USC Is Searching for the Next Female MacGyver

As any women who ever asked her mid-1990s hairstylist for “The Rachel” haircut knows all too well, television has the power to inspire its viewers. And not just in terms of beauty and fashion trends, but in an intellectual capacity as well. Just as the CSI franchise has increased the interest in forensic careers and Breaking Bad inspired a new generation of would-be scientists, MacGyver did the same for engineering in its 1980s heyday. After all, who wouldn’t want to know how to escape from the clutches of a couple of mob guys with nothing more than a fire hose and a trusty Swiss army knife?

“I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘I became an engineer, or I went into the sciences because of MacGyver,’” says Lee Zlotoff, the show’s creator. Which gave the folks at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering an idea: If there’s no current on-screen hero encouraging the next wave of great engineers, why not create one? And why not make this MacGyver a missus?

That’s the idea behind “The Next MacGyver” project, an online competition aimed squarely at engineering television’s next great problem-solver. The process is simple: Entrants (which can be a team of people) must submit a handful of key details about the proposed series—including a title, logline, pilot episode synopsis, and description of the “new” Mrs. MacGyver—by May 1, 2015. From there, the competition’s crack team of judges will whittle the competition down to their 12 favorite ideas, whose creators will square off this summer in a pitching event, with five winners emerging victorious.

"We’re not looking to reboot the MacGyver franchise or bring back guys with mullets," state the contest's creators. "We are asking: 'Can you out-MacGyver MacGyver?' Can you imagine that next female hero that will inspire a generation of young women to see themselves as engineers?" In addition to USC and Zlotoff, the National Academy of Engineering and The MacGyver Foundation are the contest's main partners.

While there’s no guarantee that the proposed show will get made, “The Next MacGyver” crew will prep its winners to find success as best they can, both with a $5000 prize and by pairing them with two mentors—one engineer who specializes in the field in which the imagined protagonist operates and one veteran Hollywood producer. Producers Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Fringe), Lori McCreary (Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman), Clayton Krueger (3001: The Final Odyssey), and CSI creator Anthony Zuiker are among the pros who have already signed on as mentors.

Now they just need The Next MacGyver (feathered hair optional).

Researchers Pore Over the Physics Behind the Layered Latte

The layered latte isn't the most widely known espresso drink on coffee-shop menus, but it is a scientific curiosity. Instead of a traditional latte, where steamed milk is poured into a shot (or several) of espresso, the layered latte is made by pouring the espresso into a glass of hot milk. The result is an Instagram-friendly drink that features a gradient of milky coffee colors from pure white on the bottom to dark brown on the top. The effect is odd enough that Princeton University researchers decided to explore the fluid dynamics that make it happen, as The New York Times reports.

In a new study in Nature Communications, Princeton engineering professor Howard Stone and his team explore just what creates the distinct horizontal layers pattern of layered latte. To find out, they injected warm, dyed water into a tank filled with warm salt water, mimicking the process of pouring low-density espresso into higher-density steamed milk.

Four different images of a latte forming layers over time
Xue et al., Nature Communications (2017)

According to the study, the layered look of the latte forms over the course of minutes, and can last for "tens of minutes, or even several hours" if the drink isn't stirred. When the espresso-like dyed water was injected into the salt brine, the downward jet of the dyed water floated up to the top of the tank, because the buoyant force of the low-density liquid encountering the higher-density brine forced it upward. The layers become more visible when the hot drink cools down.

The New York Times explains it succinctly:

When the liquids try to mix, layered patterns form as gradients in temperature cause a portion of the liquid to heat up, become lighter and rise, while another, denser portion sinks. This gives rise to convection cells that trap mixtures of similar densities within layers.

This structure can withstand gentle movement, such as a light stirring or sipping, and can stay stable for as long as a day or more. The layers don't disappear until the liquids cool down to room temperature.

But before you go trying to experiment with layering your own lattes, know that it can be trickier than the study—which refers to the process as "haphazardly pouring espresso into a glass of warm milk"—makes it sound. You may need to experiment several times with the speed and height of your pour and the ratio of espresso to milk before you get the look just right.

[h/t The New York Times]

Watch NASA Test Its New Supersonic Parachute at 1300 Miles Per Hour

NASA’s latest Mars rover is headed for the Red Planet in 2020, and the space agency is working hard to make sure its $2.1 billion project will land safely. When the Mars 2020 rover enters the Martian atmosphere, it’ll be assisted by a brand-new, advanced parachute system that’s a joy to watch in action, as a new video of its first test flight shows.

Spotted by Gizmodo, the video was taken in early October at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Narrated by the technical lead from the test flight, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ian Clark, the two-and-a-half-minute video shows the 30-mile-high launch of a rocket carrying the new, supersonic parachute.

The 100-pound, Kevlar-based parachute unfurls at almost 100 miles an hour, and when it is entirely deployed, it’s moving at almost 1300 miles an hour—1.8 times the speed of sound. To be able to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the parachute generates almost 35,000 pounds of drag force.

For those of us watching at home, the video is just eye candy. But NASA researchers use it to monitor how the fabric moves, how the parachute unfurls and inflates, and how uniform the motion is, checking to see that everything is in order. The test flight ends with the payload crashing into the ocean, but it won’t be the last time the parachute takes flight in the coming months. More test flights are scheduled to ensure that everything is ready for liftoff in 2020.

[h/t Gizmodo]


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