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Popular Science May 2015

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United States
Camden Media Inc.
4 Issues

in this issue

2 min
elements of invention

As editor in chief of Popular Science, I get asked a lot of questions. Some of them are reasonable: Why is the sky blue? (Air molecules scatter blue light more effectively than red.) Some of them are not: Why can’t I communicate with my cat? (Try listening.) But the most persistent question is, What does it take to become a great inventor? My typical response: If I had that kind of lightning in a bottle, I’d be drinking it myself. Besides good timing and even better luck, it’s hard to pinpoint what makes certain inventors successful. They tend to be creative, exceptionally persistent, and tolerant of risk. But beyond that, they are just people, and people come in all stripes. Tesla and da Vinci were ingenious. Steve Jobs was fastidious and business-minded.…

1 min

Alan Lightman As a scientist, Alan Lightman has made fundamental contributions to the field of astrophysics. As a writer, he has published dozens of celebrated novels and essays. “Science and arts reflect the full range of the human mind,” Lightman says. “We are both rational and intuitive, deliberate and spontaneous.” He reflects on the human nature of scientific research in “Nothing but the Truth” (page 50). Andrew Terranova “I enjoy working on projects that entertain me and my kids,” says engineer and tinkerer Andrew Terranova. He’s built a toy airplane from a hot water heater, a steampunk bank that eats money, and several exhibits for a children’s museum. Robots are a special favorite. This month, he dabbles in soft robotics for “Wave Hello to a Soft Robot Hand” (page 65) in Manual. Kareem Black The…

2 min
selling points

I worked in cotton production back in the “bad old days” of weekly insecticide applications. So Grushkin’s statement that “cotton farming typically uses intensive pesticides” stood out to me as stunningly out-of-date in an otherwise fascinating piece. American cotton farmers still use insecticides but nothing like in the early 1990s. Now, they spend money on the latest insect-resistant GMO seed. Ben Barstow, Palouse, Wash. Editors’ note: According to the USDA, the combined use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other pesticides on cotton fields has, in fact, remained constant since the late 1980s. Although it is true that genetically engineered cotton now enables farmers to use less insecticide, it has led to the increased application of the herbicide glyphosate. I was particularly intrigued by the possibility of clothes that adapt to climate while reading…

1 min
return of the sony walkman

Portable music players are everywhere you turn: smartphones, tablets, iPods, and laptops. But to the true audiophile, it’s all junk. That’s because most play compressed sound files—great for jam-packing your hard drive with music, bad for sound quality. The new Sony Walkman ZX2 aims to fix that. This portable hi-fimusic player is a far cry from the original Walkman that launched a million mixtapes when it debuted in 1979. The ZX2 plays just about every file type on the planet, and when it’s paired with a headphone amplifier, there aren’t many products that can match it for quality and tone—even Neil Young’s Ponos Player. If you’ve already committed your iTunes money to a monster digital collection, don’t start hitting the delete key. Sony’s DSEE HX technology upgrades those compressed files so that…

2 min

1 THE INGENIOUS MR. PYKE Writer Henry Hemming brings to life the genius of Geoff rey Pyke, an inventor and war reporter (among other things), who once convinced Winston Churchill to build an aircraft carrier out of ice. That’s just one odd turn in the adventurous tale. $27 2 OSPREY ATMOS AG Osprey’s new pack shoulders some of a backpacker’s burden with its new 3-D suspension: a layer of seamless mesh, a hip belt, a tensioned peripheral frame, and a load-balancing harness. The fit will tempt you to pack a few extra luxuries. From $230 3 WIHA BI-CUT SUPER CUT The power button on Wiha’s wire and chain cutter doubles the tool’s leverage by changing its pivot point. It’s great for when you need to make an extra tough cut. From $40 4 SUNZAPP Developed by communications…

2 min
a 1,250 horsepower monster

When it comes to maneuvering a 200-mile-per-hour racecar, auto engineers tend to hew to a long-held belief: Rear-wheel drive is better than front-wheel drive for handling and weight distribution. Nissan’s new GT-R LM Nismo may turn that notion on its head. It’s the only front-wheel-drive racer in the elite LM P1 prototype class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans World Endurance Championship, which starts June 13, in Le Mans, France. Nissan engineers placed the GT-R’s twin-turbo V6 engine up front to shift the weight there. It’s a counterintuitive approach: Engineers typically distribute weight evenly for balanced handling. But behind the GT-R’s engine sits a kinetic energy recovery system (ERS), which captures energy during braking and stores it for later use. Most teams in the LM P1 class employ ERS for…