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New Process Will Allow You to 3D Print Glass on Demand

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KIT/NeptunLab

The surge in affordable 3D printing in recent years has allowed hobbyists to craft everything from customized toys to hair to prosthetic duck feet, with the only limit being the creator's imagination. Now, researchers in Germany are close to achieving a technique that could revolutionize both 3D applications and glassmaking by giving us the power to 3D print glass.

In a study published in Nature this week, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) investigator Dr. Bastian Rapp presented a way of manufacturing a “liquid glass” that can be manipulated with 3D printing software and then heated until it’s a useful solid. (Normal glass consists of melted sand made from sheets in molten tin vats.) By making the glass dispensable through 3D printing nozzles, Rapp believes we’ll soon be able to 3D print glass that’s of sufficient quality for lenses, mirrors, and even drinking cups.

Previous attempts to conceive of a new way of glass production via 3D printers haven’t resulted in glass smooth enough for widespread use, according to The New York Times. Rapp’s method, called stereolithography, uses glass nanoparticles and suspends them in a liquid that hardens under UV light. As the printer shapes whatever design the software calls for, the light turns the liquid into a solid; a final step in a heated oven further solidifies the glass and burns off any excess materials.

The end result is said to be identical to commercial silica glass. It’s expected that the process could make glass as prolific an element in 3D printing as plastic.

The glass is also clear enough that its potential uses include the kind of fine glass needed for commercial applications like smartphone lenses or computing-based components. And because software is able to create these elaborate designs and shapes, as opposed to time-consuming human effort, observers believe it will be substantially cheaper.

As part of their proof of concept, KIT ran off tiny glass pretzels, a honeycomb, and miniature castles to demonstrate the level of detail available with the technology. In normal glassmaking, acids and chemicals are typically needed to etch designs and shapes.

KIT asserts that this type of 3D printed glass doesn’t require specialized equipment and is feasible with conventional printers, though it will probably be some time before the technology becomes widely used. When it does, the applications will likely go well beyond expensive technology production; Dr. Rapp envisions a day when dropped glasses or smashed flower vases will be easily replaced with a quick 3D solution.

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Food
This Couple Has Spent the Past 30 Years Visiting Every Cracker Barrel in the U.S.
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Ray and Wilma Yoder are probably America's foremost amateur experts on Cracker Barrel restaurants. As Eater reports, the Indiana couple is on a 30-year quest to eat at every single Cracker Barrel in the U.S. And they’ve almost completed it.

Ray Yoder of Goshen, Indiana, first started going to Cracker Barrel regularly when he worked delivering RVs across the country. Soon, Wilma was coming along, too, and the couple began hunting down Cracker Barrel locations in earnest, a pastime they’ve pursued for the past three decades.

Cracker Barrel got its start in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1969, and according to Ray, visiting the restaurants while on the road felt like being at home. “It has a down-home spirit, and everybody is friendly,” he told the Lebanon Democrat. He told the paper that stopping at Cracker Barrels helped relieve boredom when he was on the road.

Now, he and Wilma are celebrities to those in the Cracker Barrel know. Cracker Barrel’s corporate leadership invites them to opening day at new stores. Employees know of them, and sometimes they receive gift baskets when they come in to cross a new Cracker Barrel off their list. People ask to take their picture when they visit.

Ray and Wilma Yoder stand in front of two RVs outside a Cracker Barrel.

The 80-year-olds have just two rules for their visits: At each location, they always buy something, even if it’s just a cup of coffee, and leave a tip. There’s no limit on how many Cracker Barrels they’ll go to in a single day, though. They once visited 10 different locations on a drive along the East Coast. Overall, their Cracker Barrel adventure has taken them more than 5 million miles across 44 states.

The Yoders recently visited their 644th Cracker Barrel, attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new location in Lavonia, Georgia, in early July. They’re hoping to hit up the last Cracker Barrel on their list—until the next one opens, that is—by heading to Tualatin, Oregon, sometime later this year.

[h/t Eater]

All images courtesy Cracker Barrel

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Image credit: Aziz Aboobaker, Edinburgh
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Animals
The Tardigrade’s Extraordinary Weirdness Continues
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Image credit: Aziz Aboobaker, Edinburgh

The mystery of the tardigrade—a.k.a. moss piglet, a.k.a. water bear—is one step closer to a solution. Scientists studying the microscopic animals' DNA say the tough, many-legged creatures may be distantly related to nematodes and other "wormy things." The researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS Biology.

Tardigrades are some of the strangest, most badass organisms on Earth. Don't be fooled by their tiny size—these animals are anything but delicate. They can survive in the most brutal conditions, from dehydration and starvation to burning heat, blistering cold, intense radiation, and even the vacuum of space.

How they pull off this near-invincibility is, naturally, a question of some interest among biologists (and to Mental Floss—links to our many articles about these amazing creatures are found throughout this story).

The authors of one 2015 study made headlines when they announced that one-sixth of the tardigrade's genetic blueprint had been swiped from bacteria and other organisms. This horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is not unheard of in nature, but other tardigrade experts, including a team at the University of Edinburgh, felt that 17.5 percent seemed suspiciously high, even for a maverick like the tardigrade.

The skeptics were right. Additional investigation into the tardigrade genome confirmed the presence of a few horizontally transferred genes. Just a few.

HGT aside, there's still plenty to discover in the tardigrade's genes. Tardigrades have been tardigrades for hundreds of millions of years. No fossils remain from their early days to tell us what they might have been before. We don't really know where they came from, evolutionarily speaking, or who their relatives are.

To find out, Edinburgh researcher Mark Blaxter and his colleagues picked apart the genomes of two tardigrade species, Ramazzottius varieornatus and Hypsibius dujardini. They found something unexpected: The armored, many-legged tardigrades seemed more closely related to worms than to insects.

If these findings are accurate, Blaxter told Mental Floss in an email, they challenge the very structure of the Panarthropoda family tree, which assumes "the leggy moulting animals are more closely related to each other than they are to wormy things like nematodes."

But he notes that there's lots more research to be done before issuing that challenge: "We have only looked at a tiny fraction of the 10 or more million species on Earth. Every new group, and possibly every species, will have something exciting in it we haven't seen before, and didn't imagine."

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