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Nashua;59.0;;2015-05-30 06:24:07

Science on Tap is all about lasers, June 9 

Science on Tap, the "science cafe" run by SEE Science Center in Manchester, has a neat-sounding event before it goes into summer hiatus: Laser technology.

"The technology is used in our homes, laboratories, grocery stores, construction sites, in surgery, manufacturing, in communications and on the battlefield. We will discuss how this technology has evolved, its current uses, its role in local research and where it may be heading in the future."

Panelists are: Paul Hoff, formerly of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sanders Associates/BAE, TransEtch Manufacturing; Evan Chicklis, formerly Director of the Laser & Electro Optics Center of Technology at BAE; and David Guerra, Professor of Physics at St. Anselm College, NASA-GSFC's Laboratory for Atmospheres

A potent lineup. More details here.

That oily sheen on the water in the ditch might be due to bacteria, not your neighbor

"We receive numerous questions and complaints about oily substances on the water's surface. The culprit is often iron bacteria and is not an actual oil spill." So says the state's Volunteer Lake Assessment Program in its latest newsletter, which told me a ton of stuff I didn't know, including:

At least 18 types of bacteria are classified as iron bacteria, long threadlike bacteria that “feed” on iron and secrete slime. Unlike most bacteria, which feed on organic matter, iron bacteria fulfill their energy requirements by oxidizing ferrous iron into ferric iron. When ferrous iron is converted to ferric iron, it becomes insoluble and precipitates out of the water as a rust colored deposit. Once the cells begin to decay, they release a reddish or brownish slime material.

I've certainly done my share of tut-tutting when seeing oily sheen on waterways. Maybe my righteous indignation was misplaced.

The article and a bunch of other good stuff, including a piece about the relationship of historical land use and carbon cycling in a lake, can be seen in the newsletter here:

Attempt to bar Uber in Portsmouth put on hold by judge

From the Portsmouth Herald (whole story is here):

PORTSMOUTH — A Superior Court judge rejected a request for an emergency order that would have barred Uber drivers from working unregulated in Portsmouth, but scheduled a hearing for legal debate on the subject.
Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman denied the request as proposed last week by Portsmouth lawyer Joe Plaia, who is representing Great Bay Taxi. The judge wrote an order Tuesday stating "it does not appear that immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage will result to (Great Bay Taxi) prior to a further hearing. The judge also noted that a court hearing, now scheduled for June 12, will allow for service to be made on the City of Portsmouth.

Merrimack 3-D printing firm expands into China, big time

Solidscape, an area pioneer in building 3-D printers for small businesses, is about to expand greatly in the Chinese market, selling its printers to jewelers with a local partner and helping establish schools to teach and develop their use via computer-aided design.

You can read the whole story in today's Telegraph by clicking right here.

I thought the most interesting part of the business is that they make their own waxes with a proprietary formula (I couldn't go into the room where they're made - presumably I might have seen boxes labelled Unicorn Tears or some oher secret ingredient). Having material that behaves exactly right under the heat and pressure conditions of 3-D printing is important.

"Betty Hill’s Last Hurrah – A Secret UFO Symposium in New Hampshire"

If you can't get enough about Betty Hill and New Hampshire's most famous alien abduction - and who can? - then you should read this great article by longtime skeptic Robert Sheaffer. He updates his 2007 article about a stealth UFO symposium featuring Betty Hill and a bunch of UFO-ologists that had been held in 2000 "at the Indian Head Resort, just a stone’s throw from the spot where Betty and Barney allegedly saw the UFO cross the road and hover right in front of their car."

The article has photos of Betty Hill, who had become something of a self-parody because of all the interest that the "alien abduction" crowd had brought her way, but who was by all accounts charming and delightful to be with. It includes a picture of a stroll to the "capture site" where she and husband Barney were temporarily abducted by a spaceship. ("No sign of any UFOs" notes the caption.)

