Link About It: This Week’s Picks

Insect-like drones, clear nuclear fusion, cosmic collisions and more from around the web

The Most Accurate Virtual Representation of the Universe’s Evolution

Helmed by the University of Helsinki, a simulation named “Sibelius-Dark” produced the most accurate virtual representation of the universe’s development to date. It captures the Big Bang to the present, reproducing the entire evolution of our section of the cosmos. Using the DiRAC COSmology MAchine (COSMA), scientists found one patch of our universe to be unusual, as the simulation predicted a lower number of galaxies than expected. Still, “These simulations show that the current leading theory of cosmology, the Cold Dark Matter model, can produce all the galaxies we see in our local habitat, an essential benchmark for simulations of this kind to pass,” says Dr Stuart McAlpine, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. Learn more about the project and how it brings researchers one step closer to understanding the full cosmos at Bloomberg.

Image courtesy of Durham University/PA Media

18,000 Ancient Egyptian “Notepads” Discovered

Archaeologists have uncovered 18,000 “notepads” in the ancient Egyptian town of Athribis. Known as “ostraca,” the inscribed pottery fragments provide insight into life in Egypt some 2,000 years ago—with everything from shopping lists to trade records and schoolwork marked onto the remnants. Some of them had repeated phrases, believed to be student punishment. “Around 80% of the ostraca are written in demotic, an administrative script used during the reign of Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII (81 to 59 BCE and 55 to 51 BCE,” Jane Recker writes for Smithsonian Magazine. “Greek is the second-most represented script; hieratic, hieroglyphics, Greek, Arabic, and Coptic (an Egyptian dialect written in the Greek alphabet) also appear, testifying to Athribis’ multicultural history.” This fascinating treasure trove—the second largest collection of ostraca ever found in Egypt—will take years to analyze and will undoubtedly reveal plenty about ancient life in Athribis. Read more at Smithsonian Magazine.

Image courtesy of University of Tübingen

Experimental Nuclear Fusion Reactor Proves Limitless, Clean Power Is Possible

Curbing climate change means finding a near-limitless, zero-carbon power source. To do that scientists have often turned to nuclear fusion—the process of fusing two or more atoms together, which releases massive amounts of energy (and is also the process that makes the sun and stars shine). But while scientists have been able to generate this energy before, they haven’t been able to sustain it for long—until now. Today, scientists near Oxford announced that they succeeded in generating 59 megajoules of sustained fusion energy over five seconds in a doughnut-shaped machine called the JET (Joint European Torus), doubling the previous record for sustained fusion energy. While scientists still have a long way to go when it comes to implementing nuclear fusion, the new record is a major breakthrough that confirms clean energy is possible. Learn more about it at CNN.

Image courtesy of EUROFusion/CNN

How Design Can Respond to Environmental Crises

Between increasing natural disasters, rising sea levels and melting ice caps, a climate change-induced apocalypse seems very real and us humans—with our endless capacity for production and consumption—are responsible. But does creating always harm the planet or are there ways that creative design can foster the human instinct to produce without harming the planet? Can we foster commensalism (a symbiotic relationship between species in which no harm is done to either) and still make things? In MOLD’s new column, writer Cristina Carbajo explores this question, seeking to understand the complex relationship between design and environmental behavior. She writes, “Design is a vessel of hope that can reframe control by putting creative joy and environmental responsibility hand in hand. There is hope in acknowledging the responsibility of our daily design and buying decisions to reimagine an alternative future that nurtures our planet.” Read the full article at MOLD.

