She Was Taking Photos of a Humpback Whale Feeding Frenzy – Here’s What Happened Next

This one just has to be put in the category of “very cool and really happy accident.” Australian photographer Robyn Malcolm was out taking photographs of humpback whales some 300 miles south of Sidney, and didn’t even realize that she captured an incredibly rare moment of intraspecies collaboration until she went through the photos later.

As you can see from the photo below, from an amazing story on the BBC website, what Ms. Malcolm captured was a seal surfing on a humpback!

Malcolm insists that the photo is not doctored, and in fact that she doesn’t even know how to use Photoshop or anything like it.

According to the BBC’s article, such collaboration is rare, but has been seen before:

New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife whale expert Geoff Ross told the paper the coupling was very rare but he had heard of it happening once before.

“The only other time was a seal trying to get away from a killer whale. The seal hopped on the back of the pectoral fins of a humpback whale,” he said.

The article includes some other great examples of one species hitching a ride on another species, head on over to the BBC website to check out the details.


Source: – “Seal spotted surfing humpback whale in Australia”

Photo Credits: © Robyn Malcolm /

Wait, What? Rare DARPA Conference Reveals MIB-like Advanced Technologies

DARPA rarely has conferences to showcase the advanced technologies that are being worked on under its supervision, but last week they pulled back the curtains to reveal some insanely stunning tech at their aptly-named conference: “Wait, What?”

In a wonderfully detailed article on the Popular Science website, technology author Rebecca Boyle dives into the experience of being in a “Men in Black” -style wonderland:

The housecat-sized robot that brought me a granola bar may not have been exactly what Dwight Eisenhower had in mind when he founded the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Rolling around on four skateboard wheels, the little delivery bot was a far cry from the first thing you imagine when you think about Pentagon technology.

But that little robot was more advanced than you might think. It used a sonic localization system to find the iPad that ordered the granola bar. Then it used sensors and navigation software to figure out how to cruise over to the iPad, without running into other delivery bots or human legs. After only a few seconds, it made its way across the convention center carpet and arrived at my feet, proffering a snack.

Imagine this robot instead carrying water to a wounded warrior, or a message to a command post under fire, and you recognize the appeal.

The Robo Cafe, developed by graduate students at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and others, was one of many strange and awesome things on display last week at a rare DARPA tech conference, called “Wait, What?”

That title just about summed up the entire thing: As robots delivered your snacks, you could high-five a bionic arm while reading about brain-machine interfaces. You could take a selfie with BigDog, the terrifying four-legged robotic pack animal of the future, and pet his smaller counterpart, Spot. You could watch Hubo and other humanoid robots drill holes in plaster and climb through uneven terrain.

Later, you could listen to scientists talk about searching for aliens; dosing people with genetic material to give us disease immunity; measuring the fabric of spacetime with lasers; and debating the ethics of synthetic life.

“We’re here to change what’s possible,” said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar, introducing the conference to assembled scientists, engineers and students. It was her idea to host the conference in St. Louis, with the goal of meeting people outside the Beltway and who don’t all work closely with DARPA.

It’s amazing the wide array of mind-blowing projects that DARPA-funded scientists and researchers get to work on, the article continues:

DARPA people work on some huge and strange programs, yet even they are surprised by some of the mind-blowing stuff their colleagues do each day. Brad Tousley directs DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which comes up with stuff like BigDog, the explosives program known as MAHEM (Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition), and Phoenix, a project that aims to send robotic arms to geosynchronous orbit to work in space garages 36,000 kilometers up. He was enthralled by a talk from Justin Sanchez, program manager of the Biological Technologies Office, who works on neural interfaces and other brain matters.

“We’re at the infancy of understanding the brain. If we can understand how the brain works, maybe it changes how you educate people,” Tousley said. “We know more about the cosmos than we do about the three pounds between our ears.”

See and read more about the incredible “Wait, What?” conference in Ms. Boyle’s excellent article over on Popular Science.



Photo Credit: Rebecca Boyle

Stunning Footage From the Edge of Space Recovered When Lost GoPro was Found

It was kind of a wacky idea in the first place, but in June of 2013 the group of friends thought they had all the bases covered for using a GoPro to record a trip to the edge of space and back using a weather balloon.  A great article we found over on Popular Science describes the adventure, and in a post on Reddit, Brian Chan, who actually launched the camera, explained what happened:

We planned our June 2013 launch at a specific time and place such that the phone was projected to land in an area with cell coverage. The problem was that the coverage map we were relying on (looking at you, AT&T) was not accurate, so the phone never got signal as it came back to Earth, and we never heard from it. We didn’t know this was the problem at the time – we thought our trajectory model was far off and it landed in a signal dead zone (turns out the model was actually quite accurate). The phone landed ~50 miles away from the launch point, from what I recall. It’s a really far distance considering there’s hardly any roads over there!

TWO YEARS LATER, in a twist of ironic fate, a woman who works at AT&T was on a hike one day and spotted our phone in the barren desert. She brings it to an AT&T store, and they identify my friend’s SIM card. We got the footage and data a few weeks later!

…and now, here’s the ultra-cool video that they put together from the footage that the camera captured:


Source: Popular Science – “Long-Lost GoPro Found After Falling From The Edge Of Space

Video Credit:  Bryan Chan on

Explainer: is it really OK to eat food that’s fallen on the floor?

Paul Dawson, Clemson University

When you drop a piece of food on the floor, is it really OK to eat if you pick up within five seconds? This urban food myth contends that if food spends just a few seconds on the floor, dirt and germs won’t have much of a chance to contaminate it. Research in my lab has focused on how food and food contact surfaces become contaminated, and we’ve done some work on this particular piece of wisdom.

While the “five-second rule” might not seem like the most pressing issue for food scientists to get to the bottom of, it’s still worth investigating food myths like this one because they shape our beliefs about when food is safe to eat.

So is five seconds on the floor the critical threshold that separates an edible morsel from a case of food poisoning? It’s a bit a more complicated than that. It depends on just how much bacteria can make it from floor to food in a few seconds and just how dirty the floor is.

Where did the five-second rule come from?

Wondering if food is still OK to eat after it’s been dropped on the floor (or anywhere else) is a pretty common experience. And it’s probably not a new one either.

A well-known, but inaccurate, story about Julia Child may have contributed to this food myth. Some viewers of her cooking show, The French Chef, insist they saw Child drop lamb (or a chicken or a turkey, depending on the version of the tale) on the floor and pick it up, with the advice that if they were alone in the kitchen, their guests would never know.

In fact it was a potato pancake, and it fell on the stovetop, not on the floor. Child put it back in the pan, saying “But you can always pick it up and if you are alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?” But the misremembered story persists.

It’s harder to pin down the origins of the oft-quoted five-second rule, but a 2003 study reported that 70% of women and 56% of men surveyed were familiar with the five-second rule and that women were more likely than men to eat food that had been dropped on the floor.

So what does science tell us about what a few moments on the floor means for the safety of your food?

Five seconds is all it takes

The earliest research report on the five-second rule is attributed to Jillian Clarke, a high school student participating in a research apprenticeship at the University of Illinois. Clarke and her colleagues inoculated floor tiles with bacteria then placed food on the tiles for varying times.

They reported bacteria were transferred from the tile to gummy bears and cookies within five seconds, but didn’t report the specific amount of bacteria that made it from the tile to the food.

But how much bacteria actually transfer in five seconds?

In 2007, my lab at Clemson University published a study – the only peer-reviewed journal paper on this topic – in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. We wanted to know if the length of time food is in contact with a contaminated surface affected the rate of transfer of bacteria to the food.

To find out, we inoculated squares of tile, carpet or wood with Salmonella. Five minutes after that, we placed either bologna or bread on the surface for five, 30 or 60 seconds, and then measured the amount of bacteria transferred to the food. We repeated this exact protocol after the bacteria had been on the surface for two, four, eight and 24 hours.

Toast via

We found that the amount of bacteria transferred to either kind of food didn’t depend much on how long the food was in contact with the contaminated surface – whether for a few seconds or for a whole minute. The overall amount of bacteria on the surface mattered more, and this decreased over time after the initial inoculation. It looks like what’s at issue is less how long your food languishes on the floor and much more how infested with bacteria that patch of floor happens to be.

We also found that the kind of surface made a difference as well. Carpets, for instance, seem to be slightly better places to drop your food than wood or tile. When carpet was inoculated with Salmonella, less than 1% of the bacteria were transferred. But when the food was in contact with tile or wood, 48%-70% of bacteria transferred.

Last year, a study from from Aston University in the UK used nearly identical parameters to our study and found similar results testing contact times of three and 30 seconds on similar surfaces. They also reported that 87% of people asked either would eat or have eaten food dropped on the floor.


What’s a Ride Into Space Without a Nice Triple Malt?

You just plunked down a huge pile of cash to be a space tourist, so you might expect some special treatment, no?  Don’t worry, Ballantine’s, who makes blended Scotch whiskey, has got your back, according to a fascinating article on

… pouring a nicely aged whiskey is basically impossible without gravity there to lend a hand. Fortunately Ballantine’s, a maker of blended Scotch whiskey, has a solution: On Friday the company unveiled its Space Glass, which is the first vessel engineered specifically to deliver a distilled beverage to your lips while enjoying the weightlessness of space.

The specially-designed Space Glass, which has been designed by some seriously creative space enthusiasts over the Open Space Agency, uses capillary action, originally described by Leonardo DaVinci, to deliver the whiskey to the connoisseur’s lips for their enjoyment. Capillary action is how plants make water travel from their roots to their leaves and flowers.

How does the whole experience of pouring and serving whiskey in a Ballentine’s Space Glass work? Check the next page for that info…