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188. Death by Utopia

Calhoun relaxing in Universe 25

In the late 20th Century, John B. Calhoun decided to make Utopia; it started with rats. In 1947 he began to watch a colony of Norway rats, over 28 months he noticed something, in that time the population could have increased to 50,000 rats, but instead it never even rose above 200. Then he noticed that the colony split into smaller groups of 12, any more and groups would split apart. He continued to study rats up until 1954. Then in 1958, he made his first lab.

He bought the second floor of a barn, and there he made his office and lab. For four years he had Universe 1, a large room homing rats and mice alike. It was split into four spacious pens connected by ramps, each filled with rats. The thronging mass of rats produced an overpowering odour, it took a few minutes before anyone could breathe normally. After 4 years he moved away from the farm, in 1963 he produced his most famous creation, Universe 1. The worlds first mouse mortality-inhibiting-environment.

2.7 metres square with 1.4m high walls. The ‘Universe’ was surrounded by 16 tunnels leading to food, water and burrows. No predators, no scarcity, the mice would have to be blind to not see the utopia around them. That is how it started, Utopia. Then the mice, four breeding pairs in all, were introduced into Universe 1. After 104 days they adjusted to the new world and the population began to grow, doubling every 55 days. Day 315 and the population reached 620, then it stopped. The population grew much more slowly as the mice came against the limit of space, their only frontier.

Then the societal breakdown, young were expelled before they had been properly weaned and the attacking of young. Dominant males couldn’t defend their territory and females became more aggressive, non-dominant males became passive, not retaliating to attacks. The last healthy birth came on the 600th day. Then there were no children. Then came extinction.

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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Articles

 

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187. Space and Other Rubbish

The distribution of space debris

Rubbish, junk, debris and garbage are not words typically associated with space, we think of it as vast and clean, but space junk is making a big mess of it, and it is not that easy to clean up. Especially because there are 10 million pieces of rubbish, floating around out there.

Among the 10 million pieces of space junk are around 32 nuclear reactors, and the cheerfully round Vanguard I, America’s second satellite and the oldest space debris, dating back to 1958. Space has some normal rubbish as well, some 200 bags of rubbish currently are making their orbit. How did they get there? The answer is that during the first ten years of the Mir space station they decided to simply ‘throw out the trash,’ hoping they would fall to earth and burn up. This has yet to happen.

Difficulties also arise because of speed, the debris can start move rapidly without all of that annoying air slowing them down. During the first American space walk in 1965, Astronaut Edward White managed to ‘misplace’ his glove in empty space. The glove was soon lapping the Earth at speeds of 28,000 kilometres per hour, making it the most dangerous item of clothing in history. Other space debris travels at such speeds that they can pass straight through 50mm of steel. Luckily the glove can’t, after one month the glove burnt up in the atmosphere leaving no trace, which was rather handy.

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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Articles

 

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186. The Melted Caterpillar

by GollyGForce

For over a century scientists have been observing caterpillars engaging in strange migrations. This condition affects many different species of caterpillar, but the virus specialising in the Gypsy Moth caterpillar has a few extra surprises.

These normally nocturnal creatures would starts venturing out in broad daylight, leaving their normal grazing and reaching up into the open canopy. The change was not a choice, it was forced by an invader. The caterpillars were sick, and a virus was in control.

One single gene has been isolated in the virus which is thought to be the ‘caterpillar control,’ it deactivates the caterpillar’s will to moult, sending the caterpillar on a constant feeding cycle. Making one very hungry caterpillar.

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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Articles

 

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185. Up Up and Away

In 2009 a helicopter hovered 900m above the Mojave Desert, Andrew Petro was watching. Beneath the helicopter was a steel cable tethered to the ground, as he watched a small, square robotic device rose upwards, racing towards the helicopter along the cable, at 600m it slowed to a crawl and then stopped. At the base of the cable was a tripod-mounted laser pointing at the robotic device, no longer powering it upwards, the limits of its power had been met. On behalf of NASA, Andrew Petro handed the semi-successful team behind the robotic square a cheque for $900,000 – they had just won a competition for the future of space travel.

Getting to space is expensive, but it becomes a lot cheaper when you don’t use rocket fuel. How to do that though. The answer involves a powerful laser, a cable 8 times the diameter of the earth, a large steel ball and finally a very big metal box. It was first described in 1895 as a ‘celestial castle’ attached to earth by a tether on the top of something like the Eiffel tower. It was more accurately presented in 1979 by Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Fountains of Paradise.’ The way to reach space, is with a Space Elevator.

The competition was the 2009 Space Elevator Games, a NASA-run competition to encourage innovation that could lead to more advanced prototype space elevators. The reasons for the sudden interest and investment are two-fold. In 1990 the first carbon nanotubes were successfully manufactured; and high-strength lasers are rapidly increasing in power. The thing is becoming possible. So now, it seems, the space elevator concept could finally be getting off the ground.

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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Articles

 

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181. Life Without A Pulse

It is commonly held notion that without a pulse, one cannot survive. In fact before the advent of open-heart surgery a lack of a pulse was, medically speaking, death. The definition has changed of course. Now in fact, it seems that a pulse is not required.

Dr Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute believed that trying to copy the heart was a waste of resources, instead they have used an existing device, a VAD which provides blood flow via the means of rotating blades and doubled it. Leaving a final contraption that they believe can fully replace the heart. “What we’ve kind of done is taken two motorcycles, strapped them together, and called it a car,” said Cohn. VADs or vascular assist devices have been around since 1994 and constantly been getting smaller and more efficient, making them the ideal technology to make a heart out of.

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions

 

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176. Walking Corpse Syndrome

Not a sufferer of Walking Corpse Syndrome

Also known as Cotard’s Syndrome, this rare mental condition has a very bizarre way of changing one’s outlook. It is usually a side-effect of a previous mental illness but occasionally the result of head trauma. What it actually does is make the sufferer believe that they are dead, non-existent or in even rarer cases, immortal.

They simply are convinced that they are in essence, a walking corpse, or ghost. Some conclude, just because it is hot when they gain consciousness, that they have died and gone to hell, even though life goes on normally around them.

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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174. Neptune’s One Year Anniversary

In 1846 the planet Neptune was discovered; since then one year has passed. Now we celebrate the one year anniversary of its discovery. As you may have gathered, that is one Neptune year, something much longer than the human year.

Neptune is the coldest and most remote planet in our solar system (pluto does not count). BEing so far away it has an orbit that is 30 times larger than earth. One year of  Neptune, one full orbit of the sun, lasts 164.79 earth years. Making 12th June 2011 the one year anniversary.

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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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