TIME Food

This New Method of Farming Could Change Where Our Food Comes From

"It could be that the best strawberries in the world come from Detroit"

Caleb Harper, founder of the CITYFarm Research Project, and his team at MIT’s Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass. appear to have found a way to grow food four times faster than it does in nature, using a new farming method called “Aeroponics.”

Unlike regular hydroponics, a growing method that uses water instead of soil, the plants at CITYFarm do not sit in still water, but rather have their roots suspended in a “fog chamber” which sprays a nutrient-rich mist.

The CITYFarmers take great care to monitor each aspect of the plants’ growth, to see which conditions work the best, including a technique of limiting light to red and blue.

“This is the spectrum of light that the plants need to grow extra plant material,” Harper explains–and the rest of the spectrum besides red and blue only serves to provide heat.

Harper believes that Aeoroponics not only grows fuller, more developed plants, but could be a solution to local farmers looking to provide sustenance to booming city populations.

“We all know the phrase, ‘the best X comes from X'”, he explains, instead proposing that “the best X comes from the environment that created it.”

“There is a new way to think of using fabrication space, especially if you look at a city like Detroit.”

By building a similar set up, which requires no soil or great tracts of land, “it could be that the best strawberries in the world come from Detroit.”

TIME animals

Here’s Why Thousands of Walruses Are Gathering on Alaska’s Shore

Approximately 1500 walrus gather on the northwest coast of Alaska on Sept. 23, 2014
Approximately 1500 walrus gather on the northwest coast of Alaska on Sept. 23, 2014 Corey Accardo—NOAA/AP

The time has come, the walruses said, to gather on land since we can't find any ice around

Nearly 35,000 walruses were discovered this month on a northwest Alaskan shore as result of being unable to find sea ice to rest upon, a problem aggravated by climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The unusually massive walrus gatherings were first spotted on Sept. 13 when NOAA conducted its annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey, a spokeswoman told the Associated Press.

The marine mammals use sea ice as diving platforms to hunt for food in shallow areas, or as resting points to avoid long, exhausting swims. While it is normal for sea ice to recede into deeper parts of the Arctic Ocean as temperatures warm in the summer, in recent years the ice has moved even further.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the accelerated loss of sea ice is associated with climate change, in which open water absorbs more heat and speeds up the melting process. WWF estimated that Arctic ice loss was 3.5 to 4.1% each decade between 1979 and 2012.

The habitat destruction has contributed to large groups of walruses arriving on shore. Walrus gatherings were first spotted near Alaskan shores in 2007, and they returned in 2009 and 2011, experts at the NOAA said.

“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic,” Margaret Williams, managing director at the WWF, told AP. “And that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”

 

TIME Environment

See How a Siberian Lake Has Almost Disappeared

The Aral Sea has shrunk to a fraction of its original size

Aral Sea
NASA; Gif by Joseph C. Lin for TIME

New photos from NASA show that a lake in Siberia has almost disappeared since 2000, thanks to a Soviet water diversion program from the 1960s.

The Aral Sea, in Uzbekistan, was once the fourth largest lake in the world. Now it’s now a fraction of the size it was in 1960, according to the photographs. Even since 2000, the lake has shrunk dramatically, and seems poised to disappear altogether.

The lake was fed by the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers before the Soviet Union diverted them in the 1960s in order to irrigate the arid deserts in Kazhakstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Since then, the lake has almost completely dried up, which spells disaster for communities that depend on it, and the water has become too salty and polluted to support native fish populations.

Check out the dramatic change between the Aral Sea in 2000 and the Aral Sea today.

TIME space

NASA Is 3D-Printing a Better Rocket

Rocket Injector
Test engineer Ryan Wall, left, and propulsion systems engineer Greg Barnett prepare a rocket injector made using the 3-D printing or additive manufacturing process for a hot-fire test at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Emmett Given—MSFC/NASA

NASA and the U.S. Army are now using additive manufacturing to manufacture lighter, cheaper, and better-performing aircraft parts

Consider the injector. It’s a lowly little engine part about as big as a basketball, small compared to the more photographic components that surround it. Its job, however, is big. On a rocket, it shoots hydrogen gas and liquid oxygen into a combustion chamber to create the thrust needed to send that rocket into space. It also needs to endure the trip.

A conventional rocket engine injector may be comprised of a hundred different pieces, making it costly to assemble. On an object that costs several hundred thousand dollars per launch, and billions in development costs, any savings are welcome. It’s one reason why the cash-strapped National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been toying around with rocket parts made using an additive manufacturing process, better known as 3D printing.

