Got $20k? If so, you may be able to purchase the 166-page Ph.D. dissertation written by German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun in 1934. Von Braun was the technical director of Germany's V-2 rocket program during World War II and later became the first director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, where he led the development of the Saturn V rocket that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon. He also wrote regularly for Popular Science.
The dissertation, which includes hand-written notes and charts, is recognized as an important milestone in modern rocketry. It was originally classified as "top secret" and remained unpublished until 1960.
The auction will take place on December 4 at Bonhams New York.—Dawn Stover
A strange story coming out of South Korea about an exploding mobile phone that killed a 33-year-old man turned out to be a lie. Surely some people do worry about killer cell phones, but they're probably thinking more along the lines of cancer or some distraction-induced accident—texting while driving, for example, and not seeing an oncoming car.
But an exploding battery? The story seemed improbable, and now one of the victim's co-workers has confessed that he accidentally killed the man while backing up a construction vehicle. All the details haven't emerged yet, but it looks like the co-worker tried to use the exploding phone to dodge the blame.—Gregory Mone
So we're just about ten years into the discovery that the universe is probably blowing apart due to a cosmic, anti-gravitational force called dark energy. And how much more do we know about it?
Scientists have made some headway, but there are still some frighteningly large questions to be addressed. They now agree that dark energy makes up 75 percent of the cosmos. Dark matter, another mysterious substance, commands a 21 percent share. And as for the protons and electrons we all know and love? A mere sliver of the total, at a paltry four percent. The latest issue of the journal Physics World features reflections and insights from two of the leading dark energy astrophysicists, Eric Linder and Saul Perlmutter, of the University of California, Berkeley. They say that planned and potential space missions - like the probe pictured here - could make the next decade an exciting one for astrophysics. Who knows, maybe we'll get really lucky and understand the nature of ten or even, dare I say, twelve percent of the universe!—Gregory Mone
The latest issue of the journal Nature has a focus on Venus, the hellish twin to our lovely planet. Nine papers reviewing the first major findings from Europe's Venus Express spacecraft reveal that Earth and Venus have a number of remarkable similarities, including size, mass and amounts of carbon dioxide.
Fortunately for us, Earth is a good deal further from the Sun. Because of its close proximity, Venus lost most of its water, its clouds are filled with sulfuric acid, carbon dioxide fills its atmosphere, creating an extreme greenhouse effect, and, of course, it's ridiculously hot on the surface.—Gregory Mone
As recently as September, Apple was playing coy when it came to a rumored 3G iPhone. At a news conference that month Steve Jobs told reporters a phone wouldn't appear before they can "see the battery lives for 3G get back up into
the five-plus-hour range." Nevertheless, its carrier seems to have less compulsion to hold back. Yesterday, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson all but announced an impending 3G iPhone, responding to a reporter's question about the possibility with: "You'll have it next year." Apple declined to comment, but presumably isn't thrilled about the slip—especially when it comes on the tails of the holiday wish-list deluge.
Meanwhile, on PPX the news incited a flurry of trading on our 3G iPhone proposition. But until Apple proffers an announcement of its own, the stock's up for grabs.—Abby Seiff
A new electronic device designed to simplify the growth hormone injection process has just been approved by the FDA. Patients who suffer from growth hormone deficiency give themselves the daily injections, but jabbing yourself with an old-fashioned needle every night isn't all that fun. Nor is measuring out the right dose.
The easypod growth hormone delivery device sets the dose, allows doctors to track whether their patients are keeping to the prescribed schedule, and makes the actual injection a bit easier to deal with.
Now, as for whether doctors should really be prescribing growth hormone to kids in the first place, that's another issue. Read former PopSci editor Jenny's Everett's story on the subject here.—Gregory Mone
In Tokyo yesterday, engineers showed off a range of advanced machines at the 2007 International Robot Exhibition, the nation's top robotics showcase.
On display were a Rubik's Cube-solving machine, a panda-like bot designed to relieve stress in the people it interacts with, and a new dental training robot, Simroid, that features a realistic mouth and false teeth embedded with sensors. (And sort of looks like it's been struck by Jack Nicholson's Joker.) If an aspiring dentist drills in the wrong spot, Simroid emits a protest, letting the student know he or she has erred. The robot is not ready for production just yet, so young dentists will continue practicing on cash-strapped grad students.—Gregory Mone
A fellow science writer has called my attention to The New York Times Book Review list of the 100 Notable Books of 2007. Conspicuously absent from the list are any science books. Even medicine only rated a couple of titles. Apparently the reviewers who compile the list prefer history, politics and poetry to even a smidgen of science.
