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Episode 19 – 2015 Perihelion Edition

perihelion diagram from wikipedia

1) aphelion 2) perihelion 3) sun (Not to scale) source: WIkipedia on Apsis

Welcome to 2015! This year’s perihelion edition was recorded on the day which the earth is closest to the sun.  We cover a diverse list of important scientific and engineering happenings from 2014, and even talk about a little biology and genomics research! (but don’t worry, its mostly cool physics, space, and engineering stuff.)


4:00  Many of these stories came from this big summary graphic that was posted on /r/futurology.  Don’t worry, we looked up real sources for everything!

7:30 the big bang BICEP 2 discovery (and controversy and final dismissal)

11:09 There was also controversy with a fraudulent report of a way to make induced pluripotent stem cells (IPC) by dipping them in a light acid.

14:08 artificial white blood cells (used as an injectable “cancer vaccine”)

15:00 Gene therapy used in eyes to help treat macular degeneration

18:00 There were a pair of genetically engineered monkeys born this year! and we have a bunch of discussion about ethics

25:30  we finally move on from Biology back to physics!

26:40 removing hydrocarbons from seawater. (like we talked about in Episode 16)

29:00  “Visual microphone” reconstructing audio from tiny vibrations in videos.
Great for spys and burn notice!

33:50 space and disasters (Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo & Orbital Sciences Antares Rocket)

36:00 space is hard. but really important for the future of humanity and science!

41:00 The Curiosity rover might have detected methane on Mars!

44:00 computers and data security were kind of bad this year. We discussed this in detail on our Heartbleed show (our most popular episode ever!) but things have continued and are very bad both in terms of security, and internet freedom.

47:30 Cosmos was pretty cool, except chase doesn’t like NGT because chase hates everything other people love.

Posted in Chase, Chris, podcast.

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Episode 18 – Space Space Space

espresso machine and 3-d printer

Can’t really tell which is the 3-d printer and which is the espresso machine… Images from Lavazza and Made In Space

We’re finally back from our long hiatus!  Sorry about the wait, both Cameron and Emily were busy getting their masters degrees, and right after he submitted his thesis, Cameron’s laptop got fried!

This week we discuss Space X and Boeing contracts to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station by 2018, and some new luxuries that will soon be available on the ISS; a 3-D printer, and an espresso machine!


2:00 First story today is about the recent announcement that NASA will have contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to deliver astronauts to the international space station by 2018!

15:00 we wonder about the nomenclature for spaceships/vehicles/shuttles/capsules

24:00 we start our discussion on coffee with a unrelated mention that Starbucks is working on a coffee drink that is supposed to taste like beer?

26:00 the ISS-Presso is an espresso machine planned to go to the space station at the end of 2014.

40:00 on to 3-D printing in space!!! The company “Made In Space” is working with NASA to send one of their fillament-extrusion 3-D printers onto the ISS for an experiment to show that the additive manufacturing technique works in space without modification.

44:00  technology readiness levels, whatever those are.


Links to the music used in this week’s episode:
Intro:  IntroCrying (Return to Olde World)
Outro:  Dreams are Maps – The Wild (Dreams are Maps)

Posted in Alex, Emily, podcast.

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PULSE! #4 – Better Coffee Through Chemistry

coffee with caffeine

Image from Wikipedia with slight modifications

Most coffee-particular people already know that the quality of the water you use is important for good coffee, but a recent paper describes how affecting the specific hard mineral content can have important changes in the relative extraction of specific flavor and strength affecting chemicals in your brew. We discuss the basics of coffee preparation, and the conclusions of the paper.

1:15  Greg throws out a Leeroy Jenkins reference right off the bat. (I guess wait for episode 32.33?)

2:00 the article that prompted this show was “A Chemist Has Uncovered A Secret To Brewing Delicious Coffee At Home” published in Business Insider on Jun 5th, 2014.

2:45 The paper is called “The Role of Dissolved Cations in Coffee Extraction”, by Christopher H. Hendon, Lesley Colonna-Dashwood, and Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

3:50 The researcher identified seven chemicals important to the flavor and strength of coffee,  and used density functional theory to calculate the bonding energy between these chemicals and common ions in water that contribute to water hardness.

6:45 one of the chemicals present in Coffee, eugenol, is also present in whisky and other barrel-aged liquors.
16:00  It might be useful to suggest to coffee brewers to use distilled or reverse osmosis water and then add something similar to these brewing salts to the water to facilitate extraction!

18:10  The paper only talks about water with Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) of <300 ppm, which is standard for municipal water supplies, but well or ground water in areas (like our own Phoenix area) can have much more calcium hardness than that.


Links to the music used in this week’s episode:
Intro:  IntroCrying (Return to Olde World)
Outro:  Dreams are Maps – The Wild (Dreams are Maps)

Posted in Chris, Greg, podcast, Pulse!.

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Episode 17 – Life, The Universe, and Frogs

episode-17This week on LASER we discuss a realistic computer simulation of a universe, a proposed mechanism for why tin whiskers are destroying our most sensitive computers, and GaInSn liquid metal used to reconnect severed nerves in frogs.

5:00 Our first story is about the story “Astronomers create first realistic virtual universe”   from the Illustris Project.
15:40  By “first realistic simulation”  they probably mean that this is the first simulation that results in a realistic distribution of galaxy types.

16:40  One of the most important thing about this simulation is being able to “see” how galaxies evolve and form and interact with each other, and since it is a computer simulation we are able to look into the past and future.

22:05 maybe eventually we’ll be able to look for distribution of M-class planets.

25:00 after talking about videogames, reddit, minority report, and cutting a five minute discussion on the history of neckbeards ( we finally move onto the second topic…

25:30  Whiskers!!! (

26:45 Whiskers are when a thin single-crystal piece of metal grows (very quickly) out of a metal (most often something used in solder or semiconductor packaging).  This causes problems for electronic devices, where it can short out devices, and has been attributed to taking offline three satellites and one nuclear power plant (specifically places where you can’t go in and fix a part.  This also has taken out many computers that just stopped working for seemingly no reason).

28:15 Lead-free solders are especially prone to this problem, because they often contain Tin.  We would prefer to use lead-free because of the environmental and health effects, but it is–so far–the most reliable available solder, based on whiskers and microcracking.

34:50  The paper is  V. G. Karpov, “Electrostatic Theory of Metal Whiskers” Phys. Rev. Applied 1, 044001 – Published 15 May 2014. doi:10.1103/PhysRevApplied.1.044001

37:00 the proposed mechanism for whisker buildup is charge differences on the surface, that are centered around defects.  This extra energy might give the metal the energy it needs to grow directly out.

44:40 Now we’re talking about Liquid Metal nerve grafts in frogs!
and the paper freely available on the arXiv:

The researchers have used a GaInSn liquid metal to connect severed nerves in frogs, and it resulted in connectivity similar to a healthy nerve, allows for the nerves to grow back, and is easily removed once it is no longer necessary.

55:00 fun prank for dinner parties: cast spoons out of low-temperature melting metals, and give them to your friends to stir their coffee. The spoon will melt in their drink, likely poisoning them! (not a fun prank.)


Links to the music used in this week’s episode:
Intro:  Luv Rulez (Original version of ES)Crying (Return to Olde World)
bumper music: Vacation – Crying
Outro:  Dreams are Maps – The Wild (Dreams are Maps)

Posted in Chase, Greg, podcast.

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