The Fab Lab and the Unwettables

There are occasional instances when my current employer makes me go ‘cool!’  or ‘I want that!’.  Today both have happened.

Recent research at MIT is codifying the way surfaces repel materials.  Researchers have been refining their understanding of the way thin liquids like oil can be kept from coating or being absorbed into a material.  By examining the way duck feathers resist the higher surface tension of water, scientists were able to come up with a surface that could resist coating by oil and even pentane (a solvent which has the lowest surface tension at atmospheric pressure, and is thus most liable to wet a surface).  They are now completing a list of the ‘rules’ that apply to wetting.  In this future this should mean super-wet-proof materials for consumers.  Cool.

In addition, based on MIT models, a new fabrication lab is being opened in Providence.  It will be an industry-grade lab that’s open to the public for a variety of projects and developments, and is being opened in association with AS220, an arts and technology collaborative.  Since its based on similar labs somewhere around here, it makes me want to go out and fabricate.  I have the ideas, and could possibly have access to the tools, so why not?  I want that.

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Bees go AWOL

In my days as a ‘current events avoider’, I still managed to a fear of the loss of honey bees.  As the greatest, most diverse , and most widespread pollinator, we owe this little creature just about everything we eat, grow, or wear.  Outside of the value of honey as a crop, beekeeping can provide additional income to those who travel with their hives to aid crop fertilization, making it a lucrative profession both in America and third world countries.  But it seems like there’s always a threat to these ventures:  mites, fungus, Africanized bees, or even pesticides.

A recent survey of 19% of the commercial bee industry in the U.S. showed losses of 32% over the past year.  True, this survey investigated only the largest operators, but a general trend can be induced from the study.  Just imagine if 1/3 of the people in your office died over the course of a year, or 1/3 of the businesses in your area were closed.  Now imagine that, in addition to rising food prices and the scarcity of certain crops due to their use as biofuel, the loss of 1/3 or more of this year’s crop due to a lack of fertilization.

The most interesting part of the situation, however, is the loss of bees and entire hives to CCD, colony collapse disorder.  Basically, the bees of a hive get fed up, or depressed, or disillusioned with the leadership of their hives, and wander off on their own.  They die alone, the queen dies by herself, and honey production stops, starving off the next generation.  Science has yet to determine a cause, but I have my own theory:  we’ve taught them well.