Ever wonder what that mini monolithic-shaped computer you carry around in your pocket is made of?

Gallium? Check. Arsenic? Check. Lead and tin? Check and check. Good thing all that is safely housed inside and you’re not gonna eat it for lunch.

Hot on the tail of Apple’s iPhone 6 announcement, the American Chemical Society has produced a video titled “What’s in your iPhone?” that delves into some of the chemical elements used to make smartphones. Check it out:

This video is part of a series called Reactions that explores the chemicals of everyday life. In this episode, the video pulls information from a Compound Interest blog post on smartphone composition written a few months back.

Andy Brunning, who runs the blog, does a great job describing the complex process behind modern phone manufacturing, including this nice infographic revealing exactly where all the chemical elements reside:

Elements of a smartphone

It’s hard to believe how many precious metals go into the electronics we use everyday. In fact, for every million cellphones processed, over 17 tons of copper along and 1/3 of a ton of silver can be recovered from e-waste, among other precious metals like gold and palladium. 

In light of this insatiable consumption, every few months someone comes along to predict when major resources like rare metals will run out due to our thirst for glowy gadgets. Scarce or not, rare elements are big business and have inspired the launch of a few companies interested in mining asteroids for these metals.

With Apple’s report that 4 million iPhone 6 preorders were placed within the first 24 hours, you can bet that the chemistry of smartphones will only become more complex as advanced materials and technology increasingly find their ways into our hands…literally.

[Image credit: Andy Brunning/Compound Interest]


Not long ago, robots were largely confined to books and movies. Then they started showing up on YouTube, and robot fear became a viral thing. There was that terrifying video of a Boston Dynamics robot wearing fatigues and gas mask. Another Boston Dynamics video showed a cheetah robot that could outpace the swiftest human sprinter.

Back then, it was easy enough to imagine being run down by a robot—particularly because Boston Dynamics was funded by the military.  But there was no good reason to fear them. Not yet. Why? They were all powered by internal combustion engines. Imagine being stalked by a car with no muffler. You’d hear it a mile off and climb a tree.

Well, all you robot fearing folk, the era of insanely noisy robots may be nearing an end—MIT’s stealthy electric robot cheetah is here to prowl your nightmares. (Sure, it looks friendly and playful, gamboling care-free on the quad—but don’t be fooled.)

A few facts about MIT’s pet mechanical cheetah. It’s been under development for awhile now. Earlier videos showed it heavily supported on a treadmill. This is the first time we’ve seen it roaming free outside the lab, not relying on an outside power source.

But simply being untethered does not make MIT’s bot special. Boston Dynamics released video of their cheetah (renamed WildCat) untethered in a parking lot last year.

The MIT cheetah can run 10 mph. Pretty good. WildCat clocked in at 16 mph. MIT’s bot may be ramped up to 30 miles per hour—on par with Boston Dynamics’ fastest bot in the lab. It would be an impressive demonstration of stability if it hits that mark outside.

What then makes the MIT cheetah unique?

To borrow a phrase, “This sucker’s electrical.” It runs on batteries alone. And may be able to do so for awhile. Previously, the team said their bot should be able to jog five MPH for over an hour. They’ve yet to note battery life in the wild.

In any case, no Boston Dynamics two- or four-legged robot can claim battery power. All of them—from AlphaDog to Petman and Atlas—use hydraulics and internal combustion.

Beyond silence, there are advantages to robots powered by electric motors. The MIT bot’s creators say the robot is nearly as efficient as a real cheetah. And they say, its electric motors enable more responsive footsteps and adaptable strides.


Jeffrey Lang’s custom, high-torque-density motors and amplifier—and a little cheetah print reminiscent of grandma’s steering wheel.

“Most robots are sluggish and heavy, and thus they cannot control force in high-speed situations,” says Sangbae Kim, MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering. “That’s what makes the MIT cheetah so special: You can actually control the force profile for a very short period of time, followed by a hefty impact with the ground, which makes it more stable, agile, and dynamic.”

According to Kim, beyond some clever algorithms, the bot’s secret sauce is in its custom electric motors, designed by MIT Vitesse Professor of Electrical Engineering, Jeffrey Lang, and its carefully engineered biomimetic legs—the combination allows force control without sensors in its feet.

The result? The bot can bound—a gait in between a trot and a gallop—and perhaps even more remarkably, it can leap over obstacles up to a foot high. Further, it may not be long before the robot refines its gait, moving from bounding to galloping.

“Bounding is like an entry-level high-speed gait, and galloping is the ultimate gait,” Kim says. “Once you get bounding, you can easily split the two legs and get galloping.”

Like the Boston Dynamics bots (before being acquired by Google), the MIT research is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). But for the time being, there are no public plans to send these robots into combat.

