Tardigrades – Toughest Creatures on Earth

By Anupum Pant

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So, if you think elephants or cockroaches are tough, that could be because you probably haven’t heard about these amazing creatures called Tardigrades (picture).

What are Tardigrades?

Tardigrades, also known as moss piglets or waterbears, are oddly cute little animals that live in water and feed on moss. Their size ranges from 0.1 mm to 1.5 mm and they have eight legs (they walk like bears). The most extreme thing about these extremophiles is that they can survive almost anything (actually, they kind of die for a while with an option to come back to life later). Here is a list of things Tardigrades can survive. They can:

  • Survive without water and food for 10 years.
  • Waddle away in the vacuüm of space (for 10 days & get exposed UV radiation), come back and walk around as if nothing happened.
  • Survive 1000 times more radiation that would kill an elephant.
  • Live through extremely low temperatures (almost absolute zero) or high temperatures (~150 degree Centigrade)
  • Repair their own DNA after getting exposed to lethal amounts of radiation.
  • Survive pressures of about 300 Jumbo jets stacked on a person. (6 times more than the deepest ocean trenches)

Scientists love them

People at NASA and the European Space Agency love doing tests on them because they think, Tardigrades can help them understand the origin of life on earth (probably by supporting Panspermia). Also, scientists want to find out more about their extreme capabilities. If you ask them, if these things are aliens, they’ll tell you – “Probably not”

[Learn more about Tardigrades]

4D Printing is Here

By Anupum Pant

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We had just started getting comfortable with printing objects in 3D, and 4D printing is already here. Early this year, in the month of April, Skylar Tibbits, an architect, designer and computer scientist at MIT, gave a revolutionary demonstration explaining their advances in the field of 4D printing at a TED conference. This was an initial proposal and it got things moving at a rapid pace.

Side note: In the world of 3D printing:

What is 4D printing?

At first 4D printing sounds like a catch phrase, it isn’t really just that. 4D printing is actually 1D better than 3D printing and it aims at making objects out of a 3D printer, that can reconfigure themselves into useful shapes, on their own. For instance, think of a non-living stick changing itself into a 3D cube as time passes. In short, 4D printing will enable us to create living objects without any living cells, micro-processors, chips or batteries involved. Sounds simple enough, but the promises are nothing less than extraordinary.

In the TED talk attached below, Skylar explains how a string of plastic placed in water can turn itself into the letters MIT. But, this was something that happened back in April. Things have moved further.

A few days back, Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder revealed a successful test of their 4D printing technology. They were able to print out flat objects using normal plastic combined with a smart material which was able to turn into a cube on its own. Cubes are just the start.

According to scientists, in the future, 4D printing will probably churn out smart car bodies that would heal automatically, smart soldier uniforms and advanced building materials. Imagine a camouflage material that changes to match the surroundings, that could be the future. Or a pipe that contracts and expands to move water without pumps. Or a building material that builds itself into a structure. 4D printing could probably best suited for building in an extremely hostile environment like space. The possibilities are endless.

But, let us not get ahead of ourselves. It is almost impossible to predict what we’ll actually see in the future. Things have just started to happen in the field of 4D printing. But, it sure looks amazing. What will you build?

Gomboc – An Object That Never Falls

By Anupum Pant

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There’d be hardly anyone among us who hasn’t played with a roly-poly toy during their childhoods. If you know it by some other name, you could think of it as a toy that never falls, no matter how hard you hit it, and sells in variants which look like this. That isn’t exactly what a Gomboc is, but you get an idea about what it does – It does not fall. For more, read on.

What is a Gomboc?

A Gomboc (Gömböc) is a mathematical 3-D shape which has only one position in which it can stand and is made up of a single material  of uniform density. If you try to make it stand in some other way, or try to knock it down, it moves back to that single stable position, gradually. When placed on its side, it starts rocking magically, gains momentum, straightens itself and gradually comes to rest in that single position. Here is a video of a Gomboc doing its thing.

A Gomboc is an object surrounded by a number of complex curves, it takes an immense amount of accuracy to get the surfaces right. An accuracy of  the orders of around 1/10th of a human hair’s thickness is required for it to work properly. For better, people have started 3D printing these complex shapes.

The world’s largest Gomboc was displayed in China in the year 2010 which measured around 3 meters in all directions.

Terrestrial tortoises, who use a similarly shaped shell to get on their feet when turned upside down, were using it long before humans had found a way to construct it. The first time we made it, was in the year 2006. Evolution got there first!

How is it different than a Roly-Poly toy?
A roly-poly toy usually has an internal counter weight made up of a heavier material. But a Gomboc is made up of a single material.

Uses: Use it as a paper weight or to gift it to your friend who is a math geek. Tortoises use it to save their own lives.

Where can I buy one?
You can get one for yourself from an official website of the inventors – Here.