Wall-Crawling Robot Mimics the Sticky Feet of Geckos

November 4, 2011 by  
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[ By Steph in Science & Research & Technology & Gadgets . ] When engineers turn to nature for inspiration, they rely upon the wisdom of millions of years of evolution to guide the design of modern technology. In a stunning example of this biomimicry , researchers at Simon Fraiser University have developed a robot that can climb vertical surfaces thanks to the biology of a gecko’s foot. (above image via: sfu; top images via: keith marshall + sfu ) Instead of using wet adhesives, the researchers turned to a dry adhesive method that would not leave behind a sticky trail. Some dry adhesive methods require pumping air for suction or use magnets that are only effective on metal surfaces. But the surface of a gecko’s foot can stick to any surface using the force that holds molecules together. (image via: furrycrawly ) A gecko’s foot is covered in microscopic hairlike growths called setae, which the researchers mimicked using mushroom cap-shaped artificial hairs. According to SFU , “The mushroom cap shape allows the setae on the treads to release at an angle, so no extra force is require to unstick them from a surface. That’s what allows the tank to roll forward with ease, without dropping off the surface.” Watch how it works: SFU explains, “”The research…provides an alternative to using magnets, suction cups or claws which typically fail at climbing smooth surfaces like glass or plastic. It also paves the way for a range of applications, from inspecting pipes, buildings, airplanes and even nuclear power plants to employment in search and rescue operations…” Want More? Click for Great Related Content on WebEcoist: Brilliant Bio-Design: 14 Animal-Inspired Inventions That’s not a bat in the sky – it’s a surveillance camera. Scientists and engineers are looking toward animal and human biology to inspire inventions like these. 1 Comment – Click Here to Read More »» Marine Muse: 12 More Sea-Inspired Designs & Inventions These 12 designs and inventions take inspiration from the sea and the marine life it contains, from a robot squid to an earthquake-resistant man-made island. Click Here to Read More »» Oceanic Biomimicry: 13 Designs Inspired by the Sea Tough body armor, pollution-sensing robots, graceful architecture and cars designed to function like schools of fish: all examples of sea-inspired biomimicry. 2 Comments – Click Here to Read More »» [ By Steph in Science & Research & Technology & Gadgets . ] [ WebEcoist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

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Wall-Crawling Robot Mimics the Sticky Feet of Geckos

A Constructive Concept: Growing Germs to Wire the Desert

August 17, 2011 by  
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[ By Delana in Art & Design & Science & Research & Technology & Gadgets . ] The search for sustainable building materials has led us through all kinds of natural and man-made substances, from wood to concrete to hemp and bamboo . But a new kind of proposed building material could beat the green power of all of these, and it may soon help to bring grid electricity to the deserts of the United Arab Emirates. (all images via: Evolo ) Ginger Krieg Dosier is an assistant professor of architecture at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE. Her concept for a new, green building material is not terribly far-removed from existing materials, but it could be a simple way to build transmission towers in the desert without relying on materials that have to be transported for long distances. The method proposed by Dosier is similar to one that has recently been proposed by other architects and materials scientists: use a naturally-occurring bacteria called Sporosarcina Pastuerii to create a sort of bio-cement . The common soil bacteria bonds with sand to create a strong, sustainable natural concrete material. But Dosier wants to take the concept one step further and incorporate 3D printing. In Dosier’s method, the bacteria would be grown in a lab and then fed into a 3D printer where it would bind sand together into blocks of bio-cement. The bacteria/sand combination would take the place of the resin/lasers and other methods of joining layer upon layer of material until a desired shape is achieved. The bricks could be made into any desired size, shape and thickness depending on the needs of the specific tower. The bricks would completely harden within two weeks, a process which is sped by the hot, dry desert air. The blocks could be built offsite and inexpensively transported to the building site where they would be used to create load-bearing transmission towers to bring electricity to the remotest desert locations. Want More? Click for Great Related Content on WebEcoist: Bio-Engineered Bricks Grown from Urine, Bacteria & Sand Traditional brick manufacturing is wasteful and releases loads of carbon dioxide into the air. This new, greener method could revolutionize construction. Click Here to Read More »» Hemcrete: Smoking Hot Walls 7 Times Tougher Than Concrete What if there were a building material 7 times stronger than concrete that’s not only carbon neutral but carbon negative? That material is here, and it’s hemp. 3 Comments – Click Here to Read More »» Detox Towers: Architecture that Cleans Urban Air The Detox Towers concept uses a dual algae bio-filter and synthetic membrane system to cleanse the air of pollutants, decreasing greenhouse gas levels. 1 Comment – Click Here to Read More »» [ By Delana in Art & Design & Science & Research & Technology & Gadgets . ] [ WebEcoist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

