Climb walls like a gecko?

For years, scientists have studied geckos climbing ability, with the hopes of creating technology that mimics the grip of their feet.  In 2014, DARPA demonstrated the possibility of climbing a glass wall with nothing more than gecko inspired paddles.

gecko feetGeckoFeet_f

Gecko’s feet have nanometer size hairs that interact with surfaces through forces called van der Waals forces.  This is a difficult technology to ‘scale up’ because humans are considerably more massive than geckos (~200 g vs 75 kg).

Research continues into different materials.  This week Georgia Tech researchers moved one step closer to using these types of materials in industrial applications.

Posted in Biology, Chemistry | Leave a comment

Animals do what?!

Recently, several articles have been published regarding the strange behavior or identity of animals.  For example…

Did you know that the praying mantis has been known to eat hummingbirds?  While all 2500 species are known to be predators, 12 species have been observed to specifically prey on birds.  These observations have occurred in thirteen countries and six continents.

Image result for praying mantis

Original photo taken from National Geographic.


Rare white giraffes have been spotted recently in Kenya!  (There is even video!) These giraffes have a condition known as leucism, which is a partial loss of several pigmentation compounds in the skin.  Read more about these the surprising number of animals that are observed with this condition here.

Picture: Hirola Conservation Program/Caters


Recent research has suggested that jellyfish can sleepScientists at CalTech have observed behavior that would be characteristic of sleep in other animals.  Since scientists know very little about why we sleep, knowing that even animals without a central nervous system need sleep may provide further information.

Posted in Biology | Leave a comment

New dinosaur findings

A new specimen of a feathered dinosaur has been found encased in amber.  The amber, roughly the size of an apricot was discovered in Myanmar.  A 1.4 inch section of a tail was encapsulated.

dinosaur tail

Photo credit: Lida Xing

The dinosaur is thought to be a juvenile coelurosaur after an analysis of the vertebrae via CT scan.  While this dinosaur was covered in feathers, it likely would have been unable to fly.

Researchers also discovered the presence of iron ions – Fe 2+ – suggests hemoglobin may still be trapped in the tail.

These researchers also have identified Cretaceous era bird wings also encased in amber.  More information about these discoveries can be found here and here.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Climate Change

There has been a significant media firestorm in the past few days about the science of climate change.  There are some basic facts that scientifically prove the Earth is changing.

  1.  Carbon dioxide absorbs heat.  More CO2, more heat gets trapped.  If the Earth didn’t have any CO2 in its atmosphere the planet would have average temperatures around zero degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. The amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere has varied over time, but has never been as high as it is right now.  Burning fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal, etc) produces CO2.  We started burning more of these fuels with the Industrial Revolution.  Current CO2 measurements are taken in Hawaii, to avoid big city pollution.  Historic data comes from taking ice samples from Antarctica known as ice cores.  This ice has a small amount of air trapped in it that is analyzed for its content.  There are both night/day and seasonal fluctuations, but averages are quite telling.  The data is summarized in one figure below.

Credit: Vostok ice core data/ JR Petit et al; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record and

Forecasting the exact implications of this change in concentration is difficult, since all areas will react differently.  However, many implications are already being observed.  Changes in overall sea level, ground ice cover, global average temperatures and arctic sea ice are all being observed and monitored by an number of programs around the world. NASA has an incredibly in-depth site dedicated to this science.

There is also an international body, known as the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) with representation by 195 countries, who is in charge of assessing climate change science worldwide.  They regularly publish reports of their findings.  The 5th Assessment Report, found in here or as a condensed summary here, concluded “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Want to see how some of these things might directly affect you?  NOAA has a great sea level map.  You can zoom to see how a variety of different amounts of rise effects areas – note, for example, New Orleans, NYC metro, or Boston.


Posted in Chemistry, Earth Science, Newsworthy | Leave a comment

Close look at a comet

The European Space Agency (ESA) has spent considerable time in the last year trying to understand comets – using 67P as the model.


67P – photo credit ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

This comet was orbited by a satellite, Rosetta, for two years, taking spectacular pictures and communicating with scientists on Earth.  (See Twitter: @ESA_Rosetta)  Rosetta even carried a lander on board, Philae, which was dispatched to the surface of the comet in late 2014.  Philae did not land softly, and only communicated with Earth a few brief times.


A picture of Philae, taken from Rosetta, after separating


On September 30, 2016, Rosetta’s mission was completed and the satellite was purposefully crashed into 67P, taking pictures the entire time.

You can see more about the complete mission here.

Posted in Space | Leave a comment

What I did on my summer vacation, Pt 1

I traveled to 4 national parks in Utah and Colorado –

Capitol Reef – where plate tectonics created the Waterpocket Fold and settlers from 1500 years ago left their mark.  There are also the remnants of old uranium mines in the park!


Capitol Reef – view of the Waterpocket fold


Arches – my favorite of all of the parks I’ve visited – is home to 2000 arches made of Entrada and Navajo Sandstone.  It was 100+ degrees most days, so we hiked early in the morning and remembered to carry lots of water!


Just a few of the sandstone formations

Canyondlands (Island in the Sky District) – The power of erosion is apparent – this area is shaped by both the Colorado and the Green river.  A considerable number of rock strata are on display here.


Views of the Green River



Rocky Mountain National Park – The 3rd most visited park last year had a LOT of people at it.  The wildlife here always attracts significant attention and this visit was no exception.


Adult female elk (rt) and moose with baby (left)


Happy 100th birthday, National Park Service!

Posted in Earth Science | Leave a comment

In case you missed Shark Week…



The Discovery Channel, as always, has shown us some amazing things!  Just a few highlights – you can check out the ultrasound of a pregnant tiger shark, hammerheads hunting black tip sharks, and the reason for the surge in great whites off the shores of Cape Cod.

Did you know you can track sharks yourself?  Several apps, including Global Shark Tracker ( and GHRI SharkTracker (UpperZ), allow you to track tagged sharks!  According to GHRI, the closest recent sighting is a Female Mako Shark named Charlotte.  Charlotte has been tracked for 400+ days, and most recently surfaced off the coast of Delaware on 7/1.  Charlotte’s map is seen below.

charlotteMako Shark Charlotte, locations from GHRI

It’s amazing to see how far some of these animals travel!  A male Tiger Shark, Tim H, was tagged off the coast of Bermuda and was last detected off the coast of Venezuela, 1394 days later (8/8/14).

TimHTiger Shark Tim H, locations from GHRI
Posted in Earth Science | Leave a comment