Big day in space rocks last Friday!

Chelyabinsk meteor trace

Trace from the meteor that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Feb. 15, 2013

Chicken Little might have been vindicated, had he been feeling the sky fall last week in Russia! Last Friday, February 15, I was going to blog about asteroid 2012 DA14, that was whizzing by Earth at 1/13 the distance to the moon, but I awoke to find that a spectacular meteor event had stolen the astro-object thunder by breaking up over central Russia – at about 15 meters on entry, arguably the largest recorded meteor since 1908. This Chelyabinsk meteorite event ended up with over 1000 people injured. NASA assures us that the two objects are unrelated, but, holy space rock, Batman, coincidental!

Post meteor, Simon Rogers has a map of every known meteorite fall on Earth over at the Guardian Datablog. After that, you may feel reassured by viewing this list of the measured impact risk of known near-Earth objects maintained by NASA-JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program. But don’t get too comfortable, yesterday at Scientific American Blogs, John Matson asks, “Could Another Chelyabinsk-Scale Meteor Sneak Up on Us?” and finds, “With limited resources, asteroid spotters have naturally focused on the largest asteroids that could cause the most mayhem. But the smaller, more frequent arrivals to our planet are likely to remain unpredictable for the foreseeable future.”

Image: Witness photo by Nikita Plekhanov from Wikimedia Commons


ILL communication

BooksHey McGill people! Did you know that you can order anything we don’t have at McGill Library through Interlibrary Loan? And today, it just got easier.

Starting this morning, McGill students, faculty and staff can log into Colombo using their McGill Username and Password. That’s right: just log in with your McGill email address and password and order away! No more separate registration or forgetting your Colombo username or password. Find out more about this change and how it will (or won’t) affect orders you’ve already placed.

Don’t forget that you don’t have to find the article, book, conference paper – or whatever you want to have a look at – in the Colombo database. Simply click on Create Request in the left-hand Colombo menu and fill in as much information as you have about the thing you want to borrow. I’m sure it goes without saying, but the more info you include the better!

Image: Books by shutterhacks

The Up-Goer Five Text Editor: using only the ten hundred most used words

Detail from Up Goer Five from by Randall MunroeThis past weekend I came across the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, created by Theo Sanderson, that was inspired by the Up Goer Five XKCD comic. The editor checks a block of text and indicates if any of the words you have used are not included in the one thousand – or ten hundred because “thousand” is not one of them – most frequently used words in English (contemporary fiction).

People seem to be embracing the challenge posed by the ten-hundred piece vocabulary. There is now a Ten Hundred Words of Science Tumblr for scientific explanations that satisfy the ten-hundred words rule (though “science” is also not one of the top ten hundred) and the #UpGoerFive hashtag on Twitter, which provide some pretty interesting reading. And Jason B. Jones suggests using the editor can offer new perspective for your writing over at Prof Hacker.

What does your research sound like using only the most common words? Why not give it a try? Let us know if you do!

The Up-Goer Five – a thing you can find on a computer

Image: Detail from Up Goer Five (from by Randall Munroe

Cooler than your average 3D printer

James McGill statue in ice

James McGill statue printed in ice

April’s recent posts about affordable 3D printers reminded me of a post I read on BoingBoing (coincidentally posted by Cory Doctorow) back in 2010 about a project at McGill that used temperature-controlled water to 3D-print ice sculptures.

“At McGill University (Montreal, Quebec) engineers and architects are working together to explore the possibilities of rapid prototyping (RP) systems for construction with ice.”

New Architecture of Phase Change, Computer-Assisted Ice Construction


Image: Detail from “James McGill statue: original in bronze, STL model, and RFP-constructed ice model” at New Architecture of Phase Change

Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium at McGill on Friday and Saturday

Carrie Derick, Canada's first female full professor

Carrie Derick, Canada’s first female full professor

If you’re coming to McGill for Homecoming next weekend, you might want to check out the Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium (WISEMS) 2012, on Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13 in the Redpath Museum Auditorium.

“As part of McGill Homecoming 2012, this first Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium (WISEMS) marks the centenary of the university’s first geneticist, Carrie Derick, being appointed as Canada’s first female professor.”

Have a look at the full schedule for this free symposium, which will look at the history, current status and future of women in STM fields.