Fortunately, some reviewers do share our love of science. For example, check out the The Royal Society Prizes for Science Books 2007, announced earlier this year. Amazon has also published its Top 10 Editors' Picks in science for the year. The Invisible Cure, Helen Epstein's book on AIDS, made both the Amazon and the Times lists but probably belongs in Amazon's Health, Mind and Body category rather than Science.
We'd love to hear your picks for the best science books of the year.—Dawn Stover
Last week, the United Nations Committee Against Torture ruled that the Taser gun is a form of torture, and "can even provoke death." The group issued the statement in response to news that Portugal has purchased Taser X-26 stun guns for its police force. Basically, the UN thinks that's a bad idea, and a violation of the UN'S Convention against Torture.
Naturally, Taser isn't too happy about this conclusion. The company says the UN group is "out of touch" and questions its contention that there is evidence the stun guns can provoke death. Yet it's not exactly surprising that people are raising questions, since two people died after being jolted by the gun in Canada in the last two months. There's no evidence that the Taser devices actually caused the deaths, but officials are looking into both events.—Gregory Mone
Some 21 years after development began on the military's infamous aircraft, the V-22 Osprey is at long last flying missions. Well before the January 1st end-date on our PPX proposition, V22FLY has been delisted and will payout at POP$100. The U.S. Marine Corp has released video footage of the tiltrotor in action (above) and confirmed the sorties with PopSci; the market clearly called this one, with the price rising steadily until its halt at $80.50 per share.—Abby Seiff
If you saw the most recent James Bond movie, Casino Royale, you might recognize the sport of parkour. It involves amazingly acrobatic, spontaneous physical feats, often performed in an urban setting. And although it looks like it's straight out of the superhuman stuff of The Matrix or Spiderman, it is very real. Its practitioners leap from rooftop to rooftop, scale walls and backflip over obstacles.
Watching a clip like this one, it's tempting to think there's some deft camera work at play, or some skilled CGI action, but these people are really just taking advantage of basic physics. They're taught to respect the laws of motion: They often roll when landing on a hard surface to reduce the impact on their legs and back. They take advantage of momentum, too, using body movements to transfer horizontal force into vertical when switching from running towards to scaling a wall. Similarly, they kick off walls to get a little higher and perhaps reach a ledge they couldn't have grabbed with a straight jump. Naturally, physics also gets them back now and then. Though you're not likely to catch too many slip-ups on the popular web videos or TV commercials featuring parkour and its variations, these guys are human: Friction and gravity don't always cooperate, and they do fall now and then.—Gregory Mone
The Web-based science fiction game Eve Online is getting a major graphics overhaul next month. Eve, which is set in the far future, isn't the most popular massively multiplayer game, but it has set a few significant marks. Its subscriber base, currently over 200,000, is growing consistently, and this past weekend it set a record when more than 37,000 players were online, operating in the same futuristic cosmos at the same time. So, what's the attraction? It's kind of a science fiction geek's heaven. The Eve universe has massive starship fights, rebel factions, powerful industrialists, pirates and, sadly, even taxes. Check out the new trailer, which showcases the revised graphics, here. The fighters, spaceships and orbiting cities are unbelievably cool.—Gregory Mone
Though you'd think the latest gaming console would elicit little more than suspicious looks from grandma and grandpa, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, it turns out that the Wii has spurred the elderly set to start asking for turns of their own.
Nearly a quarter of Americans over the half-century mark have played video games this year, up from less than ten percent in 1999. Part of this is marketing. Nintendo, for one, is targeting older groups with games like Brain Age. But the Wii's ease-of-use, along with the active but not too active style of play it offers, has proven especially attractive. The favorite? At one retirement community, bowling is the clear winner. And they don't even have to wear the funny shoes.—Gregory Mone
Starting in April, the China Lighting Conversion program plans to distribute 10 million compact fluorescent lightbulbs in China. Most Chinese people cannot afford the energy-efficient bulbs, but the Clinton Global Initiative's Joint U.S.-China Cooperation on Clean Energy is raising funds for the project. Partners already include China's Ministry of Construction, Tsinghua University and the media company Bertelsmann.
