Science Saturday: Really Real Tricorder + Apollo 11 Salvage + Feeling Robot Skin + Inside Out Star + More

Welcome back to another knowledge-packed edition of Science Saturday! This week: see the realest “real” tricorder ever, hoist huge Apollo 11 engines from the sea floor, give an android skin that can feel, and witness a star explode and then turn itself inside out! All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: the Marshall mini fridge.


Researcher Develops Real Linux-powered Tricorder, Publishes Design Specs
Another “real” tricorder has made an appearance, but this time it’s a device whose design is based on the 24th century Star Trek TNG gadget — and it actually takes scientific scans! Yep, it’s the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a tried and true “real” tricorder.

Cognitive science researcher Dr. Peter Jansen has been developing the device since 2007, and he’s made the thing open source (powered by Linux, and he’s published the specs) in the hopes that others will make their own tricorders and even add their own improvements. The Mark 2 tricorder, the more sophisticated of Jansen’s devices, runs Debian Linux on an ARM920T-based Amtel microcontroller. It’s even got OLED resistive touchscreen panels (a la modern smartphone screens).

Billionaire To Hoist Up Apollo 11 Engines From Sea Floor
The gigantic rocket engines from the Apollo 11 mission (the first mission to land a man on the moon) were successfully located on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean by a team of undersea adventurers funded by’s Jeff Bezos. The next part of the plan, says Bezos, is to bring them up from the sea floor. The five F-1 rocket engines, which dropped into the Atlantic just after liftoff of the Saturn 5 carrying Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins moonward, will be sent with NASA’s blessings to museums around the US (like the Smithsonian).
This news comes just as James Cameron sent a tweet from the deepest point on Earth — the Mariana Trench.

Massive Apollo 11 engines being brought up from the deep sea

Oscillating Gel Acts Like Artificial Skin, Allowing Robots to Feel
Because of a newly discovered property in oscillating gel, the substance may allow for the development of material that can sense mechanical stimuli and respond chemically — a natural phenomenon that not many materials can mimic. Scientists say this could be used as artificial robot skin that could feel, which is the holy grail of robotics.
Read more at ScienceDaily and the original scientific journal article.

Data may not need that skin graft after all

A Star Explodes and Turns Itself Inside Out
An X-ray study of the stellar remains of Cassiopeia A have indicated that the supernova that blew up the massive star may have also turned it inside out in the process (unlike the pig lizard in Galaxy Quest, where the digitizer turned it inside out, and THEN it exploded). By doing very long term studies of Cas A, scientists have mapped out the distribution of elements in the supernova remnant in great detail. A comparison of “before and after” pictures of Cas A shows that the elements that were originally in the center of the star, like iron, sulfur, and magnesium, are now (post supernova) located on the outermost part of the supernova remnant.
Read more at the Chandra X-ray Observatory website and the original scientific journal article.

Before (top) and after (bottom) view of elements in Cassiopeia A

Video of the Week: Tornado Season on the Sun
This solar tornado is not only five times the size of Earth, it’s made from plasma that is between 90,000 and 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit! Check it out!

Gadget of the Week: Marshall Mini Fridge Cools Your Brewskis, Is Sexy
Alright men, this one’s for you (and I can say that, I’m a woman). Marshall, known for selling face-melting guitar amps, has unveiled their latest creation — the mini fridge that “cools your hot licks with some chilled brews”. Check out the video below, and you’ll see exactly the demographic this product is aimed at. (via DVICE)

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.


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March 31, 2012 9:09 am

Woo! Science! Seriously, this is a great column. It’s like NPR’s Science Friday. On SATURDAY.

March 31, 2012 9:15 am

Love it thanks for the great column!

March 31, 2012 9:36 am

Great report, lots of interisting topics!!!! Good job.

Commodore Mike of the Terran Empire
March 31, 2012 9:39 am

Wow. Tornado! Warning for the Sun.
How much for the Reql Tricorder. looks like fun.
Look’s like someone found Data’s head in Sanfrancisco. What will that do to the timeline.

Hat Rick
March 31, 2012 9:46 am

Just keep the feeling robot skin away from the Borg Queen! She is up to no good, and has anyone seen Data lately?


March 31, 2012 10:11 am

God I’d like to dump a load on the Marshall chick’s boots.

March 31, 2012 10:19 am

Those sun tornadoes are spooky. Or was that just the ambient music?

Hat Rick
March 31, 2012 12:11 pm

Tornadoes on the Sun. The size of, like, the whole Earth.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore! :-D

Also, tricorders rock.

But I personally am working on its successor: The quadcorder. It even has a volume knob for alerts that goes up to 11.