Previously: We’ve come a long way baby, right?

Image: by Smithsonian Institution (from flickr Commons)

Now in the realm of the possible: the 10-dollar robot has a story about the winners of the AFRON “10 Dollar Robot” Design Challenge, run by the African Robotics Network (AFRON). The object of the contest was to see what sorts of design ideas would arise, in the hope of creating really affordable robots for educational use in Africa (and elsewhere), similar to what Raspberry Pi aims to do for computing.

“The contest had a few simple restrictions, including the loose $10 target; entrants from around the world had to build a prototype, offer instructions on a website, and make the whole plan open-source, software included. The winners were little, an inch or two in size and up, never more than a foot long. They were sourced from cardboard, old cell phones, and circuit boards. They performed simple tasks: navigating, following lines, even communicating with each other.”

Kilobot from Harvard University, introduced in the video below, was the winner in the Traditional (Roaming) Category.

[Video link]

These $10 Robots Will Change Robotics Education

So that’s how a Space Shuttle gets around on Earth!

Space Shuttle Endeavour on top of NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft above California

Endeavour on its tour of California

I really liked these photos at Wired and these photos from NASA of the retirement journey of Space Shuttle Endeavour to California last week. Endeavour was the fifth Space Shuttle commissioned and had its first flight to space over 20 years ago on May 7, 1992.  In my mind’s eye, the Space Shuttles would have eclipsed a Boeing 747 in size, but apparently not so!

From NASA’s Space Shuttle mission news: “Endeavour was NASA’s fifth and final space shuttle to be built. Construction began on Sept. 28, 1987 and it rolled out of the assembly plant in Palmdale, Calif. in April 1991. It was named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by 18th century explorer James Cook. Endeavour flew 25 times, traveling more than 122,000 miles and accumulating 299 days in space. Like shuttles Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis, Endeavour is embarking on its next mission – to inspire the next generation of explorers and engineers at the California Science Center.”

If you’re looking for info, articles or books about space flight, Schulich Library has a subject guide devoted to Aerospace Engineering. There you can find recommended databases, materials for finding background information and links to other relevant sites.

Image: NASA / Jim Ross

It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s a paper plane!

Paper planes that crossed the distance line

Some of the planes that made it across the line

Last weekend, while at the Montreal Mini Maker Faire, I received some advice on constructing paper airplanes, including why one might want to add ailerons (straight flying) or an airfoil (slower, longer glide) to improve the performance of their folded-paper gliding machine. And I recently found this conference paper, “On the aerodynamics of paper airplanes,” when we heard that we were going to have something of a paper airplane distance contest happening in Schulich Library of Science and Engineering. Finally on Thursday, I was on hand – now well equipped – to referee the Schulich Library leg of the Amazing Library Race.

As part of Library Orientation (on now!) over 40 students  took part in the Amazing Library Race last Thursday afternoon, which involved participants racing between various branch libraries and completing tasks before moving on to the next location and task. At Schulich Library the new students’ challenge was to build and “fly” a paper airplane a prescribed distance – the distance was kind of arbitrary, but I would estimate it at about 5 meters – before receiving their next clue. Whether or not the planes had ailerons, most of the successful models were similar to the classic dart-style plane discussed in the paper above. Regardless, all of the groups were eventually able to get their plane to cross the distance line with their paper-plane-engineering savvy!

Orientation activities at Schulich Library and across the Library system continue this week and into the school year. Come check it out now and save time later on!

Previously: Ready! Set! Get Oriented!

Image by Rebecca Nicholson

Curiosity lands on Mars

Curiosity (XKCD comic for August 6, 2012), successfully landed their Curiosity rover on Mars last night/early this morning (depending on your earthly location) and Curiosity is already sending back pictures. I am now following Curiosity on Twitter!

You can find out more about the mission from NASA and JPL.

Previously: Curiosity Rover to discover whether Mars was once habitable

Image: XKCD comic Curiosity (August 6, 2012) by Randall Munroe

Alan Turing’s 100th birthday

Alan Turing Year LogoLast Saturday marked 100 years since the birth of mathematician and computer scientist Alan Mathison Turing on June 23, 1912. On this occasion, I offer some Turing touring of the Internet:

Image the ATY logo from The Alan Turing Year