Tag Archives: MIT

Stop dribbling

teapotThe Grand Council of the Great and Serious Men of Science recently conducted a survey to determine which unanswered questions of science vexed us most. The results comprised the usual suspects, such as “What is the biological basis for consciousness?” and “Do deeper principles underlie quantum uncertainty and nonlocality?”

However, the most vexing of all was determined to be the following:

“Why must my teapot dribble hot tea all over my knickers?”

Mercifully, a cadre of French scientists say they have discovered the reason behind all the damned teapot dribbling. Their research is being hailed as a breakthrough in fluid dynamics and beverage overage mitigation:

Previous studies have shown that a number of factors effect this process such as the radius of curvature of the teapot lip, the speed of the flow and the “wettability” of the teapot material. But a full understanding of what’s going on has so far eluded scientists.

Now Cyril Duez at the University of Lyon in France and a few amis, have identified the single factor at the heart of the problem and shown how to tackle it. They say that the culprit is a “hydro-capillary” effect that keeps the liquid in contact with the material as it leaves the lip. The previously identified factors all determine the strength of this hydro-cappillary effect.

The way to combat this effect, the scientists have shown, is to endow your teapot with a spout that is both thin and water resistant. This will help maintain detachment betwixt the tea and pot, even if the flow is reduced.

I am especially excited about this research, because it confirms the scientific validity of a new product I am bringing to market later this year. I call it the Pax Arcana Wiener Spout:


Yes, it’s painful, but it will keep the front of your toilet bowl clean regardless of the condition of your personal fluid dynamics.

The Death of the Teapot Effect [Tech Review]

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MIT just got even less athletic

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It was math nerds that inadvertently caused the global economic meltdown, so I guess the chickens had to come home to roost at some point. We received word today that MIT — where I once mopped the hallways as a janitor while secretly solving complex math riddles — is shutting the doors on several sports:

It is with regret that we write to inform you that the following eight varsity sports will no longer be offered at MIT: Alpine Skiing, Golf, Men’s Ice Hockey, Women’s Ice Hockey, Men’s Gymnastics, Women’s Gymnastics, Pistol, and Wrestling. These changes are effective at the conclusion of this academic year.

The University says it can no longer afford to carry 41 varsity sports, pointing out that the Ivy League average is 33 and the Division III average is 16.

I say forget about that shit what the hell sport is “Pistol?” I’m picturing a mustachioed man in breeches and a petticoat firing at a tuppence nailed to the wall.

Actually, it turns out that the MIT Pistol team won the 2005 and 2007 NRA National Championship for shooting stuff. The campus newspaper published an article about the team in 2005:

Pistol Coach Will Hart explained that “here at MIT we start at ground zero, at the very, very basic: this is a gun, this is where you point it, this is how you aim it, this is how you release the trigger. Everything is done at a very basic level and goes from basic to elite by the time [the students] graduate.”

Competing against the military academies, where, Coach Hart said, the students start “way ahead of the curve,” how can MIT perform so well? The MIT athletes succeed by virtue of “the same attributes that it takes to become an MIT student: the dedication, the time management, attention to detail, focus, self-discipline,” which all contribute to becoming a good pistol shooter, Hart said.


I suppose it’s possible for sports like Pistol to continue as club sports, but I doubt the hockey players and ski team members will be able to cobble together enough money to carry on.

This is undoubtedly a sad day for college athletics, and I hope these students can find other outlets to enjoy the athletic experience.  But I want to make one thing explicitly clear, former MIT varsity athletes — if I see a single Quidditch match on your campus I will fire my electromagnesiotron and completely erase all the porn from your external hard drives.  I mean that.

MIT to reduce the number of varsity sports offered [MIT News]


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Football coach you never knew existed retires

Pax Arcana

lucasMIT has announced that head football coach Dwight Smith has will retire from his position. In other news, did you guys know MIT had a football team?

