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The Priceless Potty, the Jiffy Boob Job and the Squid/Octopus Hybrid

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The $19 million toilet

ISS_Toilet_2.jpgOkay, we never really expect the government to be too fiscally responsible, but it's still hard to fathom this. NASA announced last week that they're shelling out $19 million to buy a Russian toilet system to use in space. And that was a bargain. They explain that a toilet in space is like a water treatment plant on earth, so they saved big by buying the Russian model instead of building their own. The toilet, to be installed on the American side of the International Space Station, will look your standard airplane lavatory, except for the leg straps and thigh bar (see right). Plus, it's got the ability to transfer urine to a device that purifies drinking water. Even though the toilet does sound high-tech, it's sobering to think that for the same price NASA could have bought Curt Schilling and the cast of Friends.

Perfecting the Brewski

In a classic case of potential over-analyzation, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have revealed a procedure to use ultrasound equipment to test the quality of a fermented beverage. By strapping sensors to the outside of a container, they can bounce sound waves off of the particles in the brew to check for hung fermentation or bacteria. They haven't announced plans to market the equipment yet, but if it's available commercially, frat boys won't be able to get away with watering down their kegs anymore.

Even Rats Have a Golden Rule

Turns out calling someone a rat isn't as much of an insult as we always thought. Scientists showed that rats are actually pretty nice, especially when shown kindness. The rats were trained to pull a lever that fed food pellets to other rats. In turn, the rats receiving the food were more likely to pull the giving lever for other rats. Scientists are puzzled since this seems to run counter to evolutionary theory, but really it just shows that rats believe in karma as much as we do.

Tongue controlled wheelchairs, Really good vibrations and the Amazing Octosquid all after the jump!

The Tongue-Controlled Wheelchair:

KISS---Gene-Simmons--C11751295.jpegAdmit it: As an inexperienced prepubescent, you once practiced French kissing by yourself. Little did you know, that may have been practice for the future of transportation. The American company Think-a-Move has announced their development of an earplug that can detect movements of the tongue to control a wheelchair or computer. The movement in the tongue sends air through the Eustachian tube, which leads to the ear. Tests showed that the device has a 97 percent success rate with the commands for up, down, left and right. In addition to helping quadraplegics, the company says the device could be useful for soldiers and rescue workers. And Gene Simmons will just get a kick out of it.

The Amazing Octosquid

While cleaning the filters at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority water pipelines, scientists found a creature with the eight legs, the head of an octopus and the mantle of a squid. What to call this apparent hybrid-from-the-deep? Why, octosquid, of course! The specimen was about a foot long and doesn't appear to be of a known species. Octosquid is the temporary name until scientists can identify it further.

Pickin' up good vibrations

_42465828_power-sbeeby203.jpgScientists in Britain have developed a tiny generator that picks up its power from vibrations in its surroundings. They say the unique power system could be use in places where batteries are difficult to replace such as, say, a human heart. There are plans to use the device to power pacemakers since the vibrations from a beating heart would be enough to keep the generator going. I think if they could make the generator a little bigger, rock concerts might be able to power themselves.

Bigger Breasts in Just an Hour

From the land of 8-minute abs and 30-minute meals comes the 1-hour boob job. A California biotech company has announced a process, known as Celution, that takes just over an hour to enhance a patient's breasts. Using a minor liposuction, they draw fat from either the stomach or buttocks, then quickly remove the useful stem cells and inject the cells back into the patient's breasts, which gradually expand over six months. Sounds like becoming a pop star just became easier- you can process your headshots, burn a sample CD and get a bigger bra-size all in one afternoon.

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9 Facts about Physicist Michael Faraday, the 'Father of Electricity'
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A self-taught scientist, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) excelled in chemistry and physics to become one of the most influential thinkers in history. He’s been called the "father of electricity," (Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison also wear that crown) and his appetite for experimenting knew no bounds. "Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature; and in such things as these, experiment is the best test of such consistency," he wrote. Faraday discovered laws of electromagnetism, invented the first electric motor, and built the first electric generator—paving the way for our mechanized age. Read on for more Faraday facts.

