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Friday Fun: Octopus Juggling Fellow Aquarium Occupants

photo of Otto the Octopus

Otto the octopus wreaks havoc

Otto is constantly craving for attention and always comes up with new stunts so we have realised we will have to keep more careful eye on him – and also perhaps give him a few more toys to play with.

“Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better – much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants.”

Staff believe that the octopus called Otto had been annoyed by the bright light shining into his aquarium and had discovered he could extinguish it by climbing onto the rim of his tank and squirting a jet of water in its direction. The short-circuit had baffled electricians as well as staff at the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany, who decided to take shifts sleeping on the floor to find out what caused the mysterious blackouts.

Related: more fun postsThe Brine Lake Beneath the SeaBaby Sand Dollars Clone Themselves When They Sense DangerVirgin Birth for Another Shark Species

Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel

photo of Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel photo of Hampton Roads Virginia Bridge-Tunnel

Now that is some cool engineering: a bridge that becomes a tunnel. The Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel is a 4.6 miles (7.4 km) crossing for Interstate 664 in Hampton Roads, Virginia, USA. It is a four-lane bridge-tunnel composed of bridges, trestles, man-made islands, and tunnels under a portion of the Hampton Roads harbor where the James, Nansemond, and Elizabeth Rivers come together in the southeastern portion of Virginia.

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It was completed in 1992, after 7 years of construction, at a cost $400 million, and it includes a four-lane tunnel that is 4,800 feet (1,463 m) long, two man-made portal islands, and 3.2 miles (5.1 km) of twin trestle.

Photos by Virginia Department of Transportation. Details from wikipedia. Google satellite view of the bridge-tunnel.

Related: Extreme EngineeringCool Falkirk Wheel Canal LiftThe Dynamics of Crowd Disasters: An Empirical StudyA ‘Chunnel’ for Spain and MoroccoSwiss dig world’s Longest Tunnel

Loan Forgiveness Program for Engineering Students

Update (2011): sadly politicians decided though they can give billions in welfare to investment banks and billions in tax breaks to those giving politicians lots of cash they didn’t want to help out engineering students. I actually wouldn’t have a big problem with this decision (to not fund this program) if it was symptomatic of frugal actions by those we entrust with leading our government. Given how frivolously they reward those that give them lots of cash for their campaigns (or pay as soon as they and their staff take jobs with organizations they gave huge benefits to) I think not funding this very small cost is foolish. This is the type of program I think smart countries will adopt (the types of policies the SUA adopted in the 1960’s and lately countries like Singapore, Korea, China have been adopting to encourage science and engineering leadership for the next generation).

Engineering students would receive up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness under legislation just passed by Congress that the president is expected to sign. The Higher Education Reauthorization and College Opportunity Act of 2008 creates a new program to provide financial incentives for professions in areas of national need including engineering.

Engineering students would qualify for up to $10,000 in credit against their outstanding student loan obligation following graduation and entry into the engineering, technology, applied sciences, or mathematics (and other areas too) workforce. The program authorizes up to $2,000 per year of schooling.

The legislation also includes the Robert C. Byrd American Competitiveness program (an adjustment to the existing program):

a Mathematics and Science Honors Scholarship program for students who are earning baccalaureate or advanced degrees in science, mathematics, or engineering and who agree to serve for five consecutive years in a field relevant to such degree; (2) a Mathematics and Science Incentive program under which the Secretary assumes the obligation to pay the interest due on FFELs and DLs by individuals who agree to serve for five consecutive years as highly qualified teachers of science, technology, engineering or mathematics within high need LEAs, or as mathematics, science, or engineering professionals

Related: Science and Engineering Scholarships and FellowshipsCongress Clears Loan Forgiveness Program To Address Engineer ShortageScientists and Engineers in CongressNSF Undergraduate Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Bacteriophages: The Most Common Life-Like Form on Earth

photo of bacteriophage

There are more bacteriophages on Earth than any other life-like form. These small viruses are not clearly a form of life, since when not attached to bacteria they are completely dormant. Bacteriophages attack and eat bacteria and have likely been doing so for over 3 billion years. Although initially discovered early last century, the tremendous abundance of phages was realized more recently when it was found that a single drop of common seawater typically contains millions of them. Extrapolating, phages are likely to be at least a billion billion times more numerous than humans. Pictured above is an electron micrograph of over a dozen bacteriophages attached to a single bacterium. Phages are very small — it would take about a million of them laid end-to-end to span even one millimeter. The ability to kill bacteria makes phages a potential ally against bacteria that cause human disease, although bacteriophages are not yet well enough understood to be in wide spread medical use.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Electron micrograph of bacteriophages attached to a bacterial cell. These viruses have the size and shape of coliphage T1.; Insert: Mike Jones

Related: webcast of Bacteriophage T4types of microbesWhat are Viruses?Amazing Science: RetrovirusesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

Awesome Cat Cam

CatCam - photo of the famous cat photographer CatCam - cat photographer on the run CatCam - cat photographer get picture of another cat

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CatCam by Juergen Perthold – this great project involved taking a digital camera and some additional equipment to create a camera that his cat wore around his neck which took pictures every 3 minutes. The pictures are great. The cat got photos of several other cats and seemed to like cars.

