Living in a Science Fictional Present: Food from Air, Water from Sunlight

“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” is my favorite line from the movie The Martian. The amazing thing about our species is that we do that every day, and every once in a while it pays off in a phenomenal way. Below are two cases that have the potential to do just that.

Researchers at the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. have created a process for making protein from air. Specifically, it uses carbon dioxide, water, and electricity, plus added nutrients.

Solar Foods Solein Protein Powder Sm

Apparently they’ve had a test installation running since June. The resulting protein powder, dubbed Solein, looks like flaky meal and reportedly tastes like wheat.

Read more at Yle news (Finnish only), or in English at The Guardian or Solar Foods website.

Professor Peng Wang from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia lead a study introducing a strategy to produce fresh water. Essentially, a distillation unit attached to photovoltaic panels evaporates seawater at relatively low temperatures more efficiently than conventional solar stills and yet generates electricity at the same time.

BBC News Wenbin Wang Solar Panel Water Purifier Concept

More at BBC News and journal Nature Communications.

Images: Solein protein powder by Solar Foods. Combined solar panel and water purifier by Wenbin Wang via BBC News.

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Black Mermaids Aren’t Far-Fetched

A little while ago there was an Internet brou-ha-ha over Disney’s decision to cast singer Halle Bailey as Ariel in their upcoming live action version of The Little Mermaid. The harrumph is due to Bailey’s skin color.

I say the uproar is silly—it’s a fairytale, and if there’s one carved-in-stone-truth about fairytales it’s that they must and do change with the times. (Besides, I haven’t heard Bailey sing, but apparently she’s got an amazing voice. Scratch that: here’s a video clip of her singing “Unforgettable”, and her voice is indeed awesome. Talent is talent despite the shell it comes in.)

But in case someone’s arguing how black mermaids aren’t historical or some other claptrap (not even starting on mermaids being fictional to begin with), allow me to present a statue of one:

Smithsonian Dona Fish Statue Angola

This statue depicts Dona Fish, part of the many Mami Wata traditions of Africa. As a water spirit that straddles earth and water, she often appears with the head and torso of a woman and the tail of a fish—i.e., just like a (western) mermaid.

Smithsonian had an exhibit on Mami Wata, and some materials are still available online. I encourage you to visit.

Found via Mahealani Uchiyama on Facebook.

Image: Dona Fish, photo by Don Cole via Smithsonian National Museum of African Art  (Ovimbundu peoples, Angola; c. 1950s-1960s; wood, pigment, metal, mixed media)

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The Ancient Underground City of Derinkuyu

The Derinkuyu (also known as Malakopi) underground city is situated in the historical area of Cappadocia, which is in Central Anatolia in modern-day Turkey. And it’s pretty astounding.

Apparently, underground cities were A Thing thereabouts: according to Wikipedia, there are over 200 of them. Looking at the landscape, it’s no wonder.

Flickr Anthony G Reyes Derinkuyu Pigeon Valley

Much of the rock is easily accessible, i.e., not covered by layers and layers of vegetation, and there are plenty of rock faces to carve into.

The first mentions of underground dwellings in Anatolia come from Xenophon’s Anabasis (c. 370 BCE), but they were probably built much earlier as places of refuge from attacks. Derinkuyu seems to have been in use for millenia: the last recorded use was at least as late as 1909.

According to a tourism site, there are about 600 entrances to the underground Derinkuyu, and some can be closed with a door resembling a mill stone.

Flickr Dan Merino Derinkuyu Stone Doorway

Underground City in Cappadocia

In addition to tunnels and rooms themselves, there are other notable features. There are stairs, ventilation shafts, wells, and storage areas with nooks and crannies of various shapes, including wine troughs.

Underground City in Cappadocia

Flickr Helen Cook Derinkuyu Wine Recepticles

Clearly some areas were left in quite rough shape.

Flickr jyl4032 Derinkuyu Unnamed View

Flickr Patrick Barry Derinkuyu Room w Woman

Others were carefully detailed. For example, there is a room with a barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Flickr Takehiko Ono Derinkuyu Vaulted Room

At its largest, Derinkuyu seems to have been able to house 20,000 people and their livestock and supplies.

Found via Ticia Verveer on Twitter.

Images: Cappadocia: Derinkuyu and Pigeon Valley 2015 by Anthony G. Reyes on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0). Stone doorway by Dan Merino on Flickr (CC NY-ND 2.0). Stairs down by David Welch on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Two levels with steps and corridors by David Welch on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Wine recepticles by Helen Cook on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Unnamed view of rough corridor by jyl4032 on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0). Room with a woman for scale by Patrick Barry on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Vaulted room by Takehiko Ono on Flickr (CC BY-ND-NC 2.0).

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Building a Castle From the Ground Up

An unusual and ambitious project in experimental archaeology has been under way in France since 1997 and will soon reach completion: the construction of a castle entirely using the technology and techniques available in the thirteenth century.

Castle Guédelon is an attempt to recreate the work of medieval castle construction from the quarrying of stone and cutting of timber to the finishing of the completed structure. The construction materials come from local sources and are brought to the site using only the technology available in the thirteenth century where they are assembled according to plans for a typical small French castle of the period. Laborers on the site even wear recreations of period clothes for a fuller immersion in the historical realities of building.

A full fictional backstory has been created for this castle, conceiving it as the home of a local minor noble. Work is imagined to have begun in 1229, and this imaginary timeline helps guide the details of the plan and its construction. The project is expected to be complete in 2020 (or 1252, in the castle’s imaginary timeline).

