Singapore students build personal flying machine

A team of eight engineering students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have built a personal flying machine, dubbed 'Snowstorm'.

It could only be demonstrated by flying it indoors, due to Singapore's legal requirements for personal aerial vehicles.

Resembling a giant drone, 'Snowstorm' comprises of motors, propellers and landing gears set within a hexagonal frame and can be controlled by the person sitting in it, or remotely.

It's environmentally-friendly too, as the three rechargeable lithium batteries get their energy from solar power. 

Joerg Weigl, who came up with the idea and is one of the supervisors of the project, said he wanted 'Snowstorm' to help people realize their dreams of flying.

"Because flying is now a community. People can now fly with a jetliner, but the feeling of flying got lost on the way. So 'Snowstorm' is our multi-copter where you can get the feeling of flying back, the feeling of flying to anybody who wants to fly," he said.

The team said the current prototype can technically bear the load of a single person up to 70 kilograms for a flight time of about five minutes and for safety, the seat is installed with a five-point harness that secures the pilot to the center of the machine.

However, a dummy, which is a few times lighter than a human being, was visibly easier to control.

Team member, student Wang Yuyao admitted that 'Snowstorm' is still a work in progress.

"The next step is, from an electrical standpoint, it's definitely to have more fail-safes, better stability and easier control for the pilot, and from the mechanical side of the staff, it's definitely more structural stability as well as maybe even more power. We can always add more motors to lift a heavier person," he said.

Rather than a mode of transportation, the team said the flying machine will be more for personal recreational use.

Weigl said he could see it being commercialized some years down the road.

"As soon as you make it stable and possible as a fun activity, a fun activity is what people want and if people want this, it's a product and as soon as it's a product, it's a commercial market (product). That's very simple and it's a commercial market (product) that doesn't pollute the environment, so that is a nice thing," he said.

The personal flying machine was built over a one-year period.

Melting glaciers blamed for subtle slowing of Earth’s rotation

WASHINGTON The melting of glaciers caused by the world's rising temperatures appears to be causing a slight slowing of the Earth's rotation in another illustration of the far-reaching impact of global climate change, scientists said on Friday.

The driving force behind the modest but discernible changes in the Earth's rotation measured by satellites and astronomical methods is a global sea level rise fueled by an influx of meltwater into the oceans from glaciers, the researchers said.

"Because glaciers are at high latitudes, when they melt they redistribute water from these high latitudes towards lower latitudes, and like a figure skater who moves his or her arms away from their body, this acts to slow the rotation rate of the Earth," Harvard University geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica said.

The movement of ice and meltwater is also causing a slight migration of the Earth's axis, or north pole, in a phenomenon known as "polar wander," the researchers said.

"Imagine a figure skater who doesn't stick their arms straight out but rather sticks one at one angle and the other out at another angle. The figure skater will begin to wobble back and forth. This is the same thing as polar motion," Mitrovica said.

The research looked at the changes in the planet's rotation and axis in light of the world's sea level rise in the 20th century as a result of increasing global temperatures.

The melting of the ice sheets and the rise in sea levels moved the planet's rotation axis, or north pole, at rates of less than a centimeter per year, Mitrovica said. This melting slowed the Earth's rotation and increased the duration of a day by about a thousandth of a second over the 20th century, Mitrovica said.

"These are small effects," but are another indication of the profound impact of human-induced climate change on the planet, Mitrovica said. The observed rotation slowdown does not pose a danger to the planet, he said.

If polar ice sheets melt at higher rates this century, as experts forecast them to do, the impact on Earth's rotation will grow, Mitrovica said.

The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Panda passion: Study reveals secret of fruitful captive breeding

WASHINGTON In pandas as in people, it appears that passion prevails.

Scientists studying captive breeding of the endangered bamboo-eating bears said on Tuesday pandas are far more likely to mate successfully and produce cubs when they show through a complex series of behaviors a preference for a potential mate.

