Ancient Insect Scales Analyzed With Help Of Nose Hair

Scientists working to advance the frontier of knowledge frequently also need to invent their tools along the way. Sometimes these are interesting little hacks to get a job done. Recently some researchers found ancestors of moths and butterflies older than any previously known by analyzing tiny scales found alongside ancient pollen. They needed a tool to manipulate these scales: separating them from surrounding debris, transferring them to microscope slides. The special tool was a needle tipped with a single human nostril hair.

As ancient insects were the published paper‘s focus, their use of nose hair tipped needle was only given a brief mention in the “Materials and Methods” section. Interviews by press quoted researchers’ claim that nose hair has the right mechanical properties for the job, without further details. Not even a picture of the tool itself. What properties of insect scales made them a good match with the properties of nose hair? Was there a comprehensive evaluation of multiple types of hair for the task? Would we regret asking these questions?

Novel approaches to fine-tipped tools would be interesting to examine under other contexts, like the tweezers we use to build surface-mount electronics. As SMD parts continue to shrink in size, will we reach a point where hair-tipped tools are the best DIY alternative to an expensive pick-and-place machine? It would be another creative approach to deal with the challenges of hand-built SMD. From simple but effective mechanical helpers, to handy 3D printed tools, to building hybrid Manual + CNC pick-and-place more affordable than their fully automated counterparts.

[via Washington Post]

Fill Your Hot Tub With Sand. For Science!

Here at Hackaday, we can understand if you don’t like sand. It’s coarse, rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. With that said, [Mark Rober] discovered a great way to have fun with sand right in your own back garden.

We’ll preface this by stating that this isn’t the easiest hack to pull off on a lazy Saturday afternoon. You need a spare hot tub, plenty of pipe, and a seriously big air supply. But if you can pull it all together, the payoff is fantastic.

What [Mark] has achieved is turning a regular hot tub into a fluidized bed. In simple terms, this is where a solid particulate material (like sand) is made to act more like a fluid by passing pressurized fluid through the material. Through a carefully built series of drilled copper pipes, [Mark] manages to turn the hot tub into a fluidized bed, much to the enjoyment of his young nephews.

While it’s not the easiest hack to copy at home, [Mark] drives home the science of both the fluidized bed and why certain objects float or sink in the sand. It’s something that can also be easily tackled at a smaller scale, if you’re looking for something more achievable for the average maker.

For more sand science, how about using it to hold up your car?

[Thanks to Keith for the tip!]

Hackaday Prize Entry: Microfluidics Control System

Microfluidics is the fine art of moving tiny amounts of liquid around and is increasingly used in fields such as biology and chemistry. By miniaturizing experiments, it’s possible to run many experiments in parallel and have tighter control over experimental conditions. Unfortunately, the hardware to run these microfluidic experiments is expensive.

[Craig]’s 2017 Hackaday Prize entry involves creating a microfluidics control system for use by researchers and students. This device allows for miniaturized experiments to be run. This allows more projects to be run in parallel and far more cheaply, as they don’t use as many resources like reagents.

[Craig]’s rig consists of an ESP32, a 40-channel IO expander, 3 pressure regulators tuned to different pressures, and around 2 dozen solenoid valves mounted to manifolds. Solutions are moved around with a combination of two pumps, with one providing positive pressure and one serving as a vacuum pump.

Far cheaper than professional microfluidics systems, [Craig]’s project aims to assist biohackers and underfunded researchers in their pursuits.

Build Your Own Wave Tank

Wave tanks are cool, but it’s likely you don’t have one sitting on your coffee table at home. They’re more likely something you’ve seen in a documentary about oil tankers or icebergs. That need no longer be the case – you can build yourself a wave generator at home!

This build comes to use from [TVMiller] who started by creating a small tank out of acrylic sheet. Servo-actuated paddles are then placed in the tank to generate the periodic motion in the water. Two servos are controlled by an Arduino, allowing a variety of simple and more complex waves to be created in the tank. [TVMiller] has graciously provided the code for the project on We’d love to see more detail behind the tank build itself, too – like how the edges were sealed, and how the paddles are hinged.

