Science Friday: COLBERT Launching + Needle-less Injecting + Solar Painting + Black Hole Making + more

Welcome back to Science Friday! This week we bring you a new needle-free hypospray device, solar cell paint, how to make your own black hole (no red matter needed!), and 40 million-year-old iridescence. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: The flying chair trick! And, yes, that is a real picture of a CHAIR IN SPACE!


COLBERT Is Go For Launch Tonight
Space Shuttle Mission STS-128, which is carrying the COLBERT treadmill among its cargo, has recently been delayed for launch after problems with a valve. If the weather is good, the mission will launch tonight at 11:59PM EDT. You can watch the event live on NASA TV. The schedule of events for tonight is as follows:

So, enjoy the show tonight and hope for good weather! Also, check out Stephen Colbert’s send off below.

Needle-free Hypospray-like Device Takes Cues from Airbags
Needle-free injection systems resembling hyposprays seen on Star Trek are not a brand new invention, but the devices currently on the market have certain problems such as an inability to evenly distribute chemicals into the body. German-based medical firm Pervormanc claims the airbag as the inspiration for its new “Pyrofast” system. Dr. Thorsten Rudolph, who is working to commercialize the technology, describes it thusly:

“The pyrotechnical gas propulsion technology that is used doesn’t cause bleeding, so the transfer of diseases such as HIV will be eliminated. This is the same chemical gas technology being used in airbags to provide a fast and reliable pressure profile. Including it in an injection system means that it can easily be used by patients to self administer drugs through the skin.”

Read all about it at

Is this new system Bones approved?

Paint Solar Cells on Your Rooftop with New Solar Cell Inks
Solar cells could soon be produced more cheaply using nanoparticle “inks” that allow them to be printed like newspaper or painted onto the sides of buildings or rooftops to absorb electricity-producing sunlight. The sun provides us with a nearly unlimited source of power, but their manufacturing process makes them prohibitively expensive. The light-absorbing nanomaterials, which are 10,000 times thinner than a strand of hair, allow for new physical properties that can help enable higher-efficiency devices.

Going solar may soon be cost effective

How to Make Your Own Black Hole (Without Red Matter!)
Okay, so, Red Matter is well and good for any average Joe (or average Nero) from the 24th century, but what about those of us stranded here in the 21st? How are we supposed to go about making black holes? Turns out, you just need SQUIDs. That’s right, superconducting quantum interference devices. Dartmouth researchers have proposed a new way of creating a reproduction black hole in the laboratory, only much tinier than their celestial counterparts. The new method to create a tiny quantum sized black hole would allow researchers to better understand what physicist Stephen Hawking proposed more than 35 years ago: black holes are not totally void of activity; they emit photons, which is now known as Hawking radiation. And, no, this experiment won’t doom the Earth. Don’t panic!

Black hole!

Iridescence In 40 Million-year-old Feather Fossil
Known for their wide variety of vibrant plumage, birds have evolved various chemical and physical mechanisms to produce these beautiful colors over millions of years. A team of paleontologists and ornithologists led by Yale University has now discovered evidence of vivid iridescent colors in feather fossils more than 40 million years old. The discovery could pave the way for determining color features of other ancient birds and even dinosaurs, the team said. “Of course, the ‘Holy Grail’ in this program is reconstructing the colors of the feathered dinosaurs,” said Yale graduate student and lead author Jakob Vinther. “We are working hard to determine if this will be possible.”

I personally believe in the bright orange brontosaurus

Gadget of the Week: The Flying Chair Trick
Does anyone know the terminal velocity of an office chair? Because a chair was launched (for ART, mind you!) to the edge of space with a meteorological balloon. What happens when balloons filled with gas ascend to altitudes of low pressure? They expand, and expand, and expand… until they pop. Yes, this chair, launched to the edge of space, fell from the sky at 9.8 m/s2 to the Earth. They’re not quite sure exactly where it landed. Is this legal?



