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'Liquid That Thinks:' Swarm of Ping-Pong-Ball-Sized Robots Created

Correll and his computer science research team, including research associate Dustin Reishus and professional research assistant Nick Farrow, have developed a basic robotic building block, which he hopes to reproduce in large quantities to develop increasingly complex systems.

Recently the team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a Ping Pong ball, which they call "droplets." When the droplets swarm together, Correll said, they form a "liquid that thinks."

To accelerate the pace of innovation, he has created a lab where students can explore and develop new applications of robotics with basic, inexpensive tools.

Similar to the fictional "nanomorphs" depicted in the "Terminator" films, large swarms of intelligent robotic devices could be used for a range of tasks. Swarms of robots could be unleashed to contain an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware after being launched separately into space, Correll said.

Correll plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. These behaviors could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks.

Correll hopes to create a design methodology for aggregating the droplets into more complex behaviors such as assembling parts of a large space telescope or an aircraft.

In the fall, Correll received the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development award known as "CAREER." In addition, he has received support from NSF's Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research program, as well as NASA.

He also is continuing work on robotic garden technology he developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009. Correll has been working with Joseph Tanner in CU-Boulder's aerospace engineering sciences department to further develop the technology, involving autonomous sensors and robots that can tend gardens, in conjunction with a model of a long-term space habitat being built by students.

Correll says there is virtually no limit to what might be created through distributed intelligence systems.

"Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells," he said. "Perhaps someday, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers."

Science Daily



Syrian Natural Reserves Wait for Exploration

DAMASCUS, (ST), Director of Forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Jamal Akkash, said that forests in Syria have economic, environmental, cultural and tourist value. This diversity has motivated the ministry to exert great efforts to protect the ecosystem in all its components of plants, animals and inter relationships between them.

“The area of natural forests in Syria is estimated at 230,000 hectares and the area of artificialafforestation is amounted to 236,000 hectares. Efforts were exerted by the ministry to increase the area of forestry through afforestation and its positive impact on the environment and the national economy,” Akkash told SANA yesterday

“The administrative plan for the natural reserve based on the state of the reserve and its conditions and characteristics that can be invested according to multiple activities such as environmental tourism at Al farlaq reserve in Lattakia,  studies and researches at Al Arz and al Shouh reserve in Slenfah  and Jabal Abdul Aziz reserve in al Hasaka through reviving the plant and pastoral covering to be invested in animal husbandry,” Akkash pointed out.

Abu Qubeis reserve in Hama is of great importance because it contains medicinal and aromatic plants, especially in the area of al Joubat whereas this environment helps to create investment opportunities for the production of medicinal and aromatic plants such as Wild Thyme,  Khetmiya, Alzofah and Rosemary, naturally free of fertilizers and pesticides, Akkash added.


He pointed out that timber can be invested in some forest areas in many industries especially simple household furniture and wood used in the construction and reconstruction process as well as the production of coal from these outputs.

Hanadi Zorqeh, a researcher, referred to the importance of reserves from a historical perspective and their spread in Syria and many countries of the world and international conventions for the protection and preservation of these reserves..

“Creating a natural reserve requires certain conditions in terms of the availability of a unique ecosystem including groups of rare animals that live in rainy forests and the presence of species of rare plants and animals and meet the needs of scientists and researchers that help them in scientific research in addition to the diversity of land,” she clarified.


Voluntary, Environmental Activities at Damascus University

DAMASCUS (ST)-Rector of Damascus University, Dr. Amer Mardini recently held an activity entitled “My University, My Environment, My Home”. The event was carried out by the Directorate of International and Cultural Relations at Damascus University.

“A series of voluntary activities will be launched for the first time at Damascus University on this wide scale.”Dr. Mardini said.

“Voluntary work is a social tool that helps strengthening societies and considered a basic element in the components in any of the civilized societies, highlighting the value of social relations and the role of cooperation in achieving economic goals that are based on social cohesion and communication,” he pointed out.

