Light Friday: Science Proves Jurassic Park is Impossible

Plus: Controlling Electronics through the Wave of a Hand, Artificial Trees as a Global Warming Solution and a Knife that Cuts through Water.


Study Proves Jurassic Park Impossible

In a new study that dashes childhood hopes, scientists have discovered the half-life of DNA precludes the possibility of bringing dinosaurs back to life, invalidating any chance of a real-world Jurassic Park.

A team of paleogeneticists from the University of Copenhagen and Murdoch University unearthed 158 leg bones of moa, an extinct giant bird, in New Zealand. The bones, all of which contained DNA, were aged between 600 and 8,000 years, and had entered the ground at similar temperatures and under similar circumstances. By studying the different progress of DNA deterioration in the bones, the team was able to pinpoint the half-life of DNA at 521 years.

“That means that after 521 years, half of the bonds between nucleotides in the backbone of a sample would have broken,” Nature.com explains. “After another 521 years, half of the remaining bonds would have gone; and so on.”

In other words, even if DNA samples are contained in ideal circumstances, they will break down completely in a maximum of 6.8 million years. Velociraptors went extinct about 71 million years ago, so the chances of them being brought back to life and learning to open doors is now zero.

Contrary to Dr. Ian Malcolm’s maxim, life didn’t find a way. The study is published in full in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Controlling Any Device with a Hand Wave

Having to hold a remote control, type on a keyboard or even physically interact with an electronic device may soon be things of the past, as engineers have created a new 3-D interaction tool that enables users to manipulate a range of equipment through simple hand gestures.

Developed at Microsoft’s computer science laboratory at the University of Cambridge, Digits is a wrist-mounted controller that identifies and tracks a user’s hand motions, and reflects them on a screen. This allows users to pinch their fingers and turn an imaginary dial to adjust volume on music player, tap on a virtual keypad to dial a number on their smartphone (without having to take it out of their pocket) or clench their fist to zoom in on an image on a computer screen.

“Digits uses a camera-based sensor that detects infrared (IR) light coupled with software that interprets the data produced to construct a model of a ‘fully articulated hand skeleton.’ This is then used to interpret what the user’s hand is doing,” BBC News explains. “The equipment involves a IR laser beam which sends out a thin line across the user’s hand to measure the distance to their fingers and thumbs to determine to what degree they are bent upwards.”

Although it’s currently in the prototype stage, Digits could eventually be used in a wide range of applications, from mobile computing to controlling household items or helping the disabled to interact with technology. Combined with 3-D projection technology, the device could even be used to turn entire rooms into virtual 3-D environments.

Here’s a video showing how Digits works:

Can Artificial Trees Solve Global Warming?

By now we know that carbon dioxide emissions are tied to health issues, environmental depletion and a serious global warming trend, but one engineer may have the solution to these growing problems: fake tree leaves that extract CO2 from the air.

Along with a team of engineers, Klaus S. Lackner, the director of the Lensfest Center for Sustainable Energy, formed Global Research Technologies, and created a new flat, smooth sodium carbonate material capable of pulling CO2 out of the air through a process known as “chemical sinkage.” Unlike natural trees, sunlight exposure is not necessary for the process to work.

What’s wrong with real trees? Planting enough natural greenery would use valuable space, and the natural air cleaning process is too slow to keep up with climbing worldwide CO2 emissions.  Lackner’s air extraction tree devices are capable of cleaning the air 1,000 times faster than their natural counterparts.

“Our goal is to take a process that takes 100,000 years and compress in into 30 minutes,” Lackner explained.

His ambitious green solution was inspired by his daughter’s eighth-grade science project, in which she demonstrated that capturing carbon dioxide was possible using a fish pump and sodium hydroxide.

While the fake trees could help the air quality, some ponder whether the total cost of such materials is worth the price of emissions.

The Knife that Cuts through Water

Slicing bread is old news…imagine a knife that can make a clean cut through water, separating it into two parts. A team of engineers at Arizona State University has designed a new class of metal that allows for completely clean bioseparations, essentially splitting water by rendering a blade “superhydrophobic.”

“The core of the blade is two 0.020-inch thick zinc and copper sheets. After forging it, it was cleaned with acetone, ethanol, deionized water and then air-dried with nitrogen,” Gizmodo notes. “Then the researchers dipped it in ‘a 10 nanomolar aqueous solution of silver nitrate for approximately 20 seconds.’ Finally, they added the magic element, dipping it in a 1 nanomolar solution of substance called HDFT.”

This material manufacturing process could provide significant benefits for biomedical research, as it allows scientists to separate proteins in biological fluids, allowing them to be analyzed more quickly and effectively.

Check out this video from New Scientist showing the knife in action:

Have a great weekend, folks.

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