Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2005

In the News:

Bird-Dinosaur Connection Stronger - Scientists think that two eggs, still in the fossilized remains of their mother, are further evidence that birds descended from dinosaurs. Scientists studying the eggs say that they show that the dinosaur, a oviraptorosaurian, had a reproductive system partly like that of reptiles and partly like that of birds. The animal had two ovaries and two oviducts, just like many reptiles (but unlike birds which only have one). Each oviduct produced one large egg at a time, just like birds, but unlike reptiles. The dinosaur, which measured between ten and thirteen feet in length, probably laid her eggs two at at time until the nest was full.

Fetus Stolen From Science Display- Last month thieves stole a preserved human fetus from the "Gunther von Hagens' Body World 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies" exhibit in Los Angeles. The display which shows human bodies preserved through a "plastination" process, has been controversial where ever it has appeared as some people have complained that the display of donated corpses is disrespectful. Police say that the thieves were captured on a surveillance camera and authorities are working to solve the case.

TET Walker - NASA is working on a new kind of robot that might eventually be used to explore the Moon or Mars. The tetrahedral walker, or TET walker, is built out of a series of struts in the shape of a three-sided pyramid. By lengthening or shortening the struts the device's center of gravity changes and it "falls" over. By continuing to change the length on the struts the robot can roll along over terrain that might be too difficult to navigate with a wheeled or tracked vehicle. A more advanced version of the device will be composed of 12 pyramids and will be able to conform it's shape to the terrain is going over. Researchers hope to be able to test the device on the moon as early as 2012.

Flying Taxis - Science Fiction stories from the 60's that pictured people commuting by flying cars into their jobs in the city may not be as far-fetched as once thought. A London based company, Designers Avcen, is working on an air-borne taxi that can take off and land on a short 125 meter runway and carry seven people at speeds as high as 350 mph. The company expects that they may be able to do a test flight in less than a year. Approximately 50 aircraft would service a city the size of London and take some 37,000 cars off the road.

Housefly Powered Robot - Scientists at the University of the West of England have designed a robot that powers itself by catching and eating houseflies. The robot, named EcoBot II, is designed to operate outside away from normal power sources. It lures flies with human sewage and then digests them using bacteria and turns their exoskeletons in electricity which the robot can use to operate. So far the robot is just a research project and can travel at only 10 centimeters an hour.


What's New at the Museum:

Leonardo's Notebooks - They started out as ways for Leonardo da Vinci to improve his art, but they became a record of his lifelong fascination with nature and his genius for invention >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Hard Disc for the Brain - I was thinking about this and I'm not sure if it is possible in the near future. My question is, is it possible to download your memory and transfer it to a hard drive and if possible, vice versa. I was wondering, if they know where the brain stores its memories then they could copy these impulses and translate it to a hard drive. This will benefit people who suffered from long term memory loss due to accidents. So is this possible? -Rowell

Scientists don't know as nearly as much they would like about the human brain. What they do know, however, is that not organized in the same way as your home computer. Despite their seeming complexity, most computers are just fancy, programmable adding machines. Brains are far more complex, and at this point, more mysterious.

Most computers are organized with their memory components separate from their computation elements. The machine's memory can be thought of as simply millions of little mailboxes. Each mailbox is capable of storing a number- or "byte" - between 0 and 255 (Computers store larger numbers by stringing several mailboxes together. It stores letters by giving each letter a number code). When a computer wants to do an operation like addition, part of it called the accumulator fetches the number out of the mailbox, and adds it with another number, then puts it back in a mailbox.

In the human brain memory and processing are not separated in the same way. Memory and processing seem to be mixed together. Both seem to depend on the strength of connections between nerves cells called synapses. Engineers have built computers based on this "neural net" model, but they are not, as yet, in wide-spread use. Because memory and processing are not separated, researchers have a hard time even agreeing on how much memory (in terms of computer bytes) the human brain holds. One group reported in 2003 in an article in the journal Brain and Mind, that the capacity was around 10 to the power of 8,432 based on the number of neurons times the number of connections. This is more capacity than every computer ever made added together. Another scientist, Thomas Landauer of Bell Communications Research, has estimated the size based on the functional capacity of the brain - that is based on how much information people actually remember from minute-to-minute or day-to-day. When this technique is used the number comes up to just a few hundred megabytes - the size of a small hard disc.

In either case, we don't have any idea yet about how you would unload or load stored information into a human brain making any storage solution irrelevant. There are some technical ways to assist people with memory problems, however. Companies are working on button sized devices a person could wear and record everything they hear and see during there entire lifetime. Engineers are looking at ways to make this mass of information retrievable in a form that people can actually use. These solutions are technically feasible in the near future, but the privacy considerations of having our whole life recorded are still a concern for many people.


To Read:

Subterranean Worlds - This anthology put together by Peter Fitting is a must for any serious student of the history of hollow earth theory or beliefs in underground civilizations. The selection of works in the book includes material written by Athanasius Kircher, Edmund Halley, John Cleves Symmes Jr and many others who have flirted with such strange notions. He also incorporates writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne who have pictured underground worlds in their fiction.