If you are on Twitter, you know there are plenty of amazing people out there tweeting away. And, many of them are scientists! Every Friday I’ll be bringing you a new list of great scientists and techies to follow on Twitter. This week…

  • @AsteroidWatch: JPL’s Near Earth Object Office coordinates NASA’s efforts to detect, track & characterize potentially hazardous asteroids & comets that could approach Earth.
  • @NASA: News and updates from NASA
  • @NASAKennedy: Official PAO Tweets from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

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


TrekMovie’s Science Friday is an homage the the great NPR radio show Science Friday. Science Friday® is a registered service mark of ScienceFriday Inc.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

2nd post 2nd First! :)

i still think the module should hew bene named Enterprise and not Colbert!

In space, no one can hear you sit

Hmmmm… No Colbert link and no space-chair that *I* see. Don’t know if it’s a failure at this end or on the site, but nice clean white expanses of empty page where those two items are indicated.

“They’re not quite sure exactly where it landed. Is this legal?”

We’ll make it legal! — Darth Sidious

Hmm, if a falling suborbital chair hits you in the head, that thing would SMART …

Next time they want to launch a chair into space, can I be sitting in it? (With a pressure suit and a parachute, obviously)

I think Abe Lincoln was sitting in the chair at the time….

Launch scrubbed!

oops nevermind, I got my date wrong.

Cool! Colorful fossils!

In Britain it is legal for citizens to send objects into space.

The falling chair. I believe I saw that. And I was correct. It was an UFOF (Unidentified Falling Office Furniture). I guess it is really now an IFOF.

How long will it be before someone shows up to claim damages for this chair protruding from their cranium??

Its not the module that was named Colbert, Tomaz. It’s the treadmill.

Hey Anthony. 24rd century. Is that a new alternate timeline. Lol. I think that Bones would approve. I wonder when he was in 20th century Earth when he saved the Whales if he by mistake left a Hypo device. Hmmm. Colbert in space. Hmm With or without the space suit. Lol.Ok. Now we can all make a little Black hole. As for the Chair. I think i found it outside. But i could be mistaken. Would love to have seen that though. But it probly burned up.

Hopefully, the launch tonight will go smoothly.

So… with Pyrofast around, you won’t be able to hear the rock concert over the sound of hissing.

Chair + balloon + gps = art? So, space aliens really are here on Earth… and apparently ET just wants to get home. Please tell me tax money didn’t fund that crap.

Gotta wonder what else Stephen Hawking knows that he’s not telling us.

Thanks, Kayla.

OK, I got a really really really good one.
When the chair was falling through the atmosphere back to Earth, it really gave new meaning to the phrase “Hot Seat.”
Isn’t that horrible?

Feathered dinosaurs? Awesome. Kind of sily-looking, but awesome.

I still say NASA should have called the module “Serenity”

“Put down the astronaut ice cream!” Priceless.

Will the massive lawsuit if that chair lands on somebody also be considered performance art?

I wish I could live in the “24rd” century.

“I am go to launch me. Let’s light this candle!”

Haha, we need more Stephen Colbert in science friday!

I just had this thought… he would make a great villain for Star Trek: Something something. JJ, you listening?

Its a shame the shuttle is retiring. It may be the 24rd century before we have the re-usable spacecraft again.

Fascinating articles! Biologists at ASU are studying irridescence in birds. It’s apparently an important field.

“Fascinating articles! Biologists at ASU are studying irridescence in birds. It’s apparently an important field.”

Any scientific discovery that moves is forward in our understanding of the our past, the Universe and all around us is an important field.


“Please tell me tax money didn’t fund that crap.”

You “don’t spend my tax money” folks. Wow. Use some common sense, which a lot of folks don’t seem to use (or have) anymore; does this look like something the government would do? Look’s like a private industry or individual was behind this. Because private industry or individuals don’t waste money…only the government does apparently. The government’s already used the balloon thing and for good purposes. Can’t you just enjoy the funny chair in space and the jokes around it?

PS: If you watch the video, it says it was an individual. And it’s not in the US either. BTW, they think it was somewhere in Cannes where it landed. So there you go!

I think that is horrible to launch it up and not know or obviously care if it came down and hurt someone. They should be jailed.

The announcer said “Kent,” not “Cannes.” The launch was in the UK, so Cannes wouldn’t make sense.

