TWIE 93: Drilling 2 Miles to Lake Vostok

In this episode Dan and Vince explore why future knee surgery could cost a king’s ransom, when the Russians will find out if there is life under the ice in Lake Vostok, a new roller coaster that gives 8 seconds of weightlessness, jaw transplant from a 3D printer, and an unusual source of electricity from cockroaches.

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Coating artificial joints with diamonds
Artificial joints only last about ten years or so, as the metal and polymers tend to grind off during normal use. Now, a study from Vinoy Thomas at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has shown that coating the joints with a tiny, nanometer-thick layer of diamond could make the joint last longer and reduce inflammation. Cells called macrophages, that cause inflammation when exposed to metal particles, did not cause inflammation when exposed to nanodiamonds. Alright, is somebody looking for ways to make medicine more expensive? Maybe try a little sand first, before jumping straight into diamonds. I won¦t be able to afford my knee surgery until they have a Valentine¦s Day sale-stravaganza.

Russians breach Lake Vostok
For over twenty years a Russian team has been sporadically drilling toward the Antarctic sub-glacial Lake Vostok, almost two and a half miles beneath solid ice, in an effort to study the pristine water that has been isolated for millions of years. Last week, the team reached the surface of the lake, and will soon extract samples. Scientists would like to know if any extremophiles could live in such an icy environment, which may be similar to places like Jupiter¦s moon Europa. If there¦s life down there, I¦ll bet it¦s lonely, isolated, and desperate. In short, exactly the kind of life I don¦t want to talk to at a party. Loser-life!

Vomit comet roller coaster
California design firm BRC Imagination Arts has proposed a roller coaster ride based on the (Vomit Comet÷, the plane that flies a parabolic path that gives passengers 25 seconds of weightlessness. The roller coaster would use a linear induction motor to shoot out to over a hundred miles per hour, then shoot up for eight seconds of weightlessness. Inside the ride, passengers could take out a tethered object, like an enclosed cup of water, to see how it behaves in microgravity. I might find it hard to observe weightless liquid when I¦m screaming like a banshee and wetting my pants. Although in zero G... it¦s still just wetting your pants.

Jaw transplant from a 3D printer
A European woman in her eighties has received the first-ever jawbone transplant made from a 3-D printer. The transplant, made from titanium powder, was printed and then coated in a biocompatible ceramic, when it replaced a bone with a chronic infection. The patient reportedly was able to speak the day after surgery. Wait, you print a new jawbone, and you choose the same shape you started with? At least print yourself out something that unhinges like a shark. All my favorite inventions basically help me eat faster.

Drones on European farms
European Union regulators are investigating the feasibility of using unmanned aerial drones to spy on farms, in an effort to detect fraud in farm subsidies, and to enforce environmental laws. Drones will save both time and money over manual inspections, and they are more effective than satellite photography, which is thwarted by a cloudy day. Still, it has to be humiliating for the drone. (I used to hunt down terrorists. Now? Irish potato farmers. Where did I go wrong?÷

Energy from cockroach metabolism
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have extracted energy from cockroaches, not by attaching piezoelectric materials, but instead by inserting a wire into the roach, where a certain stage of its digestive system releases small amounts of electricity. The research may lead to new ways that roaches can power small electronic devices fitted to them. But I like to think that in the future, all computers will be powered by a cockroach Matrix. What a mind-job!