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Gizmorama - February 20, 2017

Good Morning,

Science will apparently have us swatting at insect-sized drones before long. They're being developed to pollinate flowers with actual insects. The scientific community is abuzz!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists pollinate flowers with insect-sized drones coated in sticky gel --*

TOKYO - Scientists in Japan found a way to pollinate flowers without the help of insects.

Engineers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology picked up pollen from one flower and deposited it in another using insect-sized drones coated with a special ionic gel.

The gel was originally developed in 2007 as a electrical conductor. It was deemed a failure by its creator Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the AIST Nanomaterial Research Institute, but it may have found a new life as a pollen collecting agent.

Miyako found in the gel in a storage closet while cleaning out his lab.

"This project is the result of serendipity," said Miyako. "We were surprised that after 8 years, the ionic gel didn't degrade and was still so viscous. Conventional gels are mainly made of water and can't be used for a long time, so we decided to use this material for research."

Miyako and fellow researcher Svetlana Chechetka bought a drone to test the gel with, but soon realized they could just smear the gel on the craft's underside. AIST colleagues Masayoshi Tange and Yue Yu helped the Miyako and Chechetka affix horse hair to the drone.

The gel-coated hairs created more surface area with which to pick up pollen. A slight electrical charge running through the bristles also helped hold the pollen grains during flight.

Scientists used their creation to successfully pollinate pink-leaved Japanese lilies, Lilium japonicum. They described their feat in the journal Chem.

"The findings, which will have applications for agriculture and robotics, among others, could lead to the development of artificial pollinators and help counter the problems caused by declining honeybee populations," Miyako said. "We believe that robotic pollinators could be trained to learn pollination paths using global positioning systems and artificial intelligence."

*-- Astronomers want to recruit smartphones to listen for fast radio bursts --*

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Researchers want to use cellphones to listen for fast radio bursts, or FRBs, high-energy pulses of radio waves lasting just a few milliseconds.

Since the first FRB was identified in 2007 from archival data collected by the Parkes radio dish in Australia in 2001, a total of 20 fast radio bursts have been identified. The bursts have been discovered by massive radio telescopes.

Only one has been traced to a place of origin, a faraway galaxy. Astronomers hypothesize FRBs are caused by mergers of relativistic objects. The dispersion of frequencies that make up the FRBs so far identified suggest they originate in faraway galaxies -- outside the Milky Way.

However, astronomers believe there's no reason why a fast radio burst couldn't occur within the boundaries of the Milky Way galaxy. If it did, researchers at Harvard University suggest, it would be powerful enough to be picked up by cellphones.

"The search for nearby fast radio bursts offers an opportunity for citizen scientists to help astronomers find and study one of the newest species in the galactic zoo," Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a news release.

The radio frequencies encompassing FRBs are similar to those used by broadband, cellular and other wireless networks. An array of smartphones running a special mobile application could operate as a massive radio observatory.

"An FRB in the Milky Way, essentially in our own back yard, would wash over the entire planet at once. If thousands of cellphones picked up a radio blip at nearly the same time, that would be a good sign that we've found a real event," added Dan Maoz, an astronomer from Tel Aviv University.

Though it's estimated around 100 FRBs may originate from outside the Milky Way every day, the best calculations estimate an FRB is likely to happen inside the Milky Way only once every 30 to 1,500 years.


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