You can read more about this chair/balloon event at

Personally, I think it’s an amazingly cool video. Just as the artist intended, I couldn’t help but imagine sitting in that chair…on the edge of space…

I first saw the Hypospray Medical/Chemical device in 1987, created by some company working for the Army. The thing is why has no one really pushed the concept into mass production. A comment I remember is ‘How now are the Cops going to find the Drug users’. That was back when testing blood was no more complex than checking blood types. Now they can learn about every thing, almost to the point of if you read or just look at Playboy.

They can now scan your brain with a PET scanner and see if your in love or just lust.

And the Solar Panel paint I first saw on Beyond 2000 on Discovery back in 1998, to bad that half hour show ended as the year 2001 came around.

Now to go search the web for news on the Ares 1 test launch, or I can wait for my brother to get off work at Lockheed Martian since he is a Electrical engineer on the project. But he rarely states news before the press gets it. It’s one of those NASA secrets contract things.

I like shocking him with news I find on the web and see the surprise that I know such & such at to him is still secret. His big worry is will the feds cut project so they can pay for health care.

And this is the first I’ve herd about the Irradiance of Bird feathers since just a news clip on Discovery in 2003. I thought the hole topic was filed in the trash. Just think how cats would love to have bird feathers that glow in the dark. Would that make cats stop needing canned cat food. And then how long before birds joined the Dinosaurs, kind of odd since birds are evolved Dinosaurs.

I’m curious what would have happened if the balloon didn’t pop? Would the balloon and chair be floating around at the edge of space till the gas eventually escaped from the balloon?

#5 – “Hmm, if a falling suborbital chair hits you in the head, that thing would SMART”

But not nearly as embarassing as being hit by a falling toilet seat.

Re #28 The balloon has to pop.

There is gas in the balloon (He) which is lighter than air, so it wants to float on top of the atmosphere. So, He gas alone would continue to rise until it reached space and dissipated. But, the gas is contained within the balloon.

As the balloon moves higher into the upper atmosphere, the ambient pressure (atmospheric pressure surrounding the balloon) continues to decrease. Since the pressure inside the balloon is fixed (1 atm), the differential (or difference) between the internal balloon pressure and outside air pressure grows. The balloon expands to compensate for this, but the balloon can only stretch so far until it pops.

Re #11 I’m not asking if it is legal to send objects into space, I’m asking if it is legal to launch a meteorological balloon (which you need a lot of approval for, esp near urban areas and jet paths), into the edge of space, then let an office chair plummet at terminal velocity to the Earth (and unsuspecting victims) below. Just seems dangerous, the falling back to Earth part!

The chair was very cool!

Thats what the hunk of junk in my backyard was outer space chair I am selling you on ebay.
Hey thanks for the great article Kayla I love Science Fridays.

As always great article…really enjoyed Colbert….
Looking forward to next time.

I tried to like Colbert. I really did. I guess I just don’t fit the demo.

DAm.. I just got hit by a flying chair….

oh… hi.


A tiny black hole in the lab?

& you don’t feel this could expand & create a cascade reaction?


Son, what happened to that nifty new chair I bought you?

Dad! Like dude, it was so freaking amazing, you’re like not gonna believe it. So like, I tied it to a big balloon and like it shot right up to space! Like, “no way” I said, and then the balloon popped and the chair plummetted back to like Earth, ya know, and like, it’s lost somewhere around Caan, France. Is that like frakkin cool or what Pops?

Son, pee into this cup.


Too bad we couldn’t see the chair fall further down.

How cold would it be where the chair got up to?

C.O.L.B.E.R.T. is in orbit!

Discovery launched at 11:59pm Friday night.

Here is my video posted almost 24 hours ago of the launch from KSC:

You see two flashes of lightning in the distance, then you hear the electronic signal ordering SRB separation in my camera, then you see two quick flashes on the Shuttle, which is caused by SRB separation. Quite a show!

Great video, John! Really exuberant crowd there in Titusville!

(But no, there’s no way your camera picked up the SRB sep signal, which is carried internally by wire and triggered by the Shuttle’s onboard computers when SRB chamber pressure falls to a certain level.)

#37: No.


Porthos, haven’t you gotten the memo, gitmo is being closed. Obama signed the executive order his first day in office.