Director of the International Relations at Damascus University, Dr. Fadi al Shalabi, referred that this activity aims at presenting an awareness initiative in the field of enhancing the environment awareness and how to deal with psychological pressures at hard times.

Head of the Damascus Environment Directorate, Dr. Maher Bouzo, clarified that Damascus University had been the forerunner among other universities to take interest in the environmental dimension and pushing its students and cadres forward voluntary and social work.     

Dr. Bouzo confirmed the importance of partnership in the environment work between the public and private sectors and praised the role being played by the civil environment societies and the peoples’ organizations to support the environment work.

“We have to work hard to protect and maintain the environment,” Dr. Bouzo noted.

“We have taken part in the different committees affiliated to the State’s ministries concerned with environment affairs in addition to our activities in setting up environment clubs,” he added.

“We seek to create a well- educated generation to comprehend the importance of the environmental dimension in its daily behavior,” Dr. Bouzo said.

Participants in the event stressed the need to reactivate environmental issues and give a priority within the development plans and involving bodies concerned in mapping out environmental policies and strategies. They also affirmed that the environmental issue should be included within the curricula to teach children at schools and enhancing the role of information in circulating environmental awareness in society.

Director of Environmental Awareness and Information at the State Ministry of Environment Affairs, Dr. Nader Ghazi, gave a lecture on environmental citizenship and its importance in sustainable development, preparing public awareness programs among the people and raising up joint environmental issues with concerned bodies.

 Joumana Ousi, representing Mar Afram Society, talked in her lecture about the strategies of teaching environment education to children at schools through a number of activities.           

 Mrs.Ousi noted the important role of the family to help in finding solutions to environment problems such as population explosion, pollution, and deterioration of natural resources.

She affirmed the need to prepare a well- educated generation towards these issues to protect and maintain the environment.

Some participants talked about air pollution, climatic change and the population’s participation in the integral programs in sorting out solid waste, environment crisis and how to deal with psychological pressures in the environment situation of Damascus city.  

Sh. Kh.





Gold "Mining" Termites Found, May Lead Humans to Riches

Insects stockpile precious metal while gathering nest material, study says.

Want to know if you're literally sitting on a gold mine? Get some termites, a new study suggests.

New experiments in West Australia reveal that termites "mine" and stockpile the precious metal while they're collecting subterranean material for their nests.

For the study, entomologist Aaron Stewart, with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and colleagues took samples from several termite nests and compared the nest material to nearby soil samples from varying depths.

By using a mass spectrometer - an instrument that measures molecules' chemical makeup - they discovered that the termite nests were richer in gold than termite nests farther away from the metal, Stewart said in an email.

"That social insect colonies can selectively accumulate metals from their environment has been known for some time," Robert Matthews, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Georgia, noted .

"Some have even suggested that ant and termite nests could be analyzed productively when searching for potential mining sites for precious metals" such as gold, he said.

Those are Stewart's thoughts exactly. Gold deposits are usually hidden a few meters below the surface, making them tough for people to locate. But insects could essentially act as indicators of this buried treasure, said Stewart, whose study appeared recently in the journal Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, and Analysis.

"Drilling is expensive. If termites can help narrow down the area that needs to be drilled, then exploration companies could save a lot of money."

Termites worth Their Waste in Gold?

In a related study published in 2011 in PLoS ONE, Stewart and his colleagues set out to find if termites, like many animals, accumulated metals within their bodies—potentially another way to pinpoint valuable mineral deposits.

Just as mammals accumulate calcium to maintain bones, some insects stockpile zinc and magnesium to harden their exoskeleton, particularly their jaws. Metals such as zinc act to reinforce those body parts.

But insects are also really good at excreting metals they do not need or that are toxic to them, Stewart noted. For example, insects shed metal either during molting or as tiny stones, much like kidney stones in humans.

