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Scientists Borrow a Trick or Two from a Beetle Tough Enough to Survive Getting Run Over by a Car



Engineers believe that they may be able to develop new and stronger materials by studying a beetle so though that even when it is run over by a car, it emerges unfazed.

The engineers hope to create a stiff material that is still as ductile as a paper clip. Something that might make aircraft gas turbines safer and durable.

Based at the University of California, Irvine, and Purdue University identified two ‘elytron’ that look like armor. The elytra meet along a suture that runs the length of the beetle’s abdomen.

The elytra protect the wings of flying beetles and make it possible for them to fly. But the bee in question is the wingless diabolical ironclad beetle that distributes any force applied on the beetle across the body of the beetle evenly.

Engineer Pablo Zavattjeri says that the suture is a connector of exoskeletal blades that meet like puzzle pieces beneath the elytra and in the abdomen.

This jigsaw puzzle formation may come in handy in several ways. Researchers led by David Kisailus, a UCI professor worked to understand the phenomenon better by studying CT scans to accurately observe the structural components of the beetle’s exoskeleton.

They found that the diabolical ironclad beetle is capable of withstanding a force 39,000 times its body weight without fracturing. The UCI researchers used compressive steel plates to test the strength of the beetle’s exoskeleton. This force is the equivalent of 150 newtons.

For perspective, consider that the force of a car tire running over the beetle on a dirt surface is only 100 newtons.

The bee is strong enough to handle more than double the force that other land beetles can handle.

Zavattieri’s laboratory extensively used computer simulations and created 3D-printed models to isolate some structures and understand the role they play preserving the beetle even under extreme pressure.

Together, these studies show that the diabolical ironclad beetle is armed with two lines of defense that protect it from compressive loads.

It has interconnecting blades that connect to avoid dislodging from the suture, much like the puzzle pieces that they are.

It also delaminates the suture and the blades deform more gracefully to allow the exoskeleton to hold under pressure.

Both of these crucial features work to distribute the energy and prevent a killer pressure on its vulnerable neck that would otherwise snap under the impact, killing the beetle.

When you apply excessive force to the diabolical ironclad beetle’s exoskeleton, the blades pull away from the suture gently, just enough to avoid a sudden release of energy that would cause its neck to slap. The blades cannot interlock too little or too much.

Scientists don’t know yet if the diabolical ironclad beetle has any self-healing mechanism following a traumatic incident such as getting run over by a car.

“An active engineering challenge is joining together different materials without limiting their ability to support loads. The diabolical ironclad beetle has strategies to circumvent these limitations,” revealed David Restrepo. Restrepo is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Aircraft gas turbines combine metals and composite materials using a mechanical fastener which makes the machinery heavier and brings in stress that makes it vulnerable to corrosion and fractures.

According to engineer Maryam Hosseini who was also part of the research group, these fasteners negatively impact the system’s performance and must be replaced often. In comparison, the diabolical ironclad beetle’s interfaced sutures are more predictable and robust. The humble beetle could hold the solution to these problems.

Researchers have already tried to mimic the suture of the diabolical ironclad beetle by building a carbon fiber composite fastener instead of the mechanical fastener that is currently in use.

The new fastener was tested by researchers at Purdue University and proved tougher than standard aerospace fasteners. It is equal in strength.

Engineers now know that it is possible to make a transition from strong and brittle materials to strong and tough materials that disperse energy like the diabolical ironclad beetle breaks.

The Airforce Office of Scientific Research as well as the ArmyResearch Office is funding this research through the Multi-University Research Initiative.

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NASA Space Technology and Google Earth Engine Powering Tiger Conservation Efforts Globally




In an unprecedented fusion of space technology and terrestrial data collection, NASA’s satellite imagery combined with Google Earth Engine’s computing capabilities are spearheading a novel initiative to conserve tiger habitats across the globe. This innovative approach, known as “TCL 3.0,” aims to monitor Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs)—vital continuous tracts where these majestic creatures still roam. This marks the third iteration of assessing tiger habitats across Asia, offering a revolutionary method for measuring and tracking habitat changes, thereby setting a new standard for wildlife conservation efforts worldwide.

Eric W. Sanderson, the lead author of the study titled “Range-wide Trends in Tiger Conservation Landscapes, 2001 – 2020,” highlights this project’s capacity to observe both macro and micro-level habitat alterations in real-time. Sanderson, now the Vice President for Urban Conservation at the New York Botanical Garden, underscores the potential of this technology in stabilizing tiger populations across their range by enabling immediate response to habitat threats.

Laura Rogers, Associate Program Manager at NASA’s Ecological Conservation Program, emphasizes the game-changing nature of TCL 3.0. By utilizing Earth observations from VIIRS, MODIS, and Landsat products, land managers and policymakers can now gain a holistic view of human activities’ impacts on critical tiger habitats, thus facilitating informed decision-making and conservation strategies.

Google’s Senior Program Manager, Tanya Birch, points to the technology’s power to “make the world a better place,” showcasing TCL 3.0 as an exemplary instance of how technological advancements can foster significant environmental benefits. The initiative not only promises enhanced monitoring and conservation of tiger habitats but also offers a blueprint for protecting other species at risk.

Dale Miquelle, WCS Tiger Program Associate Director and a co-author of the study, calls for a collaborative effort among NGOs, scientific institutes, and governments to realize the full potential of TCL 3.0. The comprehensive report, published in Frontiers in Conservation Science, is the culmination of efforts by leading tiger scientists, remote sensing experts, and statisticians, backed by numerous conservation organizations and governmental bodies.

The tiger, Panthera tigris, is an emblem of Asian wilderness and biodiversity. Its survival is intrinsically linked to the health of vast forest ecosystems, making the species an indicator of environmental integrity. The decline in tiger habitats, mainly due to human encroachment and habitat loss, poses a significant threat not only to tigers but to biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and ecosystem services benefiting millions of people.

Between 2001 and 2020, Tiger Conservation Landscapes have shrunk by 11 percent, primarily in Southeast Asia and southern China, underscoring the urgent need for a real-time monitoring system like TCL 3.0. This initiative enables countries to assess habitat changes, identify conservation priorities, and implement timely interventions to halt or reverse habitat degradation.

TCL 3.0’s implementation signifies a leap forward in conservation technology, providing near real-time data on habitat changes and human impacts. By integrating NASA’s Earth observations with ground-based biological data and conservation models, the project offers a dynamic, continuously updated view of Asia’s forested ecosystems. This advancement not only aids in tiger conservation but also supports global biodiversity initiatives and sustainable development goals.

The collaboration between space technology and conservation science exemplified by TCL 3.0 highlights the evolving landscape of environmental protection efforts. By leveraging cutting-edge technology, scientists and conservationists can now monitor and respond to threats to wildlife and their habitats with unprecedented speed and accuracy. As this innovative approach gains traction, it promises to revolutionize the field of conservation, offering hope for the future of tigers and the diverse ecosystems they inhabit.

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This groundbreaking initiative underscores the vital role of technology in advancing conservation goals, offering a new paradigm for safeguarding the planet’s most endangered species and their habitats.

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Scientists Create the Most Detailed Atomic Image in History




Scientists at Cornell University are working with a unique technique to record images to a higher level of detail than ever achieved before. The result is the highest resolution atomic image ever created.

The researchers magnified a 3D sample of a crystal 100 million times. The resultant image has twice the image resolution.

It earned them a Guinness World Record in 2018. They are now to break their record.

The researchers used electron ptychography to shoot a billion electrons per second at a target material. The beam of electrons aimed at a surface consists of a billion electrons each second.

With the beam’s slow movement, the released electrons hit the target from a variety of angles. The electrons can either pass straight through or bounce off of atoms along their path before they exit.

According to David Muller who is a physicist at Cornell, ptychography is like a game of dodgeball with your opponents in darkness. In this game of dodgeball, distinct atoms are the targets and electrons are dodgeballs.

The advanced detectors allow Muller to ‘see’ the atoms by seeing where the electrons stop. The electrons generate a speckle pattern that algorithms use to calculate the original location of the atoms and their shape.

Scientists have used ptychography to photograph materials with a thickness of one atom. Now, this study shows that it could capture ten to a hundred layers of atoms and more. The study was published in the journal Science.

Material scientists can rely on the technique to learn about the properties of materials with a 30-50 nanometer thickness. This thickness is so small that your nails grow more than that in a minute.

“They can look at stacks of atoms now, so it’s amazing,” declares University of Sheffield engineer Andrew Maiden. Maiden was not part of the new study, but he participated in developing ptychography as a technique. “The resolution is just staggering.”

This new development is a breakthrough in electron microscopy. Electron microscopes came about in the 1930s. They made it possible for scientists to look at objects of interest, like viruses.

The poliovirus, for example, is smaller than a light wavelength. Electron microscopes cannot deliver higher resolutions without a corresponding increase in the electron beam’s energy. This would give rise to an electron microscope that utilized enough energy to damage the material.

Researchers theorized about ptychography in the sixties’ as a possible solution to the problem. But scientists could not apply the technique for decades because they were working with limited computational power and limited capacity detectors.

Earlier versions of ptychography used x-rays and visible light instead of electron beams for imaging atoms. At the time, scientists were looking for ways to make electron microscopes better and this was so effective that it superseded electron ptychography. According to Muller, only true believers in ptychography still paid attention.

The long-term impact of this work will be better electronics. Computers and phones will be more efficient as well as powerful. Batteries will last longer because scientists would study the chemical reactions in greater detail.

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Scientists Track Elephants with AI and Satellite Imaging




An international scientist team from Oxford University, Bath University, and Twente University from the Netherlands conducted a survey from space on elephant populations using artificial intelligence. The satellite cameras were successful together with deep learning algorithms that track African elephants’ movements.

In the last few decades, the African elephants’ movement population has plummeted thanks to loos of habitat and poaching. The species is now considered as endangered since only 50,000 are left in the wild.

Conservationists are currently monitoring the endangered populations and those under threat as the elephants by counting them using low-flying airplanes one-by-one.

In the study conducted by the team, an automated artificial intelligence system was created by a computer scientist, Dr. Olga Isupova, from Bath University, for analyzing the elephant’s high-resolution images as they crossed through grasslands and forests. A commercially-run Worldview-3 satellite for observing captured them. They found out that the system could pick out animals with similar accuracy as human analysts.

Combination of deep learning and satellite imagery previously used to identify marine animals, the elephants’ study marked the first time their technique was used to monitor animals as they moved through various heterogeneous landscape of woodland, scrub, and grassland. ”This type of work has been done before with whales, but of course, the ocean is all blue, so counting is a lot less challenging. As you can imagine, a heterogeneous landscape makes it much hard to identify animals,” said Dr. Isupova.

‘’Accurate monitoring is essential if we’re to save species. We need to know where the animals are and how many there are.’’

The team preferred running their pilot study with African elephants, for they are giant animals making it easy to spot.

The researchers, however, hoped their technology would succeed in the future to observe other species.

”Satellite imagery resolution increases every couple of years, and with every increase, we will be able to see smaller things in greater detail. Other researchers have managed to detect black albatross nests against snow,” said Dr. Isupova.

‘’No doubt the contrast of black and white made it easier, but that doesn’t change the fact that an albatross nest is one-eleventh the size of an elephant. We need to find new state-of-the-art systems to help researchers gather the data they need to save species under threat.’’

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