For the most part, they’re being developed to carry heavy loads over difficult terrain and enter dangerous disaster zones in lieu of humans. That doesn’t mean they won’t eventually have more warlike applications—but for now, there’s no need to fear.

And whatever their eventual military uses, consumer robots will need to be battery powered too. Most personal robots already run on batteries—but they can’t do much. Perhaps, MIT’s electric cheetah foreshadows more capable robots for the home.

We don’t have I, Robot’s Sonny yet. But maybe he’s a little closer than we think.

Image Credit: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT 

Inside the Design of the New Gawker Media (and Gizmodo) Offices

Gizmodo—and Gawker Media—are moving. We’re packing up our cozy little SoHo walkup and heading to a big new office in Union Square. And according to the architects who are designing it, it’s going to be very, very cool.

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org synth

Carbon atoms love to hook up. Their versatile ability to bond with each other as well as atoms of other elements is why all known life is made of the stuff. And it doesn’t end with biology. Synthetic organic materials abound—from OLED displays to antibiotics.

Still manufacturing new organic molecules can be, to put it mildly, complicated. Although the most advanced organic molecular assembly takes place inside our cells, chemists have spent the last half century or so becoming highly skilled at stepwise synthesis of complex molecules in the lab as well.

A few years ago, University of Bristol researchers led by Professor Varinder Aggarwal described a method for making carbon chains as if they were on an assembly line—a step-by-step process that was both dependable and precise.

Much of the difficulty in the synthesis of organic molecules is that undesired side reactions occur during nearly every reaction. The more likely components are to react with new building blocks in unintended ways, the more unwanted compounds are produced at each step. This results in a soup of byproducts that are difficult to separate from the desired substance, especially when dealing with structurally similar molecules like chains.

In biological systems, reaction steps are tightly controlled by enzymes, effectively eliminating byproducts at each step. Chain molecules, for example, are passed from one enzyme to the next, each adding a piece to the growing chain. Similarly, the University of Bristol team’s molecular assembly line sequentially builds carbon-based molecules piece by piece, allowing for unprecedented control.

nanofactoryIn a recent paper in the journal Nature, the team said they’ve taken the process to the next level. They’re now able to closely regulate not only molecular composition, but also molecular shape. By slightly altering the chemical mix in the assembly line process they can make molecules that are alternatively linear or helical (like a winding staircase).

As stated in the abstract, “This work should facilitate the rational design of molecules with predictable shapes, which could have an impact in areas of molecular sciences in which bespoke molecules are required.”

What’s the upshot of all this?

While the composition of molecules is important, their three-dimensional structure is essential when it involves interactions with the components in cells. In fact, lack of spatial control can be deadly. In the 1960s, a pharmaceutical drug named thalidomide existed in two mirror image forms—while one treated morning sickness, the other caused serious birth defects.

Additionally, spatial control is essential to the production of advanced materials like polymers. Cellulose and amylose (a component of starch) are both biological polymers that different only in their spatial orientation of one bond, resulting in linear and helical structures, respectively.

But developing molecular factories that can churn out specific molecules with precision is not just about control, but speed and scale…just like human-scale manufacturing.

It’s a bit like rapid prototyping using 3D printers. These days, manufacturers can go from design to prototype in a day instead of a month. That means they get to run more permutations in a shorter amount of time, thus improving the final design.

Furthermore, the field of combinatorial chemistry has been incorporating robots for years to perform large permutations of organic synthesis for new compound discovery. This includes rapid screening and characterization methods of very small quantities, which minimizes cost and waste. A process that incorporates a high-precision molecular assembly line would be most welcome in this burgeoning arena.

Looking ahead, new organic compounds may go from model to molecule much faster using the University of Bristol assembly-line synthesis or some other similar method. This would allow scientists to more rapidly imagine, synthesize, and test new molecular configurations.

And the faster that happens, the faster new organic materials and technologies can be further discovered.

Figure, spectral analysis, and 3D conformations of two chain molecules described in the study [courtesy Nature Publishing Group]

Figure, spectral analysis, and 3D conformations of two chain molecules described in the study [courtesy Nature Publishing Group]

[Image Credits: test tube courtesy of Shutterstock, Amber Webster, RSC, Nature Publishing Group]

The evolution of humans in one funny animation

ADHD made an animation that exposes the hilarious cycle of evolution. Monkeys eating fruit turn into monkeys eating raw meat turn into people using fire to cook food to inventing the wheel to making art to landing on the moon to putting dumb videos on YouTube to just being a character on some alien’s video game

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The collapse of the USSR left behind a haunting post-apocalyptic world

These photographs by Rebecca Litchfield make it seem as if the apocalypse has come and gone and the world is in complete ruins. Not quite. They’re actually photographs of countries and places that were a part of the former Soviet Union. The forgotten decay is haunting.

