What you might have missed: a robot making breakfast, ammonia on Pluto and the physics of beer

Our science stories this week included everything from researchers using origami to build a better spacecraft and a robot which can make breakfast, to the physics of beer and how whales have evolved to beat cancer. 

Here’s a snapshot of a few stories we particularly enjoyed. Click on the links to read them in full. You can also see all the week’s yarns here

Researchers turn to origami and Lego to build a better spacecraft

Scientists are turning to the Japanese art of origami to design impact-resistant material that may make spacecraft reusable, helmets more effective and cars safer.

Researchers at the University of Washington, US, have used centuries-old paper-folding techniques to create a prototype material that reduces the compression stress of impacts.

Read the full story here

Whales: gigantism and cancer suppression evolved concurrently

As whales evolved to become gigantic, the genetic changes needed to accomplish the feat were accompanied by others that drastically reduced the primary danger of growing huge: cancer.

That’s the conclusion reached by a team of researchers led by Marc Tollis of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University in the US and published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Read the full story here.

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Gaining clarity: views of Pluto from 1930 until the present. 


Pluto ammonia find suggests a possible life-friendly ocean

Scientists studying data from NASA’s New Horizons space mission have found evidence of ammonia on the surface of Pluto.

It’s an exciting find, says Cristina Dalle Ore, a planetary scientist at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and NASA Ames Research Centre, California, because by geological standards, ammonia can’t survive long on the surface of Pluto without being destroyed by ultraviolet light, cosmic rays, or other radiation.

Read the full story here

In lager, veritas: the physics of beer

It’s a common pub prank to tap the top of a friend’s beer, to make it suddenly erupt in froth. Funny to some people, annoying to others; but to Spanish physicist Javier Rodríguez-Rodríguez, intriguing.

Rodríguez-Rodríguez, from the University Carlos III of Madrid, decided to investigate the strange phenomenon, and in the process has discovered a host of complex physics in a glass of beer, which could help scientists understand all kinds of processes, from volcanic eruptions to the formation of asteroids.

Read the full story here.

Two studies sound warnings over ultra-processed food

Ultra-processed foods have been associated with higher incidence of heart disease and mortality in two large European studies, adding to mounting evidence of their health risks.

The foods in question have been industrially modified and typically contain higher fat, sugar, salt and calories, and lower fibre and nutrients, than fresh or minimally processed food.

Read the full story here.

Breaking: robot makes breakfast

Researchers have taught a robot to make breakfast using coordinated two-handed movements previously beyond robotic ability.

Until now, robots have not been able to use two hands in the way that humans do.

The human brain controls both hands as a coherent whole in a task such as unscrewing a lid on a jar, applying appropriate levels of strength and tension to each hand and adjusting for feedback as the lid loosens.

Read the full story here.

And here’s our image of the week: 

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Jezero Crater, proposed landing location for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission.


The prominent circular structure in this image – taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – has been called Jezero Crater. It is the chosen landing site of the Mars 2020 mission, and as such a focus of frequent observation from above.

The image has been artificially coloured by NASA staff, but those colours correspond to different types of sediments – notably, clays and carbonates – carried through channels carved billions of years ago when Mars boasted plenty of water.

To view all this week’s featured images, click here

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