Image courtesy of Cristina Carbajo/MOLD

Photo Books by Groundbreaking Black Photographers

Aperture’s new list of photo books comprises 11 titles by Black photographers who rethink, reimagine and reframe “what history is all about.” Each of the photographers featured within these books challenged systems of power, clarified history or re-contextualized beauty. Included in the list are esteemed and under-recognized artists, from Tyler Mitchell (the first Black photographer to shoot a cover story for Vogue) to Kwame Brathwaite, whose photos popularized the slogan “Black is Beautiful.” There are many meaningful works that explore countless facets of identity. Perhaps the most significant is To Make Their Own Way in the World, “a profound consideration of some of the most challenging images in the history of photography,” which incorporates daguerrotypes of people who were enslaved—Alfred, Delia, Drana, Fassena, Jack, Jem and Renty—alongside essays that analyze the relationship between photography and race and how these photos have been used to bolster pseudo-scientific racism today. Learn more about this volume and the rest of these arresting photo books at Aperture.

Image is Tyler Mitchell, “Untitled (Twins II),” New York (2017) from The New Black Vanguard; courtesy of the artist

Flying Microrobots Are Upgraded With New Artificial Muscles

Over the years, researchers at MIT have been developing aerial microrobots—tiny, insect-sized robots that can fly around and perform tasks—and have just revealed a big upgrade. The latest version utilizes a new fabrication technique that allows each bot to operate on 75% lower voltage and carry an 80% heavier payload. This technique creates soft actuators that act as artificial muscles around each bot’s four sets of wings. These groundbreaking attributes decrease defects while increasing performance and lifespan. Researchers were able to do this by layering ultra-thin, vacuum-packed elastomer and electrodes which, for the first time, created a 20-layer actuator with each layer measuring only 10 micrometers in thickness. Altogether, each complete robot weighs less than one-fourth of a penny. Learn more about how the engineers accomplished such a large feat using hair-thin nanotubes at MIT News.

Image courtesy of MIT

Black Artist Fund Supports Emerging and Established Creatives

Black Artist Fund is a fundraising initiative that provides grants to emerging and established Black artists in an attempt to combat industry inequity. For February, the initiative partnered with e-commerce company 1stDibs to create a Black History Month collection from these creatives’ artworks while giving them subscription-free 1stDibs storefronts for one year. “For many people, especially within America, the idea of pursuing an artistic vision can feel impossible,” says Darryl Westly, a curator, art advisor and board member of Black Artist Fund. “Providing aid to African Americans shouldn’t just be restricted to those outliers deemed worthy of the title of ‘Black excellence’ or those living under the most extreme of circumstances, but should be offered to each and every artist with the courage, ambition and perseverance to make their dreams a reality”—which is exactly what this initiative aims to do. Learn more the artists they support and view their art at 1stDibs.

Image courtesy of 1stDibs

Merger of Two Black Holes Predicted

Astronomers are watching two highly eccentric black holes in a “gravitational tango” that might result in them merging—an event that astronomers have predicted but have never witnessed before. The cosmic incident could happen in 100 days or sometime in the next three years. Each of the black holes is estimated to be 70 times the size of our sun, and they are located in a galaxy about 1.2 billion light years from Earth. “If scientists are able to observe the merging event between two black holes, it will resolve a lot of the mysteries surrounding these cosmic giants,” says Passant Rabie at Inverse. Read more there.

Image courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientists Build Robotic Fish Using Human Heart Cells

Recently a team of scientists built a school of robotic fish powered by human heart cells—a project that attempts to understand how to construct replacement hearts for those with cardiovascular diseases. The biohybrid fish—made from paper, plastic, gelatin and two strips of living heart muscle cells—can swim entirely on their own for more than three months, as movement causes the strips of cells to contract, creating a cycle of momentum. This success confirms the possibility of producing human heart tissue that beats indefinitely, suggesting that these cells can be used to repair a failing heart. “I really believe that there’s a common design scheme, there’s some fundamental laws of muscular pumps that are conserved from marine life forms to the human heart,” says a scientist on the team, Sung-Jin Park. He, alongside his teammates, were surprised to find the fish cells repaired themselves faster than a human’s while continuing to increase in strength. Learn more about this at NPR.

Image courtesy of Michael Rosnach/Keel Yong Lee/Sung-Jin Park/Kevin Kit Parker

Link About It is our filtered look at the web, shared daily in Link and on social media, and rounded up every Saturday morning. Hero image courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center