[VIDEO] New Plastic Polymer Can Be Recycled Over and Over

science | technology

A New Future for Plastic Recycling


I created this video from a Science News Magazine article about Colorado scientists who are working on a new plastic polymer that can be recycled over and over again. “A major impediment to plastic recycling is that most plastics degrade into molecules that aren’t immediately useful,” notes article author Laurel Hamers. That means that the plastics that people currently take time to recycle can only be re-used so many times before it degrades into something worthless.

Polymer chemist Jianbo Zhu and his colleagues at Colorado State University in Fort Collins are attempting to solve this challenge. The scientists developing the new, endlessly-recyclable plastic polymers hope to someday commercialize the new plastic for widespread use.


Beyond Holograms: Laser Light Creates Star Wars-style 3D Projections

science | technology

In the memorable 1977 Star Wars movie scene, Luke Skywalker sees the droid R2D2 project a 3D image of a woman draped in a white robe.

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” pleads Princess Leia before the projection is stopped.

In an exciting breakthrough known informally at Brigham Young University as “the Princess Leia Project”, BYU researchers have succeeded in creating a 3D image that takes up real space and can be viewed from almost any angle. The January 24, 2018 news story released in the BYU newsletter describes the process as being similar to creating a 3D-printed object but using a single particle and a laser beam to illuminate it. Daniel Smalley, a BYU electrical and computer engineering professor and holography expert, was able to move a single plant collagen particle through the air and manipulate it’s path into a pattern that, when lit up by a laser beam hitting it, appeared to be a single, static image. The researchers created a small image of planet Earth that appeared to hover over a fingertip.

3D butterfly created from lasersThink of moving a 4th-of-July sparkler quickly through the air in the dark – a repetitive circular movement seems to “paint” a solid circle image in the darkness. By moving a particle through the air in the lab and then lighting it with a laser beam, the result is what appears to be a static image.

“In simple terms, we’re using a laser beam to trap a particle, and then we can steer the laser beam around to move the particle and create the image,” said undergrad coauthor Erich Nygaard.

Definitely NOT a Hologram

Smalley emphasizes that the images they are creating are not holograms. A hologram creates a 3D image by passing light through a 2D screen that manipulates the light’s path. The hologram technique can create stunning, full-color 3D images, but the light must always emerge from a 2D surface and thus can only be viewed from certain angles.

Smalley’s 3D image is called a ‘volumetric image’ because the image is being physically created in 3D space.

“The image of Princess Leia is not what people think it is: It’s not a hologram,” Smalley explains in the BYU article. “A 3D image that floats in air, that you can walk all around and see from every angle, is actually called a volumetric image. Examples of volumetric images include the 3D displays Tony Stark interacts with in “Iron Man” or the massive image-projecting table in “Avatar.””

process of how to create a volumetric display from Nature magazine

Next Steps for a Usable Volumetric Display

Although Smalley’s volumetric images are able to display an image in high resolution – currently up to 1600dpi – the images created so far are only millimeters across. Complex moving images and larger visualizations are the next step in Smalley’s research. To achieve a display that is larger and can be used for real-world applications, his team will need to find ways to speed up the movement of the particles and to control several of them at once.

Nature magazine has a great article about the breakthrough, including a three-minute video about the process:

For more information:

Article in Nature magazine

Article in BYU News

photo credits: Daniel Smalley Lab, Nate Edwards/BYU Photo

Tracking Genetically Modified Bacteria

general | science

Although many in the general public think of bacteria as something that’s harmful in our human bodies, the reality is that we have at least as many bacteria in our our body as human cells. Some estimates have put bacteria levels in our bodies as high as 10-1 versus human cells! Scientists now know that the majority of bacteria that exists on our skin and within our bodes is essential for our well-being. And in a new bacterial breakthrough, scientists are now able to track bacteria using ultrasound and use the microbes to tell us what is happening inside of us!

In a January 3, 2018 Science News story titled ‘These disease-fighting bacteria produce echoes detectable by ultrasound, the announcement is that, “Ultrasound can now track bacteria in the body like sonar detects submarines.”

The article describes a new technique to genetically modify microbes that can then be detected by ultrasound in order to determine their location within the body. Researchers have previously tracked microbes in the body by genetically engineering the bacteria to glow green in an ultraviolet image, but the view was blurry and didn’t provide an image at depth.

“Bacteria that produce ultrasound signals can also be designed to help diagnose illnesses,” explains study coauthor Mikhail Shapiro, a chemical engineer at Caltech.

According to Shapiro, “a patient could swallow bacteria engineered to create gas pockets wherever the microbes sense inflammation. A doctor could then use ultrasound to search for inflamed tissue, rather than performing a more invasive procedure like a colonoscopy.”

Scientists have performed successful experiments with genetically modified bacteria to destroy tumors and fight cancer cells. The new technique to use ultrasound to track the microbes may help fine-tune the existing procedures and better understand the processes at work.