Actually, that’s a little mean considering Smith was the 1999 New England Football Conference Coach of the Year. In other news, did you guys know there was a New England Football Conference?

The cool part is that Smith is going out on top. Sure, he was also named coach of the year in 1983 after leading his team to a sparkling 5-4 record. But this year MIT really vaulted to the top:

Smith, who will remain at MIT as a full-time professor in physical education, enjoyed a tremendous season in 2008 as the Engineers shattered a bevy of team records. MIT set single-season records for points, total offense, rushing yards, touchdowns and first downs while junior DeRon Brown closed out the season as the NCAA Division III leading rusher.

In other news, did you know there was a DeRon Brown?

MIT football coach Dwight Smith retires [MIT]


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MIT exactly $1 million closer to athletic glory

Pax Arcana

The centerpiece of MIT’s athletic facility is Steinbrenner Stadium, named after the father of Yankee majority owner George Steinbrenner.

Wait just a minute. I’m confused. MIT has an athletic facility?

(Googles “steinbrenner stadium”)

It’s true! You can see it pictured below, just next to the Tetris Building:

Anyway, George Steinbrenner — who donated millions to build the stadium in 1977 to honor his father, a 1927 graduate of the school — just donated another million to the school to construct a new entrance to the stadium, and pay for lighting, seating, and a new press box.

“It is Chinese food that makes me sure that my feet and hands have immunity. I can only hope and say that some say bats are good for trombone soup,” George Steinbrenner said in a statement.

Whoops. Wrong statement…

“It is our honor and privilege to ensure that future athletes, fans, and the entire MIT community will be able to continue to enjoy the Steinbrenner Stadium for generations to come,” George Steinbrenner said in a statement.

Along with infrastructure improvements to MIT’s athletic facilities, Steinbrenner’s $1 million will be used to endow the Hank Steinbrenner Chair in Media Relations at MIT. Well, it’s not so much a chair as a log. And it’s not exactly “at MIT,” unless you count floating down the Charles past the dome…

MIT Sports Will Continue Their Domination [The Slanch Report]
Steinbrenner makes donation to MIT [MLB.com]

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The wall-climbing robots will invade your bedroom

Pax Arcana

A few weeks ago, as he was nestled in bed with with two copies of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich (one in each hand — helps reduce time wasted flipping pages), Pax Arcana bolted out of bed, flipped on the lights, and stared menacingly at the headboard — fists clenched, battle stations manned.

Such dramatic action was necessary after seeing what can best be described as a “blond tarantula” dangling from its silky thread not 6 inches above my face. The spider itself was at least five inches across and wiggling furiously, but somehow managed to disappear completely after I bounded to the ready.

The dreamy and precise Mrs. Pax Arcana contests that I had merely fallen asleep and was having a peculiarly realistic dream about a big-ass blond tarantula threatening to deface my face. But I know better. That thing was real, people.

But maybe it wasn’t a spider at all.

Just a few miles from Pax Domicilus, scientists at MIT are busy developing enough nightmare fuel to keep me awake for the next decade. Their latest triumph is to create an adhesive made of carbon nanotubes that mimics gecko feet:

“People have tried to mimic the gecko structures, but it’s not easy,” says Dai. Using a silicon substrate, he and his group grew arrays of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes topped with an unaligned layer of nanotubes, like rows of trees with branching tops. The adhesive force of these nanotube arrays is about 100 newtons per square centimeter–enough for a four-by-four-millimeter square of the material to hold up a 1,480-gram textbook. And its adhesive properties were the same when tested on very different surfaces, including glass plates, polymer films, and rough sandpaper.

I know what you’re saying. “Hey neato,” you’re saying. “This breakthrough will lead to longer lasting duct tape that’s easier to peel off!”