1. HE NEVER HAD A FORMAL SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION.

Born in south London in a working-class family, Faraday earned a rudimentary education in reading, writing, and math. When he turned 14 he was apprenticed to a London bookbinder for the following seven years. In his free time, Faraday read Jane Marcet's Conversations in Chemistry, an 1806 bestseller that explained scientific topics for a general audience.

2. HE WAS A SELF-STARTER.

Like Marcet, Faraday was fascinated by the work of Sir Humphry Davy, a charismatic chemist who had found fame by testing the effects of nitrous oxide on himself. (He let others, including poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, inhale the gas on the condition that they keep diaries of their thoughts and sensations while high.) In spring 1812, a customer at the bookbindery gave Faraday tickets to see Davy’s upcoming lectures. Faraday compiled his notes from the lectures in a bound volume (the one benefit of his toil at the bookbinder's) and sent the book to Davy, requesting to become his assistant—an unheard-of notion for a tradesman with no university degree. Sensing his intelligence and drive, Davy secured him a job at the Royal Institution, where Davy ran the chemistry lab.

3. HE INVENTED A MOTOR WITH MAGNETS AND MERCURY.

By 1820, other scientists had shown that an electric current produces a magnetic field, and that two electrified wires produce a force on each other. Faraday thought there could be a way to harness these forces in a mechanical apparatus. In 1822, he built a device using a magnet, liquid mercury (which conducts electricity) and a current-carrying wire that turned electrical energy into mechanical energy—in other words, the first electric motor. Faraday noted the success in his journal [PDF]: "Very satisfactory, but make more sensible apparatus."

4. HE ALSO CREATED THE FIRST ELECTRIC GENERATOR.

A decade after his breakthrough with the motor, Faraday discovered that the movement of a wire through a stationary magnetic field can induce an electrical current in the wire—the principle of electromagnetic induction. To demonstrate it, Faraday built a machine in which a copper disc rotated between the two poles of a horseshoe magnet, producing its own power. The machine, later called the Faraday disc, became the first electric generator.

5. HE SHOWED THE PULL OF MAGNETIC FORCE.

In a brilliantly simple experiment (recreated by countless schoolchildren today), Faraday laid a bar magnet on a table and covered it with a piece of stiff paper. Then he sprinkled magnetized iron shavings across the paper, which immediately arranged themselves into semicircular arcs emanating from the ends—the north and south poles—of the magnet. In addition to revealing that magnets still exert pull through barriers, he visualized the pattern of magnetic force in space.

6. YOU CAN VISIT HIS MAGNETIC LABORATORY IN LONDON.

Faraday served in a number of scientific roles at the Royal Institution, an organization dedicated to promoting applied science. Eventually Faraday was appointed as its Fullerian Professor of Chemistry, a permanent position that allowed him to research and experiment to his heart's content. His magnetic laboratory from the 1850s is now faithfully replicated in the Royal Institution's Faraday Museum. It displays many of his world-changing gadgets, including an original Faraday disc, one of his early electrostatic generators, his chemical samples, and a giant magnet.

7. HE POPULARIZED NEW SCIENTIFIC TERMINOLOGY.

Faraday's work was so groundbreaking that no descriptors existed for many of his discoveries. With his fellow scientist William Whewell, Faraday coined a number of futuristic-sounding names for the forces and concepts he identified, such as electrode, anode, cathode, and ion. (Whewell himself coined the word "scientist" in 1834, after "natural philosopher" had become too vague to describe people working in increasingly specialized fields.)

8. PRINCE ALBERT GAVE HIM SOME SWEET REAL ESTATE.

In 1848, the Prince Consort, also known as Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert, gave Faraday and his family a comfortable home at Hampton Court—not the royal palace, but near it—free of charge, to recognize his contributions to science. The house at 37 Hampton Court Road was renamed Faraday House until he died there on August 25, 1867. Now it's known simply by its street address.