For more information on the new breakthrough and other Science News stories regarding bacteria in the human body, check out these links:



Workshop – Essential Skills for Stem Careers

careers | general | science

Quarkshow Presentation – Essential Skills for Stem Careers

‘Essential Skills for Stem Careers’ features ideas for career paths in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), even for those without exceptional math and physics skills. In this presentation, learn about the essential skills beyond math and physics that are needed to excel in a STEM career, and what you can start doing now to pursue a job in a STEM field.

Even for those already interested in science and technology, possible career paths are not always obvious. As a teen in the 1980s, presenter Natalie Carpenter was always interested in computers and programming. However, there was no clear path for how she could use that passion.

In her presentation ‘Essential Skills for Stem Careers’, Natalie shares her experience with Electrical Engineering in college and how other, seemingly non-related classes and skills have helped with her technology career. The presentation also includes interesting career paths for those more artistically inclined, as well as exciting, cutting-edge careers that you may not have considered.

Skills for More Than Just STEM Careers

The intent of the presentation is to excite and encourage the audience to start learning the basic skills that are needed for nearly all modern careers, but especially for a career path in science and technology.

Find Dates & Locations

Click to view dates of locations of this STEMulating science and technology career presentation!



Online Tools for Interactive Astronomy

astronomy | community | science | technology

I marked several articles in past issues of Science News Magazine that have to do with free, interactive, online tools that any amateur or professional astronomer can use. Below are three online sites that provide interesting looks at the moon and the universe, and one that can even allow you to be the next person to discover a planet!

Hunting For Planet 9 with Backyard Worlds

backyard worlds planet-hunting interface
Backyard Worlds allows citizen scientist to take part in helping to find Planet 9.

Join in on the search for a proposed planet dubbed Planet 9! With an existence hinted from its gravitational influence on our other planets, Planet 9 may have already been photographed and is waiting for someone to point it out. The Backyard Worlds project lets space lovers flip through images taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite (WISE). The images are from a small area of interest where predictions point.

Backyard Worlds uses the millions of images taken several times in the same area of the sky over time. The goal is to click through four images at a time of the same area of sky. When an “area of interest” appears to have changed positions over two or three of the images, the area is marked and submitted to the team of volunteer astronomers who then take a closer look. When an object is one that was not previously marked and warrants further study, telescope time is arranged to take a closer look.

For more information, visit Backyard Worlds, or read the June 10, 2017 Science News article about the project.

Gleamoscope Shows Universe That Human Eyes Can’t See

gleamoscope view of the universe
Views of the universe as Gamma Rays, Visible and Radio Waves using Gleamoscope.

Many of the most spectacular phenomena in the universe occurs in ways that are barely perceptible in the visible light that our eyes can see. The Gleamoscope app, available both online and via an Android app, provides a way for us to view the universe in a range of frequencies to see the familiar night sky in new ways. The site’s smooth slider has settings for visible, Gamma Ray, X-ray, Far Infrared, and Microwave views of the universe.

Celestial objects radiate energy of various wavelengths. Only a tiny band of wavelengths are visible light that our eyes can perceive – the bulk of the wavelengths are at frequencies that can be picked up by special radio or infrared telescopes. The Gleamoscope interactive map of the universe uses images from many observatories and radio antennas and provides a fun way to “see” the universe in a new way.

Learn more at the Gleamoscope site and in the November 26, 2016 Science News article.

High-Res Lunar Map Takes Us To the Moon

NASA interactive lunar map
Zoom in on the moon’s surface using photos from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC).

Fly to the moon from the comfort of your couch using NASA’s interactive lunar atlas. Thousands of high-resolution black and white images of the moon’s poles were snapped by the NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). The robotic spacecraft orbits the moon at an orbit of 50-200 kilometers (31 to 124 miles) to provide images with a resolution down to 2 meters.

The lunar atlas has familiar zoom and pan functionality for easy navigation of the moon’s surface. When you see something interesting, zoom in and in and in to get an up-close look with stunning clarity – no spacesuit necessary! Learn about LROC and check out the lunar map online at (Science News article from May 3, 2014)

Meatballs, Swiss Cheese and Cosmic Connectivity

astronomy | science | technology

It’s about two hours before sunset and I’m on my front porch, facing west, reading a fascinating book in anticipation of an exciting astrophysics conference I’m attending in a week. The book is called The Cosmic Web, authored by J. Richard Gott, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University. The upcoming conference is called Quantifying and Understanding The Galaxy-Halo Connection. The conference will be held at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics on the University of California at Santa Barbara campus.

The Astrummary (Astronomy/Summary)

Please keep in mind that I’m only a third of the way into the book, even though I’ve had it over a year. (Reading for pleasure has been a seldom-known luxury, with the exception of Science News magazine which I read voraciously every chance I get.) Please also remember that I am not an astrophysicist, but merely a student. My intent is to distill the scientific information in a way that is easy to swallow by non-scientists, so forgive me for oversimplifying some of these concepts.

The universe-as-we-know-it has been studied and observed using various modern telescopes. The studies include stars and galaxies and how they are interrelated. Mathematicians and Physicists have proposed models of the way galaxies interact on a cosmic scale. Modern supercomputers use mathematical formulas to generate these models as three-dimensional areas of space with tens of thousands of particles interacting inside a giant, virtual cube, with “giant” meaning over 700 million light-years per side. (One light-year is the distance light travels in one year, based on light travelling over 186,000 miles per second.)