When Stewart started to investigate insect excretory systems, he made a "fascinating" discovery that certain organs in the termite's excretory system contain varying amounts of metals—hinting at unknown processes going on inside the termite. That's important, he said, because it means that termite waste is a "driving force" for how metals get redistributed in an ecosystem.


Hypergiant Star Amazes for 30 Years

A European research team has published the results of a 30-year study of an extraordinary hypergiant star. They have found that the surface temperature of the super-luminous star HR 8752 increased by about 3000 degrees in less than three decades, while it went through an extremely rare stage called the 'Yellow Evolutionary Void'. The discovery marks an important step closer to unravelling the evolution of the most massive stars.

A team of astronomers from six European countries, including the Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB), has investigated the hypergiant star HR 8752 for 30 years while it traversed the 'Yellow Evolutionary Void'. The 'Void' is a short stage in the lives of the most massive stars when they become very unstable. The team finds that the surface temperature of HR 8752 rose surprisingly fast from 5000 to 8000 degrees in less than 30 years. The research results were very recently published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The discovery is an important step forward to resolve the enigma of the hypergiants, the most luminous and massive stars of the Galaxy.

Hypergiants can shine millions of times brighter than the Sun, and they often have a diameter several hundred times greater. HR 8752 is a quarter million times more luminous than the Sun. The powerhouse is therefore visible with normal binoculars at large distance from Earth in the Northern constellation of Cassiopeia. There are currently only 12 hypergiants known in our Galaxy.

The 'Yellow Evolutionary Void' is a unique stage in the short life of a hypergiant when its temperature and luminosity can quickly change. The team has discovered that the atmospheres are very unstable inside the Void because outwardly directed forces act equal or sometimes even stronger than the force of gravity. Due to the unstable atmosphere, hypergiants lose tremendous weight in this 'forbidden zone', which can sometimes amount to the mass of the Sun in a year. When a hypergiant enters the 'Evolutionary Void' the star tries to it leave as quickly as possible. That is why almost all hypergiants are found outside the Void.

The team finds that HR 8752 is a very rare hypergiant which has partly traversed the Void. The changes of its atmosphere were closely monitored with regular observations over 30 years.

Alex Lobel, co-author of the study and ROB scientist explains that "HR 8752 was around 1980 identical to the eruptive hypergiant Rho Cas of spectral type F, but then the temperature of HR 8752's atmosphere rapidly increased by 3000 degrees and now shows the spectral properties of a hotter A-type star. We are baffled about the tremendous changes of HR 8752 in that period of time."

Between 1900 and 1980 the atmospheric temperature of HR 8752 stayed almost constant around 5000 degrees, but it rose very rapidly to 8000 degrees between 1985 and 2005. The team calculates that the stellar radius decreased from 750 to 400 times that of the Sun. In 1985 the team embarked on a long-term spectroscopic observing program when it found that the remarkable hypergiant was exactly at the border of the 'Yellow Void' and started to cross over. "HR 8752 had to struggle through the Void which has changed the physical properties of its atmosphere," Lobel adds.

The team further demonstrates that the Void actually consists of two parts in which the atmosphere of the hypergiant is unstable. They result from ionization of large amounts of hydrogen and helium gas in the atmosphere, divided by a small zone around 8000 degrees where it becomes more stable.

The fate of HR 8752 is currently unclear but there are strong hints that these massive hypergiants may perish in a powerful supernova explosion. Or they quickly traverse the Void and transform into a hotter type of erratic stars known as the "Luminous Blue Variables." In either case that will not pass unnoticed according to Kees de Jager and Hans Nieuwenhuijzen, the astronomers of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research in Utrecht who directed the research of HR 8752 over the past three decades.

The discovery is an important new step for explaining the existence of these extreme stars. A number of other hypergiants with similar spectacular properties is expected to exist in the Milky Way. The search for these remarkable stars with dramatic changes over human timescales has just begun, but has been forever put on track.

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