Introducing the Make: Science Room

200909151604.jpg I am thrilled to announce that we’ve launched a new area on Make: Online, called the Make: Science Room. Here are the deets (from my post about it):

The Make: Science Room is our DIY science destination. Here you’ll find how-tos on setting up a home lab, evaluating and buying equipment and supplies, and conducting all manner of fun and educational home science experiments. We also provide a forum, through Comments, for our readers to share their ideas and collaborate on their own experiments and discoveries. Robert Bruce Thompson is your host. He’s the author of the best-selling Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments (O’Reilly/Make: Books, 2008) and the (not-yet-published) Illustrated Guide to Forensics Investigations. We’ll be including modified content from these books as well as creating original content. As time goes on, we’ll expand the Science Room to include sections on astronomy, Earth sciences, biology, and other disciplines. We already have dozens of additional articles on deck and will be posting batches of them each week, so check back often.

200909151607.jpg Here’s the rest of my post.
Here’s the front door of the site.

DIY mercury testing (or NOT) and new Home Chemistry book

At Make: Books, we’ve been working on an awesome new title, Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, that we’re all really psyched about. Make: Books editor Brian Jepson offers details, by way of an exchange between MAKE publisher Dale Dougherty and the book’s author Robert Bruce Thompson, about the possibility of home-testing for mercury levels:


Robert Bruce Thompson, author of books on everything from PC Hardware to Astronomy, is working on a new book for Make: the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. So, we’ve got chemistry on our mind here, which led Dale Dougherty, the Publisher of Make, to ask Robert:

I read a story last week about the alarmingly high levels of mercury found in fish in the top sushi places in Manhattan. Ever since, I’ve been wondering is it possible/feasible/reasonable to test for mercury in fish — a DIY mercury test kit. I doubt you could do this in restaurant so let’s presume that this is a test kit for store-bought fish.

The answer for mercury is a bit complex:

The problems are that mercury is toxic at unbelievably low levels and that it is a cumulative poison, which is to say it isn’t excreted. Accordingly, the allowable levels are set so low that there’s no chance they could be detected by any wet chemistry test with a sample of any reasonable size. I was pretty sure of my facts, but just to be certain I ran them past organic chemist Dr. Paul Jones. His response was, “Maybe you could use a wet chemistry test if you had an entire 500-pound tuna for your sample, but otherwise you’d have to use instrumental tests.” Organic chemist Dr. Mary Chervenak points out the Reinsch Test for mercury (which also produces a positive for several other heavy metals). You dissolve the sample in dilute HCl and put a copper strip in the solution. Any mercury present plates out on the copper as a silvery mirror. The trouble is, if enough mercury is present to produce a visible mirror with the Reinsch test, that sample has enough mercury in it to poison everyone in a radius of several blocks.

Robert’s got more details over at his daynotes journal, and a couple of other tests have come to our attention since Dale’s original question. Dale sent a link to a Heavy Metals Test (Robert posted his thoughts on this test in his journal as well), and Popular Science just posted a link to a portable blood test for heavy metals. Have any of you come across some interesting tests for poisons in your body, food, or environment? What results have you had?

From The Maker Store: Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments by Robert Bruce Thompson Price: $34.99 Pre-order/Buy: Maker store – Link. For students, DIY hobbyists, and science buffs, who can no longer get real chemistry sets, this one-of-a-kind guide explains how to set up and use a home chemistry lab, with step-by-step instructions for conducting experiments in basic chemistry. Learn how to smelt copper, purify alcohol, synthesize rayon, test for drugs and poisons, and much more. The book includes lessons on how to equip your home chemistry lab, master laboratory skills, and work safely in your lab, along with 17 hands-on chapters that include multiple laboratory sessions.

Do birds have HUDs in their heads?

Street Techie Alberto Gaitan writes “Some birds (and maybe newts!) may have HUDs:”

Published on the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) website, a paper describes how one team of scientists in Germany studied a specie of nocturnal migratory bird to test the hypothesis that birds of that type may be able to visually detect the earth’s magnetic field providing them with what may amount to a head-up display (HUD). Birds trained to orient to magnetic fields managed to do so quickly when tested in white or short wavelength light (i.e., blue and green) but had a hard time doing so when tested in yellow or red light. These previous findings, along with new neuronal tracing data that shows that the part of their brain most active during magnetic orientation is their visual thalamus, suggests that they used visual cues to hop into proper position when the magnetic field changed during the lab experiments.


Atoms That Talk Long Distance

From Reuters:

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. physicists have coaxed tiny artificial atoms into communicating in an advance that may lead to super-fast quantum computers, the researchers said on Wednesday.

Quantum computers hold the promise of being enormously powerful, capable of solving in seconds problems that take today’s fastest machines years to crack.

So far, physicists have worked mostly on developing the most basic of elements that can store information known as quantum bits, or qubits.

But a series of papers in the journal Nature suggest researchers have found a way to get these qubits to communicate over a distance, for instance, across a computer chip.

In the past, the best qubits could do was talk to neighboring qubits, much like the childhood game of telephone.

But researchers from Yale University have found a way to move information stored in a stationary quantum bit via a microwave photon to another stationary quantum bit on the same chip.

Read the rest…

Thanks, Ron!


Maple seed-sized UAV

This is incredible:

Lockheed Martin is looking to supply the Pentagon with flying cameras …. A miniature payload module about the size of an Altoid can be carried by this single-wing Nano Air Vehicle (NAV), sized and shaped like a maple tree seed. The minuscule vehicle is packed with navigation and communications equipment, imaging devices, and sensors that sniff the air for chemicals or detect signs of life such as body heat and breathing.

From Sci Fi Tech blog.


Everlasting Flight, Here We Come…

From New Scientist:

For the first time a solar-powered plane has flown through two consecutive nights, UK defence research company QinetiQ claims. In a secretive weekend mission, their craft Zephyr took off from a US military base in New Mexico and landed 54 hours later.

The solar craft seems to have taken the next hop towards everlasting flight…

Read the rest (and see video)…

[Via /.]


Batteries that Run on Glucose Fuel

Cyborg evolution may have taken a great burp forward with the recent announcement from Sony that they’ve designed a battery that eats glucose. So far, the batteries don’t offer much for their digestive process (about 50 milliwatts per glucose-guzzling cell), but it’s only a matter time, only a matter of time before we’re all joining The Collective and serving a Borg Queen.


Incredible Content-Aware Image “Seam Carving”

This video, from a presentation at SIGGRAPH, shows a demo of a technology that can dynamically edit the content of an image so that it can be resized and still look “correct,” regardless of dimensions. It seeks out and removes areas of an image that have the least amount of a given “energy” in them (say the gradient magnitude function). The process is known as “seam carving” and looks quite extraordinary. At the end of the demo, the authors show how these techniques could be applied in a photo editing program.

The SIGGRAPH paper explaining this image tech can be found here [PDF]

Thanks, Ron!


Gaping void discovered…

From AP Wire:

Astronomers have stumbled upon a tremendous hole in the universe. That’s got them scratching their heads about what’s just not there. The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That’s an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, a University of Minnesota team announced Thursday.

Read the rest of the piece here.

Thanks, Ron!