The Biggest Thing In The Universe Is So Gigantic It Shouldn’t Exist At All (

Awesome, huge, gigantic…are now terms completely dwarfed by an amazing new discovery! Thanks to the nerdy folk over at The Huffington Post, we’re now all in the know.

What’s the biggest known structure in the universe?

Astronomers used to think it was a “filament” of galaxies known as the Sloan Great Wall. But recent research suggests a different structure is even bigger — and its size has astronomers scratching their heads.

Meet the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall (Her-CrB GW). Check it out in the video above.

“The Her-CrB GW is larger than the theoretical upper limit on how big universal structures can be,” Dr. Jon Hakkila, an astrophysics professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and one of the astronomers who discovered the structure, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Thus, it is a conundrum: it shouldn’t exist but apparently does.”

Mysteries just like this are why astronomers scan the skies for a glimpse into the past, as they shed light not only on the early years of our universe, but also more about our galaxy, our solar system, and ultimately, ourselves.

“We are now mapping structures across the sky,” astronomer Dr. Jay M. Pasachoff, director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., who was not involved in the great wall’s discovery, told The Huffington Post. “We’re learning how the universe grew up. So we’re learning about how our cluster of galaxies grew up and how our own galaxy grew up and how our sun formed, and how the Earth formed soon there after. We’re looking back at our history.”

Because astronomers are still mapping the sky, there just may be something even grander than the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall in our universe.

“The danger of finding the biggest, or most distant, or the oldest things in the universe is always that sooner or later someone is likely to come along and find something bigger, more distant, or older than the thing you found,” Hakkila said. “So far we have not been upstaged, but it has only been about six months since we published.”

The finding was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Google Adds Quantum Physics To Minecraft (

This is the climax of nerdgasms everywhere: Minecraft + Google + Quantum Physics.

It’s as trippy as you suspect.

Minecraft,” the Lego-style, build-your-own-game game, has been the canvas for some awesome projects. (For just one example: this gigantic scientific graphing calculator.) Now Google’s Quantum A.I. Lab is taking it in an even weirder direction: quantum physics.

The team created a modified version of the game, called qCraft, that lets players explore the fundamentals of the field by playing in a world based on quantum principles. From a post on Google+ announcing the game:

We talked to our friends at MinecraftEdu and Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter and came up with a fun idea: a Minecraft modpack called qCraft. It lets players experiment with quantum behaviors inside Minecraft’s world, with new blocks that exhibit quantum entanglement, superposition, and observer dependency.

Is it a true simulacrum of a blocky quantum universe? Ha, no. But considering just how strange the field is, that probably wouldn’t make for a fun game. Instead, it’s just a way of teaching the basics, and Google admits as much:

Of course, qCraft isn’t a perfect scientific simulation, but it’s a fun way for players to experience a few parts of quantum mechanics outside of thought experiments or dense textbook examples.

You can download the game here.

Hungry? Try A 3-D Printed Extra Cheese Pizza For Dinner (

I can’t imagine this tastes that great, but it’s probably better than some of the bargain basement brands in the grocery store. This would also open the door to essentially most baked and pastry-type items since they’ve managed the basic “dough with toppings” delivery system.


Researchers have been talking about 3D printing food for a long time, but when NASA decided it was time to find new ways to provide food to astronauts on long trips (like to Mars), 3D printed food became more relevant than ever. As earth’s population continues to grow fast, some people believe 3D printed food is the future of food. I have to admit, it sounds tastier than eating bugs for protein. This 3D printed cheese pizza actually looks pretty good.

It’s clear that in the future, we will no longer have huge grocery stores stocked with everything we could ever want to buy. We’ll have to get more creative about food as it relates to our survival. With over 7 billion people on the planet, and with more people born every day, there really is no other option. 3D printed food sounds good to me, especially when it’s a cheese pizza. According to news station KXAN:

“Powdered ingredients that can keep for years are mixed into individual vessels. A heated plate then receives a square of dough, a layer of sauce, and some cheese topping. Twelve minutes later – voila – an appetizing little pizza.”

The top layer of the printer is what melts the cheese. If NASA is able to send 3D printers into space, they’ll save a ton of room in the spaceship since they won’t have to pack all those boxes of food for the trip. Also, the astronauts would have a much more appealing diet than just eating space food for every meal.