Well you’re exactly right. Only substitute long-lasting e-z peel duct tape with scary ass wall-scaling self-cleaning space robots:

Wall-climbing robots will require adhesives that work again and again without wearing out or getting clogged with dirt. “We want a robot to take more than 50 steps in a dirty environment,” says Dhinojwala. No one has demonstrated strong gecko-inspired adhesives that can do this. And nanotube adhesives will need to be grown on different substrates than those used so far. Carbon nanotubes are easy to grow on silicon wafers; creating large areas of the adhesive wouldn’t be a problem. But “we’re not going to stick silicon wafers to robot feet,” says Dhinojwala.

Dai says that carbon nanotubes’ versatility may help overcome the dirt problem. These structures can readily be functionalized with proteins and other polymers. Dai is developing adhesive nanotube arrays coated with proteins that change their shape in response to temperature changes. A robot could have feet that heat up when they get clogged, shedding dirt so that it can keep walking.

Congratulations, science nerds! Your wall-climbing, shapeshifting, hot footed lizard bots are on their way! Now if you’ll excuse me I have some windows to nail shut.

Sticky Nanotape [Tech Review]


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We are complacent about climate change problems because we’re idiots

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Show a thousand Americans a snapshot of any endangered fuzzy mammal, and there’s a good chance most of them will volunteer to donate money, time, or shelter to save the adorable little fuckers.

Global climate change threatens to turn the entire planet into giant spherical conflagration of hot gases and flames, yet we stare blankly at each other two appalachians trying to decide whether you could plant ketchup.

Why is this? Because we’re too dumb to understand what’s going on. Really!

Or at least that’s what MIT professor John Sterman says. He poked his head out of the ivory tower just long enough to get a sense of how much we know about what causes the global climate crisis. Turns out, even the smartest among us is woefully underinformed:

To test whether people understand these basic “bathtub dynamics,” Sterman and Booth Sweeney gave highly educated university students a nontechnical summary of information about climate change drawn from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the fact that carbon dioxide emissions are currently twice the rate of natural carbon dioxide removal.

Study participants were then asked to draw a simple graph showing what GHG emissions and removal rates would have to be to stabilize the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere by the year 2100.

Surprisingly, most people answered incorrectly — even graduate students with strong technical backgrounds. Most drew patterns in which emissions stopped growing but remained higher than removal — in effect, claiming that the water in the tub won’t rise even when the faucet pours more in than the drain removes.

This misunderstanding leads to complacency, according to Sterman, because people advocate bad policies when they don’t have a firm grasp of the issues.

I think the problem is that Professor Sterman quizzed a bunch of “highly educated university students” to determine their ability to grasp a metaphor about global warming — using bathtubs. Why not Victrola players or mimeograph machines or some other outdated technology? What college kids are filling up bathtubs with anything other than Natty Ice?

It’s like I always say — college kids are both stupid and dirty. And drunk.

Understanding climate change complacency [MIT]


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MIT researchers have captured the Sun

Pax Arcana

In dramatic leap forward for humankind, researchers from MIT have announced that humans are almost as smart as plants.

Specifically, they say we are close to an inexpensive, efficient mechanism for storing energy from the sun — a process modeled on photosynthesis that could go a long way to saving us from the carbon-emitting power sources on which we now rely. Sound too good to be true? Yeah, it does, doesn’t it. But these guys are freakin’ serious about this:

“This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind,” said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. “The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem.”

And that’s from a guy who wasn’t even involved.

Here’s how it works: the scientists built a contraption that inserts a few doohickies mixed with some chemicals and compounds and shit into some water, then they hit the “Go” button and BAM! — clean energy, motherfuckers.

On second thought, let’s let them explain it:

The key component in Nocera and Kanan’s new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity — whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source — runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.

The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it’s easy to set up, Nocera said. “That’s why I know this is going to work. It’s so easy to implement,” he said.

The best part is that scientists say that every hour the Sun hits the Earth with enough energy to power the entire planet for a full year.

That’s awesome. I love this discovery. I love it so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant. Man I miss 30 Rock. Am I still talking?

