Reader’s Scigest 04-12-14

By Sadie Bartholomewgecko_600x400

Gecko Grip

Mechanical Engineers from Stanford University have developed a pair of gloves that can support a person’s weight, enabling them to climb a glass building à la Spiderman. The team were inspired by the gecko, a lizard with toes that are covered in miniscule hairs called setae. Weak electromagnetic attractions exist between all surfaces in contact and are usually insignificant, but the large surface area provided by the hairs means that these van der Waals forces combine to produce sizeable adhesion. The researchers employed carbon nanotubes to mimic setae in the hand-sized pads, which succeeded in lifting a 70 kg man up a 3.6 m vertical glass wall for more than a hundred trials without fail.

Motions of the Oceans

Satellite measurements have been used to generate the most detailed and accurate map of global ocean currents and their movements to date. The main data source was the European Space Agency’s Gravity and Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) which took extremely precise readings of the Earth’s gravitational field over four years. An uneven distribution of mass in the planet’s interior causes a local variation in gravity on the surface and this makes large bodies of water pile up in certain places and run downhill in others. The resulting ocean circulation patterns are important because they move energy around; roughly thirty percent of the Earth’s heat is transferred by the mass motion of seawater.

Baryon Breakthrough

Two new subatomic particles have been observed after proton collisions in the LHCb detector of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Xi_b’ and Xi_b* are baryons, particles composed of three quarks held together by the strong nuclear force. They were theorised by the Standard Model of particle physics, in particular Quantum Chromodynamics, but had yet to be seen in experiments. While both consist of the strange, beauty, and down quarks, they differ in the direction of spin in these constituent fundamental particles; in Xi_b* the spins of the two lighter quarks are aligned and consequently it is the heavier of the pair by a small amount.

Photograph: ‘Tambako The Jaguar’ on flickr

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