This reminds me of the movie Matrix, and how they talked about the goop they had to eat each day. I’m sure they would have liked to have a 3D printer to make a cheese pizza instead of that juicy oatmeal stuff they ate. If you want to see a 3D printer create even more food, click over here to 3D Printing Industry and watch a printer make some pretty creative looking pancakes. Someday we might all have a food printer in our kitchen. It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.

3D Printed Cheese Pizza Looks Delish

World’s First Quantum Metamaterial Unveiled (

Quantum isn’t just for abstract theories anymore. It’s now comes in a working “metamaterial” variety.

German researchers have designed, built, and tested the first metamaterial made out of superconducting quantum resonators.

In recent years, physicists have been excitedly exploring the potential of an entirely new class of materials known as metamaterials. This stuff is built from repeating patterns of sub-wavelength-sized structures that interact with photons, steering them in ways that are impossible with naturally occuring materials.

The first metamaterials were made from split-ring resonators (C-shaped pieces of metal) the size of dimes that were designed to interact with microwaves with a wavelength of a few centimetres. These metamaterials had exotic properties such as a negative refractive index that could bend light “the wrong way”.

But they were far from perfect, not least because the split-ring resonators introduced losses because of their internal resistance.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think of a solution to this problem: use superconducting resonators that have zero internal resistance.

And that’s a good idea in theory. In practice, however, it is hugely challenging. Apart from the obvious difficulty of operating at superconducting temperatures just above absolute zero, the main problem is that superconducting resonators are quantum devices with strange  quantum properties that are fragile and difficult to handle.

In particular, these properties are exponentially sensitive to the physical shape of the resonator. So tiny differences between one resonator and another can lead to huge differences in their resonant frequency.

And since metamaterials are periodic arrays of structures with identical properties,  that’s a problem. Indeed, nobody has ever made a quantum metamaterial for precisely this reason.

Today that changes thanks to the work of Pascal Macha at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and a few pals. These guys have built and tested the first quantum metamaterial, which they constructed as an array of 20 superconducting quantum circuits embedded in a microwave resonator.

This experiment is a significant challenge. These guys fabricated their quantum circuits out of aluminium in a niobium resonator, which they operated below 20 milliKelvin.

Their success comes from two factors. The first was in minimising the differences between each quantum circuit  so there was less than a 5 per cent difference in the current passing through each.

The second was in clever design. A quantum circuit influences an incoming photon by interacting with it. To do this as a group, the quantum circuits must also interact with each other.

The problem in the past is that physicists had arranged the circuits in series so that the combined state must be a superposition of the states of all the circuits. So if a single circuit was out of kilter, the entire experiment failed.

Macha and co got around this by embedding the quantum circuits inside a microwave resonator – a chamber about a wavelength long in which the microwaves become trapped.

To interact with a photon, each quantum circuit need only couple with the resonator itself and its nearest neighbours. That’s much easier to do with a large ensemble of quantum circuits.

And the results  show that it worked, at least in part.

The interaction with the quantum circuits changes the phase of the outgoing photons in subtle but measurable ways. So by studying this change, Macha and co were able to work out exactly what kind of interaction was occurring.

What they saw was that eight of the circuits formed a coherent group that influenced the photons. But over time, this dissociated into two separate groups of four quantum circuits.

That raises the tantalising question of why the large ensemble dissociated into two smaller ones, something that Macha and co will surely be investigating in future work.

It also raises the prospect of a new generation of devices. “Quantum circuits…based on this proof-of-principle experiment offer a wide range of prospects, from detecting single microwave photons to phase switching, quantum birefringence and superradiant phase transitions,” say Macha and co.

All in all, a significant first step for quantum metamaterials.

IKEA Begins Selling Residential Solar Panels In The UK (

I wonder how quickly I’d recoup the $9K here in Seattle? Our energy costs are already highly reliant on efficient, cheap hydro power, and my energy bill year ’round is quite inexpensive. I think the efforts of such a well-known worldwide brand to promulgate solar energy could be exactly what’s needed for greener forms of energy to become accessible for most everyone. I think they’d find a pretty hearty market in the US as we have twice as many stores as the UK.

…Because when you think of Britain, you think of sunny skies.

Ikea has started selling solar panels for residential rooftops at its stores in the United Kingdom. The furniture outfit’s move into home solar systems (as opposed to sun-powered lighting) was apparently made attractive due the the drop in cost for solar panels, and Ikea’s initial offering will set you back £5,700 (about $9,300).

For your money, you get a 3.36 kW system, in-store consultation, installation, maintenance and energy monitoring service. Ikea’s got plans to sell solar panels in other locales, but according to Ikea Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard, such expansion will be done market by market (so don’t expect a worldwide rollout). Hey Steve, might we suggest your next store to start selling solar be someplace with more than two weeks of sunshine per year?

NASA Finds Water On Mars (

This is a stunning discovery. Of course, finding clay (or water after a sample’s been super-heated) isn’t the same thing as finding drinking water, but it does mean more excitement and interest will be eyeballing NASA. I believe we need far more money spent on space (and undersea) exploration.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Just Found Water in Martian Soil

Just when you thought ol’ Curiosity was digging in for the winter, the little discovery machine came up with a doozy: It discovered water in Martian soil. NASA scientists just published five papers in Science detailing the experiments that led to the discovery. That’s right. There’s water on Mars.

Impressive as it is, though, the discovery comes with some caveats. It’s not like Curiosity stumbled on a lost lake under a mountain or a stream trickling across the landscape. Rather, it found water molecules bound to other minerals in Martian soil. There’s kind of a lot of it, too. Researchers say that every cubic foot of Martian soil contains about two pints of liquid water. All things told, about two percent of the Martian soil is made of up water.

“We tend to think of Mars as this dry place—to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me,” Laurie Leshin, dean of science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told The GuardianShe also explained how the discovery was made. Curiosity picked up and sieved a scoop of soil from the surface before dropping it into an on-board oven. “We heat [the soil] up to 835C and drive off all the volatiles and measure them,” she said. “We have a very sensitive way to sniff those and we can detect the water and other things that are released.”

Of course, this isn’t the first sign of water on the red planet. Back in June, Curiosity scooped up a rock specimen that contained a type of clay only be formed in neutral water telling scientists that Mars was once home to running water. And of course, scientists have long suspected water once existed on the planet due to various formations across the Martian landscape. In fact, it’s widely believed that water existed in abundance on Mars, perhaps just as prominently as it does on Earth.

The discovery is important for a number of reasons, but especially exciting because of what this means for future missions to Mars. “We now know there should be abundant, easily accessible water on Mars,” says Leshin. “When we send people, they could scoop up the soil anywhere on the surface, heat it just a bit, and obtain water.” She makes it life on Mars sound so easy; now we just have to figure out how to get around that the quantity of deadly radiation we’ll encounter on the trip over. [Science via The Guardian

Update (5pm): We reached out to Dean Leshin to ask what the discovery of water meant for the larger question of life on Mars, and she replied with a shade of optimism:

Although we found water bound up in the soil particles, it’s still pretty dry. Also, we didn’t find evidence of organic molecules in the soil. So, this doesn’t have a very big bearing on the life on Mars discussion. However, we now know that our instruments are working beautifully, and our next step is to drill into rocks that may have been better places to preserve evidence or organics and of wet environments that could be suitable for life.

Fully Functioning Iron Man Laser Glove Created (

Even though this is well beyond my skills of reinvention, this Iron Man glove is pretty awesome. It even blows stuff up!

It’s amazing how new technology can mesmerize people. When Star Wars was first released, people started toying with the thought of inventing the science fiction gadgets they saw on the screen. Today people are mesmerized by the fantasy gadgets and user interfaces that some of the heroes we see on the silver screen use. Tony Stark and his Iron Man gear are great examples. What would it feel like to have one of those Iron Man laser glove devices stuck on your arm?

Iron Man Laser Glove

For Patrick Priebe, a quite impressive Iron Man fan, it was a dream too great not to be realized. He managed to somewhat recreate the Iron Man laser glove in a way that would make most Iron Man fans drool. Sure, it might not have the impressive jet boosters, the incredible weaponry or even the insane mechanics of the Iron Man laser glove itself, but it does have the laser, and it’s pretty darn powerful as well. Well, maybe not compared to the real deal perhaps, but compared to what we are all used to seeing.

Patrick’s full metal gauntlet, or Iron Man laser glove, runs on 1x 18650 plus 2x 14500 Li Ion cells. It also has 2 blue lasers on board, 1.2W each, plus 2 4mW for aiming. The power might not be equivalent to that of Iron Man’s laser glove, but it is impressive enough, and with a second of aim, it will blast balloons from a respectable range.

If Patrick kept modifying his glove and added more cool technology to it, and maybe if he builds the whole suit, this Iron Man laser glove could become quite a kick starter (and of course I don’t mean the crowdfunding website Kickstarter). Innovative approaches to recreate and realize on-screen technologies (like the Iron Man laser glove) are not only on the edge of geek, but they also push technology forward because people see that it can, if only slightly, be done. When a lot of people start to innovate individually on the same draft technology, it’s a huge leap forward for the overall field of technology.

