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

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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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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