Science for the win!! Weekly science roundup

by on 18/01/2014

Science For The Win!

2014 Week 2


Once again this week hasn’t been very eventful. There’s maybe three totally awesome developments in science that have happened since the last round up, and one pretty cool space thingy.

Like Wind Power? You’ll love this new way to charge your cell phone (mobile).

On the beautiful island of Kauai in Hawaii, there is a law that states that no man made structure can exceed the height of a three story building. This has put a huge restriction on the people who have purchased the large energy saving wind turbines. There are an estimated 250 turbines waiting to be set up. They are fully functional and fully paid for by private consumers. And they are serving no purpose except collecting dust. Researchers at The University of Texas-Arlington have developed an extreme alternative to these seemingly innocuous laws.

micro windmill

Miniature turbines that are so tiny, ten can fit on a single grain of rice. Can you imagine!? They are freaking adorable. Made of flexible nickel alloy, these 1.8mm turbines are extremely durable. Currently, the mass producers that have purchased the manufacturing rights are hopeful that in the near future we will be using these to charge our cell phones rather than plugging them in. I don’t know about you but all I imagine is the invasion of cubes from Doctor Who. Micro turbines everywhere.

Save The Bees! Well at least track the bees…

We have all heard about the been pandemic going on. What is happening to all the bees? Why isn’t there more focus on this particular subject? If the bees die off, we all die off. With honey bees accounting for the pollination of at least one third of our food, this being a free service they provide, they are essential to our fragile ecosystem and the survival of thousands of species we share it with. Researchers have created a new way to study the bees and hopefully develop a better understanding of what is happening.

A small computer chip that is attached to the backside of the bees can help track the movements and habits of these little creatures. The researchers are trying to develop a 3D model of bee behaviour in hopes that we can better understand them and help farmers to utilize the free service these bees offer. I personally think this is pretty cool. I might be severely allergic to them, but the bees are so very important to our survival.

NASA gets a well deserved budget increase.


To quote Armageddon, “I beg our pardon sir, but it is big ass sky.” The current budget only allows for the observation of a very small fraction of the big ass sky. The 2014 fiscal year saw a pretty nice increase though. $800 million to be exact. This brings the total NASA budget to $17.65 billion. The Orion, James Webb Space Telescope, Europa Mission and the Space Launch system are now fully funded. I wish there was more to report on this particular subject, but without sounding like a high school report on the various space programs, I just couldn’t do it. The original article does have some pretty decent information regarding the breakdown of this year funding and the history of the programs funded by this years budget.

Walking Fish? Indeed.

Tiktaalik roseae

One of my favourite steps in evolution was when fish made the transition from water to land. In 2004 a set of fossils called Tiktaalik roseae was discovered by Neil Shubin and his team from University of Chicago. This was a great discovery in evolution as it showed the pelvic girdle to be larger than other previously discovered tetrapod. This caused researchers to examine and focus on this trait. With Tiktaalik having such a large pelvic girdle, the team determined that the limbs or fins of this particular specimen were what allowed the creature to transition to moving through muddy land and not just water. There is still much to learn from this specimen as some of the bones are still missing, some very important ones that could answer more questions we have about this transition.

A fun and simple way to bring science to family time.

This has been floating around for quite some time. I have yet to try it our myself but others have and they say it worked well. They didn’t even have an expensive microscope, just a cheap one from Walmart. It’s all about extracting DNA from organic matter.

DNA can be extracted and examined quite easily. If you don’t have dried peas, strawberries or bananas make an excellent choice. For this experiment, you will need:

  • 100 ml (½ cup) plant source of DNA
  • Less than 1 ml (⅛ teaspoon) table salt
  • 200 ml (1 cup) cold water
  • Enzymes (meat tenderizer or contact lens solution will work well)
  • 30ml (2 tablespoons) liquid dish detergent
  • 70-90% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol
  • Blender
  • Strainer
  • Glass bowl
  • Test Tubes
  • Wooden skewers or straws

Add the plant material, salt, and water to the blender. Blend at the highest setting for 15-20 seconds. Strain the contents over the bowl, and add the detergent. Allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes. Next, divide into test tubes, each no more than ⅓ full. Add a pinch of enzymes to each tube and very gently stir to combine. Alcohol can be added to each test tube, matching the volume of the plant mixture. The white precipitate between the layers is the DNA! It can be extracted with a clean wooden skewer and examined under a microscope, or placed in alcohol for safekeeping.

I really hope some of you try this at home. There are many more activities that are simple to do at home and can be found here: