Category Archives: Science

The science behind your favorite gemstone’s sparkle 

While there are believed to be some 2,500 minerals out there, only 60 or so have ever made the grade as gemstones, finding their way into the jewelry we wear, the accessories we adorn our lives with, and the collectables that pass from generation to generation. Gemstones are typically beautiful, colorful, and dazzling, and we will often find ourselves drawn to the seemingly infinite authority that they possess. Gemstones have the power to take our breath away, and to transform drab outfits and items in an instant.

More than their physical appearance, though, gemstones are a part of our heritage, so heavily ingrained in myth and folklore across the ages, as well as buried in literature and modern culture. For example, the moonstone, which appeared as the focus of Wilkie Collins’ novel of the same name, has long been believed to bring good luck, fortune, and passion, while the pearl, which has appeared across literature, television, and film, is said to bring luck, wisdom through experience, and protection. Many cultures believe that pearls appeared as tears of the gods, or as a result of an ancient battle being won.

Gems help and guide us, and apparently cure all ailments, but where do they come from? Which gem is your favorite – and why?

This is the science bit

The study of gemstones and precious minerals is called gemology. This branch of science studies their hardness and durability, gravity or density, size and shape, optical and physical properties, color, and weaknesses, as well as the ways in which gems are formed, and processed, in order to create timeless pieces of jewelry, clothing, and collectables. While gemstones are typically identified by their beauty, sparkle, and color, there are so many other things that you could discover about your favorite gems and jewels.


A variety of the mineral corundum, or aluminum oxide, rubies take their name from the word “ruber”, which is Latin for red. That famous red color is actually due to the presence of chromium, a colored element. The ruby is one of the four precious stones and, as such, is highly sought-after. While geologists cannot be sure how rubies are formed, many believe that rubies occur when their base mineral, corundum, is exposed to chromic oxide during a process called isomorphous replacement. Rubies are usually judged on their cut, color, and clarity, as well as the carat weight; rubies have a hardness of 9.0 on the Mohs scale, and share their mineral with sapphires.


They’re known for being a girl’s best friend, but diamonds have a whole lot of science behind their shimmering appearance. For example, did you know that diamonds are a metastable allotrope or carbon, or that they’re the hardest element on Earth? The strong covalent bond between each diamond’s atoms ensures that each precious gem is as durable as can be. While diamonds are typically formed under incredible heat and pressure towards the Earth’s center, they’re a gemstone that can be made synthetically. Gemesis, now known as Pure Grown Diamonds, is just one of the companies that is able to “grow” diamonds using proprietary technology, ensuring that this much sought-after stone remains reasonably priced and available for all, as well as sustainable. Indeed, many of the company’s gems are available at some 20-30% less than those that have been mined, a fact carefully monitored by buyout purchaser Jatin Mehta. This most precious of gems is judged upon its cut, its clarity, its color, and its carat – the four Cs.

Rose quartz

Rose quartz is a dusky pink variant of the quartz crystal, and is found abundantly in the natural world. Often overlooked for its hazy, or flawed, appearance, rose quartz is far more affordable and popular than other gemstones, though the deeper pink crystals are sought-after. This particular gemstone is formed in pegmatite after periods of high temperature and pressure, and is used across crystal healing. Emanating a gentle radiance, rose quartz is thought to inspire love, beauty, serenity, and compassion. It is judged on its size, clarity, and color.

Hopefully, we have whetted your appetite and inspired you to find out more. Gems are so much more than the jewels we wear, and the stones we admire; they are ingrained in myth and legend, and created via some of science’s most complicated processes. What is the secret behind your favorite gemstone’s sparkle?

Meatless Leather from the Lab 

meatless leather

Modern Meadow is a start-up company in New York that creates leather in a laboratory setting. There’s no animal to slaughter, no hair or fat to be removed and less need for all the harsh chemicals involved in the tanning process. This company biofabricates the leather in labs and foundries. Biofabrication involves manipulating cells to produce collagen and other proteins that make up a leather that is biologically identical to other leathers.

The process is rather scientific. They can recreate leathers from cows, pigs, sheep, goats, alligators, and even camels. The thickness and texture can be manipulated for the intended end use. Say you want a supple leather jacket that looks like deer hide. Or maybe you want a pair of wicked alligator boots. Modern Meadow can make the leather you need. Their products are aiming to fill the leather needs of the clothing, furniture, sporting goods and upholstery industry. I have a leather case for my tablet that I use to get on to play bingo.

Their other goal is to create these leathers in a more environmentally sustainable way. Animals will not be killed. The environment is less impacted and fewer chemicals are involved. Bioengineering the perfect leather for a specific product line leads to much less wasted materials and the ability to make products more exacting in form and function.

You can see how the start-up company is faring on Bloomberg. Also check out this Scientific American magazine article.

All in all, the concept of lab-created leather sounds remarkable in the environmental savings, and design aspect. The only concern is going to be the cost of the end product. Can the technology involved be scaled to a point where people can afford alternative leather goods or will this go on to be a niche product? Only time will tell.

Scientists in China may have finally created living mice using artificial mouse sperm in a dish

Courtesy: Xiao-Yang Zhao/Qi Zhou/Jia-Hao Sha
Courtesy: Xiao-Yang Zhao/Qi Zhou/Jia-Hao Sha

Researchers claim to have made artificial mouse sperm in a dish

Researchers in China have found a method for being able to make “rudimentary” mouse sperm in a dish. What is even more interesting is that they then claim to be able to produce offspring from that artificial sperm and they even have three living mice as a result of their experiments.

Maybe in a few decades we can create artificial sperm for humans to deliver customized DNA?

Via Sciencewrld

Venus flytraps can count, say scientists

venus flytrap

The Venus flytrap’s habit of chowing down on flies and other bugs may be centered around its ability to count — as in how many times it needs to be touched before clamping down on its prey, according to a new study.

While the carnivorous plant does not apply Common Core math solutions to know when it’s meal time, the Venus flytrap has the ability to keep track of the number of times it is touched, allowing it to react on a routine basis to bugs.

Head over to Newsmax for this interesting story.

Astrobiologists Revise the Chances of Finding Advanced ET Civilizations

A rapid increase in our knowledge of alien worlds has dramatically changed the way scientists are interpreting the famous Drake equation. You can find the Cornell astrophysics paper describing this here: A New Empirical Constraint on the Prevalence of Technological Species in the Universe

MIT Technology review has a write up on what this means here.

In the Cornell paper they address the cosmic frequency of technological species. Recent advances in exoplanet studies provide strong constraints on all astrophysical terms in the Drake Equation. Using these and modifying the form and intent of the Drake equation they show that we can set a firm lower bound on the probability that one or more additional technological species have evolved anywhere and at any time in the history of the observable Universe.

The researchers find that as long as the probability that a habitable zone planet develops a technological species is larger than ~10?24, then humanity is not the only time technological intelligence has evolved. This constraint has important scientific and philosophical consequences.

Fermi redux

Weaving nanowire into textiles to create self-heating garments



To stay warm when temperatures drop outside, we heat our indoor spaces — even when no one is in them. But scientists have now developed a novel nanowire coating for clothes that can both generate heat and trap the heat from our bodies better than regular clothes. They report on their technology, which could help us reduce our reliance on conventional energy sources, in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

Follow the link to

New Clock Keeps Perfect Time for 5Billion Years

At the heart of this new clock is the element strontium. Inside a small chamber, the strontium atoms are suspended in a lattice of crisscrossing laser beams. Researchers then give them a little ping, like ringing a bell. The strontium vibrates at an incredibly fast frequency. It’s a natural atomic metronome ticking out teeny, teeny fractions of a second.

Listen to the NPR story…

NASA: Astronauts May Hibernate For Mars Trip


NASA is looking for ways to reduce the cost of sending humans to Mars. Their study explores dramatically cutting the cost of a human expedition to Mars by putting the astronauts into a deep sleep called “torpor” that would use existing medical procedures to reduce astronauts’ metabolic functions. Torpor can also occur naturally in cases of hypothermia.

Blended with intravenous feeding, a crew could be in a state of hibernation for the transit to Mars, which at best would be 180 days each-way.

Check out Discovery News for more details.

U.S. Astronaut Leroy Chiao: America Should Embrace China For Mars Missions

Leroy Chiao

In a short Q&A interview with Forbes Magazine, Chinese-American astronaut Leroy Chiao advocates embracing China, rather than shunning it, in the new space race to Mars . He also talks about the recent spying charges USA and China are batting back and forth and what that should mean wrt better cooperation in space.

Leroy also touches on the current Russia/USA relations and gives a little insight into the impact it’s having on the shared space exploration efforts onboard the International Space Station.

I totally agree with Leroy on the China+USA collaboration to get to Mars. We’re both highly motivated countries regarding space exploration. China in particular may be willing to foot more of the $$$/RMB cost if there’s more sharing of technology between us. I think we stand a better chance of pulling off this huge effort working together, rather than in isolation.

Head on over to Forbes for the interview.

Check out Leroy’s personal site with videos he’s appeared in, links to his op-eds and more.

Huge waves measured for first time in Arctic Ocean

As the climate warms and sea ice retreats, the North is changing. An ice-covered expanse now has a season of increasingly open water that is predicted to extend across the whole Arctic Ocean before the middle of this century. Storms thus have the potential to create Arctic swell – huge waves that could add a new and unpredictable element to the region.

A University of Washington researcher made the first study of waves in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, and detected house-sized waves during a September 2012 storm. The results were recently published in Geophysical Research Letters.

“As the Arctic is melting, it’s a pretty simple prediction that the additional open water should make waves,” said lead author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.

Read the rest of the article from University of Washington, originally reported by Hannah Hickey