Students build first hyperloop testbed (TECHNOLOGY)

Twenty-seven students from the respected American Massachusetts Institute of Technlogy (MIT) are responsible for the best design of the super train of the future. Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, arranged the contest to find the most realistic aerodynamic transport capsule, which glides above the track by means of super magnets at a speed of 1,200 km+/h. The MIT students focused on the challenges of limiting the air drag (shortening the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco to just 35 minutes), gaining full control of the capsule’s motion, and introducing efficient emergency brakes. The students designed a 3D model of the capsule, and will now use these designs to build a 250 kg prototype. The design includes a shell made of carbon fibre and polycarbonate. These ultralight materials solve the challenge of air drag. Transverse magnets are to stabilise the capsule, and mechanical brakes are activated, should the automatic functions fail. The model is only one step on the way to a real capsule. Students from a total of 115 universities in 20 countries have designed, prepared plans, and made calculations in their efforts to introduce a Hyperloop capsule concept.

Ultrathin grass condoms? (TECHNOLOGY)

Fibres from the Spinifex grass type can result in condoms as thin as a human hair and as strong as ordinary latex condoms. Scientists from the University of Queensland have developed a method for extracting nanocellulose from the grass. The cellulose strengthens the cell walls of the grass, and by adding latex rubber, scientists created an ultrathin, flexible material. The scientists expect to be able to make condoms that are 30 percent thinner than ordinary condoms, but just as safe. Other latex products such as gloves used by doctors can also be improved by the grass product. The strength of the grass has been known for generations among Indigenous peoples, who have used the plant juice as a type of glue.

Sensitive robotic fingers feel fur and heat (TECHNOLOGY)

Artificial hands and robotic hands are usually too clumsy to handle something as fragile as an egg without making a mess of it, but a new robotic finger, which can be mounted on existing artificial limbs, has sensors that can match ours. Called BioTac, the finger was developed by scientists from the University of Southern California. The robotic finger has a solid core with sensors and electrodes surrounded by rubber skin and a liquid right beneath the skin. The finger can register the direction of pressure, temperature, and texture. The technology is controlled by an algorithm with data about 117 materials and sensory impressions described according to 15 different characteristics such as soft, rough, smooth, warm, and cold. The finger quickly determines how to adjust to motions and pressure not to crush the egg.

How do woodpeckers build a nest in a cactus? (QUESTIONS)

The gila woodpecker, which lives in desert regions in south-western North America, prefers to build its nest in the characteristic, up to 15-m-high saguaro cactus. Like many other small bird species, the gila woodpecker has developed an ability to move about thorny plants. Usually, saguaro cactus thorns are located so far apart that the gila woodpecker can stand between them without being harmed. The woodpecker prefers to live in the tallest cactuses. The altitude and the thorns help ensure that predators living on the ground, such as snakes, cannot easily climb up to rob the nests. The nest itself is carved out in the shape of a 7 inside the stem of the cactus. Once the hole has been completed, the cactus will initiate wound healing, secreting a cork substance, which turns into a hard, protective wall inside the nest hole over time. Gila woodpeckers and northern flickers are the only birds that consistently build nests in the saguaro cactus. Their abandoned nest holes are taken over by other bird species such as small owls, purple martins, and common kestrels.

Which runway is the shortest? (QUESTIONS)

airport of the Dutch Antilles on the island of Saba only has one landing strip, and the Winair airline is the only one to offer regular flights to the island. The landing strip is the shortest in the world at 396.24m