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Scientists Create Gecko-Based Spider-Man Gloves

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iStock

Many lizards such as geckos—not to mention thousands of insects—have the remarkable ability to climb up vertical surfaces with ease. The process has fascinated scientists for years, but a simple physics principle has kept bigger animals like people out of the wall-scaling game. The square cube law basically says that as objects, like animals, increase in size, their volumes grow at a much faster rate than their surface area—specifically, if you square a creature's surface area, you must cube its volume so that its body can support its own weight. This is why ants can carry more than elephants in proportion to their own weight and why small animals like geckos can more easily support themselves with small patches of adhesion.

A clearer understanding of the efficiency of a gecko's pads gave scientists hope that a more intentionally designed replica could support human weight. However, these gecko-gloves would still have to overcome the issue of evenly distributing a hanging human's weight so that no one pad was strained to the breaking point, setting off a chain reaction that could collapse the entire system.

A research team led by Stanford engineer Ethan Hawkes thinks they've solved this problem, publishing a paper on their developments last week in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. They've developed a dry-adhesive called PDMS microwedges that utilizes gecko-inspired, hair-like nanofibers that flatten out when pulled downward against a surface and grip via electromagnetic attraction but are easily "unstuck" with a perpendicular tug.

The team attached 24 stamp-sized tiles, each of which contained hundreds of thousands of microwedges, to octagonal-shaped plates using innovative springs. These springs are the key to overcoming the gecko's limitations. Unlike traditional springs, which become tenser as you pull them like a rubber band and do not distribute weight evenly, the springs they used—made of a shape-memory alloy—exert less pressure as you pull them, like bubblegum or silly putty, and distribute weight evenly, regardless of movement. The team estimates that the plates can support up to 200 pounds. To prove their capabilities, Hawke himself climbed (rather slowly) up a glass wall.

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John Phillips, Getty Images
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Pop Culture
How The Crown Saved the Corgis
John Phillips, Getty Images
John Phillips, Getty Images

Corgis may be both Queen Elizabeth II and the internet’s favorite dog breed, but their longtime association with the former has actually proven detrimental to their popularity in England. So much so that, in 2009, the stout little furballs were added to the UK Kennel Club’s list of native breeds that were “at risk of extinction.” Now, The Telegraph reports, their numbers are rising—thanks in part to the popularity of Netflix’s The Crown.

According to The Telegraph, the Queen’s love of the corgi is partly what caused its dip in popularity, as they “have long been regarded as a breed for the elderly and the genteel upper middle class.” But The Crown’s revisiting of the royal family in the early days of Elizabeth II’s reign (and the years leading up to it) have shown the Queen in a new, and much more stylish, light—and her beloved breed has reaped the rewards. In just the past two months, since The Crown’s second season dropped on Netflix in December, the Kennel Club has seen enough interest in the breed to take them off the endangered list entirely.

The Crown has certainly been important in the resurgence of the corgi breed,” Kennel Club public relations manager David Robson said. “It has increased interest in the breed. Following the transmission of the second series, searches for the breed puppies on our website went up by 22 percent.”

The dogs have proven to be a hit with viewers, as well as their costars. Claire Foy and Matt Smith, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the show’s first two seasons, admitted that when they’re filming with the series' dogs, it’s the corgis who steal the show.

“When we’re with the corgis, then all the shots are about the corgis and you have to fit your acting around what the corgis are doing,” Foy explained in an interview with Off Set. “Which is absolutely … fine. And is the way it should be quite frankly.”

But even before Netflix unleashed its pricey royal drama on the world, the Queen’s dogs were finding their way back into the spotlight. In 2011, shortly after Prince William married Kate Middleton, BBC reported that the Cardigan Welsh corgi (a sort of cousin to the Pembroke Welsh corgi that the Queen prefers, though the Kennel Club lumps them into one category) saw a registration increase of 134 percent, which the group chalked up to the “royal wedding effect.”

Interest in the breed surged again in 2015, when the Queen—who has owned 30 of the dogs during her life, beginning with her childhood pooch Dookie—announced that she would no longer breed the pups, as she did not want to leave any young dogs behind in the event of her death. Adding to their pop culture cachet: During their first official interview after announcing their engagement, Prince Harry admitted that part of the reason he knew wife-to-be Meghan Markle was “the one” was because “the corgis took to [her] straight away.”

[h/t: The Telegraph]

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Animals
Watch a Cheetah Hunt Its Prey—From the Cheetah's Point of View
BBC
BBC

Even if you're a huge fan of wildlife documentaries, you've never seen a cheetah hunt quite like this. For PBS's latest Nature miniseries, Animals With Cameras, animal behaviorists strapped custom-made cameras on meerkats, seals, cheetahs, and more to capture never-before-seen footage.

"There's absolutely no way we could see this any other way," wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan says in the clip below, which follows a hunting cheetah as she and her siblings try to take down an eland, a type of antelope native to east and southern Africa.

A holster used to attach a camera to a cheetah's head
Isabel Rogers

The custom-made camera was strapped to the top of the cheetah's head, allowing it to record footage from the animal's point of view. The cameras were designed by Chris Watts of British Technical Films, a UK-based company that specializes in developing custom camera kits to capture wildlife and nature footage.

The cheetah-mounted cameras had to be extra-light, since the fast-moving predators were extremely sensitive to the device's weight. (As you, too, might be if you had a camera on your head while sprinting.) The straps that secured the camera had to allow enough airflow to keep the cat's head cool and be flexible enough that the animal could get the device off if it became too bothersome. And since running across the savannah at 70 mph can get a bit bumpy, the camera had to have stabilizing sensors to make the footage smooth, so it wouldn't make viewers queasy.

The result is a pretty spectacular scene following a cheetah from the moment it picks up the scent of its prey to the end of its hunt. Watch the full video below. We won't spoil how it ends.

The final episode of Animals With Cameras airs on February 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

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