Science Saturday: December 22, 2007

Today in Science Saturday brings you news on personal shuttle pods, the possibility of replicator-type printers, the ‘litterbugs of the universe’, a material with limited cloaking ability, and a galaxy that takes bullying to the next level.

I, Pod
In what may be a step towards the travel pod or air tram seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the London Heathrow Airport will begin using the world’s first Personal Rapid Transport System in 2009. These little buggers, which can reportedly reach speeds up to 25mph, are designed to take passengers from the parking lot to the airport’s fifth terminal (which hasn’t opened yet) in under four minutes. Of course, the thing won’t be able to fly (it’ll be situated on tracks, like a trolley) and it won’t be able to leave the airport… but, hey, it looks cool.

See the original report here.

Coming soon to an airport near you… as long as you’re near the London Heathrow.

Really big bully
Can’t we all just get along? Scientists have discovered that one galaxy’s black hole has blasted a neighboring galaxy with a jet of deadly radiation. Millions of stars and any orbiting planets are likely in the path of the radiation jet. Dubbed the "death star galaxy," the culprit is being compared to an everyday bully. As one astrophysicist put it, "It’s like a bully, a black-hole bully punching the nose of a passing galaxy." At least it’s learned to pick on someone it’s own size. See National Geographic for details.

Hey, fight fair!

Print me some tea, earl grey, hot
They won’t exactly be replicators, but it doesn’t appear they’ll be much different. According to a blog on ZDNet, The Economist predicts that 3D printers will be available for consumer use in the next year. As their name suggests, these nifty devices process the model of an object and then "print" that object layer upon layer until you have a three-dimensional object (like the plastic chainmail in the image below). This got ZDNet’s blogger wondering… how advanced will this device get in the years to come? We might be able to download object models — like a DVD player or even food — and "print" them for our own use or consumption. In other words… our very own replicator. Hey, it’s a possibility, right?

You think we could replic… er, "print" something a bit more… useful?

Dust bunnies from outer space
There’s a whole lot of dust in space… and now we may know where it all came from. Astronomers have discovered a mess of dust surrounding supernova Cassiopeia A, suggesting that exploding stars are "the litterbugs of the universe." If so, we owe those stars a dept of gratitude … dust particles are believed to be responsible for the formation of planets. See for more.

Cassiopeia A is in need of a good dusting

A little bit of cloaking
University of Maryland researchers have developed a cloaking material that uses plasmons (electron waves which are generated when light strikes a metallic surface under controlled conditions) to render objects invisible…so long as the objects are 10 micrometers in size. Oh, and the cloak only works in two dimensions. And it only works on a limited range of the visual spectrum. But it’s a start. See DailyTech’s report for more information.

It’s not the size that matters… or the limited range… or that it only works in 2D… it’s how you use it!

Man turns himself into an Andorian?
You just have to watch this to believe it

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Yay, science!

first? the blue man’s interesting

Anyone else remember Bobby Vee?

“I’m Mister Blue (muted trombone: oo-oo-o-o-ooo)…

“Call me Mister Blue. (muted trombone oo-oo-o-o-ooo)”

Woot First!
Blue skinned man is cool!

AHHHH! not first!

These alien wannabees! Finding it hard to fit on planet earth is one thing but on Andoria he would be like a Ferengi with lobes!

I love when scientists get all geeky and start relating stuff to Star Wars and Star Trek. “It’s like the Death Star!” “It’s like the transporter from Star Trek!” lol

That shuttle looks like a bug….

I like the replicating printer idea but Nasa has already developed real replicators. It just takes like a couple hours to replicate things (saw it on a discovery channel special a couple years back)

And that blue man. Maybe he can join the Blue Man Group? *lol* *sings* The color of blue reminds me of you…

Ever notice that after you eat asparagus your pee smells like it? You better start looking a little more closely in the mirror, too.

For some silly reason, that Death Star galaxy-bullying galaxy thingie really creeps me out. How many worlds did that thing wipe out? ==}:-O


Peace. Live long and prosper.
The Vulcanista }:-|

he looks like Pappa Smurf! or Santa after a particularly cold Christmas.
Seems like a very nice guy though. Hope he hasn’t done himself any other damage drinking that stuff!

Oh, how I regret not taking the job with National Geographic. I could have been one of their 3-D modelers and wildlife photographers.

Awesome Nebula graphics!

I enjoy reading this, Anthony.


As the first blue person racist, let me be the first to say I hate blue people!

I’m afraid I just blue myself.

Remember the frogs. It’s not easy being green either!

I’ve always had a soft spot for Andorians, particularly for one of their most influential representatives, Ambassador Shras. But I was also impressed with Thelev’s antagonistic embodiment.

Must be their antennae…

I like Andorian’s too (it’s the antennae, and they are so funny-naughty). But, I’ll pass on that bluish purple guy (he mentioned that he lives in his parent’s house…………….wait for it……………must be a trekkie? haha, jk).

The Death Star Galaxy scared me too.