In August, the agency test-fired a 3D-printed injector that withstood a record 20,000 pounds of thrust, which actually isn’t all that impressive. Paired with rocket boosters and the rest, the complete Space Launch System—a new heavy-lift vehicle that will power NASA’s deep-space missions starting in 2017—will create 9.2 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, the equivalent in horsepower of 208,000 Corvette engines revving up at once. What is impressive is the fact that the injector had just two parts and could produce 10 times as much thrust as any previously 3D-printed injector.

For NASA, additive manufacturing represents a way for the agency to stretch its technological capabilities and its $17 billion budget as it looks to build the next class of rocket engines to take its aircraft onto asteroids and to Mars. “The advances in the technology are finally getting to the point where we can see parts additively manufactured for demanding NASA applications,” says Dale Thomas, associate technical director at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where NASA has been trying out a variety of 3D-printed propulsion parts for more than a year. What the agency lacks, however, is the knowledge required to judge just how well 3D-printed engine parts will stand up during space flight. “We don’t understand the material properties really well and how they behave under stress,” Thomas says.

Enter the Integrated Product Team, a partnership formed in late May between the Marshall Center, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (as in “Go Chargers,” not “Roll Tide”), and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, known as AMRDEC. The question at the central of the partnership: Is there a way to 3D-print material strong enough to insert into a working aircraft?

There is good reason to be uncertain about3D-printing parts that can be used in missiles topped with warheads or rockets ferrying astronauts. Which powdered metals will be easiest to print and strongest to deploy? What 3D-printing machines will work the best? The three groups believe that, by pooling their resources and trading notes, they will save time and taxpayer dollars developing additive manufacturing processes useful to the private sector, the military, and space exploration. They also believe they will manufacture higher-quality parts—lighter, stronger—than those created today through conventional machining techniques.

For the military, that means lighter missile components that can still handle vibrations during flight.

“You always want to save weight for an aviation platform. How do you save weight? Machine the part in a way to minimize frequency vibrations,” says James Lackey, acting director of AMRDEC in Huntsville. “Only through additive layering can you take advantage of what a mathematical formula tells you this design solution needs.”

Conventional machining can be thought of as subtractive manufacturing. You begin with a block of some material and gradually chop some off, a process that constrains the types of parts that can be designed. Additive manufacturing is different. Imagine instead a laser-centering machine that heats up and fuses together successive layers of powdered metals—inconel alloys, grades of steel, titanium, aluminum—to construct simpler rocket engine components. This is how NASA created the injector it test-fired a year ago.

“Those little boogers are incredibly complex,” Thomas says. “When you’re trying to manufacture them you throw away more than you use. With additive [we] can make an injector that in the past took about 15 to 20 pieces.”

Lackey and Thomas agree that the space agency’s foray into 3D printing is still in its earliest days. There is no working budget within AMRDEC or the Marshall Center for additive manufacturing experiments because both centers are still determining which 3D-printing technologies they need to invest in. Phillip Farrington, a professor of industrial and systems engineering and engineering management at the University of Alabama, says that whatever knowledge is gained through the Integrated Product Team could also be applied to streamlining manufacturing processes for automobiles, trains, and ships (a research project in which he’s currently engaged).

Right now, the work being done with additive manufacturing at the Marshall Space Flight Center shows the most promise, a reflection of the progress Thomas and his team are making in using the technology to not only manufacture injectors, but also valves, nozzles, and other parts necessary for propulsion in rocket engines.

“We’re seeing parts that can only be made using additive methods,” Thomas says. “We’re never going to get away from the traditional manufacturing process. But additive is going to have some real game-changing benefits.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME human behavior

The One Equation That Explains All of Humanity’s Problems

Relax, it's not nearly this complicated
Relax, it's not nearly this complicated niarchos Getty Images

There's you, there's me and there's everyone else on the planet. How many of those people do you care about?

Good news! If you’re like most Americans, you don’t have much reason to worry about the dangerous state of the world. Take Ebola. Do you have it? No, you don’t, and neither does anyone in your family. As for Ukraine, it’s not your neighborhood, right? Ditto ISIS.

Reasonable people might argue that a position like this lacks a certain, well, perspective, and reasonable people would be right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a position way too many of us adopt all the same, even if we don’t admit it. If it’s not happening here, it’s not happening at all—and we get to move on to other things.

I was put freshly in mind of this yesterday, after I wrote a story on the newest—and arguably least honest—argument being used by the dwindling community of climate deniers, and then posted the link to the piece on Twitter. Yes, yes, I know. If you can’t stand the tweet heat stay out of the Twitter kitchen. But all the same, I was surprised by one response:

Just out of curiosity, how has ‘climate change’ personally affected you? Has it brought you harm?

