The Remarkable Physics of Ants: Watch Them Turn into Fluids and Solids at Will

Ants nev­er cease to amaze us. Over the years here, we’ve watched them cre­ate a liv­ing life raft in 100 sec­onds flatbuild sur­pris­ing­ly com­plex ant colonies, and demon­strate an uncan­ny kind of cen­tral­ized intel­li­gence. Now let’s add to the list the ways in which they can col­lec­tive­ly act like a flu­id or a sol­id, depend­ing on the demands of a sit­u­a­tion.

These obser­va­tions were made by sci­en­tists at the Geor­gia Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, who record­ed the video above and pre­sent­ed it at a 2013 meet­ing of the Amer­i­can Phys­i­cal Soci­ety. Watch­ing the video, you can see ants wield­ing pow­ers that we’ve only oth­er­wise seen demon­strat­ed in sec­ond tier super­heroes (no offense to the Won­der Twins intend­ed). And yet, accord­ing to The New York Times, these remark­able pow­ers may have some prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions, lead­ing sci­en­tists to devel­op self-assem­bling robots and self-heal­ing mate­ri­als. By watch­ing ants build and repair bridges for them­selves, we can imag­ine cre­at­ing bridges that auto­mat­i­cal­ly repair their own cracks here in the mate­r­i­al world.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Physics Cours­es

Watch The Amaz­ing 1912 Ani­ma­tion of Stop-Motion Pio­neer Ladis­las Stare­vich, Star­ring Dead Bugs

Can Ants Count? Do They Have Built-In Pedome­ters? Ani­mat­ed Video Explains

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The Big Ideas of Stephen Hawking Explained with Simple Animation

Full dis­clo­sure: On my 7th grade report card, a sym­pa­thet­ic sci­ence teacher tem­pered a shock­ing­ly low grade with a hand­writ­ten note to my par­ents. Some­thing to the effect of it being her opin­ion that my inter­est in the­ater would, ulti­mate­ly, serve me far bet­ter than any infor­ma­tion she was attempt­ing to ram through my skull.

Thank you, Miss Coop­er, for your com­pas­sion and excep­tion­al fore­sight.

There are times, though, when I do wish I was just a teen­sy bit bet­ter informed about cer­tain buzzy sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ries. Hank Green’s infor­ma­tion-packed sci­ence Crash Cours­es are help­ful to a degree, but he talks so damn fast, I often have the sen­sa­tion of stum­bling stu­pid­ly behind…

Which I am, but still…

Alok Jha, the author and ITV Sci­ence Cor­re­spon­dent who nar­rates the brief ani­mat­ed guide to some of Stephen Hawking’s big ideas, takes things at a more encour­ag­ing pace. His deliv­ery reminds me of Alain de Bot­ton’s, and that alone is enough to sooth me into believ­ing I stand a chance of some­what grasp­ing such quan­tum con­cepts as black holes, grav­i­ta­tion­al sin­gu­lar­i­ties, and Hawk­ing radi­a­tion.

As long as I don’t lose myself in non-sci­en­tif­ic flour­ish­es like the cat in a box anchor­ing some of Hawking’s equa­tions or a sweet homage to ET, I may be able to keep hold of this tiger’s tail. Or at least nod with some­thing resem­bling inter­est, the next time a sci­ence-obsessed teen is shar­ing his or her pas­sion…

The video above come from The Guardian’s Ani­ma­tions and Explain­ers video series. And it was cre­at­ed by Scriberia, a Lon­don ani­ma­tion stu­dio.

via Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen Hawking’s Uni­verse: A Visu­al­iza­tion of His Lec­tures with Stars & Sound

Watch A Brief His­to­ry of Time, Errol Mor­ris’ Film About the Life & Work of Stephen Hawk­ing

Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawk­ing & Arthur C. Clarke Dis­cuss God, the Uni­verse, and Every­thing Else

Free Online Physics Cours­es

Free Online Astron­o­my Cours­es

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, home­school­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

Shelf Life: American Museum of Natural History Creates New Video Series on Its 33 Million Artifacts

I once spent a sum­mer as a secu­ri­ty guard at the Children’s Muse­um of Indi­anapo­lis. A won­der­ful place to vis­it, but my work­day expe­ri­ence proved dread­ful­ly dull. By far the high­light was being pulled off what­ev­er exhib­it I hap­pened to be guard­ing to assist in col­lec­tions, a cav­ernous back­stage area where untold trea­sures were shelved with­out cer­e­mo­ny. The head con­ser­va­tor con­fid­ed that many of these items would nev­er be sin­gled out for dis­play. The thrift store egal­i­tar­i­an­ism that reigned here was far more appeal­ing than the eye-catch­ing, edu­ca­tion­al sig­nage in the pub­lic area. From the obliv­ion of deep stor­age springs the poten­tial for dis­cov­ery.