The site is open to the public. Revenue from visitors helps finance the construction project. This is an extraordinary piece of experimental archaeology with the potential to provide valuable insights into the practical realities of large building projects in the pre-modern world.

Images: Towers and wall under construction, photograph by Christophe.Finot via Wikimedia. Great hall near completion, photograph by Paul Hermans via Wikimedia. Blacksmith at work, photograph by Francois de Dijon via Wikimedia.

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Living Vicariously Through Social Media: The Clay Forest in Western Tibet

One of the best things about social media—like the Internet, too—is how many different phenomena you can witness if not first hand then at least in a secondary capacity; way more than would be possible in a regular human lifetime.

Case in point: the Clay Forest is a massive gorge like the Grand Canyon, except it’s located in Western Tibet. Apparently it wasn’t really accessible for Westerners until 2015.

Twitter UrsulaV Clay Forest Canyon
Ursula Vernon on Twitter

Author and illustrator Ursula Vernon posted this and a few other images from Tibet on her Twitter account. Thank you for sharing!

I’m slack-jawed and stunned. Phew!

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Disney Princess Cosplayers Wearing Mandalorian Armor

Ooh—I knew cosplayers were an ingenious group, but this is awesome: cosplayers portray Disney princesses in Boba Fett -like armor:

Tumblr Queens-of-Cosplay Boba Fett Pocahontas

Oh my goodness, the leaf detailing on the Pocahontas / Fett helmet! And the detailing in general—love it!

Tumblr Queens-of-Cosplay Boba Fett Elsa Tinkerbell

The photography is credited to Jonathan York who posts his photos as York In A Box. I haven’t been to confirm it, since Facebook has been glitching for me for some reason. It would’ve been great to read more about the setup and the individual cosplayers’ thoughts.

(I did some searching elsewhere, too, but my google fu fails me for the moment. If you can find a different link, please share!)

Found via Queens-of-Cosplay on Tumblr.

Images by Jonathan York / York In A Box via Tumblr.

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Turning Vinegar and Lobster Shells into Sustainable Bioplastic

Four Master’s students from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London, UK, have created a bioplastic from chitin combined with vinegar. This sustainable plastic can be manipulated to produce items of varying stiffness, flexibility, thickness, and translucence by adjusting the ratios of the base ingredients.

Instagram Shellworks Variety of Material Properties

Instagram Shellworks Bags Bubblewrap

Apparently, the material can also be turned back into the original bioplastic solution.

Shellworks is Ed Jones, Insiya Jafferjee, Amir Afshar, and Andrew Edwards. Their work is still at prototype stage, but it sounds like there is a potential for increasingly (if not utterly and entirely) recyclable, non-toxic plastic here. Sounds awesome!

Visit the Shellworks website or Instagram for more.

Found via Colossal.

Images: Variety of Material Properties by Shellworks on Instagram. Bags and bubblewrap by Shellworks on Instagram.

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An Updated Game of Thrones Hotel Made of Snow and Ice

The Snow Village hotel in Kittilä in Lapland, Finland (which I blogged about last year), updated its Game of Thrones scenery for the 2018-2019 season.

Flickr Timo Kytta GoT Dining Room

As previously, they’re collaborating with HBO Nordic. This year’s snow and ice sculptures cover seasons 1-7 of the GoT tv series.
Instagram Snow Village Baratheon Bedroom

Instagram Snow Village Three-eyed Raven

Like their previous GoT creation, it looks absolutely amazing! Check out more and/or follow Snow Village on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Images: Dining room by Timo Kyttä on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Baratheon bedroom via Snow Village on Instagram. Three-eyed raven via Snow Village on Instagram.

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The Staffordshire Helmet Reconstructed

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest and perhaps the most magnificent find from Anglo-Saxon England. The hoard dates from the 7th century and comes from the Kingdom of Mercia. It was found in 2009 by an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector, and is now owned by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils on behalf of the nation.

The vast majority of items in the hoard are war gear, especially sword fittings. Among the items, all of which are of exceptionally high quality, is a helmet. Two copies of a reconstruction completed in 2018 are now available for public viewing, one in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Birmingham, England) and the other in The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England).

And it’s utterly breathtaking!

Twitter Staffordshire Hoard Helmet on Model Sm

Potteries Museum Staffordshire Helmet Sm

The so-called Staffordshire Helmet is very rare—only five other Anglo-Saxon helmets are known—and looks exquisite: the gold filigree with red accents make an arresting combination, and the dyed crest adds to the wearer’s height.

Birmingham Museum Staffordshire Helmet Sm

As Erik pointed out, ancient Greeks and Romans portrayed northwestern barbarians as violent, ignorant, savage, and lacking in technology and social organization. On the basis of the Staffordshire Hoard alone, whatever else they were, there’s absolutely no basis in calling Anglo-Saxons technologically unskilled!

Visit The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery or Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for more.

Found via Express & Star on Twitter.

Images: Staffordshire Helmet worn by model via Staffordshire Hoard on Twitter. Side view via Staffordshire Hoard. Front view via Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

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Happy Holiday Wishes with Northern Lights Seen from the ISS

I grew up seeing Northern Lights every winter, so for me they’re not a novelty—except when seen from space.

NASA Instagram ESA Alexander Gerst Northern Lights from Space

This amazing photo was taken by the European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst at the International Space Station.

I think it’s fair to say we’re living in an age quite unlike any previous one from a scientific and research perspective. It’s amazing and incredible.

We’re vacationing for a week or so. Until then, Happy Merry!

Image: Northern Lights from space ESA/NASA-A.Gerst via NASA at Instagram.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.