SCIENCE

World Science Festival Fascinates With Robotic Animals, World's Lightest Material, Quantum Levitation (VIDEO)

If you couldn't make it out to New York City to attend the 2012 World Science Festival earlier this month, fear not! I was there with camera crew in tow. One of my favorite events of the weekend was Innovation Square, a wonderland of cutting-edge science and technology.

I had the chance to visit three awesome exhibits, each unveiling reality-bending scientific innovations. From robots fashioned after living animals to the world's lightest material to quantum levitation, this celebration in the heart of Brooklyn had it all.

So come along for the ride! Watch the video above and click below to read all about the discoveries I made that day. And don't forget to weigh in by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page. Come on, talk nerdy to me!

CARA SANTA MARIA: I’m Cara Santa Maria, and I had the amazing opportunity this weekend to spend some time at the World Science Festival here in New York City. Right now I’m at Innovation Square and I’m about to learn about robots, the world’s lightest material, and something called quantum levitation. Let’s go check it out!

Robotic Animals

CSM: So I’m here with Dr. Heinrich Frontzek from Festo, and we’re talking about this amazing robotic jellyfish that they have here. What’s going on with this?

HEINRICH FRONTZECK: [laughs] This is learning from nature, because jellyfish, the nature of jellyfish with this peristaltic movement with this propulsion is so fascinating that our engineers decided to rebuild it as a robot. And what you see is using fin tails from the fish for this propulsion and it works like a real jellyfish.

CSM: And they call this biomimicry, right? Kind of trying to mimic biology and make technology from it. Have you made any other robotic animals?

HF: Sure, for example, smartbird. This is a flight model. This is an inspiration from nature, this is an inspiration from the herring gull. So the seagull was a natural model for this flight model, and this bird is able to fly out enormously--start, land and fly with a cell phone battery, and you can keep it for 20 minutes in the air. It’s here we are talking about energy efficiency, lightweight design, carbon fiber structures, you can move the head and the tail for maneuvering. And you see that? It’s like a real bird.

CSM: So how does it land? It doesn’t crash land? It doesn’t have any legs.

HF: Normally we take it.

CSM: Oh you catch it?

HF: Yeah, we catch it.

CSM: Oh it just lands right in your hands. Oh wow!

The World’s Lightest Material

CSM: I’m here with Dr. Alan Jacobsen from HRL Laboratories, and he is showing me the world’s lightest material.

ALAN JACOBSEN: So keep in mind this is all metal, right. There’s nothing else in here. At HRL we’ve developed a new technique to architect a material, and the idea is that we’re taking the architecture of trusses, which are used for bridges and buildings, you know those triangulated structures, and shrinking it down to the materials level. And we made this by coating nickel on a polymer microlattice scaffold, and then chemically emptying out or removing that polymer, and you’re left with these hollow nickel tubes that construct this material. So we can make, you know, very large unit cell structures like this, you know medium-size unit cell structures, or very small unit cell structures.

CSM: Where you almost can’t even see it unless you look under a microscope, maybe.

AJ: Exactly.

CSM: Okay. So why make the world’s lightest material?

AJ: We’re trying to push the bounds of existing material properties.

Quantum Levitation

CSM: I’m here with Dr. Boaz Almog from Tel-Aviv University, and he has been demonstrating today quantum levitation. What exactly is that?

BOAZ ALMOG: It’s a phenomenon when you take material that when you cool it down it becomes a superconductor.

CSM: And what’s a superconductor?

BA: It’s a quantum state of the matter, and the superconductor has two main properties. First of all it’s a perfect conductor, it conducts electricity without any friction, and that’s one thing. The other thing is that it tries to repel magnetic fields from inside the material. And the quantum levitation is a result of the other property; the relationship between the superconductor and magnetism. So we actually do is we force magnetic fields into the superconductor and the superconductor just tries to keep them fixed and tries to make sure they’re not moving around the magnetic field lines. And it does that by just keeping itself levitating in mid-air. We developed this in Guy Deutscher's group in Tel-Aviv University for 15 years now. And a few people worked on this project--Mishael Azoulay, Guy Deutscher, and myself. What we did is, we did something that, it actually surprised us. We grew very high quality thin films and we asked ourselves would it levitate? Of course I said no, for the first time, but my professor when I was doing my PhD said, ‘Yeah let’s try it. It will levitate.’ And it really did, so...

CSM: Your professor knew something you didn’t know.

BA: [laughs] Yeah he knew better. So the thin film is so high quality, it’s almost single crystal, it makes it possible to levitate itself and much more. So this is the first time that we can actually demonstrate quantum levitation using thin films and it becomes available for the public to see.

CSM: [waves]

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