Researchers at Lewis & Clark college have figured out how geckos can stick to anything. “Researchers found that the tips of the hairs on the bottom of gecko feet are tiny enough to take advantage of a weak attraction between individual molecules called van der Waals forces.” Because the adhesive technique is based on the structure of the hairs and not chemistry or capillary action, it has many possible applications in synthetic form. Imagine tape that works underwater or in a vacuum. Think of tape that doesn’t lose its stickiness and is self cleaning. I can’t wait for Band-Aids that don’t stick when you remove them. This is better than VELCRO.
Continuing the ongoing quest to find an economical method for moving cargo and eventually passengers to and from space, a private group is planning to construct the space elevator (mirror of the article from space.com). I first read about the space elevator almost twenty years ago in Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise, a story that is fascinating in its sound scientific and technical descriptions. The space elevator is a fairly simple concept: a wire anchored on earth at the equator connects to a platform in space. A lift climbs the wire. The main challenge has been to find a material that is strong enough for the wire. Clarke suggested a cable made from diamonds. It appears that the recently discovered carbon nanotubes have greater strength and will do nicely. So when will the space elevator be constructed? In the late 1970s Clarke was asked the same question. He replied, “The space elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing.” It looks pretty serious to me.
Australian scientists have proposed that the speed of light may not be a constant. The proposal is based on the discovery that “light from a distant quasar had absorbed the wrong type of photons from interstellar clouds on its 12 billion year journey to earth. This meant that the structure of atoms emitting quasar light was slightly but ever so significantly different to the structure of atoms in humans. The discrepancy could only be explained if either the electron charge, or the speed of light, had changed. But two of the cherished laws of the universe are the law that electron charge shall not change and that the speed of light shall not change, so whichever way you look at it we’re in trouble.”
Steven Levy talks about Stephen Wolfram and the book A New Kind of Science which I mentioned earlier. “Some of the engineers are developing A New Kind of Science Explorer, a PC application with a mini-Mathematica program that allows people to run the experiments in the book and begin to do research projects of their own. Wolfram feels very strongly that ‘his’ kind science is one through which amateurs will unearth major discoveries, and he has been thinking of various ways to assist them.” All this sounds like fun.
According to a Time Magazine article, Stephen Wolfram, the famed creator of Mathematica, says science has been broken for more than 300 years – and he can fix it. The article is about his new book, A New Kind of Science, in which Wolfram discusses how studying cellular automata may be better than trying to develop complex equations to explain nature. (Also see WolframScience.com)