Link About It: This Week’s Picks

Quantum hairs on black holes, "printing" beverages, pipe-worm robots and more

How Amazonian Lily Pads Inspire Building Design

Not only is an Amazonian water lily massive, with leaves that can grow up to 10 feet, but it’s also strong enough to withstand the weight of a small child. For years, researchers have attempted to ascertain how lily pads can do this. A recent study from Science Advances uncovered how a network of fractal veins, which radiate concentrically from a central stem, efficiently support the leaves. In addition to being an exciting revelation for botanists, the results of this study are particularly insightful for architects as they can improve the design of floating structures, wind turbines or anything needing increased structural support. (In fact, the lily pad inspired architect Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, a London landmark built for the Great Exhibition of 1851.) Learn more about the lily’s influence on building design at National Geographic.

Image courtesy of Radek Petrasek/CTK/AP Images

A New Worm-Shaped Robot Can Unclog Pipes

GE Research recently unveiled the Pipe-worm, a long, soft-bodied robot that can clean and even repair pipes. Inspired by the movement of earthworms and the in-the-dark navigation of cockroaches, the Pipe-worm is an autonomous, flexible device. It uses air or oil pressure to expand and contract artificial muscles to generate movement. To know where to go (and even generate a map), two antennae bolstered by an algorithm direct the robot. “You put it inside your pipe and you never have to think about it again. Because the robot lives there and takes care of your pipes without you ever worrying about it,” Deepak Trivedi, a mechanical engineer at GE Research, tells Fast Company. Currently, the model is being used to solve key issues in infrastructure, but as the robot can be scaled down, it might soon make its way into homes. Read more about the nifty invention at Fast Company.

Image courtesy of Daniel Salo/Fast Company

How Native American-Owned Breweries are Reclaiming Agency

According to a 2019 survey by the Brewers Association, only 4% of the breweries in the US are owned by Native Americans or Alaska Natives. Between a history of economic and social discrimination and the stereotype that Indigenous people are more pre-disposed to alcoholism than others, there are many obstacles that make it difficult for Native people to found their own breweries. That, however, does not deter the Indigenous brewers shaking up the field today. Take the Yurok Tribe’s Mad River Brewing in Blue Lake, California, for instance. Despite constant pushback, Mad River has operated for over 30 years with plans to expand to San Fransisco’s Oracle Park this year. “I want people to understand that we are here. We are a modern people. We are here living a normal life just like everyone else,” says Mad River’s CEO Linda Cooley. Learn more about her and other pioneering brewers at Yes Magazine.

Image courtesy of Morgan Crisp

DeepMind’s New AI Helps Decipher Ancient Inscriptions

Ancient texts offer rare, direct insight into the past but the meaning of each often remains elusive. As they are typically found in fragments and engraved on inorganic materials (like stone or metal) that evade carbon dating, they present challenges to archeologists who have struggled to decipher them or even note when they were written. This is why DeepMind—an artificial intelligence company acquired by Google’s parent Alphabet—developed Ithaca, an AI model that restores ancient texts while offering suggestions (with a 30-year window) of when they’re from. The program draws from a dataset of around 78,000 ancient Greek inscriptions to look for patterns within them and generate text, dates and origins. While the current model is only 62% accurate when translating and 71% accurate when sourcing origin, researchers find the numbers promising as the program could open pathways to deciphering ancient texts beyond Greek. Learn more about it at The Verge.

Image courtesy of Sepia Times/Universal Images Group/Getty

A Mattress Recycling Program Fosters At-Risk Youth

Founded by Greg Croteau, the Massachusetts-based, non-profit UTEC aims to rescue young adults facing gang violence, with criminal records or in poverty, while simultaneously recycling mattresses. To do this, UTEC recruits a youth workforce (where 83% have a criminal record, 76% were in a gang and 68% don’t have high school degrees) to break down mattresses and salvage reusable raw materials to give to hotels, colleges, hospitals and other municipalities. The job is a lesson in teamwork as members often have to work with those from rival gangs. After completing the mattress recycling program, participants can continue UTEC training through culinary lessons, a woodworking program that turns scrap wood into cutting boards sold through Whole Foods and classroom education that helps them earn GEDs or college credit. Compared to Massachusetts’ 50% recidivism rate, UTEC is highly successful as 87% of its graduates stay out of trouble. Learn more about the life-saving program at Core77.

