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The Homemade Muon Detector October 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Dazzling in complexity, the little chart above details the fate of cosmic rays (high-energy protons hurtled from the sun) which impact our atmosphere, leaving a byzantine collection of particles and EM emissions.  Some of these suckers are relatively easy to detect; the muon possibly the easiest.  Scientists studying the output of our sun can use more information about cosmic ray bombardment and an array of muon detectors would be really useful for this as muons (and other particles) are generated within a cone-shaped shower, with all particles staying within about 1 degree of the primary particle’s path.

Enter Spencer Axani, doctoral student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has whomped one up for a mere hundred bucks, and published a paper with detailed construction plans (no Instructables project yet, however.  I checked):


Straightforward as heck, a plastic brick and a photomultiplier tube are locked up in a light-tight box.  Muons hit the brick, generate a photon on decay and the photomultiplier generates enough juice to tell there’s been an event. An Arduino is used (yes, an Arduino) as a peak detector and a Python script crunches the time-stamped data for delivery to a PC.

He took it around Fermilab to test it out in Real Life:


Neat-o, right?


Homework:  The Desktop Muon Detector: A simple, physics-motivated machine- and electronics-shop project for university students , S.N. Axani, J.M. Conrad, and C. Kirby, Physics Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

Extra credit:  http://www2.fisica.unlp.edu.ar/~veiga/experiments.html

Much Better Gluten Quantitaion by GP-HPLC-FLD October 14, 2016

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Katharina Anne Scherf*, Herbert Wieser, and Peter Koehler combined gel-permeation high-performance liquid chromatography with fluorescence detection to develop a sensitive technique that can detect both gliadins and glutenins in purified wheat starch. The new method identified higher amounts of gluten in 19 out of 26 samples than the ELISA analyses did. And, according to the new test, 12 samples that had been labeled gluten-free contained between 25.6 and 69 milligrams of gluten per kilogram of starch. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization have set the maximum limit for gluten in products labeled gluten-free at 20 mg/kg.


Homework:  Improved Quantitation of Gluten in Wheat Starch for Celiac Disease Patients by Gel-Permeation High-Performance Liquid Chromatography with Fluorescence Detection (GP-HPLC-FLD), Katharina Anne Scherf*, Herbert Wieser, and Peter Koehler, Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Lebensmittelchemie, Leibniz Institut, Lise-Meitner-Straße 34, 85354 Freising, Germany J. Agric. Food Chem., 2016, 64 (40), pp 7622–7631. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.6b02512

Working Remotely October 14, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mutants.
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working remotely

I may yet end up with the sort of life I once thought would be very desirable, a quiet country life with a comfortable salary.  I recently landed a gig as a technical writer doing disaster recovery document processing, which has some remote work.  Good thing, too: it’s five hours from my house one way.

Mad Scientist Tutorial October 13, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Geek Stuff, Science, Toys.
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An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) generator can overload various kinds of circuitry, causing all sorts of merry havoc among the pinks.  You can make a little baby one and overload poorly-protected circuits up close, although a hammer is more certain to succeed.

Have I Mentioned my Fear of Heights? October 10, 2016

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JetPack Aviation CEO and Chief Test Pilot David Mayman flies the JB10 in Monaco.  Is the JB supposed to stand for James Bond?  Still no flying car, though.

Universal Molecular Diagnostics by Affinity October 10, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Rice University researchers have invented a technology that could potentially identify hundreds of bacterial pathogens simply, quickly and at low cost using a single set of random DNA probes. Richard Baraniuk, Amirali Aghazadeh and Rebekah Drezek whomped up a batch of five random probes and used them to identify 11 known strains of bacteria, providing a genomic-based test for identity of pathogens.  This is a big deal because usually each species required its own DNA probe.

Their new study includes several computer simulations, including one that shows how a random selection of five probes can identify 40 different strains of bacteria, and another that demonstrates how the system can accurately differentiate between 24 different species of Staphylococcus.

Rather than identifying a target strain based on a 100 percent match with a specific probe, Rice’s system tests how well the target DNA binds with several different random segments of complementary DNA. UMD uses a mathematical technique called compressive sensing, which was pioneered in the field of digital signal processing. With compressive sensing, the disease DNA need not bind with 100 percent of the probes. Instead, the new system measures how well the disease DNA binds with each of the random probes and creates a specific binding profile for the test organism. It then uses deductive reasoning to determine whether that profile matches the profile of any known pathogens.