See more cool gadgets, See our other popular posts and our cat related posts.

Sometimes I have some challenging ideas, or crazy like some other people would say. This time I thought about our cat who is the whole day out, returning sometimes hungry sometimes not, sometimes with traces of fights, sometimes he stay also the night out. When he finally returns, I wonder where he was and what he did during his day. This brought me to the idea to equip the cat with a camera. The plan was to put a little camera around his neck which takes every few minutes a picture. After he is returning, the camera would show his day.

The VistaQuest made it very easy for me, because it is able to supply my circuit also if switched off. This is because of an internal DC/DC converter which boosts the voltage from the 1.5V battery to 3.3V. The DC/DC converter is always working because of the internal SRAM which holds the pictures. I just had to hook the microcontroller to the internal camera supply.

Well, I thought the hardest part is done by developing the software and soldering the controller board. But it is more the housing to protect the camera. You can not imagine what kind of requirements have to be fulfilled if you want to equip your cat with a camera. I built a small housing out of plastic plates and put it on the collar of the cat for evaluation purpose. This housing was last seen as the cat walked out of the door… Probably the wires I used for attaching were not strong enough. Or someone released the cat from the interesting looking piece.

For the second try I used the plastic package of a child toy (Kinderueberraschung), put a stone in it for loading it with some weight and attached it again to the cat collar. This time the part returned – dirty and scratched outside, water inside. What the hell is the cat doing !? This raised the requirements for the camera protective housing a lot

Big moment no. 1: attach the collar with the camera to the cat. The reaction was not very happy but finally accepted. Reality check passed 🙂

This is my favorite home engineering project. The concept is great. The explanation of the technology is great. The adjustment to real life situations is great. The end result (the photos) is great. This wins the non-existent Curious Cat Cool Contraption award. If someone doesn’t start selling prefabricated cat cameras I will be very surprised (if I was more enterprising I would do it myself). Maybe J. Perthold will, in any event he should inspire many to try making their own.

Related: The Cat and a Black BearAutomatic Cat FeederThe sub-$1,000 UAV Project
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CERN Pressure Test Failure

photo of Femilab inner triplet quadrupole at CERN

On March 27th a high-pressure test at CERN of a Fermilab-built ‘inner-triplet’ series of three quadrupole magnets in the tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider failed. Fermilab Director on the test failure:

We test the complex features we design thoroughly. In this case we are dumbfounded that we missed some very simple balance of forces. Not only was it missed in the engineering design but also in the four engineering reviews carried out between 1998 and 2002 before launching the construction of the magnets. Furthermore even though every magnet was thoroughly tested individually, they were never tested with the exact configuration that they would have when installed at CERN–thus missing the opportunity to discover the problem sooner.

We need and want to make sure that we find the root causes of the problem and from the lessons learned build a stronger institution. Beyond that, there is no substitute for the commitment each of us makes to excellence, to critical thinking and to sweating every detail.

In a Fermilab Update on Inner Triplet Magnets at LHC they state: “The goal at CERN and Fermilab is now to redesign and repair the inner triplet magnets and, if necessary, the DFBX without affecting the LHC start-up schedule. Teams at CERN and Fermilab have identified potential repairs that could be carried out expeditiously without removing undamaged triplet magnets from the tunnel.”

Related: Fermilab Statement on LHC Magnet Test FailureAccelerators and Nobel LaureatesFind the Root Cause Instead of the Person to Blame
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Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids

Simple steam boat

Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids

Photo: the simplest steam engine you will ever see. It has no valves, no moving parts (in the traditional sense of the phrase), and yet it can propel it’s little boat easily across the largest swimming pool or quiet duck pond.

The site includes many simple projects to create toys and teach scientific principles in a fun way with simple materials. Gonzo Gizmos, is the book the site is based on.

Projects include: the impossible kaleidoscope, a simple rocket engine, building a radio in 10 minutes and building your own solar battery.

This cool site is definitely worth a visit.