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A Constructive Concept: Growing Germs to Wire the Desert

Spectacular Steel Reclamation Center Building Design

August 12, 2011 by  
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[ By Steph in Art & Design & Science & Research & Transit & Auto . ] Sleek and futuristic, this wing-like structure is a research and education facility for the promotion of steel recycling – perched right over a junkyard where this recycling is carried out. The American Institute of Steel Reclamation in Sun Valley, California takes a close look at one of the most sustainable industries in the United States. Designed by Jeffrey Dahl and Jan Lim, the building features three columns supporting an arc that give occupants, including the public, unobstructed views of the activity going on in the auto scrapyard below. Providing such education opportunities around what Dahl and Lim consider a fascinating topic could help spur public interest in recycling. Because the population of cars in the U.S. is expected to grow to 1 billion by the year 2050, a 40% increase over 2008, more and more cars will end up in these junkyards, ready to be turned into new steel. Dahl and Lim designed the institute to be elevated four times above the current car height to represent this anticipated growth. “The boomerang shape really highlights the machinery and technical beauty of a scrap yard, educating visiting in a first-person experience rather than pictures in a book or on a computer screen,” Dahl told EnviroMetal, a steel recycling blog. “There is always the library, the internet, or a local chapter of a steel organization, but just like the concept of my design, getting out and seeing steel in action first-hand is the best way… Today it may be a 10 year old car, but 1 week from now it can be the steel structure for a new school. This is a truly amazing process.” Want More? Click for Great Related Content on WebEcoist: Green Your Mind: South Korea’s Ecosystem Research Utopia South Korea’s planned Ecorium Project consists of huge greenhouses, beautiful nature preserves, and high-tech research and education facilities. 1 Comment – Click Here to Read More »» 12 Green Megastructures for an Eco-Fantastic Future? Futuristic or folly? Massive megastructures for healthy high-density housing that capture or desalinate water, produce renewable energy and create micro-climates! Click Here to Read More »» Backwards Vending: Machine Pays For Recyclables This vending machine is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect: instead of inserting money and getting a drink, you insert bottles and get points for prizes. 1 Comment – Click Here to Read More »» [ By Steph in Art & Design & Science & Research & Transit & Auto . ] [ WebEcoist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

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Spectacular Steel Reclamation Center Building Design