How grat­i­fy­ing to learn that the 200 plus sci­en­tists employed by the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry feel the same. As palen­tol­o­gist Mike Novacek, puts it in Shelf Life, the museum’s just launched month­ly video series:

You can make new dis­cov­er­ies in Col­lec­tions just like you can out in the field. You can walk around the cor­ner and see some­thing that no one’s quite observed that way before, describe a new species or a new fea­ture that’s impor­tant to sci­ence.

The insti­tu­tion can choose from among more than 33,430,000 good­ies, from ancient objects they’ve been care­ful­ly tend­ing for more than two cen­turies to the sam­ples of frozen tis­sue and DNA com­pris­ing the bare­ly 13-year-old Ambrose Mon­ell Cryo Col­lec­tion for Mol­e­c­u­lar and Micro­bial Research.

Gems and mete­orites!

Arrow­heads and gourds!

Ver­te­brates and inver­te­brates!

There’s tru­ly some­thing here for…


Wasp enthu­si­asts (you know who you are) can thrill to the sev­en and a half mil­lion spec­i­mens in sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s Cynip­i­dae col­lec­tion. (They’re ready for their close up, Mr. DeMille. Famous as they are, the first episode passed them over in favor of a more pho­to­genic mock bee from the genus Criorhi­na.)

Future episodes will call upon in-house ichthy­ol­o­gists, pale­on­tol­o­gists, anthro­pol­o­gists, astro­physi­cists, and her­petol­o­gists to dis­cuss such top­ics as spec­i­men prepa­ra­tion, tax­on­o­my, and cura­tion. Stay abreast (and — bonus!- cel­e­brate Nero’s birth­day with tur­tles) by sub­scrib­ing to the museum’s youtube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Panoram­ic Vir­tu­al Tour of the Smith­son­ian Nation­al Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry

Down­load the Uni­verse: A Dis­cern­ing Cura­tor for Sci­ence eBooks

How to Make a Mum­my — Demon­strat­ed by The Get­ty Muse­um

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, home­school­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. She goes into more detail about her short-lived stint as a muse­um secu­ri­ty guard in her third book, Job Hop­per. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

New Heat Map Reveals the Creation of Our Infant Universe

Planck Light

This map shows the old­est light in our uni­verse, as detect­ed by the Planck mis­sion. Click on the map for a larg­er image.

By now the Big Bang the­o­ry is wide­ly accept­ed sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly. The idea is that the uni­verse began to expand rapid­ly about 14 bil­lion years ago from a dense, hot state and con­tin­ues to expand to this day.

One of the most telling fin­ger­prints left behind by the Big Bang is cos­mic microwave back­ground radi­a­tion. This ther­mal radi­a­tion was thought to be left over from the Big Bang itself. It fills the uni­verse almost com­plete­ly.

A new map of cos­mic radi­a­tion ques­tions some of the core con­cepts of the Big Bang. What if, this pre­cise heat map sug­gests, the Uni­verse expe­ri­enced a long, pre-Bang phase? What if the Big Bang wasn’t the first burp of cre­ation after all?

The Euro­pean Space Agency’s Planck space­craft mea­sures between infra-red and radio waves, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to see back in time to the first light ever pro­duced.

Cos­mol­o­gists released the new images of the ear­ly uni­verse this week. What sur­pris­es them is that Planck detect­ed stronger light sig­nals on one half of the sky than the oth­er and picked up a series of anom­alies or “cold spots.” While this doesn’t chal­lenge the Big Bang the­o­ry as a whole, it does height­en the mys­tery around the universe’s birth and devel­op­ment.

The data is still com­ing in. Like the Human Genome Project, Planck stands to gen­er­ate dou­ble the amount of data it has pro­duced so far.