9. HE WAS FEATURED ON THE UNITED KINGDOM'S £20 NOTE.

To honor Faraday's role in the advancement of British science, the Bank of England unveiled a £20 bill with his portrait on June 5, 1991. He joined an illustrious group of Britons with their own notes, including William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale, and Isaac Newton. By the time it was withdrawn in February 2001, the bank estimated that about 120 million Faraday bills were in circulation (that's more than 2 billion quid).

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4 Expert Tips on How to Get the Most Out of August's Total Solar Eclipse
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As you might have heard, there’s a total solar eclipse crossing the U.S. on August 21. It’s the first total solar eclipse in the country since 1979, and the first coast-to-coast event since June 8, 1918, when eclipse coverage pushed World War I off the front page of national newspapers. Americans are just as excited today: Thousands are hitting the road to stake out prime spots for watching the last cross-country total solar eclipse until 2045. We’ve asked experts for tips on getting the most out of this celestial spectacle.

1. DON’T FRY YOUR EYES—OR BREAK THE BANK

To see the partial phases of the eclipse, you will need eclipse glasses because—surprise!—staring directly at the sun for even a minute or two will permanently damage your retinas. Make sure the glasses you buy meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standards. As eclipse frenzy nears its peak, shady retailers are selling knock-off glasses that will not adequately protect your eyes. The American Astronomical Society keeps a list of reputable vendors, but as a rule, if you can see anything other than the sun through your glasses, they might be bogus. There’s no need to splurge, however: You can order safe paper specs in bulk for as little as 90 cents each. In a pinch, you and your friends can take turns watching the partial phases through a shared pair of glasses. As eclipse chaser and author Kate Russo points out, “you only need to view occasionally—no need to sit and stare with them on the whole time.”

2. DON’T DIY YOUR EYE PROTECTION

There are plenty of urban legends about “alternative” ways to protect your eyes while watching a solar eclipse: smoked glass, CDs, several pairs of sunglasses stacked on top of each other. None works. If you’re feeling crafty, or don’t have a pair of safe eclipse glasses, you can use a pinhole projector to indirectly watch the eclipse. NASA produced a how-to video to walk you through it.

3. GET TO THE PATH OF TOTALITY

Bryan Brewer, who published a guidebook for solar eclipses, tells Mental Floss the difference between seeing a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse is “like the difference between standing right outside the arena and being inside watching the game.”

During totality, observers can take off their glasses and look up at the blocked-out sun—and around at their eerily twilit surroundings. Kate Russo’s advice: Don’t just stare at the sun. “You need to make sure you look above you, and around you as well so you can notice the changes that are happening,” she says. For a brief moment, stars will appear next to the sun and animals will begin their nighttime routines. Once you’ve taken in the scenery, you can use a telescope or a pair of binoculars to get a close look at the tendrils of flame that make up the sun’s corona.

Only a 70-mile-wide band of the country stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will experience the total eclipse. Rooms in the path of totality are reportedly going for as much as $1000 a night, and news outlets across the country have raised the specter of traffic armageddon. But if you can find a ride and a room, you'll be in good shape for witnessing the spectacle.

4. PRESERVE YOUR NIGHT VISION

Your eyes need half an hour to fully adjust to darkness, but the total eclipse will last less than three minutes. If you’ve just been staring at the sun through the partial phases of the eclipse, your view of the corona during totality will be obscured by lousy night vision and annoying green afterimages. Eclipse chaser James McClean—who has trekked from Svalbard to Java to watch the moon blot out the sun—made this rookie mistake during one of his early eclipse sightings in Egypt in 2006. After watching the partial phases, with stray beams of sunlight reflecting into his eyes from the glittering sand and sea, McClean was snowblind throughout the totality.

Now he swears by a new method: blindfolding himself throughout the first phases of the eclipse to maximize his experience of the totality. He says he doesn’t mind “skipping the previews if it means getting a better view of the film.” Afterward, he pops on some eye protection to see the partial phases of the eclipse as the moon pulls away from the sun. If you do blindfold yourself, just remember to set an alarm for the time when the total eclipse begins so you don’t miss its cross-country journey. You'll have to wait 28 years for your next chance.

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