Cell phones just got a whole lot more secure.

Between revelations of NSA spying and a sense that marketers and hackers are picking our digital pockets, we’re all getting a little edgy about cellular security. Hence the rapid growth of the cryptophone industry. Most of the handsets run on “hardened” versions of Android that make privacy the default for app permissions and network connections…

Modern Research Borne on a Relic
Airships That Carry Science Into the Stratosphere
by Joshua A. Krisch
Airships are dusty relics of aviation history. Lighter-than-air vehicles conjure images of the Hindenburg, in its glory and destruction, and the Goodyear Blimp, a floating billboard that barely resembles its powerful predecessors.
But now engineers are designing sleek new airships that could streak past layers of cloud and chart a course through the thin, icy air of the stratosphere, 65,000 feet above the ground — twice the usual altitude of a jetliner. Steered by scientists below, these aerodynamic balloons might be equipped with onboard telescopes that peer into distant galaxies or gather oceanic data along a coastline…
(read more: NY Times)
image by Keck Institute for Space Studies/Eagre Institute

Modern Research Borne on a Relic

Airships That Carry Science Into the Stratosphere

by Joshua A. Krisch

Airships are dusty relics of aviation history. Lighter-than-air vehicles conjure images of the Hindenburg, in its glory and destruction, and the Goodyear Blimp, a floating billboard that barely resembles its powerful predecessors.

But now engineers are designing sleek new airships that could streak past layers of cloud and chart a course through the thin, icy air of the stratosphere, 65,000 feet above the ground — twice the usual altitude of a jetliner. Steered by scientists below, these aerodynamic balloons might be equipped with onboard telescopes that peer into distant galaxies or gather oceanic data along a coastline…

(read more: NY Times)

image by Keck Institute for Space Studies/Eagre Institute

Meg Crofoot is taking wildlife investigations out of this world.

Meg crofoot (above), a biologist at the university of California-Davis, is no stranger to animal tracking. She’s studied the social lives of monkeys for 10 years, employing techniques ranging from old-fashioned foot pursuit to radio and GPS collars.

Soon Crofoot will take more tracking studies out of this world. In 2015 the ICARUS Initiative, an ambitious international project she’s co-leading, will launch a remote sensing device into space, where astronauts will attach it to the International Space Station. The receiver will give researchers a greater ability than ever before to follow animals bearing tiny GPS tags around the world for months at a time, producing unprecedented pictures of migrations and movements from orbit…

Titan Tech: Lightweight Drone Could Explore Saturn Moon

by Elizabeth Howell

Sailing the soupy atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest natural satellite, an interplanetary balloon could one day release a small drone to explore the moon’s swamp-like surface.

The so-called “Titan Aerial Daughtercraft” mission concept recently received a $100,000 Phase 1 grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, a sort of sandbox for the agency to explore far-out and futuristic ideas.

As part of this proposed mission, a quadcopter drone would “jump” from a mothership-type balloon to explore the surface of Titan; the drone would then return to the balloon to recharge for the night, the researchers said. Both vehicles would be used to investigate Titan’s hydrogen- and carbon-rich environment, which some scientists think resembles the composition of Earth’s atmosphere early in its history…

(read more: Live Science)

images: illustration - Larry Matthies/NASA; photos - NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

New to Google Earth: Ancient Flying Reptiles
by Stephanie Pappas
Want to find the nearest pterosaur? There’s an app for that — or a database, at least.
A newly developed website catalogs more than 1,300 specimens of extinct flying reptiles called pterosaurs, thus enabling users to map out the ancient creatures on Google Earth. The goal is to help researchers find trends in the evolution and diversity of these ancient winged reptiles…
(read more: Live Science)
image: Thalassodromeus sethi, ©AMNH 2014

New to Google Earth: Ancient Flying Reptiles

by Stephanie Pappas

Want to find the nearest pterosaur? There’s an app for that — or a database, at least.