Patrick Priebe’s Working Iron Man Laser Glove

Mobile Gardens – Busses Become Even Greener (

I do a number of green things, not the least of which is helping support with my wallet green companies with novel ideas I like. This seems like a no-brainer, especially for hotter climate cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix.


Why Putting Gardens on Top of Buses Makes Total Sense

This is a bus. This is a bus with a rooftop garden. Any questions?

bus with garden on top

Behold the future of public transportation. (Photo: Photo Kinetic via Urban Gardens)

If you ever wanted to roll up a fistful of ethical practices into a single unit of living, breathing, carbon-neutral mass transit, try this one on for size: A landscape artist in Spain has put a garden on the roof of a bus.

“My mission is to expand the garden area in urban environments, increase the absorption of CO2 and give public transport a new ecological and tourist attraction,” says designer Marc Granen of his concept, which he’s confusingly calling Phyto Kinetic. (When in doubt, keep it obvious, dude: Snakes on a Plane, mustard on a hot dog, Garden on a Bus—see a pattern?)

Reports The Sunday Times:

The “autocultural” single-decker has small shrubs and herbs sprouting from its roof. It can be watered naturally or better still, this being the blazing hot city of Girona, near Barcelona, by water from the vehicle’s air conditioning system.

If I was the head of public transit in a perennially-rainy city, say Seattle, I’d have ordered a fleet of these garden buses yesterday.

There’s No Environment Too Hostile: The 10 Most Unusual Urban Gardens

Granen’s bus-garden baby isn’t green for show—he and his team of science advisors have thought this concept through. One concern they’ve addressed is will the added weight of the garden reduce gas mileage? No—Urban Garden reports that Granen “utilizes a lightweight, 7-centimeter thick hydroponic foam which is much lighter than soil, thereby significantly reducing the overall weight of the roof.”

Ever the eager beaver, Granen admits a desire to one day bring his lush roofs to the buses of the Big Apple. Assuming that the average bus roof size is 20 square meters, he estimates that there are more than 100,000 square meters of green roof in New York City. Imagine what all that photosynthesis would do to Manhattan air?

But the landscaper isn’t naive. He knows that a similar concept, Bio Bus, has failed to catch on. Still, he’s cautiously optimistic about his prototype’s future. “Mistakes offer opportunities for solutions,” he says. “Edison performed a thousand failed experiments before developing the light bulb.”

Hear, hear.

Billboard Creates Drinking Water Out of Thin Air

This is genius! I hope the program receives all the funding it can handle.


I’ve never cared much for billboards. Not in the city, not out of the city — not anywhere, really. It’s like the saying in that old Five Man Electrical Band song. So when the creative director of an ad agency in Peru sent me a picture of what he claimed was the first billboard that produces potable water from air, my initial reaction was: gotta be a hoax, or at best, a gimmick.

Except it’s neither: The billboard pictured here is real, it’s located in Lima, Peru, and it produces around 100 liters of water a day (about 26 gallons) from nothing more than humidity, a basic filtration system and a little gravitational ingenuity.

Let’s talk about Lima for a moment, the largest city in Peru and the fifth largest in all of the Americas, with some 7.6 million people (closer to 9 million when you factor in the surrounding metro area). Because it sits along the southern Pacific Ocean, the humidity in the city averages 83% (it’s actually closer to 100% in the mornings). But Lima is also part of what’s called a coastal desert: It lies at the northern edge of the Atacama, the driest desert in the world, meaning the city sees perhaps half an inch of precipitation annually (Lima is the second largest desert city in the world after Cairo). Lima thus depends on drainage from the Andes as well as runoff from glacier melt — both sources on the decline because of climate change.

Enter the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC), which was looking for something splashy to kick off its application period for 2013 enrollment. It turned to ad agency Mayo DraftFCB, which struck on the idea of a billboard that would convert Lima’s H2O-saturated air into potable water. And then they actually built one.

It’s not entirely self-sufficient, requiring electricity (it’s not clear how much) to power the five devices that comprise the billboard’s inverse osmosis filtration system, each device responsible for generating up to 20 liters. The water is then transported through small ducts to a central holding tank at the billboard’s base, where you’ll find — what else? — a water faucet. According to Mayo DraftFCB, the billboard has already produced 9,450 liters of water (about 2,500 gallons) in just three months, which it says equals the water consumption of “hundreds of families per month.” Just imagine what dozens, hundreds or even thousands of these things, strategically placed in the city itself or outlying villages, might do. And imagine what you could accomplish in any number of troubled spots around the world that need potable water with a solution like this.