Ahead Of The Curve: Hudson Bay’s Semicircular Nastapoka Arc

August 2, 2011 by  
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[ By Steve in Geography & Travel & Nature & Ecosystems & Science & Research . ] Billions of years of bombardment by space rocks of all sizes have left our planet remarkably unscathed, yet if one looks closely the traces of enormous ancient impact craters are all too obvious. Or are they? Hudson Bay’s Nastapoka Arc may superficially resemble the many frozen lava “ seas ” of the moon but its actual origins are much more down to Earth. Great Whitewater North (image via: Wikipedia ) Hudson Bay, known to many from its prominent place in the center of Canada (and the Canada Dry ginger ale label), was first discovered by European explorers on this date in 1610. Henry Hudson had thought he had found the fabled Northwest Passage but ended up being abandoned by a mutinous crew who didn’t share his desire to confirm the possibility. (images via: Son of the South and Wikipedia ) Hudson lost out twice: this seemingly endless body of water was merely an enclosed bay, and although Hudson is memorialized by having it named for him, he received nary a farthing for the naming rights. We can possibly add a third fail, as Hudson sailed across the huge Nastapoka Arc without even realizing it. Oh Henry! (images via: Ye Olde Jonathan Birge , WN.com and TravelJournals ) Looking at a map of Hudson Bay one quickly notices two salient features. One is James Bay, a southeastward-pointing fingerlike projection. The other is the Nastapoka Arc, a strikingly semicircular stretch of coastline that, if expanded beyond its over 155° natural arc, would form a nearly perfect circle some 280 miles (450 km) in diameter. Knowers Arc? (images via: BBC , Science Daily and AOAS ) The Earth bears the scars of hundreds of meteor and asteroid impacts, most of them well under a mile or so in diameter. Where are the really big impact craters, like those so plainly visible on the Moon? Most have vanished due to the actions of weathering, erosion, glaciation and plate tectonics over hundreds of millions of years, and most of the larger impacts occurred very early in the Earth’s history. (images via: Ogle Earth , Daily Galaxy and KEN14 ) When a large crater is discovered, it’s often through the analysis of magnetic and/or gravitational anomalies that reveal subsurface evidence of the impact. If any surface features are found, time has distorted them such that their relation to an ancient impact would not be guessed at without the invisible data. A prime example is the Wilkes Land Crater in Antarctica, a 300-mile (480 km) wide basin estimated to be up to 500 million years old. (image via: Oceandots ) Assuming the Nastapoka Arc is the remnant of an ancient asteroid impact, it sure doesn’t act like one! Only two aspects of the area ring meteoric alarm bells: the exquisite, cookie-cutter sweep of the shoreline and the offshore Belcher Island archipelago which sits just about where a large crater’s central peak would be found. There’s no raised crater rim, though grounds could be made for repeated episodes of glaciation having shaved it flat. (images via: Manitoba Historical Maps and WorldAtlas ) Here’s another neat anomaly about the Nastapoka Arc. Early mapmakers had neither the knowledge or the instruments required to draw accurate maps, and so many early maps show geographic features in a rounded, less fractal-like style (see 1886 map, above left). As time passed and better maps became available, however, the Nastapoka Arc seemed to regress to a more rounded configuration. This led to a number of geographers, geologists and astronomers to wonder if the feature’s origins didn’t evolve, well, naturally. Lunar Tunes (images via: DailyMail UK , FARK.com and Tower Records ) I mention astronomers because the emergence of modern maps roughly coincided with the first clear photographs of our near neighbor in space, the Moon. Our battered satellite displays an abundance of impact craters, some of which were later flooded by lava and became the Lunar Maria. The features were so named due to their dark tints, homogenous surfaces and distinct “shorelines” (actually crater walls). They looked like the oceans of Earth… but did earthly seas look like lunar maria? (images via: Michael A. Covington , Newport Geographic’s photostream and Vaz Tolentino ) They do indeed… at least, in one particular place: the Nastapoka Arc. Circular reasoning dictates the “unnatural” arc must have been formed by an impact event, a cosmic cookie-cutter as it were. These reasoners thought they had the perfect pair of pairs all lined up: the Nastapoka Arc off of Hudson Bay, and the Sinus Iridium off the lunar Mare Imbrium. (image via: Our Amazing Planet ) On the face of it, it’s easy to draw conclusions based on a host of circumstantial evidence. “It walks like a duck, it talks like a duck, therefore it must be a duck!” Trouble is, ducks don’t talk… and geologists now look for a number of essential clues to confirm if a crater-like feature has a celestial origin. Above is Crater Lake in Oregon, USA… not the crater you were thinking of. Derp Impact (images via: Ottawa-RASC and Barnes & Noble ) Following the 1968 publication of On the possibility of a catastrophic origin for the great arc of eastern Hudson Bay by C.S. Beals, a 1972 investigative expedition headed by Dr. Robert S. Deitz and J. Paul Barringer failed to find any of the now-recognized markers of an interstellar impact: shatter cones, unusual melted rocks such as suevite, pseudotachylite or mylonite, radial faults or fractures, signature injection breccias, or other related evidence of what geologists call “shock metamorphism”. (images via: God Was Love , USRA and SubarcticMike ) Even the Belcher Islands didn’t fit the mold of an impact’s central peak (or remains thereof), being instead composed of ancient rocks of many types – none of them unearthly or with a direct or indirect impact-related origin. Sorry folks, show’s over, nothing to see here, just plate tectonics at work. You can fool the casual eye but you can’t fool Mother Nature. Then again, maybe we just haven’t found the right evidence yet. As someone once said, “the truth is out there.” (image via: Nunatsiaq Online ) It’s somewhat ironic that early astronomers once thought the impact-related Lunar Maria were the seas of the moon while the Nastapoka Arc – a sea of the Earth – formed though tectonic processes occurring deep within the Earth. So much for WYSIWYG… geology sometimes takes a long and complex route to an ending that only seems obvious to us. Want More? Click for Great Related Content on WebEcoist: The Many Faces of our Amazing Moon Let’s take a brief journey through some of the more interesting aspects of our moon. 3 Comments – Click Here to Read More »» Amazing Earth Photos: Solar Eclipses from Space An eclipse can be an amazing visual experience from below, but aerial and space photographs make this phenomena even more incredible from above. 4 Comments – Click Here to Read More »» The Third Rock: Our Blue Planet Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting facts and mysteries surrounding the Earth. 1 Comment – Click Here to Read More »» [ By Steve in Geography & Travel & Nature & Ecosystems & Science & Research . ] [ WebEcoist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

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Ahead Of The Curve: Hudson Bay’s Semicircular Nastapoka Arc

Cold Comfort: 7 Amazing Antarctic Lakes

July 19, 2011 by  
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[ By Steve in 7 Wonders Series & Nature & Ecosystems & Science & Research . ] Lakes? In my frozen Antarctica ? It’s more likely than you think, and their existence has nothing to do with global warming. This in-depth (brrr!) look at 7 amazing Antarctic lakes shows us the 7th continent still has a few tricks up its frosty sleeve. Don Juan Pond (image via: 77 Degrees South ) Don Juan Pond may sound romantic but visitors will find intimacy is the last thing on their minds – unless getting up close & personal with Mother Nature is your thing, you salty dog! Speaking of which, Don Juan Pond ‘s hypersalinity is what keeps it from freezing over no matter how cold it gets, and (cue Larry David voice) Antarctica can get pretty, pretty cold. Scale is difficult to determine without trees, but note the red-coated researcher on the right in the above image. (images via: Polar Night Images , Hassan Basagic and Los Alamos Mountaineers ) You think the Dead Sea is salty at 8 times the ocean’s salinity? Don Juan Pond laughs at your assumptions, being 18 times saltier than the sea. Forget about floating IN it, anyone brave enough to strip down and dip their tootsies might find they float ABOVE it! (images via: The Resource Center and Walt Hamler ) Sadly, doing the Don Juan Pond flotation exercise is not an option. Scientists aren’t sure why, but over the past few decades Don Juan Pond has been steadily drying up to the point where it’s only a few inches deep. One might assume that its location in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys region doesn’t help the situation. Organic Lake (images via: Punnett’s Square , AAD and Liquida ) Located in eastern Antarctica’s Vestfold Hills, Organic Lake formed about 6,000 years ago and gets its name from the profusion of algae it hosts. These algae produce malodorous Dimethyl Sulfide as a gaseous waste product and they do so in abundance, as the 24.5 ft (7.5m) deep lake boasts the highest level of dissolved DMS of any lake on Earth. Blazing Saddles in a drop of water, that’s what they’ve got there. (images via: AAD and Smaller Questions ) Organic Lake made the news recently when scientists testing its waters discovered the Organic Lake Virophage (above, lower left), a so-called “virus-eater” that preys on larger viruses that in turn infect the lake’s algae. Further research is being conducted to find out not only how OLV functions, but if the knowledge gained can assist medical professionals in devising new antiviral drugs and treatments for viral illnesses in humans. Radok Lake (images via: Swisseduc , ANARE Club and Schepps Media ) Alien-sounding Radok Lake can be found near (the unfortunately beaver-less) Beaver Lake at the foot of the Prince Charles Mountains. Although not especially large as lakes go – it’s about 4 miles (6.43 km) long – Radok Lake is 1,188 ft (362 meters) deep making it the continent’s deepest surface-exposed lake. One wonders what waits in the extreme depths of Radok Lake , dreaming with his hordes hidden in green slimy vaults… the awful answer being, of course, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” (image via: Swisseduc ) Radok Lake’s most exception feature – visually, at least – is the spectacular “ice tongue” of the Battye Glacier which stabs into the lake and floats upon its frigid, cerulean blue waters. If Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones ever loaded up the Prius with PBR and headed out for a weekend at the beach, this is where they’d likely end up chilling out. Lake Vida (images via: DRI and National Geographic ) Livin’ la Lake Vida loca? Try nada. Lake Vida is capped with ice over 60 ft (21 m) thick, precluding its use for recreational watersports even at the height of the Antarctic summer. It’s been so for thousands of years. Beneath that protective ice cap, however, lies a mysterious lacustrine ecosystem that’s basically humming along in sweet isolation… at a frigid (but still liquid) -13°C, no less. (images via: BBC and Space Daily ) Lake Vida’s no Don Juan Pond but its kosher dill-level brine is still 7 times as saline as seawater. If it was stocked with herring, all you’d need were jars! In 2002, a research team from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Peter Doran discovered halophile (salt-loving) cyanobacteria in ice cores drilled into Lake Vida 6 years earlier. (images via: NASA/APOD , We Heart New York and Bloody Good Horror ) Upon being