To study the architecture of ant colonies and their nests, entomologist and myrmecologist Walter Tschinkel developed a way to “record” their three-dimensional underground chambers: he pours 1200F molten aluminum into the hill and then excavates the hardened cast. The entire process can take around seven hours.
From the tunnel depths, patterns, variations, the “room” arrangements, and more, these resulting casts are full of information about different ant colonies and their behavior:
"You can see that where there’s a lot of traffic near the surface, the shaft is actually a ribbon, a wide tunnel like a superhighway," he says, gesturing to and describing the incredibly intricate ant architecture. “The more traffic it has, the wider it is.”
And beyond that, the sculptures mix science with art. But, of course, there’s a cost of insect life in this process:
"I don’t do it lightly, actually… The technique has helped prove that colonies can thrive up to 3.6 metres deep and house between 9,000 and 10,000 workers."
Filling the nest with molten aluminum (or concrete, as shown in this rather stunning video) started an interesting discussion in our house: sacrificing an entire ant colony to learn about it — agree or disagree? And why?
Related reading: Not All the Bugs In Your Home Are Bad.
The Leidenfrost Maze, designed and built by Carmen Cheng and Matthew Guy at the University of Bath, demonstrates how Leidenfrost droplets can be self-propelled in a controlled way by the jagged texture of the hot surface.
And what exactly is the Leidenfrost Effect? From PopSci:
The basic idea is, when a liquid comes in contact with something really hot—about twice as hot as the liquid’s boiling point, although it changes on certain factors like the size of the drop—the liquid never comes in direct contact with the surface; vapor acts as a barrier that keeps the two separated. When you flick drops of water on to a pan to check the heat, that skittering you see and hear is because of this effect.
Cheng and Guy made the aluminum block maze to inspire and share science with local school kids, though we’re guessing every school around the world would love a physics demonstration kit like this.
There are more excellent physics videos in the archives.
via PopSci, thanks @kvetchup.
From a yard in Kampala, Uganda, Moses explains how to build a solar oven using a tire, some glass, newspaper, silver foil, tape, a black pot, and a few hours.
If you’re cooking outside or don’t have an oven, solar ovens are a great alternative for making a hot meal. Building materials are generally inexpensive and easy to find, and rather than requiring fuel or firewood, solar ovens take advantage of a sustainable resource: the sun. How does it work?
- Concentrating sunlight: A reflective mirror of polished glass, metal or metallised film concentrates light and heat from the sun on a small cooking area, making the energy more concentrated and increasing its heating power.
- Converting light to heat: A black or low reflectivity surface on a food container or the inside of a solar cooker improves the effectiveness of turning light into heat. Light absorption converts the sun’s visible light into heat, substantially improving the effectiveness of the cooker.
- Trapping heat: It is important to reduce convection by isolating the air inside the cooker from the air outside the cooker. A plastic bag or tightly sealed glass cover traps the hot air inside. This makes it possible to reach temperatures on cold and windy days similar to those possible on hot days.
- Greenhouse effect: Glass transmits visible light but blocks infrared thermal radiation from escaping. This amplifies the heat trapping effect.
For more information about how to make different kinds of solar ovens, visit MAKE or Instructables, or come up with your own solution!
There are more inventions and sustainable ideas in the archives, including Spain’s first 24/7 Concentrated Solar Thermal Power plant.
On a state-of-the-art assembly line in Fremont, California, 400 cars a day are being created by 3,000 workers and 160 robots. This is Tesla Motors, and the cars they’re making are currently the most advanced electric car on the market. Plus, you know, their factory has giant robot arms installing batteries, motors, seats, windshields, cabling, and components with a delicate ease you might not expect from a giant robot arm.
Wired gives us a tour of the 5-million-square-foot factory where the Tesla Model S is made.
There are more factories and more cars in the archives.