A wave machine might not be the first thing that comes to mind when doing science at home, but with today’s hardware, it’s remarkable how simple it is to create one. Bonus points if you scale this up to the pool in your backyard – make sure to hit the tip line when you do.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate and encourage women in the fields of science and technology. The day is named after Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, born Byron. (You can see why we just call her Ada Lovelace.) She was a brilliant mathematician, and the writer of what’s probably the first real computer program — it computed the Bernoulli series. At least according Charles Babbage, in correspondence to Michael Faraday, she was an “enchanted math fairy”. Not only a proto-coder, she wrote almost all of the existing documentation about Babbage’s computation engine. She’s a stellar example of a brilliant and unique individual. If you were looking for a superhero to represent women in science and tech, Ada’s a good pick.

In our minds, she gets stiff competition from Marie Curie. Curie did fundamental research on radioactivity, is one of two people with Nobel Prizes in two different sciences, and got to name the two elements that she discovered. 2011 was the Year of Marie Curie in France and Poland. She has her own year in addition to her own unit. Even Spiderman doesn’t have those radioactive super powers!

Don’t Need Another Hero?

But on a day dedicated to getting more women into the technical arts, it’s also a little bit daunting to pick Lovelace or Curie as a symbol. Are you ever going to have something that equals “first computer program” or “two Nobel Prizes” on your résumé? We aren’t. It’s great to have heroes, but maybe we need more than just heroes — we also need mentors.

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Retrotechtacular: The Bell Laboratory Science Series

For those of a certain vintage, no better day at school could be had than the days when the teacher decided to take it easy and put on a film. The familiar green-blue Bell+Howell 16mm projector in the center of the classroom, the dimmed lights, the chance to spend an hour doing something other than the normal drudgery — it all contributed to a palpable excitement, no matter what the content on that reel of film.

But the best days of all (at least for me) were when one of the Bell Laboratory Science Series films was queued up. The films may look a bit schlocky to the 21st-century eye, but they were groundbreaking at the time. Produced as TV specials to be aired during the “family hour,” each film is a combination of live-action for the grown-ups and animation for the kiddies that covers a specific scientific topic ranging from solar physics with the series premiere Our Mr. Sun to human psychology in Gateways to the Mind. The series even took a stab at explaining genetics with Thread of Life in 1960, an ambitious effort given that Watson and Crick had only published their model of DNA in 1953 and were still two years shy of their Nobel Prize.

Produced between 1956 and 1964, the series enlisted some really big Hollywood names. Frank Capra, director of Christmas staple It’s a Wonderful Life, helmed the first four films. The series featured exposition by “Dr. Research,” played by Dr. Frank Baxter, an English professor. His sidekick was usually referred to as “Mr. Fiction Writer” and first played by Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame. A list of voice actors and animators for the series reads like a who’s who of the golden age of animation: Daws Butler, Hans Conried, Sterling Halloway, Chuck Jones, Maurice Noble, Bob McKimson, Friz Freleng, and queen and king themselves, June Foray and Mel Blanc. Later films were produced by Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Studios, with Disney starring in the final film. The combined star power really helped propel the films and help Bell Labs deliver their message.

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Using A Thermal Camera To Spot A Broken Wrist

Chemist and Biochemist [Thunderf00t] has shown us a really interesting video in which you can spot the wrist he broke 10 years ago using a thermal camera.

He was on an exercise bike while filming himself on a high-resolution thermal camera, As his body started to heat up he noticed that one hand was not dumping as much heat as the other. In fact one was dumping very little heat. Being a man of science he knew there must be some explanation for this. He eventually came to the conclusion that during a nasty wrist breaking incident about 10 years ago it must have affected the blood-flow to that hand, Which would go on to produce these type of results on a thermal camera while exercising.

Using thermal camera’s to spot fractures in the extremities is nothing new as it has the benefit of eliminating radiation exposure for patients, But it’s not as detailed as an X-ray or as cool as fluoroscopy and is only useful for bones near the surface of the skin.  It’s still great that you can visualize this for yourself and even after 10 years still notice a significant difference.

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