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Michael Lombardi in the Exosuit. Photo by Jim Clark/AMNH.

The High-Tech Exosuit That Takes Divers to 1000 Feet

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Michael Lombardi in the Exosuit. Photo by Jim Clark/AMNH.

It looks like something you'd wear to visit the Moon or Mars, but the Exosuit—on display at the American Museum of Natural History's Milstein Hall of Ocean Life through March 5—is actually built to explore another place that's largely alien to humans: the ocean. The atmospheric diving system (ADS) is capable of taking a diver down to 1000 feet while keeping him at surface pressure. A hybridization of wet diving and submersibles, "it allows the human form to be embedded in an environment," says Michael Lombardi, AMNH's Dive Safety Officer and the project coordinator of the Stephen J. Barlow Expedition, which will take the suit out this July on its first mission to explore an area 100 miles of the coast of New England known as The Canyons. "People have dived to these depths just to say that they've done it," Lombardi says. "That's very different than doing it for work, which is what we're doing."

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At 6.5 feet tall, the hard-metal suit is owned by the J.F. White Contracting Company and was designed and built by Nuytco Research Ltd.; it's currently the only Exosuit in existence. The suit—which can be modified to fit divers from 5'6" to 6'4" tall—is driven with four 1.6 horsepower foot-controlled thrusters and has 18 rotary joints in the arms and legs, which allow for a wide range of movement and give the diver the ability to use special accessories. Though it weighs between 500 and 600 pounds on land, it's nearly neutrally buoyant in the ocean.

On its July expedition to The Canyons (where the continental shelf drops off to depths of more than 10,000 feet), the suit will allow a team of scientists—including ichthyologists, neurologists, and marine biologists—to conduct studies in the mesopelagic (or mid-water) zone, where they can find a number of animals that have only been studied using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) or after being caught in trawl nets. The mission will take place at night, because animals make a vertical migration from the depths to shallower water at that time. The team is looking to study creatures that exhibit bioluminescence (generating light using a chemical reaction). The discovery of green fluorescent protein in the '60s allowed scientists to reveal the inner working of cells in a non-invasive way, according to Vincent Pieribone, Yale University School of Medicine Professor and Chief Scientist of the Stephen J. Barlow Bluewater Expedition; identifying new bioluminescent proteins could potentially help in other areas of biomedical research, including cancer cell tagging.

Working in tandem with an ROV, the suit will be equipped with suction tools and a special containment vessel (still in development) that will allow the operator to gently capture fish and invertebrates and place them in front of the ROV's cameras to be photographed in high resolution. The suit is so dexterous that a user can pick up a dime off the floor of a pool—and it has to be, when working in areas where there might be 9000 feet of water below it. "If you drop something," Pieribone says, "that's a long way down." The Exosuit allows a diver to work for 4 to 5 hours on site, and is built to have 50 hours of emergency support.

The back of the Exosuit, which shows the life support system. Photo courtesy AMNH/Michael Lombardi.

The suit itself cost approximately $600,000 to make; add in instrumentation, and the total cost is somewhere around $1.3 million. In development for about 15 years, Lombardi said, the Exosuit is a "quantum leap forward" from the Newtsuit of the 1980s (which was also manufactured by Nuytco and is still used today).

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Live Smarter
Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design.

Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor.

Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies.

In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.)

Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens.

"The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release.

The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking.

“When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.”

Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure.

[h/t Fast Company]

Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]


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