- by Davide Sher
"The Smithsonian recently announced its X3D project to digitalize the 137 million priceless items in its collection and make them available for 3D printing everywhere. Even before the largest museum institution in the world made its interest for 3D technologies public, however, other smaller initiatives had begun to explore the possibilities 3D printing offers to scientists, geologists and archeologists. Projects such as Africanfossils.org and GeoFabLab opened the way for the momentous Smithsonian X3D initiative and are still offering something a little different.
Africanfossils.org is based in part upon the groundbreaking discoveries by Kenyan archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey, who proved that human beings were far older than had previously been thought and that human evolution was centered in Africa. The fossils he used to support these theories are now on show in a small museum near the Lake Turkana area, on the Kenya-Ethiopia border.
As incredibly important as they are — or just for this reason — the only way to study them has always been to go there in person. Now, through the program support by Autodesk, the National Museums of Kenya, National Geographic, Stony Brook University and the Turkana Basin Institute, people can visit a virtual 3D representation of the museum and view the most important fossils in perfectly rendered 3D details.
Each fossil, captured through SLR cameras and modelled using Autodesk’s 123D Catch and ReCap Photo software, can be viewed online. Schools and institutions can even download the digital models (they are freely available under a Creative Commons non-commercial license) and subsequently 3D print physical replica models of the fossils to study them thousands of miles away from their place of origin.
The GeoFabLab project at Iowa State University is focusing on the rocks. It aims to create an efficient workflow to “photocopy” and study them by allowing universities and institutions worldwide to collaborate. Its final goal is to facilitate interactions with other fields of research such a materials science, biotechnology, microscopy and surface chemistry.
Franek Hasiuk, of the Department of Geological and Atm Sciences, and his team use a Makerbot Digitizer 3D scanner to capture the shape of the rocks. Through CT scanning, available thanks to the collaboration with Dr. Joe Gray from Iowa State’s Center of Destructive Evaluation (CNDE), it becomes possibile to view and digitally reproduce the internal structure of the rocks, which can thus be printed out.
Kenya and Iowa are important locations for these studies, but for someone living on a different continent, it may never be possible for them to visit in his or her lifetime. However, with 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies it is possible to ‘access’ these locations in a tangible way, and even ‘bring back a souvenir’ that may tell the tale of our Planet and of our own human evolution.”
(Source: 3D Printing Industry)
I think it’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality. There’s hardly a scientist or an astronaut I’ve met who wasn’t beholden to some romantic before him who led him to doing something in life.
I think it’s so important to be excited about life. In order to get the facts we have to be excited to go out and get them, and there’s only one way to do that — through romance. We need this thing which makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and say, ‘I want to go out and devour the world, I want to do these things.’Priceless: Ray Bradbury in conversation with Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke on the cosmos and the human mind. (via heisenburger)
(Source: , via heisenburger)
Guts and Gory (Whale Edition)
This sperm whale of viral fame recently washed up on shore in the Faroe Islands (presumably, it was already dead). Weighing in at around 40 tons, a dead sperm whale can become a very serious - and very smelly - public health problem in just a couple of days. Picture a Brain Scoop episode the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
When a whale dies (or a human, or possum, or pretty much anything with guts), the bacteria that live inside them get hungry. With nothing else to consume, they literally begin to eat themselves out of house and home. Within the oxygen depleted innards of the deceased cetacean, microbes begin to munch on the blubber and tissue, turning them into a host of simpler organic chemicals. Finally, a family of microbes called anaerobic methanogens go to work. And that’s when it gets gassy.
As their name implies, these bugs thrive in juicy environments devoid of oxygen, breaking down organic molecules into methane and carbon dioxide. They reside on the ground floor of the skyscraper that is decomposition. And inside of a whale, with nowhere to go, those gases build up to explosive pressures. If that balloon of death gets punctured, well, you know what happens next.
Of course, a whale doesn’t always disappear in explosive fashion. Until just decades ago, though, no one knew precisely what happened when whales died out in the open ocean. Thanks to robotic submarines, we now know that a “whale fall”, a deeply decomposing cetacean carcass, can anchor a rich ecosystem of crustaceans and other marine invertebrates, who can munch away at the leftovers of a single whale for decades.
Radiolab did a great episode all about these deep, dark oases of decomposition. Sharon Shattuck adapted that story in a delightful cartoon:
And finally, don’t miss this fascinating look at what curious humans do with a pile of whale bones, thanks to our friends at AudioVision:
In 1970, some folks in Oregon decided to blow up a similar whale carcass, so it would be easier to clean up. Instead, this happened (turns out 20 cases of dynamite is a little much):
How the Whale Became the Whale
by Elizabeth Pennisi
About 54 million years ago, a semiaquatic deer-like creature headed into the water for good, giving rise to whales and their relatives. The newly sequenced genome of the minke whale, a baleen whale found worldwide, tells the story of how stressful this move to live underwater was.
An international team has decoded the genomes of four minke whales, a fin whale, a bottlenose dolphin, and a finless porpoise, comparing these cetaceans’ genes to the equivalent genes in other mammals. It found whale-specific mutations in genes important for the regulation of salt and of blood pressure and for antioxidants that get rid of charged oxygen molecules that can harm cells.
These molecules increase in number as the whale uses up its oxygen supply during dives. Whales also had larger numbers of related genes, called gene families, for dealing with sustained dives, the team reports online today in Nature Genetics…
Continue reading: Science News/AAAS
Photo: Mark Carwardine/Visuals Unlimited, Inc.
Portuguese designer Susana Soares has developed a device for detecting cancer and other serious diseases using trained bees. The bees are placed in a glass chamber into which the patient exhales; the bees fly into a smaller secondary chamber if they detect cancer.
Scientists have found that honey bees - Apis mellifera - have an extraordinary sense of smell that is more acute than that of a sniffer dog and can detect airborne molecules in the parts-per-trillion range.
Bees can be trained to detect specific chemical odours, including the biomarkers associated with diseases such as tuberculosis, lung, skin and pancreatic cancer.
how does one train a bee