Planck two

This full-sky map from the Planck mis­sion shows mat­ter between Earth and the edge of the observ­able uni­verse. Regions with more mass show up as lighter areas while regions with less mass are dark­er. The grayed-out areas are where light from our own galaxy was too bright, block­ing Planck­’s abil­i­ty to map the more dis­tant mat­ter. Click the map for a larg­er image.

Some oth­er sur­pris­es from the Planck space­craft data:

• The uni­verse is about 100 mil­lion years old­er and appears to be expand­ing much slow­er than pre­vi­ous­ly thought

•  There is less dark ener­gy and more mat­ter in the uni­verse than pre­vi­ous research showed.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonard Nimoy Nar­rates Short Film About NASA’s Dawn: A Voy­age to the Ori­gins of the Solar Sys­tem

Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawk­ing & Arthur C. Clarke Dis­cuss God, the Uni­verse, and Every­thing Else

Google Presents an Inter­ac­tive Visu­al­iza­tion of 100,000 Stars

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Con­tact her and learn more about her work at .

The Many Ways to Mars: A Reality Show, a New Martian City, and Mapping Mars from Home

Real­i­ty tele­vi­sion has been around since at least the late ’40s. First we had Can­did Cam­era, where hap­less, but real, peo­ple became the unwit­ting butt of Allen Funt’s jokes. But it wasn’t until fifty years lat­er that the genre explod­ed, bring­ing us Big Broth­er and, of course, Sur­vivor.

Now, make way for the unbe­liev­able and ultra-expen­sive mar­riage of real­i­ty tele­vi­sion and sci­ence fic­tion. Mars One, the brain­child of Dutch entre­pre­neur Bas Lans­dorp, plans to estab­lish a per­ma­nent human set­tle­ment on the red plan­et in 2023. First, four peo­ple would land on Mars. Every two years, anoth­er group of peo­ple would arrive. The trips would be one-way and all the set­tlers would live out the rest of their lives on Mars. Fund­ing for the first phase is esti­mat­ed at $6 bil­lion.

Mars One back­ers say rais­ing $6 bil­lion will be easy. Every four years the Sum­mer and Win­ter Olympics gen­er­ate mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enue because peo­ple all over the world want to watch. The Olympics held in 2005 and 2008 togeth­er made near­ly $5.5 bil­lion from pro­gram­ming and spon­sor­ship.

So, what if there were an event so fas­ci­nat­ing, so unprece­dent­ed and amaz­ing, that lit­er­al­ly every tele­vi­sion, com­put­er, and smart device would be tuned in to watch? What if the entire Mars mis­sion was an inter­na­tion­al real­i­ty tele­vi­sion show? That’s the plan. Every­thing from the selec­tion of the first group of astro­nauts to the launch, land­ing, and dai­ly life on the red plan­et would be tele­vised. The audi­ence even gets to vote on the final four space trav­el­ers.

Inter­est­ed? Mars One has issued its require­ments for astro­naut selec­tion. No mil­i­tary, flight, or sci­ence expe­ri­ence required. Appli­cants must be at least 18, in good men­tal and phys­i­cal health, and will­ing to devote eight years to train­ing before begin­ning the jour­ney to their new home plan­et. Find­ing this hard to believe? The first ques­tion in Mars One’s FAQ page sort of says it all. Is this for real? Yes, the plans are for real. Whether any or every­thing Mars One imag­ines actu­al­ly takes place is anybody’s guess.

What’s cer­tain is that Mars is a hot des­ti­na­tion at the moment, and not just for aspir­ing real­i­ty stars. SpaceX fun­der and bil­lion­aire Elon Musk wants to build a city for 80,000 on Mars. While accept­ing an award from the Roy­al Aero­nau­ti­cal Soci­ety, Musk out­lined his vision to charge $500,000 per per­son to trans­port peo­ple to the new Mar­t­ian city. He’s men­tioned want­i­ng to retire on Mars and is using SpaceX as a lab to devel­op new inter­plan­e­tary rock­et tech­nol­o­gy.

But you don’t need to be rich or pop­u­lar to see some of the red plan­et. There’s also plen­ty of explor­ing to do on the sur­face of Mars from home. Cit­i­zen sci­en­tists can help Plan­et Four iden­ti­fy fans and blotch­es in images of the Mar­t­ian sur­face. The pic­tures come from a cam­era aboard the Mars Recon­nais­sance Orbiter, a NASA mis­sion to orbit Mars and trans­mit images and data to Earth using a pow­er­ful radio fre­quen­cy called the “Ka-band,” which works like an inter­plan­e­tary Inter­net.