Yes, 3D printers have been around for several years. What’s notable is that they will be available to consumers – cool. What fun we will have….

I want one of those “Personal Rapid Transport Systems” (they need to think of a catchier name for it) just to get to my mail box when it’s cold and rainy outside (which it is 90% of the time in lovely western Washington).

Mr. Trotter, I thoroughly enjoy the humor you inject into your reporting. And your summaries are spot on. Cool stories.

Cool Stuff!

Neil Stephenson writes about MCs, matter compilers, in The Diamond Age. The work exists now at a very basic level.

The Universe has a cool depiction of what would happen if a black hole (like in the Death star galaxy) crossed the path of our solar system. We’d have about a century to collectively say “Aw shi*!” but there’d be nothing we could do. (Unless someone invents warp drive really really soon.) Vulcanista, how bout some apocolyptic nookie?

I put Blue Man into my newscast last week. Dumbass — did it to himself.

More science, please! Love it!

#20 CmdrR – you mean double dumbass, don’t you? heehee
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Re: The Andorian… I’ve just bought some of that colliodal silver hearing about its incredible regenerate properties… I don’t think im gonna wash my face with it after seeing that guy lol

and I thought I suffered badly from the blues…

Nice travel pod, now if they could set something like that up for me so I don’t have to play mind games with the local bus drivers who don’t follow the posted schedule with any regularity…
Seriously, with increased ridership on Amtrak it’s time for more money to be put into mass transit in the good ol’ USA. The era of cheap gas is over.

Fold Amtrak; get a GOOD mass transit company out there. Can’t somebody make a buck out of green buses and regular hours? 300 million need something, you’d think the capitalist saliva would be flowing freely.
Or, somebody invent transporters, please.

#25 CmdrR:
Just so you know I’m not making an argument for Amtrak..but like you I want a GOOD mass transit company. It’s needed. Good ground transportation-rails, buses, whatever, any profitable, reasonable alternative to flying out of congested airports in planes filled to the max.

The blue man’s condition is an actual condition well known to science. He seems to act like he didnt know taking a Silver based solution would turn his skin blue, but it is a fact known to all medical science that it will do that. Silver imbedded in your cells serves no purpose and does not give you better health. I think the reason people were intolerant of him had less to do with him being blue then it did with people thinking he was a total retard for doing that to himself.

the blue guy should audition for the movie

26 –
Mr. Regular.
Not to derail (pun intended) this thread, but it’s almost a Trekkian challenge to get over this selfishness we’ve all developed. It’s not human nature, but lazy thinking that has us all chasing a destructive ideal: drive all alone in your livingroom. We need mass transit as surely as we need a healthy planet for the 23rd century. The funny thing is, this seems to be a situation where there are more solutions than problems. Existing technology (regional rail, jitney bus-type service, etc.) plus any great new technology would be fine. Instead, we get corruption. Methanol might as well be methadone. It doesn’t solve the underlying problem of selfishness. And Methanol strips food resources! You’re driving your dinner and you will go hungry.

IDIC seems to point to a push for logical solutions. Let’s make a Trek difference this coming November, everyone!

(now I’ll shaddap)

29: Cmdr:
Well put.
The selfishness that drives the need to “Drive all alone in your living room” is frankly obscene. What a waste of planetary resources…on SUVs and other monster vehicles that are more of a statement about selfishness than actual vehicle requirements.
How do we change the attitudes of millions of Americans who love their cars?
This is one of the great challenges of the 21st Century. I think that the lack of cheap gas will be a prime motivator of a renewed enthusiasm for good, reliable mass transit.
(now I’ll shaddap)
Merry Christmas!

#30 – We’re not going to change the attitudes of people who like to go where they want, when they want. That’s a losing battle. We can get some commuters to change their habits, and it won’t take startling new technology: make mass transit *very* cheap, right now if I take mass transit to work it costs about the same as the gas to drive! Make it clean, comfortable (not packed in like sardines), and with little touches like WiFi and allowing people to eat and drink during the ride. IOW, make it pleasant and cheap enough to overcome the convenience loss of not taking your car.

Apart from that, move people in to higher mileage vehicles: set an annual tax based on a vehicle’s weight, as that indicates carbon footprint and road wear, make that 5,000 pound SUV cost you twice as much to register as that 3,000 pound car that gets twice the mileage. Encourage motorcycle usage, in part by allowing lane splitting in all 50 states. Have diamond (HOV) lanes in every commute corridor, in my area they’re available on about half the major commute highways.

Finally, toss a fifty or sixty cent tax per gallon on gas, ,and use it to subsidize mass transit fares – but only at rush hour!!! – put a tax on the sale of anything that gets less than 20 mpg and use that for a tax rebate on anything that gets over 35 mpg.

The solutions aren’t technological, at least not in the short term. They’re political, and economic.

Don’t forget the zoning commissions. They need to plan communities that have good paying jobs (not just the fast food joints around every corner) in the same places where people actually live. The age of “bedroom communities” needs to end. We need well balanced cities. Not steel and concrete super cemetaries, but real, liveable cities.