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How To: Thwart A Bio-Terrorist Attack

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Some Llamas

Step 1: Recognize the Awesomeness That is the Llama
Push those vile stereotypes out of your mind. Llamas are more than just South America's walking sweater. For one thing, they jump—many reaching Jordan-like heights of as much as four feet. They also make excellent golf caddies and scientists have developed a way to make a dandruff control treatment out of the llama's immune system.

Step 2: Draw Blood From Several Of Your New Furry Friends
Then head to the lab. You're on the hunt for llama antibodies. Complex proteins that float freely through the bloodstream of almost every animal, antibodies recognize, and clamp onto, anything that isn't supposed to be inside the body--sort of like a tiny, biological car boot. Antibodies serve as a signal to immune cells, attracting them to the intruder. If they've encountered this particular invader before, antibodies can actually neutralize it themselves. And scientists have found that they can manipulate antibodies into locating, identifying, and destroying other things as well—like cancer cells, dangerous microbes, and toxic chemicals. The problem, antibodies don't fare so well outside of a body. In high temperatures they quickly break down and become useless.

Step 3: Convert the Blood Into a Bio-Weapon Defense System
In December of 2006, scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory announced that they had found a way to get around the problem of inconveniently delicate antibodies. That's right, it's llamas. Turns out, the antibodies found in llamas (and sharks and camels, too"¦but they aren't as cute) are about one-tenth the size of human antibodies and significantly less complex of in structure. But, this simplicity and small stature also makes them more durable. Llama antibodies can survive temperatures as a high as 200 degrees F and researchers were able to train them into identifying some of the diseases likely to be used as WMDs: cholera, smallpox, and the toxin ricin. The hope is that, with a little more work, we'll be able to pack thousands of llama antibodies into a sensor that could send out a red-alert of biological attack, long before anybody actually got sick.

Photo is courtesy Generally Awesome and, in this context, is meant to depict an elite squad of llama Homeland Security agents parachuting in to save the day.

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Watch How to Make a Compass
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Let's say the mega-earthquake comes and you're stranded with just some MacGyver-style bits and bobs. If you've got a magnet and a little knowledge, you can make a compass that reliably points north. Below, check out a vintage segment from Curiosity Show explaining how to do it—and a bit on the science of why compasses work.

In the clip below, presenter Deane Hutton shows three methods involving a mirror, cork, a pin, a drinking straw, and a circular magnet (in different combinations). There's something for everyone!

Incidentally, one of the key issues in making a compass is knowing which end of a magnet points north and which points south. One YouTuber asked how to determine this, if it's not already marked—as might be the case in a survival situation. Decades after the clip aired, Hutton chimed in via YouTube comments to answer:

Wait till the Sun is about to set. Stand with your right shoulder toward the setting Sun. You are now facing South. Suspend the magnet and let it swing freely. When the magnet stops swinging, the end pointing South is the South Pole of the magnet. Deane.

Science is cool. Anyway, enjoy:

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Watch How To Make a Self-Starting Siphon Using Bendy Straws
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In this vintage video segment from Curiosity Show, we learn about self-starting siphons. These things start a flow of water without the user having to squeeze a pump or suck on a tube, which is a distinct benefit.

In the segment, we also observe the limitations of self-starting siphons. Because the act of submersion starts the flow, we're limited to siphoning water out of very full vessels. But still, this could be useful for a home aquarium, which is one of a thousand scenarios in which you don't want to use a mouth-primed siphon.

The best part of the segment is when presenter Rob Morrison shows how to make your own self-starting siphon. File this under "Handy stuff you can do with bendy straws." Tune in and enjoy this simple physics demo:


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