thawed, the microbes awoke from their 2,800-year-long slumber and carried on much as before. NASA has since set up a Meteorological Station on the shores of Lake Vida to, well, keep tabs on things. The station is unmanned… I guess they saw that movie too. Lake Bonney Lake Bonney , a freshwater lake located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (which seem to have a lot of lakes), is 4.35 miles (7 km) long by about 1/2 mile (900 meters) wide. It was named for Thomas George Bonney, professor of geology at University College in London from 1877 to 1901, but naming it for William H Bonney (alias “Billy the Kid”) makes much more sense. Why? Because it’s fed by Blood Falls , a red-tinted plume of rusty water that pours out of the Taylor Glacier onto the lake’s surface! (images via: Taylor Valley , Space.com and Astrobioblog ) Lake Bonney may soon be visited by autonomous submersible robot NASA calls “Endurance” (though I would’ve called it the “Pat Garrett”) that will explore the depths of Lake Bonney as practice for a future mission to Jupiter’s watery moon Europa. Hopefully the exploratory mission to Europa’s subsurface ocean will go ahead without any, er, holdup. Lake Thomas (images via: QSL ) Lake Thomas, found in the Dry (yes, I know) Valleys of Victoria Land, is a freshwater lake fed by glacial melt on Antarctica’s warmer summer days. Though Lake Thomas itself isn’t especially remarkable, it’s surrounded with some of the planet’s most eerie, inhospitable, otherworldly (yet beautiful) scenery. It’s going to be a popular place once global warming really kicks in. (image via: Portland State University ) As is the case with many of the glacial meltwater lakes in the Dry Valleys region, the purity of the water in the frozen surface cap allows for a remarkable clarity shown off to full advantage by scientists and photographers alike. Lake Untersee (images via: Stampboards and WordlessTech, Dale Anderson ) Lake Untersee was discovered by the German Antarctic Expedition of 1938–39 , which did little other than name upwards of 50 topographical features with German names and drop a dozen Nazi flag markers by air… or so they would like us to think! The lake itself is about 4 miles (6.5 km) long, 1.6 miles (2.5 km) wide, and up to 554 ft (69 m) in depth. Though permanently capped with ice up to 9.8 ft (3 m) even in the summer, it’s what lies beneath Lake Untersee’s surface that has aroused both shock and surprise. (images via: TMP , Bibliotecapleyades and Fufor ) You thought there was going to be mention of a Nazi u-boat base and UFO hangar (or both), didn’t you? Sorry, fellow conspiracy theorists, no such luck. Instead, divers who braved the exceptionally alkaline water (the pH ranges from 9.8 and 12.1, like strong Chorox) discovered… life! (images via: WordlessTech ) Yes, life, albeit in a very primitive form. Those odd, purplish humped objects seen in the image above are not the spawn of Shoggoths, but stromatolites: layered structures built up layer by layer over centuries by mats of cyanobacteria. Stromatolites are among the Earth’s oldest fossils, dating back 3.5 billion years… and here they are at the bottom of an Antarctic lake. Maybe ol’ HP was on to something after all. (image via: Cthulhu’s Holiday Photos ) Anglers anxious to reel in the first fish hooked in an Antarctic lake should cool their heels, as there are no viable fish populations in any of Antarctica’s many saline or freshwater lakes. Then again, many of these lakes have been isolated from the outer environment for thousands to millions of years and new discoveries concerning their ecologies continue to be made. So go ahead and bait a hook… but if something tugs on your line, let it go, man. Just let it go. Want More? Click for Great Related Content on WebEcoist: Thicker Than Water? Antarctica’s Amazing Ecosecret Deep beneath the thick ice of Antarctica’s glaciers lies a two million year-old secret: an entire ecosystem of microbes unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. 4 Comments – Click Here to Read More »» Libya’s Landlocked Lakes: Wet Spots In A Sea Of Sand Surrounded by the searing sand dunes of the Sahara, Libya’s Ubari Lakes offer intrepid travelers a refreshing splash of beauty that’s more than just a mirage. Click Here to Read More »» Fall of the Century: Stunning Pics of Dry Niagara Falls For six incredible months in 1969, the American side of the powerful Niagara Falls was dammed up…and the water temporarily stopped flowing. Click Here to Read More »» [ By Steve in 7 Wonders Series & Nature & Ecosystems & Science & Research . ] [ WebEcoist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

