StrongArm helps load boats onto cars

By Ben Coxworth

09:02 March 29, 2011

The StrongArm Kayak Loader levers a user's canoe or kayak onto the roof of their vehicle (...

The StrongArm Kayak Loader levers a user’s canoe or kayak onto the roof of their vehicle (Photo: BoatHoist International)

Sea kayaks are quite possibly one of the finest things ever created by mankind, but they can be rather difficult to load onto the top of one’s car – this is particularly true for people who are trying to do the job single-handed, or who have a tall vehicle. Australia’s Steve Scott identified this problem as an opportunity, and invented the StrongArm Kayak Loader.

The StrongArm consists of a sort of Y-shaped adjustable-height aluminum bar that pivots on a steel base, which attaches to a vehicle’s tow ball. The bar is pulled back to rest at a 45-degree angle from the back of the vehicle, and which point the user places the hull of their kayak (or canoe) on the bar’s upper surface. As they proceed to push forward on the back of their kayak, the spring-loaded bar swings forward and upwards, levering the boat up to the roof of the car. Mechanical stops keep the bar from hitting the back of the vehicle.

When unloading the kayak, users pretty much just perform the process in reverse.

The bar can be strapped in place while in transit, although a simple Tee bolt hand-mounting system reportedly allows it to be removed from the tow ball within about 15 seconds.

“Many people love the idea of kayaks no matter where their interests lie, however have forgotten in their haste just how tricky, awkward and heavy they can be to transport,” Scott told us. “We have had many females purchase the StrongArm Kayak Loader, as often they are alone and lacking that extra pair of strong arms to help out.”

While the Kayak Loader can manage boats up to 6 meters (19.7 feet) long and weighing up to 65 kilograms (143 lbs), owners of heavier types of car-toppable watercraft can instead use the StrongArm Boat Loader. Basically a stronger, wider version of the Kayak Loader, it can handle boats weighing up to 80 kilos (176 lbs). An optional winch helps pull them into place.

The Kayak and Boat Loaders sell for AUD$495 and $795 (about US$507 and $814) respectively, and are available online via Steve’s company, BoatHoist International. So far, they are only available to residents of Australia and New Zealand.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Eyes, ears and brains being developed for underwater robots

Engineers from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics are working on an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that would be inexpensive enough to use for industrial applications such as hull and dam inspection, yet independent enough that it wouldn’t require any kind of human control. Typically, more cumbersome but less costly remote operated vehicles (ROVs) are used for grunt work – they are connected to a ship on the surface by a tether, where a human operator controls them. The more technologically-advanced AUVs tend to be used more for well-funded research, but according to the engineers, one of the keys to creating “blue collar” AUVs is to overhaul the ways that they see, hear and think. Read More

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


A NEW MEANING FOR ‘GOLD’ FISH
The Aquavista Dinosaur Gold Edition Aquarium – with Mammoth tusk and T-Rex bone inlays

Fancy an aquascaping and aquarium showcase in your lounge-room but don’t want the hassles of cleaning and feeding? No problems! Aquavista is pushing the envelope of automating all those tasks and its range-topping Panoramic model can be fitted with a Carbon Dioxide Generator that allows plants to photosynthesize and flourish, vastly simplifying the task of creating a ripsnorter underwater garden feature. Want to make sure you won’t be trumped by the Jones? No problems! Renowned bespoke luxury goods remanufacturer Stuart Hughes has just the ticket. Stuart’s latest creation starts with the Aquavista Panoramic, incorporates no less than 68kg of pure 24ct gold, has side veneers made from the tusk of a 14 ft Mammoth, inlaid with bone from a 17 ft T-Rex. If that doesn’t impress the visitors, mention the price-tag – GBP 3 million – around USD$4.8 million. Read More

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Killer Disease Decimates

UK Frog Populations

Science (Oct. 8, 2010) — Common frog (Rana temporaria) populations across the UK are suffering dramatic population crashes due to infection from the emerging disease Ranavirus, reveals research published in the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) journal Animal Conservation.


Using data collected from the public by the Frog Mortality Project and Froglife, scientists from ZSL found that, on average, infected frog populations experienced an 81 per cent decline in adult frogs over a 12 year period.

“Our findings show that Ranavirus not only causes one-off mass-mortality events, but is also responsible for long-term population declines. We need to understand more about this virus if we are to minimise the serious threat that it poses to our native amphibians,” says Dr Amber Teacher, lead author from ZSL.

Despite a number of populations suffering from infection year-on-year, other populations bounced-back from mass-mortality events. This suggests that some frogs may have some form of immunity to ranaviral infection.

“The discovery of persistent populations in the face of disease emergence is very encouraging and offers hope for the long-term future of this species” says Lucy Benyon, Froglife. “However, we still need regular information from the public on what is happening in their ponds to continue this essential research.”

In the 80s and 90s, the disease was particularly associated with the southeast of England. In recent years new ‘pockets’ of diseases have turned up in Lancashire, Yorkshire and along the south coast.

“It is very difficult to treat wildlife diseases and so the mystery that we desperately need to solve is how the disease spreads. Understanding more about the ecology of the disease will allow us to offer advice to the public on how to limit the spread of infection, which could also prevent the movement of other frog diseases in the future,” says co-author Dr Trent Garner from ZSL.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Scientists Test

Australia’s Moreton Bay

as Coral ‘Lifeboat’

Science (Aug. 13, 2010) — An international team of scientists has been exploring Moreton Bay, close to Brisbane, as a possible ‘lifeboat’ to save corals from the Great Barrier Reef at risk of extermination under climate change.


In a new research paper they say that corals have been able to survive and flourish in the Bay, which lies well to the south of the main GBR coral zones, during about half of the past 7000 years.

Corals only cover about 1 per cent of the Moreton Bay area currently, and have clearly been adversely affected by clearing of the surrounding catchments and human activities on land and sea, says lead author Matt Lybolt of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland.

“The demise of tropical coral reefs around the world is due mainly to overfishing, pollution and climate change. There is also plenty of historical evidence that coral reefs can move from one environment to another as the climate and other conditions change,” Matt explains.

“In view of this, various places — including Moreton Bay — are being investigated as possible refuges in which coral systems can be preserved should they begin to die out in their natural settings. Indeed, some people have even talked of relocating and re-seeding corals in other locations that better suit their climatic needs.”

The team’s study of Moreton Bay reveals that it is not exactly ideal coral habitat, being cold in winter, lacking sufficient direct sunlight, subject to turbid freshwater inflows and — more recently — to a range of human impacts.

“Even before European settlers came on the scene the Bay underwent phases in which corals grew prolifically — and phases in which they died away almost completely. We understand what causes corals to die back, but we are less clear about what causes them to recover,” Matt says.

“Broadly, the corals seemed to do well at times when the climate, sea levels and other factors were most benign and stable — and to decline when El Nino and other disturbances made themselves felt.”

The Moreton Bay corals have been in an expansionary phase during the last 400 years, initially dominated by the branching Acropora corals but, since the Bay’s catchment was cleared and settled, these have died back leaving mainly slow-growing types of coral.

“Under climate change we expect winters to be warmer and sea levels to rise — and both of these factors will tend to favour the expansion of corals in Moreton Bay,” Matt says.

“However this expansion of corals may not occur unless we make a major effort to improve water quality in the Bay, by not allowing effluent, polluted runoff or sediment to enter it, and also by regrowing mangrove forests and seagrass beds within the Bay. ”

The team concludes that Moreton Bay’s potential as a good ‘lifeboat’ for corals is limited by four major factors:

  • It is highly sensitive to what the 2 million residents of its catchment do that affects it
  • It presently has very few branching corals left
  • The area on which corals can grow is limited, both naturally and by human activity
  • Finally, the historical record suggests the Bay is only a good coral refuge about half of the time.

Matt says that there is nevertheless scope for changes in the management of the Bay and its surrounding catchments that can improve its suitability as a coral environment. “The reefs of today don’t look anything like they did in the past, so it’s really a question of ‘What sort of coral reef do you want?’,” he says.

However there needs to be a clearer scientific understanding of the drivers that have caused corals to boom and bust within the Bay over the past seven millennia before we can be sure it is worthwhile attempting to make Moreton Bay a ‘lifeboat’ for the GBR, he cautions.

Matt noted that there are very few suitable coral habitats south of the southern end of the GBR to which corals can migrate, should the northern parts of the reef become untenable for corals due to the impact of global warming.

Their paper “Instability in a marginal coral reef: the shift from natural variability to a human-dominated seascape” by Matt Lybolt, David Neil, Jian-xin Zhao, Yue-xing Feng, Ke-Fu Yu and John Pandolfi appears in the latest issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


New ‘ocean’ being born in Africa


LONDON (UPI) — A new ocean is being born in Africa that will eventually split the continent in two, British researchers say.

