On Science – NASA in 3D

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 8,640
    2-10-14: On this episode of On Science, NASA teams up with other government agencies to fund in 3D printing technology, a protein predates oxygen, and Salmon are found to have a biological compass.

    Who’s getting on board the 3D printing train?


    What jet icon retired 20 years ago?


    Who has an internal compass?


    And the galaxy most far, far away coming up… On Science!


    Hello and welcome to On Science.  I’m Emerald Robinson.



    Could we expect anything less of NASA than to be an innovator?  NASA’s joining up with several other government agencies to invest in America Makes, formerly the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. This is a public-private partnership created to transition 3D printing technology into mainstream U.S. manufacturing.  NASA has teams of engineers and scientists looking at how 3D printing might help their instruments and mission, and says that the technology offers a good alternative to more traditional manufacturing approaches for customizing components. They say they need to get on board the 3D train to leverage it for their needs. 


    And as NASA looks forward to the future, the space agency celebrates an innovation of the past.  Twenty years ago, NASA retired its F-104 jet.  The jet made its final flight over Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force base.  As a final tribute, the pilot put on quite a show with “a high, supersonic flyover, and two low, high-speed passes over Building 4800.”  The jet was one of three obtained by NASA from the German Luftwaffe in 1975. The other two were lost in crashes.  When parts for the surviving jet became hard to maintain and obtain, NASA decided to replace the jet with its more maneuverable F-18.  The F-104 now sits on display outside of the Dryden Flight Research Center.


    Here’s interesting new research about our early planet.  A team of researchers from Virginia Tech and the University of California, Berkeley, found that a protein that activates photosynthesis in plants is older than oxygen.  They think it likely developed from ancient microbes 2.5 billion years ago.  The research team came to this conclusion by looking at the microbes known as Achaea that form methane.  They live in areas that are absent of oxygen.  They think that since methanogens developed before oxygen appeared on earth, that possibly the protein thioredoxin—which plays a major role in contemporary photosynthesis—managed anaerobic life.  They say studying methanogens is important because they play a key role in the carbon cycle and are important to human health as well as climate change.


    Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an internal compass to help you know where you’re going? Well, salmon do.  Researchers from Oregon State University found that salmon have innate ability to sense Earth’s magnetic field.  So they essentially have a biological compass.  How did they find this out?  Well, they jerked some salmon around basically.  They exposed hundreds of young salmon to different magnetic fields that occur at the latitudinal ends of their oceanic range.  The fish reacted to the “simulated magnetic displacements.”  These were fish in a hatchery that had never left that environment, so researchers knew it was an inherited, not  learned, behavior.  They said “these fish are programmed to know what to do before they ever reach the ocean.” Well, we humans evolved our sense of direction too—we created Google maps.


    But can Google maps find the most distant galaxy?  Probably not.  But a team of astronomers say they can.  An international team of scientists using the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes might have found the most distant galaxy ever discovered.  The galaxy existed at a time when the universe was a wee more than 650 million years old.  They’re calling the galaxy Abell2744 Y1 and it’s 30 times smaller then the Milky Way and is producing about 10 times more stars.  The research is part of the Frontier Fields mission which began in October 2013. The mission combines threes of the most powerful space telescopes in the world—Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra—with naturally occurring “zoom lenses” in space.  So far away….


    And that’s what’s happening On Science!