Sebastian S.
March 31, 2012 12:52 pm

When it comes to property rights on the recovered Apollo XI engines? I feel like quoting Indiana Jones; “It belongs in a museum!”

No one private entity (not even one as wealthy as should claim salvage rights to something so uniquely historic. It belongs to the United States. Hope to see them one day in the Smithsonian…

March 31, 2012 12:52 pm

Thanks for another great column Kayla!

March 31, 2012 1:24 pm

Sadly, don’t see a future for the tricorder. Who will carry them instead of, or in addition to, their smart phones? Seems like, for whatever a tricorder might do, an ‘app’ could be on the market within a business week. The tricorder may have to identify alien life to compete, but it’s cool this guy’s into it and is trying to get others interested; maybe the idea of building one’s own tc is the ticket.

Amish Electrician
March 31, 2012 1:30 pm

9. I believe he is going to break up the set and keep 1 and donate the other 4…if they can raise them.

March 31, 2012 2:03 pm

9. Salvage laws don’t apply to governments (witness Spain recently repossessing treasure from sunken Galleons) so the Saturn V engines still belong to the United States government. In this case, though, NASA probably is only asking for first right of refusal of the engines. NASA will probably want to take a cursory look to see what condition the engines are in, and then offer the engines to the Smithsonian Institution. If the Smithsonian declines, Mr. Bezos can do with the engines whatever he wants. He has already said he wants at least one for the Seattle Museum of Flight.

By the way, if we decide that salvage law does apply and Mr. Bezos gets to keep the engines no matter what NASA says, then God help us if someone goes looking for that missing nuke off the coast of Savannah!

March 31, 2012 2:38 pm

There were several Saturn V launches. I wonder how they knew these were from the Apollo 11 1st stage?

March 31, 2012 2:44 pm

I’m wondering what kind of shape that piece of Apollo 11 is in after 40+ years on the ocean floor. Would it even survive the raising?

Although, Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 was found to be in good condition after it was raised from the Atlantic in ’99, so you never know. Look forward to seeing it.

Amish Electrician
March 31, 2012 2:55 pm

14. No Saturn 5 was exactly the same..improvements althought small would just need photo id to prove which one it was.

March 31, 2012 3:07 pm

Love science Saturday, glad its back. I’d love a tricorder, especally if it would help out @ work.

porthoses bitch
March 31, 2012 3:28 pm

Much like Data in First Contact there is something about ‘touching’ an artifact. That little slab of moonrock in the air and space museum. The original 12′ Big E. .part of apollo XI.? I’m in line.

March 31, 2012 3:54 pm

i’m so happy Kayla is back…I feel smarter already

March 31, 2012 4:24 pm

Kayla, welcome back! Great article!

BTW, if you were an alien civilization, and needed to mine iron and iron key metals on an massive scale, would developing a special device that would make a star go supernova and unusual way so that all the precious metals ended up at the surface afterwords — would that be the ultimate strip mining technique of all time?

Given we have never seen this before, I am inclined to wonder if this is natural? I mean, sooner or later we would expect to see examples of super-civilizations stellar-level engineering projects through optical telescopes, right?

March 31, 2012 4:43 pm

The impact locations of the thirteen Saturn V first and second stages has been pretty well known since they were launched. Google “Saturn Stage Earth Impact” and that will take you to “Apollo By The Numbers” a NASA publication which lists where they came down (it is Apollo, so SkyLab’s Saturn V is not included, but it did not fly the same azimuth as the lunar launches.) Time after launch, longitude, latitude, and distance downrange are all included. They were all pretty close by, but even small differences in longitude and latitude add up to huge amounts of ocean to search. Mr. Bezos can be pretty certain he’s found Saturn V No.6, which launched Apollo 11.

March 31, 2012 4:44 pm

Say, that tricorder shape looks *mighty* familiar. :) I actually had one of the earlier incarnations of the tricorder from VITAL Technologies, and it had a color photometer thingie, EM detector (checked for leaks from my microwave), atm pressure sensor, temperature sensor. Didn’t fold up, but felt more like the HP-41C programmable calculator that was my real inspiration for the TNG design. Good luck to the tricorder makers of the world.

March 31, 2012 5:42 pm

An open-source tricorder project? – That’s actually great! What a pity that I don’t really know much about microcontrollers and coding even though I like to use Linux every now and then…
Just imagine what you could make of that thing with just a few additions… for example adding basic means of audiovisual recording – a small cam and a microphone – and some kind of interface for other measuring tools. Maybe also some kind of GPS device – all those things that are really small and readily available nowadays.

March 31, 2012 5:49 pm

The tricorder project is awesome. Good work Dr. Jansen! Keep doing that, please.

