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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    This Week in Science: Boaty McBoatface, brains, invisible trains, endless puddles

    Patrick Feller (CC BY 2.0)
    A rain puddle captured in Humble, Texas in late 2009. Researchers at MIT recently reported their work explaining the physics behind how puddles stop spreading.

    Boaty McBoatface

    Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council has invested over $250 million in the construction of a new, state-of-of the art research ship.

    The enormous vessel, which stretches 128 meters in length, will carry teams of scientists to both the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans to carry out their research. NERC hopes the boat will commence its maiden voyage in 2019.

    In an effort to generate public support for its project, NERC created a poll that allowed Internet browsers to vote for the name of the completed ship last month.

    The name Boaty McBoatface won overwhelmingly, beating out the second place finisher by nearly 90,000 votes.

    However, while members of the general public may approve of Boaty McBoatface sailing the seven seas, NERC remains reluctant to bestow such a tongue-in-cheek name upon its sophisticated ship.

    The poll officially closed on April 16, but according to, the council will announce its final naming decision “in due course.”

    Neural engineering

    Doctors reported on April 13 that a quadriplegic man regained control over his hands and fingers via a surgically implanted brain chip.

    Ian Burkhart, an Ohio resident, became paralyzed five years ago after breaking his neck during a horrific diving accident. He opted to undergo experimental brain surgery, allowing doctors to implant a computer chip in his brain.

    After extensive recovery and rehabilitation, the computer chip helped breathe movement back into Burkhart’s limbs two years ago. Wearing a special sleeve connected to the chip and to a computer, Burkhart successfully stirred with a straw and played “Guitar Hero.”

    While the new technology only allows Burkhart to regain mobility while he is connected to wires in the lab, his successful surgery represents an important advancement in neural engineering.

    Invisible trains

    Japan, already a world leader in locomotive engineering, announced its plan this week to construct an “invisible train.”

    Seibu Railway Co. intends to redesign both the interior and exterior of one of its current engines, effectively making the train entirely transparent. The company will conduct the project under the guidance of Pritzker Prize laureate Kazuyo Sejima. reports that Sejima and her team will plate the train’s exterior with mirrored panels, allowing it to reflect its surroundings and blend in with the environment.

    Not enough paper towels

    In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology answered a deceivingly simple question: Why do puddles of liquid stop spreading?

    Until now, the mathematical formulas that have been used to model the behavior of liquid puddles have been flawed.

    The old models suggest that puddles grow infinitely large, a conclusion one can prove to be false by simply observing a puddle of water.

    “The classic thin-film model describes the spreading of a liquid film, but it doesn’t predict it stopping,” MIT graduate student Amir Pahlavan told

    Pahlavan explained that the forces responsible for stopping the spread of puddles only appear at the molecular level; they cannot be studied through a macroscopic lens.

    Next time you spill a glass of milk, at least you can be grateful that it won’t spread throughout your entire house.

    Follow Elizabeth Hannah on Twitter

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