t think, feel, or remember… or do they? Bacteria don’t have brains, and as far as we know, they’re incapable of thought. But could they react to an experience and recall it later?

New research suggests that some bacteria could have a rudimentary form of memory of their experiences in the environment. They could even pass this memory down across generations via a unique mechanism. Let’s dive into the latest research that is investigating just what bacteria know, and how they happen to know it.

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Exploring Tropical Rainforest Stratification Using Space-Based LiDAR

GEDI is deployed on the the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility (JEM-EF). The highlighted box shows the location of GEDI on the JEM-EF.
GEDI is deployed on the the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility (JEM-EF). The highlighted box shows the location of GEDI on the JEM-EF.

Even though it may seem like we have already explored every single square centimeter of the Earth, there are still many areas that are practically unmapped. These areas include the bottom of the Earth’s oceans, but also the canopy of the planet’s rainforests. Rather having herds of explorers clamber around in the upper reaches of these forests to take measurements, researchers decided to use LiDAR to create a 3D map of these forests (press release).

The resulting GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation) NASA project includes a triple-laser-based LiDAR system that was launched to the International Space Station in late 2018 by CRS-16 where it has fulfilled its two-year mission which began in March of 2019. Included in the parameters recorded this way are surface topography, canopy height metrics, canopy cover metrics and vertical structure metrics.

Originally, the LiDAR scanner was supposed to be decommissioned by stuffing it into the trunk of a Dragon craft before its deorbit, but after NASA found a way to scoot the scanner over to make way for a DOD payload, the project looks to resume scanning the Earth’s forests next year, where it can safely remain until the ISS is deorbited in 2031. Courtesy of the ISS’s continuous orbiting of the Earth, it’ll enable daily monitoring of its rainforests in particular, which gives us invaluable information about the ecosystems they harbor, as well as whether they’re thriving or not.

Hopefully after its hibernation period the orbital LiDAR scanner will be back in action, as the instrument is subjected to quite severe temperature changes in its storage location. Regardless, putting LiDAR scanners in orbit has to be one of those amazing ideas to help us keep track of such simple things as measuring the height of trees and density of foliage.

No Fish Left Behind

For hundreds of years, Icelanders have relied on the ocean for survival. This is perhaps not surprising as it’s an isolated island surrounded by ocean near the Arctic circle. But as the oceans warm and fisheries continue to be harvested unsustainably, Iceland has been looking for a way to make sure that the fish they do catch are put to the fullest use, for obvious things like food and for plenty of other novel uses as well as they work towards using 100% of their catch.

After harvesting fish for food, most amateur fishers will discard around 60% of the fish by weight. Some might use a portion of this waste for fertilizer in a garden, but otherwise it is simply thrown out. But as the 100% Fish Project is learning, there are plenty of uses for these parts of the fish as well. Famously, cod skin has been recently found to work as skin grafts for humans, while the skin from salmon has been made into a leather-type product and the shells of crustaceans like shrimp can be made into medicine. The heads and bones of fish can be dried and made into soups, and other parts of fish can be turned into things like Omega-3 capsules and dog treats.

While we don’t often feature biology-related hacks like this, out-of-the-box thinking like this is an important way to continue to challenge old ideas, leave less of a footprint, improve human lives, and potentially create a profitable enterprise on top of all of that. You might even find that life in the seas can be used for things you never thought possible before, like building logic gates out of crabs.

Thanks to [Ben] for the tip!

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Hackaday Links: July 2, 2023

Members of Pixelbar woke up to shocking news on Wednesday morning this week as they learned that a fire had destroyed the building housing their Rotterdam hackerspace. Pictures of the fire are pretty dramatic and show the entire building ablaze. We’re not familiar with Pixelbar specifically, but most hackerspaces seem to share space with other businesses in repurposed warehouses and other industrial buildings, and it looks like that was the case here. Local coverage doesn’t indicate that a cause has been determined, but they do say that “large batches of wood” were stored in or near the structure, which likely contributed to the dramatic display. There don’t seem to be reports of injuries to civilians or first responders, so that’s a blessing, but Pixelbar seems to have been completely destroyed. If you’re in a position to help, check out their GoFundMe page. As our own Jenny List, who currently lives in The Netherlands, points out, spaces suitable for housing a hackerspace are hard to come by in a city like Rotterdam, which is the busiest port in Europe. That means Pixelbar members will be competing for space with businesses that have far deeper pockets, so anything you can donate will likely go a long way toward rebuilding.

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