With larger numbers of probes, it works even better:

No special hardware is required for this approach, other than the tried and true PCR with which we have become familiar over the last twenty years (thank you, Kary Mullis and LSD). The special sauce is the computer code which figures out the relative affinities.  This can be made available everywhere pretty cheaply, versus specialized DNA probes which require expensive facilities and a lot more regulatory testing.

Homework: Universal microbial diagnostics using random DNA probes, Amirali Aghazadeh1,*, Adam Y. Lin1,*, Mona A. Sheikh1,*, Allen L. Chen1, Lisa M. Atkins2, Coreen L. Johnson2, Joseph F. Petrosino2, Rebekah A. Drezek1 and Richard G. Baraniuk1, Science Advances  28 Sep 2016:Vol. 2, no. 9, e1600025 DOI:10.1126/sciadv.1600025

You Would be Smug, Too October 10, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Jeff Bezos tweeted this picture of his boots and booze after completing a bucket of milestones in space exploration:

  1. Five flights of the same, reusable Blue Origin spacecraft within a year
  2. Separation of booster rocket and capsule with safe return for both
  3. Restart of booster rocket at only 3300 feet and safe return
  4. Safe return of capsule with one deliberately failed parachute.

The boots say “step by step, ferociously” in Latin. 

Smug and pretentious.  And well deserved.

Statcheck Checks PubPeer Stats and Conclusions October 10, 2016

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“When starting this project, I wouldn’t say [this was a big problem],” Nuijten tells me. “We’re detecting when people are making rounding errors, who cares?”

But she and some colleagues in the Netherlands were curious enough to check. They built a computer program that could quickly scan published psychological papers and check the math on the statistics. They called their program “Statcheck” and ran it on 30,717 papers.

Rounding errors, and other small potential mistakes in calculating the statistics, were rampant. “We found that half of all published psychology papers … contained at least one p-value that was inconsistent with its test,” Nuijten and her co-authors reported in 2015 in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

Most striking was that the errors weren’t entirely random. Most of the errors tipped the results in favor of statistical significance. And around 13 percent of the papers contained an error that could potentially change the paper’s conclusions.

–Shamelessly stolen from Vox.com

If You Leave it Open, They Will Come October 1, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Uncategorizable, Video.
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…for breakfast:

…and dinner:

We were out for lunch, so no clue how he survived the Arctic Chill without us. Probably begged from the folks down the street.

Superbowl Warmup (uh, sorta) September 30, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Geek Stuff, Toys, Video.
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Katy Perry As We Like Her–Funny And Naked September 29, 2016

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Carmelized Garlic Doritos September 28, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Japan, Mutants.
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Sorry; these are currently only available in Japan.  We must visit the Doritos offices in the USA with pitchforks and torches to demand protection from vampires with delicious garlic Doritos.

Dinnertime When The Stars Are Right September 28, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mutants, Octopus, Photography, Uncategorizable.
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Experimental Design Review—Before Results September 25, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Science.
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BMC Psychology has taken a novel (actually, a scorched earth) approach to the problem of irreproducible results in psych studies. Peer reviews of submitted studies will be checked for experimental methods only, until the end of the review process.  The thinking is, reviewers may be unconsciously biased by seeing results they agree with (or disagree with), rather than the value of the methods by which they were derived.

Given that as many as one-third of psych studies in a recent review (of a thousand studies) could not be reproduced, I think this is an excellent first step to cleaning house of cognitive biases.

Sadly, BMC Psychology is not one of the larger players in this field; it may be that this will enhance their prestige.

Perched Upon My Chamber Door September 21, 2016

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Blue Jays are corvids (like ravens).  He was originally perched on the jar of pumpkin seeds we keep to feed him, but he couldn’t get far enough in from the rim.  He complained about it a little, which is when I brought the camera.IMG_20160921_083543

He arrived with a bit of bread in his mouth on the porch cabinet where we had laid out a bit of cat crunchies.

The Root of Salt Tolerance in Plants September 20, 2016

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A group of proteins in the roots of plants may be the route (see what I did there?) by which sodium ions enter.  Too much salt will, of course, kill many plants, so knowing the identity of the protein is critical.  It turns out the protein group in question is the same group responsible for admitting water, called aquaporins. 

"We discovered that it has characteristics similar to the properties previously identified for the pores responsible for sodium ion transport," says co-lead author Dr Caitlin Byrt, Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine. "This finding opens new possibilities for modifying how plants respond to high salt and low water conditions”—not to mention better fundamental understanding of plant water transport and potentially breeding salt-tolerant plants for Central California, when the soil gets completely poisoned Real Soon Now.


