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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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Episode 16 – Sun & Surf

For our first episode of the summer on LASER: Let’s Agree Science & Engineering are Rad, we discuss our own Chris’ recently-accepted paper about inorganic ZnS window layers on organic solar cells.  These increase the efficiency, and help protect the cell from environmental damage.   We then talk about the NRL Press release describing long-chain hydrocarbon fuel (jet fuel) they have made by extracting CO2 and Hydrogen from seawater!

4:00 We’re all back from traveling for work and conferences, finals are done, and Chris just finished his qualifying exams, so we’re back to podcasting, even if we are a little rusty.

6:00 Our first paper is somewhing Chris just got accepted into Journal of Applied Physics, and it is titled “Efficient ZnS cathode layers for orgnaic photovoltaic applications via n-type doping.”

They are using an inorganic material, ZnS to replace the very sensitive organic cathode (top) layer in organic photovoltaics.  Since the organic components are very sensitive to temperature and air, an inorganic cathode can protect the bottom layers.

At the time we’re putting this episode out, the paper isn’t available online yet, but it will eventually be available at

32:30 We discuss the recent press release from NRL (  describing fuel made from CO2 and Hydrogen that was extracted from seawater.  There are a number of press articles about this: Discovery ( Business Insider ( and Inhabitat ( are a few.

38:00 Removing Co2 from ocean water *might* have a small local effect reducing ocean acidification, but because the end result is burning a hydrocarbon fuel, it will end up just going back into the atmosphere and back into the oceans.



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, Chris, podcast, Sivan.

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LASER Pulse! #3 – The Heartbleed

This week’s LASER Pulse! is about the Heartbleed computer vulnerability.   We cover the basics of the heartbleed bug, why its important, and mention that you really need to CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS.  Because this is a Pulse episode, there are little to no edits (just the intro and outro really), and the whole show is only about 20 minutes.


No real show notes, just a list of a bunch of links if you want to know more.

Here are links to Sam’s Blog and her Twitter.

  • Our Guest, Samantha, wrote about “Heartbleed for people who don’t know computers good (and want to learn to do other stuff good too)”
  • XKCD Has a great basic explanation in comic-form
  • This Video is the most high-level description of the bug I could find. It is really neat.
  • Here is a link to the first program that allowed millions (maybe more) of people to to gather as much secure data as possible.  It probably won’t work anymore since most servers should be patched by now, but if you have your own server you can install the old version of OpenSSL to test it out.
  • Most importantly, THIS LIST is the list of major passwords that you need to change RIGHT NOW.  It doesn’t include small websites, and if you used the same password on any two sites, they are now both compromised!
  • Don’t think hackers aren’t smart enough to write programs to try the same password, username, and email addresses on even websites that weren’t affected by this! Even if you use small variations of your password, it makes it much easier to crack if someone has part of it.

Be safe online!



Posted in podcast, Pulse!.

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Episode 15 – Airships for the Future

airship image

Image from Paper.

The cast of the Technically Speaking Podcast join us to talk with  about the future of super rad airships for scientific use similar to satellites! We also talk about a company planning a new method for extracting Lithium from geothermal vents, to meet the needs of the Tesla Giga-Factory.


3:00 Our guests today are Jacob and Joe from the Technically Speaking podcast! Check out their show if you like technology, engineering, or other rad stuff.

4:15 Our first story is about AIRSHIPS! The Keck Institute for Space Studies has released a report titled “Airships: A New Horizon for Science” a FREE paper published on the arXiv   where they explain the scientific merit of using rigid airships for scientific applications, and potentially to replace satellites.   There are also articles about this on motherboard.vice and in the MIT Technology Review.

5:50 what is an airship?

8:00 The Hydrogen vs Helium debate

14:10 the ISIS project (canceled) had neat “suction cup” tethers to keep the airship down on the ground.

16:00 the scientific applications the Keck Institute found as useful were Earth sciences such as atmospheric and environmental monitoring, and for planetary/astronomical sciences a telescope could be mounted with “Hubble comparable imaging”.

21:00 Jacob brings up how well airships would work for something similar to Google’s Project Loon

24:33  CORRECTION: Scott Kelly is going to be on the ISS for a year, NOT Mark Kelly.

30:00 we start on the engineering problems for building airships. Including the Hydrogen vs helium debate!

32:50 Joe points out that even though hydrogen is a dangerous gas, jet fuel is pretty dangerous too!

36:50 basically everyone would love to take an airship cruise

48:15 chase leaves early to go to dinner, but Joe and Jacob aren’t scared to talk about something outside their areas of expertise! (especially if it’s related to Elon Musk haha)

50:15 We start in on a story about a company, Simbol, that is trying to produce much more Lithium for batteries , specifically to meet the needs of the planned Tesla “Giga-battery factory”

55:15 the Tesla giga-factory’s object is to combine as much manufacturing as possible under one factory, but its the opposite with a lot of political things (like defense contracting) where things are built in a ridiculous number of factories.

61:05 How we produce lithium today (harvested from brine in salt flat areas)

63:00 The earth should run entirely out of Lithium around the year 2100!!!

64:00 it is VERY important to recycle your lithium batteries, because we are very close to running out completely!!!

65:00 THIS website says that lithium is 100% recyclable, but recycling it is just not economically feasible right now.   Someone should start a company storing all the lithium batteries for about 20 years until it becomes economically feasible to recycle.  Then you can donate an idea fee to our podcasts!.

76:20 Thanks to our guests today! If you need another link to Jacob and Joe’s Technically Speaking podcast, its available at

79:00 You can find them on twitter at @techspeakpod


We’ve changed our intro music to be something a little less obtrusive, you can buy the song or the album at the link below.  Thanks to Crying for letting us use their song.

Links to purchase the music used in this week’s episode:
Intro:  Luv Rulez (Original version of ES)Crying (Return to Olde World)
Goodbye Enemy Airship – Do Make Say Think
Outro:  Dreams are Maps – The Wild (Dreams are Maps)

As always, the LASER Podcast is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license.

The cast of the Technically Speaking Podcast

Posted in Chase, Engineering, podcast.

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