A newly developed website catalogs more than 1,300 specimens of extinct flying reptiles called pterosaurs, thus enabling users to map out the ancient creatures on Google Earth. The goal is to help researchers find trends in the evolution and diversity of these ancient winged reptiles

(read more: Live Science)

image: Thalassodromeus sethi, ©AMNH 2014

Underwater Robots Search for Sea Turtles
Scientists test out a new tool for keeping track of endangered populations of sea turtles: submersible robots withside-scan sonar.
From the deck of a small research boat, Rob Downs, a sonar expert with NOAA’s National Ocean Service, lowered an automated underwater vehicle into the waves. The AUV was bright yellow, about 6 feet long, and shaped like a torpedo. Like the AUV that is currently searching the bottom of the Indian Ocean for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, this one was equipped with side-scan sonar. But its first-of-a-kind mission was to find something much smaller than an airplane. It was searching for sea turtles.
All species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and NOAA Fisheries scientists need to keep tabs on their populations. Larisa Avens, who leads sea turtle research at the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, is one of them.
“Sea turtles are often surveyed from the air,” Avens said, “but flights can be expensive, and you only see the turtles when they surface to breathe.” Avens and Downs, along with their academic and state agency research partners, hope to help solve that problem using sonar…
(read more: NOAA Fisheries)
photo:  Larisa Avens, a biologist with the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, NC, with a male loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy of Larisa Avens.

Underwater Robots Search for Sea Turtles

Scientists test out a new tool for keeping track of endangered populations of sea turtles: submersible robots withside-scan sonar.

From the deck of a small research boat, Rob Downs, a sonar expert with NOAA’s National Ocean Service, lowered an automated underwater vehicle into the waves. The AUV was bright yellow, about 6 feet long, and shaped like a torpedo. Like the AUV that is currently searching the bottom of the Indian Ocean for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, this one was equipped with side-scan sonar. But its first-of-a-kind mission was to find something much smaller than an airplane. It was searching for sea turtles.

All species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and NOAA Fisheries scientists need to keep tabs on their populations. Larisa Avens, who leads sea turtle research at the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, is one of them.

“Sea turtles are often surveyed from the air,” Avens said, “but flights can be expensive, and you only see the turtles when they surface to breathe.” Avens and Downs, along with their academic and state agency research partners, hope to help solve that problem using sonar…

(read more: NOAA Fisheries)

photo:  Larisa Avens, a biologist with the NOAA Fisheries lab in Beaufort, NC, with a male loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy of Larisa Avens.

Geneticist George Church tinkers with DNA to fight disease, create new biofuels, and perhaps even resurrect extinct species.

In the future, George Church believes, almost everything will be better because of genetics. If you have a medical problem, your doctor will be able to customize a treatment based on your specific DNA pattern.

When you fill up your car, you won’t be draining the world’s dwindling supply of crude oil, because the fuel will come from microbes that have been genetically altered to produce biofuel.

When you visit the zoo, you’ll be able to take your children to the woolly mammoth or passenger pigeon exhibits, because these animals will no longer be extinct. You’ll be able to do these things, that is, if the future turns out the way Church envisions it—and he’s doing everything he can to see that it does…

I mean, it’s just too hard to send actual humans, right?

“Our best bet for space exploration could be printing humans, organically, on another planet,” Adam Stelzner, the Curiosity rover’s lead engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during a conference this month. In a truly wonderful story, Motherboard talked with Stelzner and Harvard University biologist Gary Ruvkun about the idea. Here’s how it would work…

Identify 500 birds with new Birdsnap app 
Take a picture of a bird and identify it. This free new iPhone app is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.
Researchers at Columbia Engineering, led by Computer Science Professor Peter Belhumeur, have taken bird-watching to a new level. Using computer vision and machine learning techniques they have developed Birdsnap, a new iPhone app that is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.
The free app, which enables users to identify bird species through uploaded photos, accompanies a visually beautiful, comprehensive website that includes some 50,000 images. Birdsnap, which also features birdcalls for each species, offers users numerous ways to organize species—alphabetically, by their relationship in the Tree of Life, and by the frequency with which they are sighted at a particular place and season. The researchers, who collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland, are presenting their work at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Columbus, OH, June 24 to 27…
(read more: EarthSky)
* Get the Birdsnap app here.

Identify 500 birds with new Birdsnap app 

Take a picture of a bird and identify it. This free new iPhone app is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.

Researchers at Columbia Engineering, led by Computer Science Professor Peter Belhumeur, have taken bird-watching to a new level. Using computer vision and machine learning techniques they have developed Birdsnap, a new iPhone app that is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species.

The free app, which enables users to identify bird species through uploaded photos, accompanies a visually beautiful, comprehensive website that includes some 50,000 images. Birdsnap, which also features birdcalls for each species, offers users numerous ways to organize species—alphabetically, by their relationship in the Tree of Life, and by the frequency with which they are sighted at a particular place and season. The researchers, who collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland, are presenting their work at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Columbus, OH, June 24 to 27…

(read more: EarthSky)

* Get the Birdsnap app here.