ICYMI: A handful of science and technology updates from November 18 to November 24, 2018.

Pinoy concept “Cubo” bamboo house tops int’l competition

From The Guardian:

The creator of a house made of bamboo that can be put together in four hours to solve the chronic shortage of affordable accommodation in the Philippines has won a £50,000 top prize to develop cities for the future. Earl Forlales, 23, a graduate in material science engineering, took inspiration from the bamboo hut his grandparents lived in outside [Manila].

Forlales was awarded first prize by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) for his house, known as Cubo, for its use of low-cost, sustainable material, and the speed at which it could be constructed.

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Boxed out: Scientists determine how wombats produce cube-shaped feces

From LiveScience:

Cubed wombat poop is one of those wonders of the animal kingdom, like the giant body of the blue whale or the superfast punch of the mantis shrimp, that seems like it shouldn’t work on a basic physical level. There’s a reason poops are usually spheres or tapered cylinders: Try squeezing a cube out of a tube of toothpaste. Round chutes and round holes like to produce round things.

But in new research presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics on Nov. 18,a team of researchers led by Patricia Yang of the Georgia Institute of Technology said that they’ve figured it out. 

Feces travel through most of the wombat intestine as liquid slurry, but they dry up into a solid for the last 8 percent of the journey. And that’s when the cubic magic happens.

In other words, the intestine is more elastic in some places than others, so it pushes down on its contents harder in some places than in others, creating the little blocks. According to Yang, it’s a whole new, previously unknown method for making cubes.

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Astronomers find the Sun’s ‘solar twin’


In a rare discovery, an international team of astronomers has found a star that was likely born in the same stellar nursery as our Sun. After analyzing the characteristics of thousands of stars in the Milky Way, the group is confident that they’ve not only found a solar sibling, but possibly a solar twin.

Named HD186302, the near-identical star is only the second of the Sun’s close relatives ever identified. The finding could help researchers understand the environment that the Sun and its siblings formed in, and possibly uncover habitable planets within the twin’s orbit.

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Ion-powered aircraft flies without moving parts

From Engadget:

As clean as electric aircraft can be, there’s still one kind of pollution they still produce: noise. Even that might go away before long, though. MIT researchers have successfully flown an ionic wind-powered aircraft that doesn’t use any moving parts. The 16-foot wide machine stays aloft by charging wires with a high enough voltage (40,000V) that they strip negatively-charged electrons from air molecules, which are promptly attracted to negative electrodes at the back of the aircraft. The collisions from that newly-formed ionic wind create the thrust needed to keep the vehicle airborne.

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Newly created ‘smart’ material may have biomedical, environmental applications


Brown University researchers have shown a way to use graphene oxide (GO) to add some backbone to hydrogel materials made from alginate, a natural material derived from seaweed that’s currently used in a variety of biomedical applications.

In a paper published in the journal Carbon, the researchers describe a 3-D printing method for making intricate and durable alginate-GO structures that are far stiffer and more fracture-resistant that alginate alone.

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Researchers dig up long-necked dinosaur ancestor

From Science Alert:

Before the dinosaurs we’re mostly familiar with, there was a group of smaller ancestors that we know very little about.

But now archaeologists have discovered three new well-preserved skeletons in Brazil, and it’s teaching us more about this particular branch of the dinosaur family tree.

The skeletons fit into a new dinosaur species that’s been called Macrocollum itaquii, and you wouldn’t have had to flee in the opposite direction if you saw one coming in real life – these animals were vegetarian, stood around 1.5 metres (5 feet tall), and weighed around 90 kilograms (200 pounds).

One of the key features of Macrocollum itaquii is its long neck – indeed, it’s the oldest long-necked sauropodomorph that has ever been dug up. That long neck would’ve helped these dinosaur ancestors compete for food sources and thrive, the team behind the discovery says.

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Cover photo: Felix Mittermeier/Pexels