Robotic dragonflies, plastic beer, and space jellyfish – IMPRESSO #36

In this IMPRESSO: Robotic dragonflies go for a swim, let’s eat plastic beer today, and meet some spooky space jellyfish.


Robotic dragonflies go for a swim

Soft robots are on the rise! Their latest trick? Helping to detect and hence fighting pollution in our oceans! Scientists of Duke University came up with a great example of a nature-inspired innovation to act as a warning system: Electronics-free soft robots that can skim across oceans to detect environmental damage! Bonus: They look like dragonflies! Those “DraBots” react to conditions such as pH or temperature and can even detect the presence of oil through attached sponges. Thus, the little robotic dragonflies can help spot signs of e.g. coral bleaching or even oil spills! Read more here or watch the DraBots in action here


Let’s eat plastic beer today!

Reducing waste is a clear goal to all of us. This also includes the massive waste produced in the brewing industry: Leftover grain. Traditionally, the protein- and fiber-rich powder has been dumped in landfills or fed to cattle. But considering its protein content of 30%, this behaviour truly is a missed opportunity. In the context of Food 2.0, scientists from Virginia Tech have developed an innovative process of separating the protein from the fiber that makes up the remaining 70% of the material, without losing much of either of the components. The freshly won protein concentrate can then be reprocessed for foods. But what about the fiber? The newly discovered species of Bacillus lichenformis could convert sugars into a compound that is used to make synthetic rubber, plasticizers and 2-butanol, a fuel. Who knew that beer may one day even be considered a byproduct to create sustainable fuel! Read more


Spooky space jellyfish

It’s one of the most fundamental questions: What is out there in space? Now this is where the “space jellyfish” comes in! Unlike the living jellyfish of our oceans this particular jellyfish is larger than a third of the Moon’s diameter! Despite its massive size, the structure is only visible when looked at through regular FM frequencies. At 200MHz, the ghostly jellyfish disappears… and puzzles scientists! One theory is that a clash of a handful of black holes occurred 2bn years ago has something to do with its inception. The resulting jets of plasma cooled ever since, but were ‘resurrected’ by shock waves passing through the system. This in turn caused the first-ever appearance of the giant space jellyfish. And with telescopes with an even higher resolution, the jellyfish may bring us one step closer to answering the fundamental question on our existence! Read more