And right there, in 140 characters or less, was the problem—the all-politics-is-local, not-in-my-backyard, no-man-is-an-island-except-me heart of the matter. It is the sample group of one—or, as scientists express it, n=1—the least statistically reliable, most flawed of all sample groups. The best thing you can call conclusions drawn from such a source is anecdotal. The worst is flat out selfish.

No, climate change has not yet affected me personally—or at least not in a way that’s scientifically provable. Sure, I was in New York for Superstorm Sandy and endured the breakdown of services that followed. But was that a result of climate change? Scientists aren’t sure. The run of above-normal, heat wave summers in the city are likelier linked to global warming, and those have been miserable. But my experience is not really the point, is it?

What about the island nations that are all-but certain to be under water in another few generations? What about the endless droughts in the southwest and the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap and the dying plants and animals whose climates are changing faster than they can adapt—which in turn disrupts economies all over the world? What about the cluster of studies just published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society firmly linking the 2013-2014 heat wave in Australia—which saw temperatures hit 111ºF (44ºC)—to climate change?

Not one of those things has affected me personally. My cozy n=1 redoubt has not been touched. As for the n=millions? Not on my watch, babe.

That kind of thinking is causing all kinds of problems. N=1 are the politicians acting against the public interest so they can please a febrile faction of their base and ensure themselves another term. N=1 is the parent refusing to vaccinate a child because, hey, no polio around here; it’s the open-carry zealots who shrug off Sandy Hook but would wake up fast if 20 babies in their own town were shot; it’s refusing to think about Social Security as long as your own check still clears, and as for the Millennials who come along later? Well, you’ll be dead by then so who cares?

N=1 is a fundamental denial of the larger reality that n=humanity. That includes your children, and it includes a whole lot of other people’s children, too—children who may be strangers to you but are the first reason those other parents get out of bed in the morning.

Human beings are innately selfish creatures; our very survival demands that we tend to our immediate needs before anyone else’s—which is why you put on your own face mask first when the plane depressurizes. But the other reason you do that is so you can help other people. N=all of the passengers in all of the seats around yours—and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re all flying in the same plane together.

TIME space

What’s That Thing on Saturn’s Biggest Moon?

What in the world? The mystery formation as seen over time
What in the world? The mystery formation as seen over time JPL/NASA

Something strange is happening on the cloud-shrouded world known as Titan—and a NASA orbiter is trying to figure it out

It’s not the first time a formation has appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, on a world beyond Earth. Usually, it’s Mars: this year alone the Mars Reconnaissance Observer spotted a brand-new crater that wasn’t there last time NASA looked, while the Opportunity Rover discovered the amazing Ghost Rock that also didn’t exist—and then it did.

Now it’s Titan’s turn. Saturn and its moons have been under close scrutiny by the Cassini probe ever since the spacecraft arrived in the neighborhood back in 2004, discovering such oddities as geysers and a subsurface ocean on the ice moon Enceladus; a mysterious hexagon-shaped storm on Saturn itself; and a hydrocarbon cycle on Titan that mirrors Earth’s water cycle, complete with rainstorms, rivers and lakes.

But in July, 2012, Cassini spotted something that hadn’t been there anytime in the previous seven years: a bright spot, covering about 30 square miles (78 sq. km), in the lake known as Ligeia Mare, which is bigger than Lake Superior. NASA called it a “transient feature,” while the Internet dubbed it the “Magic Island.” And as of August 21 of this year, the space agency has just announced, it was still visible—and in fact, it had doubled in size.

“The fact that it’s still there shows that it isn’t just some artifact of the imaging system,” says Jason Hofgartner, the Cornell grad student who’s in charge of figuring out what the darned thing is. “Something is really happening on Titan.”

Hofgartner and his colleagues have narrowed the “something” down to four possibilities. “It could be waves,” he says. “It could be bubbles rising up from the bottom. It could be solids of some kind floating on the surface—or solids suspended below the surface. All of these,” he says, “are equally viable at this point.”

The scientists are convinced, however, that the mystery island almost certainly has to do with the changing of seasons on Titan. Riding along in its orbit around Saturn, Titan takes 30 years to circle the Sun, and the northern hemisphere, where Ligeia Mare is located, is just at the start of its 7 1/2-year summer. It’s bathed in solar energy, and, says Hofgartner, “any of those [features] could be powered by the seasonal change.”

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time scientists have seen seasonal effects on Titan: when Cassini first arrived in the Saturnian system, the moon’s southern hemisphere was edging into the end of summer, and observations suggested at the time that evaporation had shrunk the lakes in the region from their maximum extent—the same thing that happens to lakes and reservoirs on Earth.

In fact, the search for evidence of seasonal changes on Titan was a primary objective of the Cassini mission, and the space probe should get at least another look at the mystery island before the mission ends.