Using sim­ple mark­ing tools, users can mark the sur­face col­orations and spots that help sci­en­tists study changes in the planet’s weath­er. So-called “spi­ders” of dry ice form on the planet’s poles in the win­ter and then lead to fan-shaped mois­ture foot­prints.

It’s fun to imag­ine that the data you cre­ate could bring us clos­er to our dis­tant neigh­bor plan­et. Unless of course you’d rather suit up and start train­ing to go there your­self. In that case, good luck and start sav­ing.

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy and edu­ca­tion. Read more of her work at .

Einstein Documentary Offers A Revealing Portrait of the Great 20th Century Scientist

Albert Ein­stein is the patron saint of slack­ers redeemed. We’ve all heard some ver­sion of his late-bloomer sto­ry: “You know, Albert Ein­stein did ter­ri­bly in high school” (says every high school guid­ance coun­selor at some point). Most of us nor­mals like to see him this way—it bucks us up—even if he was any­thing but your aver­age low achiev­er. The above 2006 pro­file of Ein­stein by PBS’s “Amer­i­can Mas­ters” doc­u­men­tary series, Albert Ein­stein: How I See the World, takes the oppo­site tack, sur­round­ing him with the aura of a hero in a Her­mann Hesse nov­el. The film begins with William Hurt’s nar­ra­tion of Einstein’s solo trek through the Alps at twen­ty-two, dur­ing which he “longed to grasp the hid­den design, the under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples of nature.” Over the intrigue con­jured by Michael Galasso’s haunt­ing, min­i­mal­ist score and a mon­tage of black-and-white nature films, nar­ra­tor Hurt intones:

Every once in a while there comes a man who is able to see the uni­verse in a total­ly new way, whose vision upsets the very foun­da­tions of the world as we know it. Through­out his life, Albert Ein­stein would look for this har­mo­ny, not only in his sci­ence, but in the world of men. The world want­ed to know Albert Ein­stein, yet he remained a mys­tery to those who only saw his pub­lic face and per­haps to him­self as well. “What does a fish know of the water in which he swims?” he asked him­self.

After this sen­ten­tious begin­ning, with its strange­ly out­dat­ed pro­noun use, Hurt tells us that those who knew Ein­stein best saw a lit­tle of him, and the film goes on to doc­u­ment those impres­sions in inter­views: col­league Abra­ham Pais com­ments on Einstein’s love of Jew­ish humor (and that his laugh­ter sound­ed like “the bark of a con­tent­ed seal”). Han­na Loewy, a fam­i­ly friend, describes his abil­i­ty to look at “many, many dimen­sions, whether they be proven or not,” and to see the whole. Inter­cut between these state­ments is archival footage of Ein­stein him­self and com­men­tary from Hurt, some of it ques­tion­able (for exam­ple, the idea that Ein­stein was a “sci­en­tist who believed in God” is ten­den­tious, at best, but a sub­ject best left for the end­less bick­er­ing of YouTube com­menters).

It’s a bit of an Olympian treat­ment, fit­ting to the sub­ject in some respects. But in anoth­er sense, the doc­u­men­tary per­forms the func­tion of a hagiog­ra­phy, a genre well-suit­ed for encomi­um and rev­er­ence, but not for “get­ting to know” its sub­ject per­son­al­ly. The film places a great deal of empha­sis, right­ly per­haps, on Einstein’s pub­lic per­sona: his vocal pacifism—in which he joined with Mahat­ma Gandhi—and state­ments against Ger­man mil­i­tarism, even as the ris­ing fas­cist order dis­missed his work and denounced the man.

But while Albert Ein­stein: How I See the World pro­vides a com­pelling por­trait and offers a wealth of his­tor­i­cal con­text for under­stand­ing Einstein’s world, it leaves out the voic­es of those who per­haps knew him best: his chil­dren, wife Elsa, or his first wife, Mil­e­va. (Their divorce gets a brief men­tion at 15:20, along with his sub­se­quent mar­riage to first cousin Elsa.) Einstein’s trou­bled per­son­al life, revealed through pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence like an angry post-divorce let­ter to Mil­e­va and an appalling list of demands writ­ten to her dur­ing the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of their mar­riage, has received more scruti­ny of late. These per­son­al details have per­haps prompt­ed PBS to reeval­u­ate Mil­e­va’s influ­ence; rather than “lit­tle more than a foot­note” in his biog­ra­phy, Mil­e­va may have played a role in his suc­cess for which she nev­er received cred­it, giv­ing Hurt’s gen­dered nar­ra­tion some­thing of a bit­ter per­son­al twist.

