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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Everything in this week’s column is a little mysterious. Scientists in Colorado have created a new kind of sticky tape that in one important way isn’t sticky at all. Korean engineers have made a Star Wars-like 3D hologram. Finally, a group of Caltech astronomers say something big is lurking in the cosmic void and makes our sun feel a bit off. You should send it flowers.



A Lurking Giant May Be Tilting The Sun

Caltech astronomers say a large undiscovered planet at the edge of our solar system may be the reason for the sun’s six-degree tilt with respect to the other planets that orbit it. The researchers say our hidden neighbor would be 10 times the size of Earth and orbit about 20 times farther from the sun on average than Neptune. Their calculations also suggest the proposed planet’s orbit would be 30 degrees off from the rest of the solar system’s flat orbital plane. “Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the solar system has no choice but to slowly twist out of alignment,” says Elizabeth Bailey, a graduate student at Caltech and lead author of a study announcing the discovery.

Video: Magnetic levitation from Hyperloop UC pod. Courtesy Hyperloop UC.

Stick And Slide


The superomniphobic tape created in the lab of Colorado State University by mechanical engineer Arun Kota. The adhesive film can readily attach to virtually any surface including irregular shapes. Courtesy Colorado State University.

Colorado State University’s engineers have developed a flexible “superomniphobic” tape that gives any surface it adheres to liquid-repelling properties. “This latest product is similar in flexibility to Scotch Tape, but has the additional functionality of being extremely liquid-repellant,” according to the university’s Source magazine. The team spray-covered the tape with a nanocoating made from fluorinated silica particles. The coating allows the tape to maintain a protective air cushion between its surface and any liquid. The researchers are still working on making the tape more durable, but they’re already fielding calls from tape manufacturers and the packing industry. They say their superomniphobic tape should have commercial, civilian and military applications including corrosion resistance, self-cleaning, drag reduction and liquid waste minimization.


Bioengineered salad Could Help Us Treat Malaria One Day


Tobacco plants, Nicotiana tabacum, growing at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Malaria has been known since ancient times, and the disease still infects 200 million people around the world each year. But it may soon meet its match at the salad bar. Researchers in India and the U.S. have shown they can produce useful quantities of the powerful antimalaria drug artemisinin in genetically modified tobacco plants. Extracts from the plants halted progression of the parasite in red blood cells, but feeding infected mice whole plants provided even better therapy. Realizing that getting people to eat modified tobacco leaves would be a tough sell, the team is now working with lettuce that can be ground up and made into pills. “Artemisinin treats malaria faster than any other drug,” says senior author Shashi Kumar. “It can clear the pathogen from the bloodstream within 48 hours. Our research is focused on finding a way to make this drug available to more people.”


Hyperloop Prototype Lifts Off

It might have only been a quarter-inch off the ground, but a magnetic levitation demonstration was a big jump for a University of Cincinnati team vying for a top spot in the Hyperloop project. Sixty students unveiled their prototype hover system for a passenger pod to be used in the futuristic tube transportation system. The UC team was one of 30 invited to submit a prototype, and theirs uses eight miniature, spinning motors. Some version of a levitation system will be needed for Hyperloop to work at its target velocity — the speed of sound. At this speed, the UC team’s 14-foot prototype pod would complete a trip from Cincinnati to Chicago in a half-hour. They plan to ship their vehicle to California in November ahead of the January competition.


All We Need Now Is R2-D2


Years ago, you served my father…3D holograms could soon become reality. (a) Observation experiment setup. (b),(c),(d),(e), Captured images at four different positions with a 90-degree interval.  Image credit: Y Lim et al./Optics Express.

Researchers in South Korea have created a novel tabletop display system that produces 3D holograms. Multiple users can view the 360-degree image at the same time. Their secret lies in using aspheric lenses to display the 3.2-inch image. While their test image was only in monochromatic green, the team is working on a full-color version and hoping to improve other elements of the system. Now nothing prevents Princess Leia from getting her critical message out to the rebels, except a suitable robot serving as the vessel. In fact, the team says the “Star Wars” scene motivated their work. “Many people expect that high-quality holograms will entertain them in the near future because visualizations are increasingly sophisticated and highly imaginative due to the use of computer-aided graphics and recently-developed digital devices that provide augmented or virtual reality,” said study co-author Yongjun Lim.


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