Mayo DraftFCB says it dropped the billboard along the Pan-American Highway at kilometer marker 89.5 when summer started (in December, mind you — Lima’s south of the equator) and that it’s designed to inspire young Peruvians to study engineering at UTEC while simultaneously illustrating how advertising can be more than just an eyesore. (Done and done, I’d say.)

“We wanted future students to see how engineers can also solve social needs in daily basis kinds of situations,” said Alejandro Aponte, creative director at Mayo DraftFCB.

The city’s residents could certainly use the help. According to a 2011 The Independent piece ominously titled “The desert city in serious danger of running dry,” about 1.2 million residents of Lima lack running water entirely, depending on unregulated private-company water trucks to deliver the goods — companies that charge up to 30 soles (US $10) per cubic meter of H2O, or as The Independent notes, 20 times what more well-off residents pay for their tapwater.

Upsalite Accident Creates “Impossible Material” With Myriad Uses (

It’s amazing how incredible accidents in science can be. Upsalite could dramatically shift how we perceive everything from cat litter to antibiotic delivery methods.


Scientists make “Impossible Material” … by accident

A sample of Upsalite


In an effort to create a more viable material for drug delivery, a team of researchers has accidentally created an entirely new material thought for more than 100 years to be impossible to make. Upsalite is a new form of non-toxic magnesium carbonate with an extremely porous surface area which allows it to absorb more moisture at low humidities than any other known material. “The total area of the pore walls of one gram of material would cover 800 square meters (8611 sq ft) if you would ‘roll them out'”, Maria Strømme, Professor of Nanotechnology at the Uppsala University, Sweden tells Gizmag. That’s roughly equal to the sail area of a megayacht. Aside from using substantially less energy to create dryer environments for producing electronics, batteries and pharmaceuticals, Upsalite could also be used to clean up oil spills, toxic waste and residues.

Scientists have long puzzled over this particular form of magnesium carbonate since it doesn’t normally occur in nature and has defied synthesis in laboratories. Until now, its properties have remained a mystery. Strømme confesses that they didn’t actually set out to create it. “We were really into making a porous calcium carbonate for drug delivery purposes and wanted to try to make a similarly porous magnesium carbonate since we knew that magnesium carbonate was non-toxic and already approved for drug delivery,” she tells us. “We tried to use the same process as with the calcium carbonate, totally unaware of the fact that researchers had tried to make disordered magnesium carbonates for many decades using this route without succeeding.”

Upsalite has a surface area of 800 square meters (8611 sq ft), the highest measured surface area for an alkali earth metal


The breakthrough came when they tweaked the process a little and accidentally left the material in the reaction chamber over a weekend. On their return they found a new gel in place. “We realized that the material we had made was one that had been claimed impossible to make,” Strømme adds. A year spent refining the process gave them Upsalite.

While creating a theoretical material sounds like cause for celebration, Strømme says the major scientific breakthrough is to be found in its amazing properties. No other known carbonate has a surface area as large as 800 sq m per gram. Though scientists have created many new high surface area materials with nanotechnology, such as carbon nanotubes and zeolites, what makes Upsalite special is the minuteness of its nanopores.

Each nanopore is less than 10 nanometers in diameter which results in one gram of the material having a whopping 26 trillion nanopores. “If a material has many small pores,” explains Strømme, “it gives the material a very large surface area per gram, which gives the material many reaction sites, i.e. sites that can react with the environment, with specific chemicals, or in the case of Upsalite, with moisture.”

Upsalite’s moisture absorption properties are striking. It was found to absorb 20 times more moisture than fumed silica, a material used for cat box fillers and as an anti-caking agent for moisture control during the transport of moisture sensitive goods. This means that you’d need 20 times less material to do the moisture control job.

Its unique pore structure also opens up new applications in drug delivery. The pores can host drugs that need protection from the environment before being delivered to the human body. It’s also useful in thermal insulation, drying residues from oil and gas industries, and as a dessicant for humidity control. Potential applications are still being discovered as the material undergoes development for industrial use.

The team at Uppsala University is commercializing Upsalite through their spin-off company Disruptive Materials. An article describing the material and its properties can be found at PLOS ONE.

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