March 31, 2012 6:01 pm

Does anyone know who came up with the word “tricorder”? And how exactly does the word apply to the device? “Tri” implies three, so was it originally conceived as having just three functions? Or three departments? Maybe science, medical, and engineering…? Anyone know?

Sebastian S.
March 31, 2012 6:02 pm

My wife’s i-phone is already her tricorder. She would probably just download all the necessary apps and bingo! Instant tricorder. So help me, even as it is it does everything short of scanning for Berthold rays… ;-D

March 31, 2012 6:16 pm

What? There’s nothing about the TacoCopter? It’s a mini-helicopter that delivers tacos to your location. Here’s Star Trek’s favorite satirist Stephen Colbert with the video story.—tacocopter

March 31, 2012 6:23 pm

I once made a tricorder with only stone knives and bear skins.

Sebastian S.
March 31, 2012 6:55 pm


Good one!
Did it have a temporal vortex recording app?

March 31, 2012 7:05 pm

25. Vultan – March 31, 2012

And how exactly does the word apply to the device? “Tri” implies three, so was it originally conceived as having just three functions? Or three departments? Maybe science, medical, and engineering…?


Ooh! You were sooo close. Science, medical, and entertainment.

March 31, 2012 7:07 pm


March 31, 2012 7:44 pm

I SOOOO want one of those tricorders!!!! Too bad I have no experience in stuff like that, nor the money to beg him to make me one, LOL!

Buzz Cagney
March 31, 2012 10:52 pm

I’m sure the Borg Queen could have tried harder to turn Data. She didn’t use the skin wisely at all. She had just a few square inches of ‘real’ skin to use, right?
And do we know if Data is Jewish? If so there’s another vauluable saving right there!

Picard wouldn’t have stood a chance!

Harry Ballz
March 31, 2012 10:56 pm


Well, Buzz, you’ve certainly covered the long and short of it!

Buzz Cagney
March 31, 2012 11:54 pm

Which is more than the Borg Queen did, Harry!

April 1, 2012 12:29 am

So, you’re saying she should have given Data a Borgjob?

Buzz Cagney
April 1, 2012 1:03 am

Well it had been a number of years since Tasha did Data a favour so i’m thinking he’d have been awfully grateful, CmdrR.
A real tactical error there from the Borg Queen I think. Oh, she was on the right track, for sure, but should have progressed the plan at a faster rate.
If she’d have gone straight for Data’s hard drive and rebooted it, as it were, I’m fairly sure her dastardly plan would have succeeded.
Picard would have had no answers in his arsenal for that.

Kayla Iacovino
April 1, 2012 2:30 am

@20 That is a very insightful and scary thought… Stellar engineering for mining light elements… Wow! Please write a screen play based on this idea! Sounds like the plot of an awesome ST movie to me!

April 1, 2012 3:51 am

I bought a base model tricorder from my local hardware store – it is invaluable for finding studs in the wall to hang pictures from.

April 1, 2012 4:38 am

is Rosario still with

April 1, 2012 4:57 am

Thank you Kayla! I know I speak for many of us when I say we missed these articles. This one was great. Please keep ’em coming!

Hat Rick
April 1, 2012 7:39 am

They call it a “tricorder” because you “try” to record stuff with it, obviously.


April 1, 2012 10:50 am

@ 15. Vultan
Great question, even the sponsor doesn’t know the answer to that one yet

“”Bezos wrote in a statement posted to the Bezos Expeditions website. “We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in – they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see.” “

April 1, 2012 11:48 am


Buzz, get your mind out of the gutter.
Or should that be “router”?

April 1, 2012 11:49 am


Thanks for the info.

Red Dead Ryan
April 1, 2012 4:49 pm

Originally, the idea for a tricorder was simply a small device attached to three cords, thus “tricorder”!

Buzz Cagney
April 2, 2012 2:44 am

#44 ah sorry Vults lol
What you need to remember is I was brought up on Carry On films…

And I do enjoy a good double entendre from time to time. ;)

Sore misgivings! Makes me laugh every time!

Buzz Cagney
April 2, 2012 7:22 am

#46 What actually happened was they went to Starfleet R&D to ask for some landing party transport. Unfortunately wires got crossed and things got confused. That Trike order never did get filled. Next thing you know they have to walk everywhere.

April 2, 2012 7:28 am

Um, does nobody realize that the great Rick Sternbach has graced this site with a comment? Love your work, sir!

Buzz Cagney
April 2, 2012 11:03 am

#49 Oh my lordy and there was me arsing around, and in the presence of Mr Sternbach!!
Shockin that most of us missed that. Apologies, sir.