Searching For Alien Life With The Sun As Gravitational Telescope

Astronomy is undoubtedly one of the most exciting subjects in physics. Especially the search for exoplanets has been a thriving field in the last decades. While the first exoplanet was only discovered in 1992, there are now 4,144 confirmed exoplanets (as of 2nd April 2020). Naturally, we Sci-Fi lovers are most interested in the 55 potentially habitable exoplanets. Unfortunately, taking an image of an Earth 2.0 with enough detail to identify potential features of life is impossible with conventional telescopes.

The solar gravitational lens mission, which has recently been selected for phase III funding by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, is aiming to change that by taking advantage of the Sun’s gravitational lensing effect. Continue reading “Searching For Alien Life With The Sun As Gravitational Telescope”

Three Years Of HardwareX: Where Are They Now?

After three years of online publications, HardwareX may have solidified itself as an academic journal for open-source hardware. We originally wrote about HardwareX back in 2016. At the time, HardwareX hadn’t even published its first issue and only begun soliciting manuscripts. Now after three years of publishing, six issues as of October 2019 (with the seventh scheduled for April 2020), and an impact factor of 4.33, it’s fair to say that Elsevier’s push into open-access publications is on a path to success.

To give you a bit of background, HardwareX aims to promote the reproducibility of scientific work by giving researchers an avenue to publish all the hardware and software hacks that often get buried in traditional manuscripts. The format of HardwareX articles is a bit different than most academic journals. HardwareX articles look more like project pages similar to (Maybe we inspired them a bit? Who knows.)

It’s a bold attempt on Elsevier’s part because although open-access is held as an ideal scenario for scientific work, such efforts often come under quite a bit of scrutiny in the academic community. Don’t ask us. We can’t relate.

Either way, we genuinely wish Elsevier all the best and will keep our eyes on HardwareX. Maybe some of our readers should consider publishing their projects in HardwareX.

Growing Human Neurons Hooked Up To Electrodes

Philosophers have long mused about the concept of a “brain in a jar”, but thus far, it’s remained the preserve of science fiction rather than reality. However, after reading some scientific papers, [Justin] wanted to attempt the feat himself, so set out to grow some human neurons on an electrode array. 

The project builds on [Justin]’s earlier work, using his DC sputtering rig to coat a glass microscope slide with electrodes. The first layer is silver for high conductivity, with an added gold layer for biocompatibility. The screw cap from a Falcon tube is then epoxied on to act as a reservoir for culture media for the neurons. Finally, an air filter is added to allow the biological mixture to breathe.

This was [Justin]’s first attempt at culturing neurons, and there were plenty of hurdles along the way. The custom culture assemblies had issues with the epoxy bonds leaking or failing entirely, leading to only one slide making it through the sterilization process. Additionally, the neurons were accidentally added in too high a quantity. While some growth was observed under the microscope, [Justin] was unable to detect any real signal from the system.

Despite a poor final result, plenty was learned along the way. [Justin] has already put plans into place to fix some of the pitfalls of the original experiment, and we look forward to seeing future updates from the project. Video after the break.

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See You On The Dark Side Of The Moon: China’s Lunar Radio Observatory

For nearly as long as there has been radio, there have been antennas trained on the sky, looking at the universe in a different light than traditional astronomy. Radio astronomers have used their sensitive equipment to study the Sun, the planets, distant galaxies, and strange objects from the very edge of the universe, like pulsars and quasars. Even the earliest moments of the universe have been explored, a portrait in microwave radiation of the remnants of the Big Bang.

And yet with all these observations, there’s a substantial slice of the radio spectrum that remains largely a mystery to radio astronomers. Thanks to our planet’s ionosphere, most of the signals below 30 MHz aren’t observable by ground-based radio telescopes. But now, thanks to an opportunity afforded by China’s ambitious lunar exploration program, humanity is now listening to more of what the universe is saying, and it’s doing so from a new vantage point: the far side of the moon.

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Hiring From A Makerspace Pays Off

A makerspace is a great place to use specialty tools that may be too expensive or large to own by oneself, but there are other perks that come with participation in that particular community. For example, all of the skills you’ve gained by using all that fancy equipment may make you employable in some very niche situations. [lukeiamyourfather] from the Dallas Makerspace recently found himself in just that situation, and was asked to image a two-million-year-old fossil.

The fossil was being placed into a CT machine for imaging, but was too thick to properly view. These things tend to be fragile, so he spent some time laser cutting an acrylic stand in order to image the fossil vertically instead of horizontally. Everything that wasn’t fossil had to be non-conductive for the CT machine, so lots of fishing line and foam was used as well. After the imaging was done, he was also asked to 3D print a model for a display in the museum.

This is all going on at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science if you happen to be in the Dallas area. It’s interesting to see these skills put to use out in the wild as well, especially for something as rare and fragile as studying an old fossil. Also, if you’d like to see if your local makerspace measures up to the Dallas makerspace, we featured a tour of it back in 2014, although they have probably made some updates since then.

Build Your Own Plasma Ball

The simple plasma ball – it graces science museums and classrooms all around the world. It shares a place with the Van de Graaf generator, with the convenient addition of spectacular plasma rays that grace its spherical surface. High voltage, aesthetically pleasing, mad science tropes – what would make a better DIY project?

For some background, plasma is the fourth state of matter, often created by heating a neutral gas or ionizing the gas in a strong electromagnetic field. The availability of free electrons allows plasma to conduct electricity and exhibit different properties from ordinary gases. It is also influenced by magnetic fields in this state and can often be found in electric arcs.

[Discrete Electronics Guy] built a plasma bulb using the casing from an old filament bulb and an ignition coil connected to a high voltage power supply. The power supply is based on the 555 timer IC. It uses a step-up transformer (the ignition coil) driven by a square wave oscillator circuit at a high frequency working as AC voltage. The square wave signal boosts the current into the power transistor, increasing its power.

The plasma is produced inside the bulb, which contains inactive noble gases. When touching the surface of the bulb, the electric arc flows to the point of contact. The glass medium protects the skin from burning, but the transparency allows the plasma to be seen. Pretty cool!

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Willem Kolff’s Artificial Organs

In my youth I worked for a paid ambulance service, and while we all lived for the emergency calls, the routine transports were the calls that paid the bills. Compared with the glamor and excitement of a lights-and-siren run to a car wreck or heart attack, transports were dull as dirt. And dullest of all were the daily runs from nursing homes to the dialysis center, where rows of comfy chairs sat, each before a refrigerator-sized machine designed to filter the blood of a patient in renal failure, giving them another few days of life.

Sadly, most of those patients were doomed; many were in need of a kidney transplant for which there was no suitable donor, while some were simply not candidates for transplantation. Dialysis was literally all that stood between them and a slow, painful death, and I could see that at least some of them were cheered by the sight of the waiting dialysis machine. The principles of how the kidneys work have been known since at least the 1800s, but it would take until 1945 for the efforts of a Dutch doctor, using used car parts and sausage casings, to make the predecessor of those machines: the first artificial kidney.

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