US Navy to deploy first ship equipped with a laser weapon (LaWS) this summer.

A prototype of the LaWS during testing (2013)

A prototype of the LaWS during testing, 2013 (Image courtesy of Navy Times)

The US Navy is preparing to deploy its first directed energy weapon, dubbed the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard the forward staging base ship USS Ponce this summer. The purpose of LaWS is to defend against drones, small boats, light aircraft and missiles within the range of a mile. Larger targets will still require the usage of standard weaponry. The LaWS operates at a low cost: each shot only costs about a dollar as it doesn’t require physical ammunition such as missiles or bullets.

LaWS can either “hard kill” a smaller target by directing enough energy to set the target on fire or explode fuel aboard, or perform a “soft kill” by blinding a drone or missile’s imaging sensors. The LaWS system is the first of many planned high-energy weapon systems by the US Navy. Higher power laser weapons powered by destroyers with stronger electrical generation outputs and railguns are  already under development and may see usage in the field in the near future.

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Spider silk, shown to be five times as strong as steel and three times firmer than Kevlar material by weight, is finally poised for commercialization due to recent technological advances.

New technological advances are beginning to allow large-scale commercialization of spider silk in real life applications such as cables and bulletproof vests. Due to its organic composition, spider silk also possesses antimicrobial properties, which makes it appropriate for use as wound patching and as material for artificial tendons.

This scene from Spider-Man 2 may very well have been possible, researchers say.

This scene from Spider-Man 2 may very well have been possible with scaled up real life spider silk, researchers say. (Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)

Various problems have arisen in utilizing spider silk. It cannot be gathered in the conventional sense via farm-raised spiders do to their cannibalistic and territorial characteristics. As a result, scientists have developed a way of replicating the relevant DNA from spiders and inserting them into organisms that can express the spider silk protein. The replicated silk is also not as strong as the original. Primary hosts for this protein include silkworms, E. Coli, and alfalfa.

However, recent advances in technology by organizations such as AMSilk have managed to overcome some of these hurdles. Spider silk protein has found non-fiber applications in the form of cosmetic products and shampoos, where it has positive effects. Recently, the company claims to have managed to produce recombinant spider silk with strength comparable to a real spider’s own silk which may soon find its way into a greater array of products.

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Stanford scientists have developed a microscope costing under a dollar, primarily made of paper materials.

Named FoldScope, the microscope come on a sheet of hard paper, to be constructed by the user.

Named FoldScope, the microscope comes on a sheet of hard paper, to be constructed by the user, capable of magnifying up to 2000x. (Image courtesy of Hacks and Stuff)

The new affordable and accessible microscope aims to aid in combatting malaria in developing countries where scientific equipment comes at a considerable price. Composed of a heavy paper body, a battery, an LED switch, conductive copper tape/glass and a sapphire ball lens, the microscope is durable and compact enough to be suitable for rougher conditions in the field. The microscope may include special filters used specifically to diagnose malaria, making it a highly valuable and cost-effective tool. The simplicity and accessibility of this new innovation will surely have not only scientific and medical uses but also educational ones, where it may be used in schools in larger numbers than current microscopes.

Source and more information can be found here.


Neuroscientist Aaron Seitz has developed a new app that trains visual acuity, improving a user’s vision after repeated usage by altering the way your brain perceives visual data.

A screenshot of the UltimEyes software. Exercises are designed to make the brain faster at processing visual information.

A screenshot of the UltimEyes software. Exercises are designed to make the brain faster at processing visual information. (Image courtesy of Brit + Co)

A study recently published in scientific journal Current Biology by neuroscientist Aaron Seitz of the University of California has revealed astonishing results. Seitz has created a new, publicly available app called UltimEyes that conditions users to see farther by manipulating the way the human brain perceives visual information. In the study, Seitz worked with 19 baseball players at the University of California and his results showed that his app lengthened the distance players could see by an average of 31%. Players reported improvements in vision beyond the normal 20/20 threshold, after 25 – 30 minute sessions with the app, sometimes up to an astonishing 20/7.5.

The app fundamentally rewires how the brain processes information from the eyes, surprisingly ignoring the physical eye and eye muscles. UltimEyes targets the visual cortex, the section of the brain controlling vision. Incoming visual information from the eyes to the cortex is broken down into fuzzy patterns called Gabor stimuli, which are then processed into images. UltimEyes directly presents the user with Gabor stimuli, which over time trains the brain to interpret them more efficiently and gradually allows the user to see more clearly at far distances.

The app presents Gabor stimuli in the form of visual exercises lasting around half an hour per session. While Seitz stresses that the app is not presented as a complete cure to visual impairments, neuroscientists behind the concept are confident that it can unlock new insights into the true physical limits of human vision. Similar brain training is currently under development for objectives such as improved hearing and enhanced memory.

Source and more information can be found here.


New laws are requiring Mt. Everest climbers to bring back at least 8 kg of garbage in new efforts to clean up summit.

A Nepalese Sherpa picking up litter near the summit of Mt. Everest.

A Nepalese Sherpa picking up litter near the summit of Mt. Everest. (Image courtesy of Examiner)

Starting from April, climbers scaling Mt. Everest will be required to bring back at least 8 kg of garbage, to be deposited and checked once they have reached a base site office. Over the years, mountaineers traversing Everest have left their mark. The peak of the mountain is now littered with waste from past expeditions, including food wrappers, oxygen masks, human waste and even the bodies of fallen climbers, which do not decompose in the extreme cold.

Currently, expedition teams have to submit a $4000 deposit to the authorities, to be returned once they have proved they have brought everything back with them from the summit. However, enforcement has been difficult. Officials are now pledging to follow up with legal action if the new rule is broken. While Everest generates key revenue for the impoverished country of Nepal, the growing waste issue has many environmentalists and climbing groups worried.

Source and more information can be found here.