Homework:  Caitlin S Byrt et al. Non-selective cation channel activity of aquaporin AtPIP2;1 regulated by Caand pH, Plant, Cell & Environment (2016).

Graphene Nanoribbons in Spinal Recovery September 20, 2016

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Researchers at Rice University have caused rats with severed spinal columns to pass electrical signals 24 hours after “reapposition of the two sharply severed cords…re-establishes contact by regrowth.” There was a magic ingredient, however: polyethylene glycolated graphene nanoribbons, which were applied during the apposition. Two weeks later [ Video ], the rat could walk without losing balance, stand up on his hind limbs and use his forelimbs to feed himself with pellets. No recovery was observed in controls.

Christopher Reeves died a little too soon, apparently.


Homework:  Kim C, Sikkema WKA, Hwang I, Oh H, Kim UJ, Lee BH, Tour JM. Spinal cord fusion with PEG-GNRs (TexasPEG): Neurophysiological recovery in 24 hours in rats. Surg Neurol Int 13-Sep-2016;7:

Surface Chemistry Weekly Review September 19, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Things are happening in the thrilling world of surface chemistry (which I know you all care about deeply), so I will attempt to translate from Science to Normal and explain the usefulness of each advance (as I see it. I am never wrong).

First, and array of carbon nanotubes was created by drawing up a substrate from a solution of high-purity nanotubes, causing them to string out nicely.

Abstract Image

The resulting array of CNTs were etched with electrons scoring a resist coating, the remainder of which was washed off with acetone.  Not sure how they got the palladium contacts attached, but that may be just standard solution chemistry.  I can think of two ways to do it, if the CNTs can take it.

The upshot of all this is an array of CNT FETs (50 per micrometer!) with “quasi-ballistic conduction” (meaning really fast, almost effortless electron flow). As reported in Science “The saturated on-state current density is as high as 900 μA μm−1 and is similar to or exceeds that of Si FETs when compared at and equivalent gate oxide thickness and at the same off-state current density. The on-state current density exceeds that of GaAs FETs as well. This breakthrough in CNT array performance is a critical advance toward the exploitation of CNTs in logic, high-speed communications, and other semiconductor electronics technologies“, that last bit being a trifle understated.  This is equivalent to Silicon-based FETs, and more advances are coming.  This technology will most likely supplant silicon-base transistors in the not-too-distant future, giving you and me the ever-increasing computation speed and lower power demands that we associate with The Future of Computing.

Homework: Quasi-ballistic carbon nanotube array transistors with current density exceeding Si and GaAs, Science Advances  02 Sep 2016:Vol. 2, no. 9, Gerald J. Brady1, Austin J. Way, Nathaniel S. Safron1, Harold T. Evensen, Padma Gopalan and Michael S. Arnold


Next, Kiel University (Germany; it’s OK, I had to look it up, too) materials scientists found a way to microscopically etch metals so that they could be strongly joined by glue.  Their etching process results in a water- and grease-repellent metal surface which takes glue beautifully: “…the here described novel nanoscale-surface sculpturing based on semiconductor etching knowledge turns surfaces of everyday metals into their most stable configuration, but leaves the bulk properties unaffected.” Possible improvements to everyday life include surface prep for painting, aluminum removal from titanium implants and of course, using glue for metal parts assembly, which will save buckets of time and money, as welding is expensive and often impractical.

Not exactly surface chemistry, but I include it because I feel it’s a fundamental advance in materials science techniques.

Homework:  Making metal surfaces strong, resistant, and multifunctional by nanoscale-sculpturing, M. Baytekin-Gerngross et al, Nanoscale Horiz. (2016)


Materials researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a technique that allows them to integrate graphene, graphene oxide (GO) and reduced graphene oxide (rGO) on silicon at room temperature by using a nanosecond-pulsed laser.  They have foolishly tried to insist that this is to be used for medical sensors (and it may well be), but the reduced form of graphene oxide is a semiconducting material.  This could be an alternate route to large-scale manufacturing of graphene-based semiconductors, which means (once again) low-power, small devices for The Future of Computing.

Homework: Wafer scale integration of reduced graphene oxide by novel laser processing at room temperature in air, Anagh Bhaumik1 and Jagdish Narayan, J. Appl. Phys. 120, 105304 (2016)

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading this far; you are very brave.

Some Things Speak For Themselves September 19, 2016

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Sorry about this.

The Madness of Crowds September 18, 2016

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A thoughtful dissection of crowd psychology is currently running in one of my feeds (ribbonfarm.com), which answers my questions about how persecuted folk end up in cultish groups.  It’s another long-form essay (and uh, book report : ) ), so only go there when you have time.