That won’t remotely solve all of the mysteries about this extraordinary moon, however. It’s nothing less than a Bizarro version of Earth, with methane and other hydrocarbons taking the place of water. “It has all kinds of processes we can learn about,” says Hofgartner, “which could help us understand processes on Earth better.”

That could call for a return visit one day by a successor of Cassini. “There are lots of reasons,” Hofgartner says, “to go back.”

TIME animals

Dolphins Are Apparently Attracted to Magnets

133103067
Dolphin in aquarium of Barcelona vdorse—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Where does this fit into their plot for world domination?

According to a French study released Monday, dolphins are attracted to magnets. Platonically, of course.

To find out if dolphins are magnetosensitive—or able to sense Earth’s magnetic field—researchers tested how six bottleneck dolphins swimming freely independently reacted to barrels containing both magnetized and demagnetized blocks.

Dolphins approached the device with shorter latency when it contained a strongly magnetized neodymium block compared to a control demagnetized block that was identical in form and density and therefore undistinguishable with echolocation. We conclude that dolphins are able to discriminate the two stimuli on the basis of their magnetic properties, a prerequisite for magnetoreception-based navigation.

If the findings hold up to scrutiny, it would be a momentous discovery. Although many animals are suspected to orient themselves using the Earth’s magnetic pull, there’s precious little proof that this is the case. Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine concluded in 2012 that pigeons have magnetosensitive GPS cells in their brains.

We don’t quite know where this fits into dolphins’ plot to take over the world, but now that they might be working with the pigeons, we are utterly terrified.

TIME Fine Art

Scientist Reveals Secrets Behind 500-Year-Old Leonardo Da Vinci Masterpiece

The painting by Leonardo Da Vinci  called "The Lady with Ermine", that goes on exhibit later this mo..
The Lady with Ermine by Leonardo Da Vinci photographed on Nov. 18, 1998. Stefano Rellandini—Reuters

The Lady With an Ermine is believed to have been painted in 1489 or 1490

Using a new light technique, a French scientist has revealed that one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous paintings did not originally look as it does today.

The Lady With an Ermine is believed to have been painted in 1489 or 1490, and depicts Cecilia Gallerani, a young woman from the Milanese court in Italy who was the mistress of the Duke of Milan, holding a white ermine.

It was thought the painting had always depicted the ceremonial animal, but Pascal Cotte has just discovered that Da Vinci actually painted two previous versions, the BBC reports.

After three years of examining the work using a new reflective-light technique called Layer Amplification Method, or LAM, he learned that the first iteration was without the ermine and a second had changes to the lady’s dress.

Experts described the revelation as “thrilling.”

Cotte’s technique works by projecting a series of intense lights onto the canvas while a camera measures the reflections. From the measurements Cotte can analyze what was painted beneath.

“The LAM technique gives us the capability to peel the painting like an onion, removing the surface to see what’s happening inside and behind the different layers of paint,” he told the BBC.

The painting is usually housed at the National Museum in Krakow, Poland.

[BBC]

TIME Environment

Wildlife Populations Have Dropped by More Than Half

"This latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted"

Vertebrate species populations have dropped by more than half over the course of 40 years, according to a new report from WWF, marking a larger decrease than ever previously documented.

The Living Plant Report measured more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish and found a 52% decline between 1970 and 2010. The facts are grimmer for some species: freshwater dwellers showed an average decline of 76%.

The study chalked up most of the decline to human impact. Habitat loss and hunting and fishing were the primary culprits, and climate change was the next largest threat, the report said.

“This latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted,” writes Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, says in a forward to the report.

TIME neuroscience

This Curry Spice Might Help the Brain Heal Itself

A chemical commonly found in turmeric was shown to encourage nerve-cell growth in rats

A spice commonly used to make curry could help the brain heal itself by encouraging the growth of nerve cells, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany, found that rats injected with aromatic-turmerone, a compound found naturally in turmeric, showed increased activity in parts of the brain associated with nerve-cell growth.

The compound could encourage the proliferation of brain cells, researchers said — though it was unclear whether it could be used to help stall or reverse the symptoms of degenerative-brain diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia in human beings.

A separate trial by the same research group found that rodent neural stem cells grew when they were bathed in a solution of aromatic-turmerone. The cells bathed in the turmeric compound also appeared to specialize into certain types of brain cells more rapidly.

“It is interesting that it might be possible to boost the effectiveness of the stem cells with aromatic-turmerone,” Maria Adele Rueger, a researcher on the team, told the BBC. “And it is possible this in turn can help boost repair in the brain.”

An outside researcher said it was unclear whether the findings would be applicable to people, and whether it could help people with Alzheimer’s.

Turmeric was already known for its potential health-giving properties. One 2009 study found that one of its component chemicals — curcumin — killed off cancer cells.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser