SciTech Briefs

High speed cameras capture the scent of rain

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that they have discovered the process that leads to the earthy smell during a rainfall. Using high-speed cameras, the researchers were able to study the mechanism of raindrops as they land on a variety of surfaces, including soil.

Imaging technology revealed that a droplet flattens after it lands on a surface. Simultaneously, small bubbles emerge from the droplet, which causes the dispersal of hundreds of aerosol droplets. In turn, surface materials present in the rain droplet become distributed within the surrounding environment, which may provide the aromatic elements of fallen rain.

The study, which was published in Nature Communications, may explain how certain ground microbes and chemicals may have come into contact with humans.

Source: Discovery News

NASA explores the dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto

The study of dwarf planets may hold well-preserved clues in learning about the formation of the solar system. During the coming March, the Dawn spacecraft will go into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft will also briefly visit Pluto.

A construction of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Dawn spacecraft is expected to be near enough to Ceres to produce images of the tiny dwarf planet, which is about a third of the size of Earth’s moon. Discovered in 1801, Ceres is distinguished for containing an unusually large amount of water, which is not found in any of its neighbors. Scientists also suspect that Ceres and former planet, Pluto — now separated by billions of miles — used to both exist in the icy Kuiper Belt, where Pluto is currently located.

Source: National Geographic

New technique to contain genetically modified organisms

Two groups of scientists from U.S. research universities have developed a complex method to ensure the prevention of potential disease and ecological destruction caused by the escape of genetically modified organisms.

The researchers modified the DNA of E. coli, a species of bacteria, by replacing an amino acid that halts protein construction with a synthetic amino acid. By interfering with the building blocks of DNA, researchers were able to cause the bacteria to depend on the synthetic amino acid for survival, even in the event that the bacterial DNA develops a single mutation.

Despite doubts about the need for new methods to contain these particular genetically manipulated cells, the technique promises many benefits, including defense against problematic viruses that ruin the production of goods made with bacteria.

Source: New York Times

Invertebrates found living deep beneath Antarctic Ice

Earlier this month, researchers from Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) used a hot water drill to cut through half a mile of ice in west Antarctica. With submersible cameras, the National Science Foundation-sponsored team uncovered fish and other invertebrates inhabiting the dark depths of the Ross Sea, which has a temperature of negative two degrees Celsius.

This is the first time marine life has been found this close to the South Pole. It is also the first time the “grounding zone” — the intersection of Antarctic ice, land and sea — has been reached and sampled. Researchers can learn more about the ice sheets and their possible effects on sea rise by examining sediment from the zone. In addition, researchers hope to learn how the discovered sea creatures can survive in such an environment.

Source: NBC News

Psychologists suggest that seeing is not remembering

Two psychologists at Penn State University found that memories must be consciously activated in order for someone to remember even the basic details of an experience.

In a study of 100 undergraduate students, volunteers viewed a simple arrangement of elements, which included numbers, letters, or colors. They were then asked to recall the location of a particular element. While the participants successfully performed the first task several times, they failed when they were given a surprise question, which required identification of the particular element that was previously located.

Known as “attribute amnesia,” the phenomenon occurs when a person uses a piece of information to execute a task, but then forgets what that information was at least a second later. The phenomenon suggests the selective nature of the human memory.

Source: Science Daily

Swiss pilots plan to launch solar-powered plane

Plans for the launch of the solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse 2, have recently been released to the public. By early March, Swiss pilots plan to fly the Solar Impulse 2 around the globe, leaving from Abu Dhabi and crossing the Pacific Ocean as well as the United States. At night, energy efficient batteries and motors will help keep the plane powered. While it is the size of a Boeing 747, the Solar Impulse 2 will only weigh as much as a family car, as it is composed of lightweight carbon fibers. The cockpit contains thin and highly effective insulation foam which has already been adapted in household kitchens. Members of the ambitious project hope to promote the usage of solar energy through live broadcasts throughout the flight, as well as through talks to schools, politicians and the media.

Source: BBC Business