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Science

The Boston Subway (Photo: DanTD)

Over the next six months, the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is releasing a harmless bacterium into the underground train system as part of its “Detect to Protect” program. It’s purpose isn’t to frighten commuters, but to test sensors designed to detect biological weapon attacks.  Read More

Sugar molecules in the gas surrounding a young Sun-like star (Image: ALMA/L. Calçada & NAS...

Using the latest-generation Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), which is an advanced system of 64 radio-telescope antennas in northern Chile, scientists at the European Southern Observatory have discovered a simple form of sugar orbiting a small binary star. Known as 16293-2422, that star is only 400 light-years away, and has about the same mass as the Sun. The finding could shed light on how the building blocks of life can originate spontaneously in deep space, even without a planet to support them.  Read More

Close up of a red harvester ant (Photo: Sandstein)

Ask who invented the Internet and you’ll spark off an argument with everyone championed from DARPA to Nikola Tesla. However, two Stanford scientists claim that the inventor may have had six legs, antennae and a taste for disrupting picnics. Professor of biology Deborah Gordon and professor of computer science Balaji Prabhakar say that red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) use the same Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) in foraging that the internet uses to manage data transmissions – making a sort of “Anternet.”  Read More

Curiosity's track marks spelling out 'JPL' in Morse code (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The NASA Mars rover Curiosity began its mission of exploration this week and as it rolled out, it wrote the place of its birth on the Martian surface. The 4x4-sized unmanned explorer will travel a quarter of a mile (400 m) to an area where it will test its robotic arm and may use its sample-collecting drill for the first time. As it goes along, the treads on Curiosity’s six wheels spell out “JPL” (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) over and over in Morse code.  Read More

Smart sutures that contain ultrathin sensors to detect when a wound is infected.(Image: Jo...

Sutures have come along way from the days of silk and catgut, but now they’re poised to make their biggest change in 3,000 years. They’re getting smart. John Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has invented a “smart” suture that contains ultrathin sensors that can detect when a wound is infected and may one day be able to actively promote healing as well.  Read More

A chapter of the layered geological history of Mars is laid bare in this postcard from NAS...

For the very first time in human history, a human voice was streamed from the surface of another planet and traveled some 168 million miles (267 million km) into space before it was heard on Earth. The audio was a pre-recorded message from NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who sent a congratulatory message to the engineers involved in the US$2.5 billion mission to safely land the Mars Science Laboratory – better known as the Curiosity rover – on the surface of Mars.  Read More

A microscope image of some of the wired tissue (Image: Boston Children's Hospital)

Under its human skin, James Cameron’s Terminator was a fully-armored cyborg built out of a strong, easy-to-spot hyperalloy combat chassis – but judging from recent developments, it looks like Philip K. Dick and his hard-to-recognize replicants actually got it right. In a collaboration between Harvard, MIT and Boston Children's Hospital, researchers have figured out how to grow three-dimensional samples of artificial tissue that are very intimately embedded within nanometer-scale electronics, to such an extent that it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. It could lead to a breakthrough approach to studying biological tissues on the nanoscale, and may one day be used as an efficient, real-time drug delivery system – and perhaps, why not, even to build next-generation androids.  Read More

The frozen Rhine river close to Mainz during the winter of 1962/1963 (Photo: Frank Sirocko...

Some clever cross-referencing has helped an international team of researchers establish a link between low periods of solar activity and frosty European winters. The Sun's level of magnetic activity follows an 11-year cycle. Peaks in this cycle pose a threat to telecommunications and electricity networks and it's long been suspected that there's a correlation between the opposite end of the cycle and extreme winters in Europe. A lack of historical average temperature data makes it difficult to confirm this link, but scientists have filled the gap by studying the comings and goings of 19th Century riverboats on the Rhine.  Read More

A scanning electron microscope image of the treated graphene oxide paper

While the lithium-ion batteries commonly used in electric cars are capable of storing a fairly large amount of energy, they’re not able to accept or discharge that energy very quickly. That’s why electric vehicles require supercapacitors, to speedily deliver energy when accelerating, or to store it when braking. Recently, however, researchers from New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute created a new anode material, that allows Li-ion batteries to charge and discharge ten times faster than those using regular graphite anodes. It could make EV supercapacitors unnecessary, and vastly shorten the charging time required by electronic devices.  Read More

In the near future, genetically-altered Ralstonia eutropha bacteria could be used to conve...

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have succeeded in genetically altering Ralstonia eutropha soil bacteria in such a way that they are able to convert carbon into isobutanol, an alcohol that can be blended with or even substituted for gasoline. It is hoped that once developed further, this technology could help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and lessen the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by smoke stacks.  Read More

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