‘Major discovery’ from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution [MIT]


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I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon

Pax Arcana

Those crazy kids at MIT are at it again. First they wanted to strap you to an asteroid. Now they want to put telescopes on the moon.

moon.jpgNot all over the moon, mind you, just on the dark side — which, if I’m remembering my Astronomy 301 seminar correctly, is where most of the cheese is.

Scientists say they can get a better look into deep space from the moon, because frankly telescopes just have a hard time concentrating with all the American Idol and Shakira and whatnot going on down here:

Observations of the cosmic Dark Ages are impossible to make from Earth, Hewitt explains, because of two major sources of interference that obscure these faint low-frequency radio emissions. One is the Earth’s ionosphere, a high-altitude layer of electrically charged gas. The other is all of Earth’s radio and television transmissions, which produce background interference everywhere on the Earth’s surface.

The only place that is totally shielded from both kinds of interference is the far side of the moon, which always faces away from the Earth and therefore is never exposed to terrestrial radio transmissions.

The telescope project will probably cost around $1 billion, and researchers say they won’t really be functional until around 2025. Of course the best part comes later, when whack job conspiracy theorists start going around telling everyone it never happened — only to get punched in the face by old men who were there.

Note to self: Never call Buzz Aldrin a liar

MIT to lead development of new telescopes on moon [MIT News]


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MIT raises army of two-assed flatworms

Flatworms are famous for their ability to regenerate a head or tail after either has been severed from its body, a fact that has completely derailed science’s efforts to create an awesome two-assed flatworm for shits and giggles.

flatworm_section.jpgNow, thanks to the work of Peter Reddien and his colleagues, that obstacle has finally been hurdled. The MIT biology professor has isolated the gene that determines whether new tissue growth will be of the head or ass variety:

They found that different members of the Wnt gene family were active at different locations across the planarian’s head-to-tail axis. These results suggest that Smed-beta-catenin-1 may be active in the tail region and inhibited in the head region by the regulated expression of these Wnt genes.

Additionally, the researchers found that Smed-beta-catenin-1 plays a role in ongoing cell replacement in planaria that have not been challenged to regenerate. When the gene was inhibited, these animal’s tails began changing into heads.

The scientists say the research will help “yield a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of regeneration,” but once that’s finished we’ll finally have our two-assed flatworms, pooping out of both ends and making us laugh for hours. Theoretically we could also create two-headed flatworms, but that’s just plain stupid.

Heads or tails? Scientists ID gene key to regenerating flatworms [MIT News]

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Believe it or not, this building is poorly designed


The building pictured above is a relatively new landmark in the Boston area. Designed by architect Frank Gehry for MIT, the Stata Center is one of those buildings that evokes fear and hatred from people who fear and hate oddly-proportioned buildings that look like set pieces for a Tim Burton movie.

Pax Arcana, it should be noted, loves the design of the Stata Center.

MIT is not so impressed. The school is suing Gehry for breach of contract, because the building leaks, has mold, and has not shown up for a single court-ordered drug test.

From the AP:

The school alleges the center, completed in spring 2004, has persistent leaks, drainage problems and mold growing on its brick exterior. It says accumulations of snow and ice have fallen dangerously from window boxes and other areas of its roofs, blocking emergency exits and causing damage.

The suit says MIT paid Los Angeles-based Gehry Partners $15 million to design the Stata Center, which cost $300 million to build. It houses labs, offices, classrooms and meeting rooms.

“Gehry breached its duties by providing deficient design services and drawings,” according to the suit, which also names New Jersey-based Beacon Skanska Construction Co., now known as Skanska USA Building Inc. The suit, filed Oct. 31, seeks unspecified damages.

Reached for comment, Gehry said, “Welcome welcome welcome to my wobbly hobbly house! I can grant you a wish if you wish! Or a dish you can dish! Or a yellow fellow’s fish in a mellow yellow dish!”

Architect Gehry Sued by MIT [AP]

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