Fittings, a Professor of French and Director of the Department of Cinema Studies Program at the University of Toronto, considers his work on the book "somewhere between a hobby and an obsession." Subterranean Worlds took Fittings ten years to research and put together and many of the selections have never been translated into English before.

The book is available from Wesleyan University Press - www.wesleyan,edu/wespress


In History:

Nuts! - On May 9th of 1867 Hazelnuts started falling in great quanities over a small area of Dublin, Ireland. According to Symons's Monthly Meteorological Magazine the nuts fell so hard "that even the police, portected by unusually strong head covering, were obliged to seek shelter from the aerial fusillade!" No explaination for this strange occuranced has ever been found.


In the Sky:

In Opposition - On Wednesday, May 18, Mars and Saturn will be in heliocentric opposition. That means the two planets appear on opposite sides of the heavens, as seen from the sun. From on Earth we can see them with Saturn in the evening sky and Mars in the morning sky after Saturn sets.



Robotic Camel Jockeys - Camel races in the Emirate of Qatar will be changing forever as human jockeys are replaced by robotic riders. The robot jockeys have been developed by the Swiss firm K-Team in response to criticism of the dangerous sport which had employed children as young as four years-old as drivers. Race organizers expect that by the fall racing season they will have 20 riding robots ready for use. By 2007 all jockeys are expected to be mechanical.



On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

NOVA: Hunt for the Supertwister - Tornado-chasing scientists with an eye to better forecasting risk their lives to plumb the secrets of nature's most terrifying killer. May 3 at 8 pm.

NOVA: Secrets of the Crocodile Caves - Rare lemurs and crocodiles with bizarre cave-dwelling behavior draw scientists to a remote corner of Madagascar. May 10 at 8 pm.

The Hindenburg Disaster: Probable Cause - When the Hindenburg took to the skies in 1936, it became the largest flying machine in history. What caused the Hindenburg's spectacular and tragic demise in only 34 seconds is still not clear. Specialist investigators re-examine this airship disaster. On the Science Channel: May 05 @ 10:00 PM, May 06 @ 01:00 AM, May 06 @ 06:00 AM, May 06 @ 09:00 AM, May 06 @ 02:00 PM, May 06 @ 05:00 PM, ET/PT

Brilliant Minds Secrets of the Cosmos - Follow the tumultuous lives of four of the worldıs greatest physicists: Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking. These rebels and misfits overturned our vision of the universe. What were these brilliant men really like? On the Science Channel: May 06 @ 09:00 PM, May 07 @ 12:00 AM, May 07 @ 05:00 AM, May 07 @ 08:00 AM, May 07 @ 01:00 PM, May 07 @ 04:00 PM ; ET.

The Real Jules Verne - Jules Verne is recognized as a founding father of science fiction with predictions of the future that were uncannily accurate. Meet this extraordinary man through interviews with fellow writers, academics, and even modern submarine pilots and astronauts. On Science Channel: May 22 @ 10:00 PM, May 23 @ 01:00 AM, May 23 @ 06:00 AM, May 23 @ 09:00 AM, May 23 @ 02:00 PM, May 23 @ 05:00 PM

Living With Dinosaurs - Confront the formidable predators that survived the cataclysm 65 million years ago that killed off the T-Rex and other mighty reptiles. Crocodiles, giant lizards and meat-eating turtles live among us, but are relics of the great age of dinosaurs. On The Science Channel: May 16 @ 09:00 PM, May 17 @ 12:00 AM, May 17 @ 05:00 AM, May 17 @ 08:00 AM, May 17 @ 01:00 PM, May 17 @ 04:00 PM, ET/PT.

Exploring Einstein: Life of a Genuis - Albert Einstein's physics theories led to the creation of the nuclear bomb, space travel, and an understanding of our universe. In the later part of his life Einstein tried to disprove his theories as they clashed with his personal beliefs. On Science Channel: May 27 @ 09:00 PM, May 28 @ 12:00 AM, May 28 @ 05:00 AM, May 28 @ 08:00 AM, May 28 @ 01:00 PM, May 28 @ 04:00 PM, ET/PT.

Fireballs From Space - Asteroids and comets roar across the solar system threatening to smash into distant planets and occasionally the Earth. Probes like Deep Impact are watching these dangerous space rocks. Some probes are attempting to land on these alien terrains. On Science Channel: May 24 2005 @ 10:00 PM, May 25 @ 01:00 AM, May 25 @ 06:00 AM, May 25 @ 09:00 AM, May 25 @ 02:00 PM, May 25 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT.

Investigating History Lincoln: Man or Myth? -Abraham Lincoln remains our country's most beloved president--but nearly 200 years after his birth, we're still trying to piece together a true picture of this man who never fails to fascinate, surprise, and enlighten us. Scholars and historians examine how Lincoln became a myth. Was he really the Great Emancipator who deeply wanted to free slaves or a racist and white supremacist? Did the writings that inspired a nation truly come from his pen? Do we really even know what he looked like? On History Channel: May 9 @ 8pm ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005

Copyright Lee Krystek 2005. All Rights Reserved.