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Cold Comfort: 7 Amazing Antarctic Lakes

Lost Civilizations: 12 Societies that Vanished in Mystery

May 2, 2011 by  
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[ By Steph in History & Trivia & Science & Research . ] Why would a flourishing civilization, advanced for its time, suddenly cease to exist, its inhabitants gone and its architecture abandoned? Conspiracy theorists offer all manner of offbeat explanations including alien abduction, but in the case of these 12 societies, the causes were likely more mundane: natural disasters, climate  change, invasions and economic irrelevance

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Lost Civilizations: 12 Societies that Vanished in Mystery

Detox Towers: Architecture that Cleans Urban Air

April 15, 2011 by  
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[ By Steph in Art & Design & Science & Research . ] Buildings are among the largest contributors to anthropogenic climate change – but could they be part of the solution instead? One concept for urban architecture doesn’t just cut the structures’ environmental footprint through energy and resource efficiency, but actually uses the buildings to clean the air.

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Detox Towers: Architecture that Cleans Urban Air

Pretty Smart: Great Green Gift & Product Packaging

April 4, 2011 by  
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[ By Steph in Art & Design & Science & Research . ] Some people say it’s what’s inside that counts, but the truth is, packaging plays a big role not only in the presentation of a product but in the earth-friendliness of its life cycle

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Pretty Smart: Great Green Gift & Product Packaging

Low Tech to High Concept: 3 Ideas for Water in Africa

April 1, 2011 by  
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[ By Steph in Geography & Travel & Science & Research & Technology & Gadgets . ] Most of us don’t think much about taking a bath, washing the car or setting up a sprinkler to water the lawn

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Low Tech to High Concept: 3 Ideas for Water in Africa

Prehistoric Inspiration: California Desert Sculpture Safari

March 30, 2011 by  
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[ By Delana in Animals & Habitats & Art & Design & History & Trivia . ] In a stretch of inhospitable desert 90 miles east of San Diego, a dry wind caresses the dramatic curves of a mammoth, whispers through the bared teeth of a sabertooth tiger, whips at the terrifying claws of a raptor. These imposing figures are both the history and the future of this plot of land: a history buried deep beneath the sands and a future imbued in the scrap metal structures that stoically greet visitors to this unassuming parcel of land called Galleta Meadows Estate

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Prehistoric Inspiration: California Desert Sculpture Safari

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