Image courtesy of Core77

The Ionic Wind Aircraft Flies Without Moving Parts

A team of MIT engineers, led by Steven Barrett (an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the academic institution), have invented the Ionic Wind Aircraft—a first-of-its-kind flying vessel that employs no moving turbines or propellers. Rather, the craft’s flight is sustained by an “ionic wind” (aka electro-aerodynamic thrust) produced when a current passes between thin (positively charged) and thick (negatively charged) electrodes onboard. Lithium-polymer batteries act as the power supply for this current. The team conducted multiple test flights utilizing the technology, during which the five-meter wide craft flew a distance of 60 meters. Read more about the power behind the vision, and see a short film, at designboom.

Image courtesy of Christine Y He

Burkinabè Architect Francis Kéré Wins the Pritzker Prize

Diébédo Francis Kéré, founder of the Berlin-based practice Kéré Architecture, has become the first Black individual to win the field’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize. Hailing from the remote village of Gando in Burkina Faso, Kéré won a scholarship to study woodwork in Germany before transitioning to architecture at the Technical University of Berlin. His career began upon his return to Burkina Faso, when he built a mud-brick primary school for his community. Kéré continued to construct schools, universities, libraries, medical facilities, parks and more throughout Africa, often employing local individuals and transforming limited resources. His most notable projects range from the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion to the Xylem Pavilion at Montana’s Tippet Rise Art Center and the Lycée Schorge Secondary School in Burkina Faso. Many of his most ambitious projects are in development and eagerly anticipated by architecture enthusiasts. Read more about Kéré’s astonishing contributions to the craft at The Guardian.

Image courtesy of Diébédo Francis Kéré

World’s First Molecular Drinks Machine Can “Print” Thousands of Beverages

Bay Area-based startup Cana recently raised $30 million dollars to create Cana One, a countertop device that can print thousands of beverages including coffee and cocktails. As the startup’s CEO Mat Mahar told The Hustle, all beverages are mostly made up of water with only around 1% containing compounds—like wine’s tartaric acid or coffee’s quinic acid—that give it flavor. Of those compounds, only 30 to 50 can be registered by humans. Thus, Cana One concentrates 150 compounds into a cartridge in order to produce different drinks. Not only does this device print tasty beverages, and allow for customization using additional sugar and neutral grain alcohol cartridges, but it’s also better for the environment. The soft drink industry is estimated to generate around 20 to 34 billion plastic bottles per year. Cana One’s cartridges, on the other hand, can make approximately 200 drinks before needing to be recycled. Learn more about this clever device at The Hustle.

Images courtesy of The Hustle

Scientists Claim Hairy Black Holes Resolve Hawking’s Paradox

New research claims to have resolved one of the biggest scientific paradoxes, first identified by Stephen Hawking in the 1970s, pertaining to black holes. Einstein’s general theory of relativity posits that anything that goes into one cannot come out, yet at the same time, the laws of quantum mechanics say that this is impossible. This contradiction raises the possibility that either theory could be flawed, a notion which dramatically upends how we understand the universe. In a world’s first, however, scientists found a solution, which they call “quantum hair.” This concept allows information that goes into the black hole to come out again without violating the principles of physics. “One of the consequences of the Hawking paradox was that general relativity and quantum mechanics was incompatible. What we are finding is that they are very much compatible,” says University of Sussex’s Prof Xavier Calmet. Learn more about this revolutionizing idea at BBC News.

Image courtesy of EHT/BBC News

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 Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images