The particles inside the cube are the matter in the universe – stars and planets and dust and anything else with mass. (Research shows that observable matter makes up only 5% of the universe; the other 95% is “dark” matter, something we have not as-yet identified.) The computer simulations show different scenarios for how the galaxies in our universe may interact with the dark matter, with gravity, and with each other. The simulations vary depending on certain inputs such as how fast the universe is expanding and whether it will expand indefinitely or end up collapsing in on itself at a certain point.

How Are Galaxies Connected?

When we look up in the night sky, we can see with our naked eye the stars and constellations that are in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The star we are most aware of is the Sun, which our planet, Earth, rotates around in a one-year cycle. Our star is rotating with billions of others around the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Our galaxy is rotating among other neighboring galaxies to form groups of galaxies, and those groups of galaxies cluster together to form superclusters. The superclusters are linked together through long filaments, sort of a web-like structure, which the title of the book I’m reading alludes to (The Cosmic Web).

One mathematical model of this clustering shows our universe is made up of galaxy superclusters resembling meatballs floating in space. The meatballs contain matter made up of clusters of clusters of galaxies and are surrounded by vast regions of  space with no observable matter and only a few thin galaxy strands connecting them.

Another model shows that the universe is like a reverse meatball space resembling a block of Swiss cheese with empty gaps within it. Instead of a chunk of cheese, picture a two-car garage packed with empty refrigerator boxes neatly stacked. The galaxy clusters would live on the walls of the cardboard boxes and the corners where several walls meet would contain galaxy superclusters. The emptiness in the boxes is the space with little to no galaxies.

So which universe are we a part of – the one made up of meatballs, or the one that looks like Swiss cheese? I’ll have to read more of the Cosmic Web book to know what the leading theory is, and I’ll share my thoughts when I learn more.

Uniting Mathematical Theory With Observable Data

The upcoming Galaxy-Halo conference will cover topics regarding galaxy clustering and how recent observations are helping to reinforce certain mathematical models. There are scientists working on theoretical models of galaxy clusters based on what we already know, and mathematicians who expand those theories to a cosmic scale by creating 3D models using modern supercomputers. Then there are the scientists who are using cutting-edge telescopes to record and observe the placement and movements of more and more galaxy clusters. The conference at the Kavli Institute will allow these theoretical, numerical and observational researchers to interact and discuss their combined research.

I am as excited as a galaxy supercluster to get to be part of such a fascinating conversation and I look forward to sharing my own observational insights after the conference.

Star Wars Fiction Becoming a Reality with Water Harvester

science | technology

In the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker lived with his aunt and uncle on a moisture farm, where fictional Moisture Vaporators were used to harvest water from the air on the hot desert planet of  Tatooine.

water harvester from Wang laboratory.
A water harvester, from Wang laboratory at MIT.

Now, two scientists and their teams from UC Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have teamed up to create a real-life “water harvester” and have a prototype that was able to collect 2.8 liters (about 3/4 gallon) of water in 12 hours. The device uses solar energy and could work in areas with humidity as low as 20%, which could have huge implications for low-water areas such as Africa.

The story of the water harvester device was reported April 13th in Science and described in a South African Times Live article.

Art of the James Webb Space Telescope

astronomy | science

The Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is hosting a free art exhibit through April 16, 2017, featuring work inspired by the James Webb Space Telescope. The 8-billion dollar telescope is being built at the center.

james webb space telescope art sculpture
“Exploration”, by Ashley Zelinskie. 3D printed gold-plated nylon. Photo from

For those of us who can’t make it to Maryland to see the show in person, there are photos of the art online at The exhibits include sculpture, paintings, lithographs and even poetry. The science-inspired exhibit, curated by Maggie Masetti, involved artists visiting the telescope in-person for inspiration. The exhibit is a result of their creations.

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to be launched in 2018. To learn more about the state-of-the-art telescope, visit


An Earth-Front View – Bezos Blue Origin Capsules to Feature Big Windows

science | space travel

Blue Origin, a private aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company created by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, continues to innovate with their upcoming space capsules for private passengers. The fact that tourists will soon be taking rides into space is unique in itself, but Blue Origin intends to make their space capsules unique as well – with big windows.

According to an April 5 Bloomberg News article, the capsules will “have room for six passengers each with their own window and a reclining leather seat.” The reclining seats are both comfortable and functional, designed in a way to distribute the force felt by passengers during liftoff from Earth. The capsules’ large windows will allow passengers to have the best view possible from their vantage point.

More information about the Blue Origin capsule , including photos, can be seen in the Bloomberg article.

Snot Science- a DIY Experiment

science | youth

Science News for Students created this post that provides students with an idea for a snot study that kids can try themselves.


The article outlines a method for students that allows them to collect data in a scientific way and analyze the results. Both of my daughters, now 13 and 12, have participated in Middle School science fairs at a very basic level. This article is a great way to show kids how the scientific method works and how it can be modified to make something fun while collecting data points.

Click here to view the Science News article: Snot Science – a Snotty Setup.