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world malaria

In the film Minority Report, PreCrime police combine psychic premonitions with search and surveillance technology to prevent murders before they occur, resulting in a homicide-free society. Could a similar approach ultimately eradicate infectious diseases like malaria?

A recent project at UC San Francisco to leverage Google Earth is aiming to do just that.

As part of the Malaria Elimination Initiative, researchers at the UCSF Global Health Group are creating an online prediction platform to assess where malaria is likely to be transmitted next. When malaria cases are identified, local healthcare workers can upload time and location data on infected patients. These data will be combined with real-time satellite tracking of weather and environmental conditions as well as 40 years of historic data within Google Earth Engine.

The result? Mapping of the exact regions where new cases of the disease are anticipated.

google earth malariaPredictive mapping will enable agencies to be highly efficient and targeted with precautionary measures, including distributing bed nets, spraying insecticides, or providing antimalarial drugs to specific locations rather than widespread and costly overkill efforts. “With these maps, health workers will know exactly where to target their scarce resources,” stated Global Health Sciences assistant professor Hugh Sturrock in the release. “That way, they can keep fighting the disease until it’s eliminated within their borders.”

Experts at the university believe that with proper funding and intervention, countries could eliminate malaria within two decades.

Beyond containment alone, the platform will assist researchers and healthcare workers focused on unraveling the connection between climate variables, such as degree of vegetation and rainfall, and disease proliferation in hopes that underlying factors can be utilized for preventative public health. For a disease like malaria, which kills 600,000 people annually, mostly children, in Africa and Southeast Asia, this is vital not only today but in the near future as climate shifting is expected to introduce malaria into new regions.

Rebecca Moore, the head of Google Earth Outreach–which assists nonprofits anxious to utilize Google’s mapping technology–said, “We have this enormous scale of computing power that, if it’s guided in the right way, could really make some breakthroughs.” To develop the new crowdsourced platform, UCSF will receive $100,000 from Google’s program.

The tool will be first tested in the small Southern African country of Swaziland where recent efforts to eliminate malaria have reduced the number of cases by 74% since 2000 and contained the disease to a few small areas. If effective, it will be distributed to other regions in need.

Related infectious diseases could also be similarly tracked with this predictive platform. As the recent Ebola outbreak demonstrates, knowing where a disease is going to pop up next in real time is essential to prevention and containment.

In recent years, other efforts to track disease using Google Earth have been insightful. Avian flu was successfully tracked into a Google “supermap” in 2007 and in 2011, researchers backed by the Wellcome Trust use gene sequencing and GPS data to map the spread of typhoid from its source in Nepal using Google Earth. Google itself has set up a designated site to track flu trends. And most recently, the Ebola outbreak is being mapped in Google Earth.

dengue fever

Digital surveillance of disease has been found to detect infectious diseases, such as Dengue Fever, up to two weeks earlier than traditional healthcare reporting systems. So a platform that crowdsources information from workers on the front lines of disease and combines it with publicly accessible data could likely narrow the lag even moreso.

Considering how powerful Google Earth has been for making geodata accessible to researchers and the public to date, the platform could grow into an enormously vital tool for public health as even more information is connected. Akin to Minority Report‘s precrimes, a predictive platform that also leverages real-time surveillance footage as well as activities described on social media could create a map of “predisease” incidents before they even happened.

As society becomes blanketed in sensors and the Internet of Things connects objects to the web, the massive amount of data available on everything crawling around on the surface of the planet will undoubtedly make it easier to thwart disease trajectory from Patient Zero, perhaps even before the moment of initial infection. Even though privacy issues in this globally connected future will undoubtedly abound, if pandemic scenarios (or recent zombie films) have taught us anything it’s that the world stands on the precipice of catastrophic human loss in the face of virulent disease unless early containment safeguards are put in place.

Considering the stakes involved with global public health, UCSF’s new platform can’t come soon enough.

[Image credits: UCSF, US Army Africa/Flickr, Royal Society Publishing]

Voice Calling Spotted in the Latest Version of Whatsapp on iOS

Voice calling is definitely , definitely coming to WhatsApp and what’s more, it’s round the corner. A reference to the feature was spotted in the latest iOS update to the app by NDTV Gadgets, an Indian news portal.

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There are plenty of great things about the XBOX One, but not being able to stuff it into a backpack and take it with you on a road trip is definitely a downer. If you’ve got $1,500 to spare, however, you might just be able to snag an Xbook One: a portable chassis with the guts of the XBOX one and a 22-inch screen.

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