Scientists at Britain’s Royal Society say a 40-mile crack in the Earth opened in Ethiopia in 2005 and has been growing ever since, the BBC reported Friday.

The crack will eventually became the sea bed of a new ocean that will divide Africa in two, though the process will require about 10 million years, scientists say.

Used to understanding planetary changes on timescales involving millions of years, scientists say the crack in the remote Afar region of Ethiopia is dramatic in the speed at which it is growing.

The 40-mile crack opened to a width of 22 feet in just 10 days, they say.

Ultimately, they say, the horn of Africa will split from the continent, and the crack, in a region below sea level, will fill with salt water.

“It will pull apart, sink down deeper and deeper and eventually … parts of southern Ethiopia, Somalia will drift off, create a new island, and we’ll have a smaller Africa and a very big island that floats out into the Indian Ocean,” said Dr. James Hammond, a seismologist from the University of Bristol.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Physics of the ‘Bends’:

New Study Helps Explain

Decompression Sickness

Science(June 28, 2010) — As you go about your day-to-day activities, tiny bubbles of nitrogen come and go inside your tissues. This is not a problem unless you happen to experience large changes in ambient pressure, such as those encountered by scuba divers and astronauts. During large, fast pressure drops, these bubbles can grow and lead to decompression sickness, popularly known as “the bends.”


A study in the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), may provide a physical basis for the existence of these bubbles, and could be useful in understanding decompression sickness.

A physiological model that accounts for these bubbles is needed both to protect against and to treat decompression sickness. There is a problem though. “These bubbles should not exist,” says author Saul Goldman of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Because they are believed to be composed mostly of nitrogen, while the surrounding atmosphere consists of both nitrogen and oxygen, the pressure of the bubbles should be less than that of the surrounding atmosphere. But if this were so, they would collapse.

“We need to account for their apparent continuous existence in tissues in spite of this putative pressure imbalance,” says Goldman.

If, as is widely believed, decompression sickness is the result of the growth of pre-existing gas bubbles in tissues, those bubbles must be sufficiently stable to have non-negligible half-lives. The proposed explanation involves modeling body tissues as soft elastic materials that have some degree of rigidity. Previous models have focused on bubble formation in simple liquids, which differ from elastic materials in having no rigidity.

Using the soft-elastic tissue model, Goldman finds pockets of reduced pressure in which nitrogen bubbles can form and have enough stability to account for a continuous presence of tiny bubbles that can expand when the ambient pressure drops. Tribonucleation, the phenomenon of formation of new gas bubbles when submerged surfaces separate rapidly, provides the physical mechanism for formation of new gas bubbles in solution. The rapid separation of adhering surfaces results in momentary negative pressures at the plane of separation. Therefore, while these tiny bubbles in elastic media are metastable, and do not last indefinitely, they are replaced periodically. According to this picture, tribonucleation is the source, and finite half-lives the sink, for the continuous generation and loss small gas bubbles in tissues.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Sharks Can Really Sniff out Their Prey,

and This Is How They Do It

Science (June 10, 2010) — It’s no secret that sharks have a keen sense of smell and a remarkable ability to follow their noses through the ocean, right to their next meal. Now, researchers reporting online on June 10th in Current Biology, have figured out how the sharks manage to keep themselves on course.


It turns out that sharks can detect small delays, no more than half a second long, in the time that odors reach one nostril versus the other, the researchers report. When the animals experience such a lag, they will turn toward whichever side picked up the scent first.

“The narrow sub-second time window in which this bilateral detection causes the turn response corresponds well with the swimming speed and odor patch dispersal physics of our shark species,” known as Mustelus canis or the smooth dogfish, said Jayne Gardiner of the University of South Florida. All in all, it means that sharks pick up on a combination of directional cues, based on both odor and flow, to keep themselves oriented and ultimately find what they are looking for.

If a shark experiences no delay in scent detection or a delay that lasts too long — a full second or more — they are just as likely to make a left-hand turn as they are to make a right.

These results refute the popular notion that sharks and other animals follow scent trails based on differences in the concentration of odor molecules hitting one nostril versus the other. It seems that theory doesn’t hold water when one considers the physics of the problem.

“There is a very pervasive idea that animals use concentration to orient to odors,” Gardiner said. “Most creatures come equipped with two odor sensors — nostrils or antennae, for example — and it has long been believed that they compare the concentration at each sensor and then turn towards the side receiving the strongest signal. But when odors are dispersed by flowing air or water, this dispersal is incredibly chaotic.”

Indeed, Gardiner explained, recent studies have shown that concentrations of scent molecules could easily mislead. Using dyes that light up under laser light, scientists found that there can be sudden peaks in the concentrations of molecules even at a distance from their source.

Gardiner’s team suggests that the findings in the small shark species they studied may help to explain the evolution of the wide and flat heads that make hammerhead sharks so recognizable. One idea has held that the characteristic hammerhead may lend the animals a better sense of smell. But studies hadn’t shown their noses to be all that remarkable, really. For instance, they don’t respond to odors at concentrations lower than other sharks. The new findings suggest that the distance between their nostrils could be the key.

“If you consider an animal encountering an odor patch at a given angle, an animal with more widely spaced nostrils will have a greater time lag between the odor hitting the left and right nostrils than an animal with more closely spaced nostrils,” Gardiner said. “Hammerheads may be able to orient to patches at a smaller angle of attack, potentially giving them better olfactory capabilities than pointy-nosed sharks.” That’s a theory that now deserves further testing.

In addition to giving insights into the evolution and behavior of sharks, the findings might also lead to underwater robots that are better equipped to find the source of chemical leaks, like the oil spill that is now plaguing the Gulf Coast, according to the researchers.

“This discovery can be applied to underwater steering algorithms,” Gardiner said. “Previous robots were programmed to track odors by comparing odor concentrations, and they failed to function as well or as quickly as live animals. With this new steering algorithm, we may be able to improve the design of these odor-guided robots. With the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the main oil slick is easily visible and the primary sources were easy to find, but there could be other, smaller sources of leaks that have yet to be discovered. An odor-guided robot would be an asset for these types of situations.”

The researchers include Jayne M. Gardiner, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, FL; and Jelle Atema, Boston University Marine Program, Boston, MA, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 11th June 2010

Clam Cleanup

Biologists Clam Up Waterways

To Determine Sources Of Pollution

January 1, 2009 — Biologists are able to determine the sources of toxins in water by using clams as pollutant traps. Clams naturally clean water by feeding absorbing toxins in their tissues as they draw in water. By placing the clams downstream of industrial parks and highways, they can be analyzed for pollutants. Biologists open the clams after exposure to these waters and detach them from their shells– various lab tests reveal contaminants in the waterway.


See also:
Plants & Animals

Many of our streams and rivers are contaminated with pollutants like pesticides, lead, arsenic and PCBs. It’s a problem that’s costly to clean up. Scientists are using a new, inexpensive way to fix the problem.

Lurking in many rivers and streams are contaminants. Some you can see, and some you can’t. Hidden chemicals ruin waterways and everything in it. To clean things up, biologists are teaming up with local high school students to dredge up clams to use as tiny detectives. They help by finding the source of toxic leaks.

“We’re using them as pollutant traps,” said Harriette Phelps, Ph.D., a biologist at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C.

Students put the clams in streams that lead to rivers. Clams then suck in water swept down from industrial parks and highways.

“It’s been a great experience to actually come and see them and be the ones to pick them up out of the water,” student Caitlin Virta said.

Clams clean the water as they feed, absorbing toxins in their tissues. The clams are collected back from streams. Then, scientists pry open the clams and detach them from their shell. Later, lab tests reveals the clam’s secret — the kinds and quantities of pollutants in the water.

“We can trace them back to sources, and then hopefully we can go from there and get rid of the sources,” Dr. Phelps said.

The clams detected a banned pesticide in Maryland, believed buried years ago and now slowly leaking. “I thought it was really cool how you could tell the health of a stream from analyzing clam leftovers,” Virta said.

It’s a cool way to clean up the environment.


BIOACCUMULATION AND CLAMS: Clams are filter-feeders, meaning they draw water into their shells, remove the food they find, and then draw in more food-rich water to continue feeding. This means that lots of water works its way through their shells. The muscle of the clam gathers not only food, but other material suspended in water during this process, which can lead to the accumulation of toxins and pollutants. Bioaccumulation is the term for toxins and pollutants that collect in the tissue of an organism. Biomagnification is a related term, referring to the transfer of such substances from prey to predator. If a prey animal bioaccumulates toxins in its body, then its predator, after consuming many of the smaller animals will accumulate many, many times the amount of the toxin in any one of their prey.

SECONDARY STANDARDS: Even if your tap water meets the EPA’s basic requirement for safe drinking water, some people still object to the taste, smell or appearance of their water. These are aesthetic concerns, however, and therefore fall under the EPA’s voluntary secondary standards. Some tap water is drinkable, but may be temporarily clouded because of air bubbles, or have a chlorine taste. A bleach-like taste can be improved by letting the water stand exposed to the air for a while.

The American Geophysical Union contributed to the information

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 7th June 2010


Viruses Harnessed to Split Water

ScienceDaily (Apr. 12, 2010) — A team of MIT researchers has found a novel way to mimic the process by which plants use the power of sunlight to split water and make chemical fuel to power their growth. In this case, the team used a modified virus as a kind of biological scaffold that can assemble the nanoscale components needed to split a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.


Splitting water is one way to solve the basic problem of solar energy: It’s only available when the sun shines. By using sunlight to make hydrogen from water, the hydrogen can then be stored and used at any time to generate electricity using a fuel cell, or to make liquid fuels (or be used directly) for cars and trucks.

Other researchers have made systems that use electricity, which can be provided by solar panels, to split water molecules, but the new biologically based system skips the intermediate steps and uses sunlight to power the reaction directly. The advance is described in a paper published on April 11 in Nature Nanotechnology.

The team, led by Angela Belcher, the Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering, engineered a common, harmless bacterial virus called M13 so that it would attract and bind with molecules of a catalyst (the team used iridium oxide) and a biological pigment (zinc porphyrins). The viruses became wire-like devices that could very efficiently split the oxygen from water molecules.

Over time, however, the virus-wires would clump together and lose their effectiveness, so the researchers added an extra step: encapsulating them in a microgel matrix, so they maintained their uniform arrangement and kept their stability and efficiency.

While hydrogen obtained from water is the gas that would be used as a fuel, the splitting of oxygen from water is the more technically challenging “half-reaction” in the process, Belcher explains, so her team focused on this part. Plants and cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae), she says, “have evolved highly organized photosynthetic systems for the efficient oxidation of water.” Other researchers have tried to use the photosynthetic parts of plants directly for harnessing sunlight, but these materials can have structural stability issues.

Belcher decided that instead of borrowing plants’ components, she would borrow their methods. In plant cells, natural pigments are used to absorb sunlight, while catalysts then promote the water-splitting reaction. That’s the process Belcher and her team, including doctoral student Yoon Sung Nam, the lead author of the new paper, decided to imitate.

In the team’s system, the viruses simply act as a kind of scaffolding, causing the pigments and catalysts to line up with the right kind of spacing to trigger the water-splitting reaction. The role of the pigments is “to act as an antenna to capture the light,” Belcher explains, “and then transfer the energy down the length of the virus, like a wire. The virus is a very efficient harvester of light, with these porphyrins attached.

“We use components people have used before,” she adds, “but we use biology to organize them for us, so you get better efficiency.”

Using the virus to make the system assemble itself improves the efficiency of the oxygen production fourfold, Nam says. The researchers hope to find a similar biologically based system to perform the other half of the process, the production of hydrogen. Currently, the hydrogen atoms from the water get split into their component protons and electrons; a second part of the system, now being developed, would combine these back into hydrogen atoms and molecules. The team is also working to find a more commonplace, less-expensive material for the catalyst, to replace the relatively rare and costly iridium used in this proof-of-concept study.

Thomas Mallouk, the DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved in this work, says, “This is an extremely clever piece of work that addresses one of the most difficult problems in artificial photosynthesis, namely, the nanoscale organization of the components in order to control electron transfer rates.”

He adds: “There is a daunting combination of problems to be solved before this or any other artificial photosynthetic system could actually be useful for energy conversion.” To be cost-competitive with other approaches to solar power, he says, the system would need to be at least 10 times more efficient than natural photosynthesis, be able to repeat the reaction a billion times, and use less expensive materials. “This is unlikely to happen in the near future,” he says. “Nevertheless, the design idea illustrated in this paper could ultimately help with an important piece of the puzzle.”

Belcher will not even speculate about how long it might take to develop this into a commercial product, but she says that within two years she expects to have a prototype device that can carry out the whole process of splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, using a self-sustaining and durable system.

Funding was provided by he Italian energy company Eni, through the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI)

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 14th April 2010