None of this is to say that a doc­u­men­tary treat­ment of any pub­lic fig­ure needs to dredge the fam­i­ly secrets and dis­play the dirty laun­dry, but as far as learn­ing how Ein­stein, or any­one else of his stature, saw the world, the per­son­al seems to me as rel­e­vant as the pro­fes­sion­al. PBS’s doc­u­men­tary is very well-made, how­ev­er, and worth watch­ing for its pro­duc­tion val­ues, inter­views with Einstein’s friends and col­leagues, and archival news­reel footage, even if it some­times fails to tru­ly illu­mi­nate its sub­ject. But as Hurt’s nar­ra­tion dis­claims at the out­set, maybe Ein­stein was a mys­tery, even to him­self.

The film will be added to the Doc­u­men­tary sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

You can find free cours­es on Ein­stein’s work in the Physics sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of 550 Free Online Cours­es.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

Filming a Sprinting Cheetah at 1,200 Frames Per Second

Chee­tahs are the fastest land ani­mals on Earth, able to reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

Ear­li­er this year, the team at Nation­al Geo­graph­ic vis­it­ed the Cincin­nati Zoo and filmed chee­tahs run­ning at full sprint, as seen in the majes­tic video above. The Nation­al Geo­graph­ic team used a Phan­tom cam­era film­ing at 1,200 frames per sec­ond to cap­ture every nuance in the chee­tah’s gal­lop. The film­ing took three days and, so as not to bur­den the ani­mals, five dif­fer­ent chee­tahs were filmed.

You can read more about this ini­tia­tive here. Also be sure to check out the accom­pa­ny­ing Nation­al Geo­graph­ic arti­cle, “Chee­tahs on the Edge.”

Eugene Buchko is a blog­ger and pho­tog­ra­ph­er liv­ing in Atlanta, GA. He main­tains a pho­to­blog, Eru­dite Expres­sions, and writes about what he reads on his read­ing blog.

Astronaut Sunita Williams Gives an Extensive Tour of the International Space Station

After a 125-day stay aboard the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion, ISS Com­man­der Suni­ta (Suni) Williams touched down in Kaza­khstan on Mon­day, along with Flight Engi­neers Aki Hoshide and Yuri Malanchenko. Part of what is known as Expe­di­tion 33, the three board­ed their Soyuz TMA-05M on Sun­day to return to Earth, but before they left, Williams down­linked an exten­sive tour above of the ISS orbital lab­o­ra­to­ry. Williams has giv­en sev­er­al inter­views from her ISS post, so you may have already seen her float­ing weight­less in front of the cam­era, a nim­bus of dark hair around her face.

Here we see a num­ber of inter­est­ing fea­tures of the sta­tion. She begins with the Japan­ese lab­o­ra­to­ry, then moves to the Euro­pean mod­ule, “Colum­bus,” where many of the med­ical exper­i­ments take place. Inter­est­ing­ly, every sur­face is a suit­able work­sta­tion; since there’s no ref­er­ence for floor, walls, or ceil­ing, and no need for any­thing to stand on, one can maneu­ver into any posi­tion with­out los­ing a sense of direc­tion. As Williams demon­strates the “sleep sta­tions,” phone booth-size com­part­ments with sleep­ing bags, she shows how the astro­nauts can also sleep in any posi­tion at all with­out feel­ing like they’re “upside-down” or dis­ori­ent­ed in any way. There’s also a lengthy tour of the “facil­i­ties” (in case you’ve ever won­dered how that works) and the “cupo­la,” a small trans­par­ent room like a WWII gun­nery sta­tion where the astro­nauts can gaze out at their home plan­et.

So, yes, I will admit, I’ve always liked to imag­ine the inte­ri­or of the ISS like the smooth, padded cor­ri­dors of Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001, but the real­i­ty is still seri­ous­ly cool. The Wash­ing­ton Post has a slideshow of Expe­di­tion 33’s touch­down near the town of Arka­lyk in north­ern Kaza­khstan, and the video below shows the small cer­e­mo­ny that greet­ed the crew hours after their arrival back on Earth.

via Uni­verse Today

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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