The microscope makers

A small community of scientists has taken a do-it-yourself approach to microscopy: when the right tool for the job doesn’t exist, make it.

While pursuing a bioengineering PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Wesley Legant ran into a frustrating roadblock: he had ideas, but the equipment to carry them out didn’t yet exist.

With an interest in cell mechanics and motility, Legant was developing tools to measure the forces that cells exert on their environment. He embedded fluorescent beads in the material surrounding a growing mammalian cell so that as the cell moved, it would deform the material, moving the beads. By measuring how much the beads moved, Legant could calculate the forces exerted by the cell. Still, he had difficulty getting accurate data. “The tools were successful, but I was quickly coming up against limitations in available microscopes,” he says. Read more in Nature.

How Space Technology Will Produce the Best Weed Ever

Mike Dixon wants to send plants to Mars. Growing crops in space is the best way to provide proper nutrition to the crew on a long-duration mission, this University of Guelph researcher believes—but because there’s no manned mission to Mars scheduled at the moment, it’s hard to get funding for this type of research.

In the meantime, he and a growing number of other botanists are studying a plant where there’s plenty of funding right now, in Canada anyway: cannabis. Read more in Motherboard.

Fitbit for Cows

Wearable tech could help cowboys spot sick animals sooner.

Wearable fitness monitors are all the rage among humans right now, but they are also spreading among farm animals. Researchers hope the devices can help keep herds of beef cows healthy.

Karin Orsel, a veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Calgary in Canada is testing how accelerometers – the same devices inside fitness monitors that measure a person’s activity level – can be used to detect disease in beef cattle before it becomes obvious to ranchers. Read more in Inside Science.

Development Of Airplanes Is Like Biological Evolution, Engineer Says

Airplanes and birds may have followed similar pattern to increase efficiency.

The development of passenger aircraft over the past century mirrors the evolution of flying animals, and shows that evolution is not just a biological phenomenon, according to a paper published today in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Adrian Bejan, a mechanical engineer at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, argues that evolution is a physical phenomenon, with changes in animals driven by physical laws. In the case of birds, the factors include aerodynamics.

“I want to persuade people that evolution – that is the change in [body shape] over time – recognizes no distinction between the two camps of biology and physics,” he said. Read more in Inside Science.