Amusing News Aliquots
Jul07

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news. Compiled by Lauren Wolf. Do-it-yourself fireworks. The Newscripts gang wants to live near this guy. [Wired] Researchers in England develop a 3-D printer for chocolate. Visions of delicious, delicious chocolate sculptures are dancing in our heads. [MSNBC] While soaking in that tub, your fingers might not prune just because of osmosis. There’s a new theory in town. [Discovery News] Spray-on coating for fabrics kills microbes. Could work on your gym socks … even your bowling socks. [BBC]                       And in case you want some actual science with this story, here’s the research. [ACS]   The Newscripts gang loves periodic tables. This one’s for astrophysics, and it’s super stellar. [Scientific...

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3-D Printers Help Identify Missing Soldiers
Nov10

3-D Printers Help Identify Missing Soldiers

Months ago, I wrote on this blog about a new fascination of mine: three-dimensional printers. At the time, I found an amusing YouTube clip from CSI:NY that features one of these printers in action. In the video, a crime scene investigator (played by Gary Sinise) works to save the life of a police horse by printing a replica of the bullet lodged in its body. This animal-friendly forensic work didn’t exactly seem like a reasonable application of the technology to me, but it sure made me laugh. Recently, however, a legitimate forensic use for 3-D printers came across my desk. A military lab is now printing 3-D models of the skulls of living people to refine its techniques for identifying the remains of prisoners of war (POWs) and soldiers missing in action (MIA). Located on Oahu, in Hawaii, the Central Identification Laboratory of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is the largest forensic anthropology lab in the world. One of the methods used by the lab to help identify the remains of soldiers is a quantitative skull/photograph superimposition technique, which involves aligning an old photo of a missing serviceman with an image of a recovered skull. The overlapped images are resized and oriented for a “best fit,” and then the composite is comparatively scored in areas such as the nasal aperture’s length and width, the teeth and lip alignment, and the mandible’s length and fit with chin shape, according to Audrey L. Meehan, project leader and a DNA sampling specialist at JPAC. The problem with this method is that if scientists only have photographs to work with, there’s not really a control experiment for validating the accuracy of the scoring. That’s where the lab’s 3-D printer comes in. With a Zprinter from Z Corp., the Central Identification Laboratory is printing replicas of the skulls of living individuals based on their CT scans. These are then being compared with photographs of the people to refine the superimposition scoring system and “to develop a better understanding of the relationship between the skeleton and the overlying soft tissue,” Meehan says. “To put it a bit darkly, they’re using the printer to prototype the remains of someone who’s still alive,” says Joe Titlow, vice president of product management at Z Corp. “As a prototyping machine,” he adds, the Zprinter is certainly “doing what it was intended to do.” According to Titlow, something the size of a skull would probably be replicated in the build bed of a Zprinter in about four or five hours. I tried to get a little more insight into the nature of the powders these machines use to construct...

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Building Dust Castles on the Moon
May04

Building Dust Castles on the Moon

I came across a short story on the popular-science website Physorg.com the other day about an Italian firm, Monolite UK, and its three-dimensional printing technology, D-shape. I think I’m behind the times, but I had never heard of a 3-D printer before, so I looked into things a bit more. In the U.S., the “it” company for 3-D printers seems to be Burlington, Mass.-based Z Corporation. This firm produces “Zprinters,” which are roughly the size of copy machines and combine various powders and binders to rapidly create 3-D prototypes for industrial users. A quick search revealed plenty of Zprinters in action on YouTube. But by far, my favorite video was a clip from CSI:NY. Gary Sinise is using a Zprinter to reconstruct a bullet, which we are led to believe will somehow save a policeman’s horse. Yes, I said horse. By itself, the dialogue in this clip is enough to produce a chuckle, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t entirely necessary to print this bullet just to compare its size to a chart on a wall. The scene seems to have been shot entirely to enable Sinise to utter the word “Zprinter.” Monolite’s D-shape printer, one the other hand, is being marketed as a robotic building system for the construction industry. According to the firm, architects can build free-standing “fantastically complex” structures without too much elbow grease and without construction workers. The process begins when an architect designs a structure in a CAD software program (that’s computer-aided design for those of you who were never forced to sit through a mechanical engineering class). The design is uploaded to D-shape, which is composed of a giant metal framework and a translational print head. Printing from the bottom to the top in cross sections, D-shape then puts down layers of sand sandwiched with layers of inorganic binder in a pattern corresponding to the CAD design. According to the D-shape website, the solidification process for these sandstone structures takes 24 hours, and the final product has a stress resistance that rivals Portland Cement. The part of all of this that caught my eye was that Enrico Dini, Monolite’s chairman, has plans to test D-shape in a vacuum chamber to determine whether the equipment could operate on the surface of the moon. He wants to build lunar structures using the moon’s native dust. I tried to contact Dini to ask how these tests were panning out, to learn more about the inorganic binders used by D-shape, and to figure out just what the point of building something on the moon might be. Alas, I received no reply. Baah! What pipe dreams some sci-fi...

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