Replacing 10 million conventional lamps with compact fluorescent lamps will prevent the release of about 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide over four years and
eliminate the need for ten 50-megawatt coal-fired power plants. Put another way, an investment of $20 million is expected to eliminate the need for a $500 million investment in new power plants.—Dawn Stover
In recent months, PopSci has covered various scientists' plans to curb global warming through carbon sequestration, mainly by feeding it to algae to make biofuel, or burying it underground.
Today, a company called Skyonic announced a novel new system, Skymine, which uses the carbon dioxide emitted from smokestacks to make baking soda. According to Skyonic CEO Joe David Jones, the system will be powered by waste heat from factories, and will produce food-grade baking soda.
Last year, the utility company Luminant installed a pilot version of
the system at its Big Brown Steam Electric Station in Fairfield, Texas. There's still quite a bit of work to be done to make the current system viable on a large scale, but the baking soda idea offers solutions to some of the economic problems posed by other carbon sequestration methods. For starters, according to Jones, the stuff can be sold for home or industrial use or buried harmlessly in landfields or abandoned mines.
Jones apparently got the idea for the SkyMine system while watching a Discovery Channel show with his kids. He pulled out an old college science textbook and immediately turned to a passage about converting C02 to baking soda. He'd found it interesting years ago and highlighted it for future reference. -Megan Miller
The point of the Global Security Challenge, a new competition focused on security technology, is to help innovators break into a crowded field, and get new ideas off the drawing board and into the real world, where they might actually start helping people. Started by students at London Business School, the competition is focused on technologies that could help governments and organizations defend against terrorist attacks—and the $500,000 first prize is nothing to scoff at.
This year's winning technology went to the NoblePeak Vision Corporation, which is developing a new video surveillance camera that enhances night-vision by picking up more of the infrared spectrum. See the other winners here.—Gregory Mone
Now I'm not saying anyone should actually feel bad for Microsoft or anything like that, but the reaction to its new operating system, Vista, must be more than a little frustrating to the software giant. The old version, XP, is still performing well, and retailers have even requested that Microsoft keep it bundled in new computers for longer than originally planned. On top of that, an independent firm says that a planned upgrade to Vista still doesn't perform as quickly as the latest version of XP. Oh, and then there are those Apple ads.
In other Microsoft news, the company is reportedly considering constructing a new data center in Siberia.—Gregory Mone
Maybe it's not pseudoscience after all. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a technique that stimulates brain activity through externally-delivered magnetic pulses, has been alternately hailed and written-off for years, showing promise in some studies while proving ineffective in others.
Lately, though, scientists at several major universities have been saying that the technology is finally refined enough to start making a difference, and a new study to be published in Biological Psychiatry suggests they might be right. In a multi-center trial, 301 medication-free but severely depressed patients received either real or sham TMS for 4-6 weeks. The researchers report that side effects were minimal, and TMS proved to be an effective treatment—with the real TMS proving significantly more effective than the placebo version.—Gregory Mone
Military engineers have taken another step in the march toward robotic warfare. During recent tests, a manned Navy attack submarine launched an unmanned undersea vehicle from one of its torpedo tubes. The Boeing-built AN/BLQ-11 robotic sub then returned to the mother sub, which hauled it aboard using a 60-foot-long robotic arm.
It was the first demonstration of a robot recovery by a submerged sub while under way, according to the Navy and Boeing. During similar tests in January 2006, the robotic arm docked with the sub but did not successfully retrieve it.
Unmanned vehicles are designed to do work that is too dirty, dangerous or dull for humans. For example, robot subs could be used to detect and detonate enemy mines. In the recent tests, the robotic sub performed "shadow submarine" maneuvers in which it operated alongside the larger sub.
As its name indicates, the AN/BLQ-11 is 11 inches in diameter. That makes it a perfect fit for a torpedo tube. The robotic arm used to grab the mini-sub and stuff it back into its launch tube is deployed from a second torpedo tube. The same technology may be used for larger-diameter robot subs in the future.—Dawn Stover
Humans have the capacity to pick up as many as 10,000 different odors, but for most of us, many of the genes controlling our sense of those smells have shut down business.
Now researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science are reporting that a particular gene controls an individual's sensitivity to the smell of sweat. Basically, some unlucky folks have a heightened ability to pick up body odor. The scientists also found that women are more sensitive to many smells than men. Some other interesting facts: two million people in the US have no sense of smell at all and one in a thousand can't smell skunks.
The paper appears online in PLoS Biology, and there's a nice summary here.—Gregory Mone