The gathering seems to have been free of the rancor which often accompanies UFO gatherings: "We even had an evening screening of relevant science fiction films, including the very episode of Outer Limits that is suggested by Kottmeyer to have inspired Barney Hill’s description of the aliens’ wrap-around eyes. There was much discussion of the possible influence of the films on the Hills’ account."

Talking tick-killer robots on the radio

Yesterday on the local All Things Considered I discussed the Tick Rover robot with Peter Biello (you can listen or read the transcript here), following up on my Telegraph column.

With fear of Lyme disease rising, everybody wants one of these things. I've had several emails, online comments and people grabbing my elbow to say that the developer should use a site like Kickstarter or Indigogo to raise the funds for research and engineering. I will pass on that suggestion.

Uh oh, gearheads: Cars, like farm tractors, are getting harder to work on because of software secrecy

A few weeks ago I wrote about FarmHack, the hackers-meet-farmers movement prodded in part because tractor manufacturers like John Deere were limiting in-field repairs by owners, citing all the computer code in modern machinery. Basically they said that tractors are like video games: You don't own them, you just license their use.

Guess what, gearheads - the same issue might be coming to your driveway. Vox is one of several locations to report that General Motors has made a similar claim:

But the software baked into your car is also copyrighted. In theory, that means carmakers could invoke the DMCA to shut down third-party diagnostic tools, shut out independent mechanics, and prevent customers from repairing their own vehicles. Earlier this year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a petition with the Librarian of Congress, which has the authority to grant DMCA exemptions, to allow customers and independent mechanics to repair their vehicles without the permission of automakers.

Most automakers oppose the petition. General Motors, for example, argues that the ban on tinkering with car software is an important safety feature. "The proposed exemption presents a host of potential safety, security and regulatory concerns that proponents have not fully considered," the carmaker says.

As more and more products have software in them, this issue is going to come up over and over again. Copyright law is becoming a hook that allows all kinds of product manufacturers to control how their products are used after they're sold. That's not what Congress had in mind when it passed the DMCA, and there's no reason for manufacturers to have this kind of power.

Bobcats are pretty good at avoiding car traffic, not so good at avoiding harsh winters

Even as the state cancels a proposed bobcat hunting season because last winter took a population toll (Telegraph story here), UNH researchers are analyzing the ways that the species is re-colonizing the state:

By UNH News Service: New Hampshire’s bobcats are responding to the detrimental effects of roads as they continue to rebound and re-colonize in areas of the state with dense road networks and substantial traffic volumes, according to new research funded by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire.

The research was conducted by John Litvaitis, Gregory Reed, Rory Carroll, Marian Litvaitis, Jeffrey Tash, Tyler Mahard, and Derek Broman, all with the UNH Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, and Catherine Callahan and Mark Ellingwood with the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game. The results are presented in the journal Environmental Management in the article “Bobcats (Lynx rufus) as a Model Organism to Investigate the Effects of Roads on Wide-Ranging Carnivores.”

“An obvious effect of roads is the loss of habitat by the road itself. But the effects of roads extend well beyond. Traffic noise, for example, alerts animals several hundred feet beyond the road. That noise causes some animals, including bobcats, to avoid roads. But in more developed regions of the state, it isn’t possible for bobcats to avoid crossing roads as they move through home ranges that are 10-square miles or more,” said John Litvaitis, professor of wildlife ecology at UNH.

New Hampshire’s bobcat population has rebounded since the wildcat was protected from hunting in 1989. UNH researchers estimate there is the potential for as many as 1,400 bobcats in the state.

UNH researchers looked at New Hampshire Fish and Game Department data on the deaths of bobcats from bobcat-vehicle collisions from 2008 to 2013 in six southeastern counties in New Hampshire. In addition, they used data from live bobcats outfitted with GPS collars in the same area. Predominately active at night, bobcats are most at risk for being hit by vehicles between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. even though that time of day has a lighter traffic volume.

The collision research suggests that some regions may function as demographic sinks – places where juvenile bobcats find suitable habitats but do not survive long enough to reproduce due to vehicle collisions.

However, despite the risks, bobcat road deaths are relatively modest and not likely having a substantial influence on New Hampshire’s growing bobcat population, the researchers found. They theorize that New Hampshire’s bobcats living in the southeastern area where high-traffic roads are more prevalent may be using underpasses and culverts to avoid crossing highways.

In addition, bobcats may be turning to hunting in residential backyards. Bobcats prey on small animals such as squirrels, rabbits, wild birds, and chickens.

“A number of residents in southeastern New Hampshire observed and photographed bobcats capturing prey in backyards, especially gray squirrels and wild turkeys that were attracted to bird feeders. In addition to enhancing winter survival of bobcats that have difficulty capturing prey during periods of deep snow, the concentrated prey associated with suburban settlements in winter may result in less frequent road crossings by bobcats,” the researchers said in the journal article.

“One resident reported that a juvenile bobcat spent several weeks underneath a porch from which it made regular forays to attack squirrels foraging at a nearby bird feeder. Thus, the availability of such prey may at least partially ameliorate the negative effects associated with an abundance of roads in developed areas,” they said.

Researchers identified four genetically distinct bobcat populations, and said high-traffic roads are serving as major barriers for bobcat movement. By looking at the genetic makeup of bobcats, researchers found that the genetic diversity of New Hampshire’s bobcats is being hampered by roadways, in particular Interstate 89, Interstate 91, Interstate 93, and State Highway 101. The highways are inhibiting bobcats from traveling to mate with bobcats that are more genetically dissimilar.

In evaluating the movements of bobcats outfitted with GPS tracking, researchers found bobcats prefer forests, shrub and scrub areas, wetlands, more rugged and steeper sloped areas with southern-facing slopes, and areas closer to streams. The southern areas of the state with low elevations are considered highly suitable habitats for bobcats.

To learn more about UNH’s bobcat research, visit Understanding Bobcats in the Granite State: A Cooperative Project Led by the University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at

If this was Texas, the X's would be a sign of Imminent Government Takeover!

When A Merrimack resident started finding big X's painted in roadways in town, what did he do? Brought them to Science Cafe NH for clarification, of course!

And as this story in The Telegraph reports, I found that the X's were painted to assist aerial surveys in preparation for eventual widening of the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

Road work is kind of dull. If this was Rockingham, N.H., they could be signs of space aliens; Texas, signs of imminent government takeover; Vermont, signals for a secret Phish concert.

It's not dull if you commute on that highway, I suppose.

Dean Kamen's latest invention: A crank-fired water pistol. (Yes, I want one)

Long before the Segway, Dean Kamen made his fame and fortune developing interesting ways to move fluids, specifically with the first portable drug infusion pump, which was revolutionary.

His latest patent, No. 9,033,191, issued with James Jackson of Brookline, moves fluid in a really interesting way: Via a hand-cranked water pistol.

The patent, titled "Toy Fluid Pumping Gun," notes that trigger-operated squirt guns don't give a satisfyingly continuous flow, and that motorized squirt guns require electricity, which is suspect around water.

"Accordingly, there is a need for a toy fluid pumping device that may provide a continuous stream of fluid in a manor that may be operated easily by a user and does not provide a safety hazard or require a power source to operate," the patent says, and I couldn't agree more.

The patent is written in typically dense lingo and I could only find one illustration, but it seems like they've developed a (presumably easy and cheap) hand-crank system "wherein the crank assembly operates the pump assembly, and a fluid storage reservoir connected to the gear housing from which fluid is drawn into the gear housing to be pumped through the fluid discharge opening."

Awesome. And just in time for summer, too.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.


Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, June 17

TOPIC: Probiotics: Is "gut health" bacteria a fad or a new direction for medicine?

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).



May: Trains. April: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know? March: How roads are designed. February: The science of sugar. January: Geothermal energy.


November: Medical screening; how much is too much? October: Flexible and printed electronics. September: The science of marijuana. June: Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"


Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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