When giant pandas in captive breeding experiments displayed no such preference, despite being deemed genetically suitable as a pair, their chances of successfully mating dropped to zero.

"Incorporating mate choice into conservation breeding programs could make a huge difference for the success of many endangered species breeding programs, increasing cost-effectiveness and overall success," said conservation biologist Meghan Martin-Wintle of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

The study involved more than 40 pandas at a conservation and research center in China's Sichuan province. Pandas were put in large open-air enclosures where they could choose between two potential mates.

When both a male and a female showed a preference for each other, there was about an 80 percent chance they would produce a cub. When one of the two showed a preference for the other, there was about a 50 percent chance they would produce a cub.

When neither showed a preference for the other, there was a zero percent chance for a cub.

The pandas showed interest in potential mates through behaviors such as vocalizations called "chirps" and "bleats," and "scent-marking" by rubbing glands against a surface or object. Females showed their angiogenital region to males, put their tails in the air and walked backward toward males. Males performed a handstand against a vertical surface and urinated.

"We learned that, just as in humans, breeding signals are complicated," Martin-Wintle said.

Conservation breeding programs act as a fail-safe against extinction, providing animals for reintroduction to the wild to bolster dwindling populations. Pandas, remaining in the wild in only a few Chinese mountain ranges, have proven tricky to breed in captivity.

"Pairs are selected to maximize maintenance of genetic diversity in the panda population. This is essential for maintaining healthy populations, and currently we have no problem with this," said Ronald Swaisgood, the institute's director of applied animal ecology.

"However, there are often several candidate mates that are genetically suitable, and we believe that behavior and mate choice has a role to play for improving the success rate of breeding among genetically suitable partners."

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Science’s ‘Breakthrough’ winners earn over $21 million in prizes

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF.Academia just turned a little more glitzy for a select group of scientists.

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner on Sunday handed out seven Breakthrough Prizes, the award for scientific accomplishment he created three years ago alongside technology giants including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 23andme founder Anne Wojcicki and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The prizes are worth $3 million, around three times the sum a Nobel Prize winner receives.

For one group of Breakthrough recipients, the honor will carry more prestige than cash. Some 1370 physicists are being honored as part of a single $3 million prize for their work confirming the theory of neutrino oscillation, a phenomenon in quantum mechanics.

Seven team leaders will split two-thirds of the prize. That leaves $1 million to split among the others, or around $700 to each physicist.

"I would love to give $3 million to each one, but we're not there yet," Milner said in an interview on Friday. Increasingly, he added, breakthroughs are made through vast consortiums rather than a handful of scientists working in relative isolation, raising the chances of such shared prizes in future.

Five prizes went to researchers in life sciences for advances in areas ranging from optogenetics to sequencing of ancient genomes. A prize in mathematics went to a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for work in low dimensional topology and geometric group theory.

Eight scientists early in their mathematics and physics careers won awards of $100,000.

Milner has set his sights on giving the sciences the same cultural resonance as sports or entertainment, but on Friday, he said it was too early to see if his work was having any effect. He pointed to the ceremony's broadcast on a major U.S. network, Fox, for the first time as a sign things were moving in the right direction.

A onetime physics PhD student in Moscow who dropped out to move to the United States in 1990, Milner has backed some of the world’s biggest technology companies, including Facebook.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of the hit TV series “Family Guy,” is hosted the black-tie ceremony, held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Hollywood celebrities like pop star Christina Aguilera hobnobbed with Silicon Valley celebrities like Theranos chief Elizabeth Holmes, whose blood-testing company has come under fire in recent weeks. News Corp.O> chief executive Rupert Murdoch sat next to Gen. David Petraeus.

Singer Pharrell Williams serenaded the audience before dinner, created by chef Thomas Keller. Other celebrities milling about included actress Hilary Swank and cast members of the TV show "Silicon Valley."

Earlier this year, Milner said he would spend $100 million looking for intelligent life in space by searching for radio and light signals.

(This story corrects paragraph 3 to physicists instead of physicians.)

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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