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Popular Science December 2015

This is the most exciting time to be alive in history. Get Popular Science digital magazine subscription today and see why. By taking an upbeat, solutions-oriented look at today's most audacious science and revolutionary technology, we forecast what tomorrow will be like. We deliver the future now.

United States
Camden Media Inc.
4 Issues

in this issue

2 min
redefining possible

Of all the movies to come out this year, none has been more highly anticipated by the editors at Popular Science than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Seems like every day I hear someone talking about it. The other morning I arrived in the office only to find our photo director, Thom Payne, flying a Millennium Falcon drone over everyone’s desks. Somebody else had a drone X-wing (which, for the record, fl ies like a rock). I know we’re putty in some Disney marketer’s hands—and I’m OK with that As we sit around and obsess over all things Star Wars—Harrison Ford for the win!—one topic keeps coming up: the return to practical effects. In the age of green screens and CGI everything, director J.J. Abrams made a considered decision to film…

2 min
coffee vs. tea: the reader showdown

To answer “Does Coffee Give You a Different Buzz Than Tea?” [Ask Anything, October 2015], we consulted a nutritional psychologist. Her answer: The buzz is indeed different, depending in part on a person’s genetics. Our Facebook followers seem to agree. Tea definitely has a more stimulating effect for me. Carl Hansen I’ve started drinking tea again after a couple of years of exclusively coffee and, I must say, tea makes me feel better. I don’t feel wired, but I also don’t feel as tired as I would be without caffeine either. Molly Doherty Tea makes me yawn. One large Turkish- or Greek-style coffee is an essential part of re-entry to the world. Gav Ritchie Chai tea is the best! I drink it every day before work, and the little bit of caffeine in it…

1 min
in september, popular science attended world maker faire in new york city. among our favorite projects:

Follow us on twitter @popsci The Lumiphonic Creature Choir, which has 12 disembodied heads controlled by a keyboard A fire-breathing 30-foot-tall robot made from discarded airplane parts Fortunetron 7000, an automated fortuneteller that pulls your fate from the Internet PlasmaBot, a marionette made of glass and filled with glowing plasma See them in action at www.popsci.com/makerfaire. In an office not that far away... Popular Science is in full Star Wars mode. Not only do we have BB-8 rolling in and out of cubicles, but we’re also racing the remotecontrolled Millennium Falcon and X-wing Starfighter made by Airhogs. The Millennium Falcon flew like a dream from the start. The X-wing, not so much. (Some editors needed to duck.) For reprints, email: reprints@bonniercorp.com. FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SUBSCRIPTION QUESTIONS, such as renewals, address changes, email preferences, billing, and account status, go…

1 min

The IceCube telescope sits inside a cubic kilometer of ice a mile beneath the South Pole. Its 5,000-plus light sensors detect subatomic particles called neutrinos—100,000 of them a year. This summer, researchers found neutrinos that pulsed with 1,000 times the energy of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. Such particles can only come from beyond our solar system, says Francis Halzen, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and IceCube’s principal investigator. The discovery could provide a better understanding of black holes and exploding stars, which are thought to have launched the neutrinos. “We had no guarantee these cosmic neutrinos would exist,” says Halzen. “It reveals a new way to study the sky.” STEPH YIN 400,000 Number of Olympicsize pools the ice block could fill…

2 min
john mcwhorter

Over time, languages naturally change. In the past, cultural collisions caused by slavery, exploration, and war have pushed them even further, says Columbia University linguist John McWhorter. Today, new forces are at play. Languages are transformed by technological advances that transcend borders and redefine how we communicate— and with whom. “Today there are six or seven thousand languages worldwide. Over the course of the next century, there are going to be only about six or seven hundred. The more-common languages will eat up the ones that are geographically isolated or spoken by only a few people. Technology and globalization play a big role in this shake-up. The amount of media that we can listen to and watch nowadays was unthinkable 50 years ago. Increasingly, instead of attempting to learn foreign languages from guidebooks…

1 min
the end of the big drip

Origins Certain kinds of bacteria shield themselves from the attacks of other microbes by producing a biofilm—a water-repellent layer that acts like a microbial raincoat. Researchers isolated a protein responsible for biofilms, BslA, from Bacillus subtilis, a bacteria found in dirt. Execution When ice cream warms, the fat and sugar separate (like oil and vinegar). This causes trapped air bubbles to escape and ice crystals to melt. When scientists added BslA to ice cream, the fat and sugar remained mixed, so the matrix of ice and air stayed in place longer. The ice cream scooped normally but dripped more slowly as it warmed. Future No word on palatability yet. “I keep fighting the people in my lab to let me taste it, but so far I haven’t,” says biomolecular physicist Cait MacPhee. Though BslA is…