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It was a “engineering marvel” that the world’s wackiest ocean research platform worked at all

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It was a one-of-a-kind thing called R/P FLIP, or the FLoating Instrument Platform. It is now in pieces at an unknown scrapyard.

FLIP was an oceanographic study platform that was 108 meters (355 feet) long and was made to be towed out to sea horizontally, like any other ship. When told to, it would partly submerge and flip over 90 degrees, letting it stand upright in the water with more than 90 meters (300 feet) of its body submerged.

In the movie below, which includes some great 80s “muzak,” you can see it flipping over. It makes this amazing move in just 20 minutes with its tough scientists on board.

After World War II, scientists at Scripps’ Marine Physical Laboratory created the enormous upright device. Scripps Oceanography is now in charge of running it for the US Navy.

It did its first flip on July 23, 1962, in a calm bay in Washington State. After a series of tests showed that it worked, it was towed to San Diego in September 1962 to begin its work. The platform that could change its position worked for most of its time in the Pacific, going as far as Hawaii. It was also sent to the Atlantic once.

For more than 60 years, FLIP was used to make important observations about things happening in the oceans and the atmosphere. Acoustic study was one of its main areas of expertise. It found all the different ways that changes in the ocean, like temperature or salinity, can affect sound waves. Scientists even learned about how deep whales can dive and how the Earth’s crust is made, which is always changing.

Following COVID-19 and the ensuing global economic downturn, the government cut FLIP, as it did with many other wonderful things. After making some tough choices about money, the US Navy turned off the platform.

“Adding another five or ten years of use to FLIP would cost about $8 million, but that money could be put to better use elsewhere.” According to Sea Power Magazine, Rob Sparrock, a Program Officer at the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, said in 2021, “We had a lot of good ideas, but there wasn’t enough momentum or money to keep it going.”

Sparrock also said that he thought FLIP should be shown in a museum because it was so important to science and engineering. But in the end, it was thrown away. In August 2023, FLIP’s last trip was to a place where things are taken apart and recycled, where they were broken up.

“R/P FLIP has been around for more than half of the institution’s history,” Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen said in a statement in 2023 about the ship’s departure.

“It was an amazing feat of engineering that was built at a very important time for ocean exploration with new technology after World War II.” “The many things that FLIP found help pave the way for more cutting-edge research to learn more about our ocean,” Leinen said.

RIP FLIP. Not forgotten, but gone.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Technology

Hold on tight! Tiny “scooters” are being driven by microscopic algae

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Biological microorganisms use little energy, multiply quickly, and move on their own. Because of this, they are perfect for powering biohybrid machines. Scientists have now made the first micromotors that run on algae. You thought animals driving cars were cool? Wait until you see this.

This is a green alga with only one cell. Its name is Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. They can swim 100 micrometers per second thanks to their two long flagella, which are the tails of cells. That’s pretty fast for something that’s only 10 micrometers long. This made student Naoto Shimizu and his co-authors want to try to use their skills more effectively by putting a harness on them.

Two tiny machines that Haruka Oda and her coworkers made will use C. reinhardtii as their power source. The machines have tiny baskets (10 micrometers across, or 1/100th of a millimeter across!) that catch the algae. The cell can still move its flagella because the basket holds it in place. The baskets are connected to each other, which makes several people work together without meaning to. This is needed to make enough thrust to move a mechanism bigger than a single cell.

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One is a “scooter,” and the other is a “rotator.” Four algae are in baskets at the ends of four arms in the rotator. The middle algae is pinned down. The algae could spin the rotator at 20 to 40 micrometers per second when they were swimming quickly.

 

GIF of microscopic green algae "driving" a rotating micromachine with four baskets around the outside

The harder part has been making a biohybrid machine that can move in a straight line. Ratchets were used to line up the motion in earlier designs that used different biological microorganisms, but this made it hard for the machines to move. That scooter just showed up.

It looks more like a Star Wars podracer. Two algae that face the same direction can move the small vehicle forward, if possible in a straight line. When the algae pushed the scooter to twist, turn, and tumble, it did even stranger things. This is likely because it’s not attached to anything (like the rotator) and the two drivers aren’t putting equal amounts of force on it.

black and white microscope gif of spherical algae cells "driving" a micromachine that consists of a box attached to two baskets forming a rough triangle shape

The two biohybrid machines made from algae are opening the door to new ways to make powerful vehicles. In a press release, senior author of the study and professor Shoji Takeuchi from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo said, “These methods could develop into a technology that can be used for environmental monitoring in aquatic environments and for substance transport using microorganisms, such as moving pollutants or nutrients in water.”

The study was written up in the journal Small.

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Physics

Light is the fastest thing that can “move” across a surface

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Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that it is impossible to move faster than light in a vacuum.

Things that don’t have mass have to move at the speed of light. But things that do have mass can’t get close to 299,792,458 meters per second (983,571,056 feet per second) without using up all of their energy. Physicists and sci-fi authors have tried to get around this by using concepts like the warp drive. But it’s likely that these will be illegal because of those pesky physics laws. Traveling faster than light can cause paradoxes that break the rules of the universe.

You are not in a dark room, though, because there is something in this room right now that can slow down or stop light. It is possible for shadows to go faster than light, and they can even smash through it.

You might ask things like, “What the hell are you talking about?” Imagine that you have a flashlight that is strong enough to light up some of the moon. If you quickly move your finger across the front of the flashlight, the shadow it casts can move across the moon’s surface at speeds much faster than light.

If you wave a laser across the night sky, you can get the same kind of effect. Think of a huge dome that is, say, 100 light-years across and surrounds you. When this laser hits that dome 100 years from now, the points will fly across it at speeds much faster than light.

But these two examples are just tricks.

Astrophysicist Michio Kaku told Big Think, “There is no message, no net information, and no physical object that actually moves along this image. There is only the image of the beam as it races across the night sky.”

No, the laser point isn’t really moving. What you’re seeing are photons hitting the dome and then different photons hitting a different part of the dome 100 years later after you moved your laser.

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The universe and physics stayed the same because nothing really moved faster than light, and no information was sent.

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Space Exploration

Someone in high school builds a model rocket that can land vertically, like a Falcon 9 Booster

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After three years of hard work, a high school student has finished a big project: making a model rocket that lands vertically.

It’s really rocket science to say that landing a rocket vertically is not easy. And SpaceX will tell you that they have blown up many a rocket stage while trying to land rocket boosters. But sometimes they do land before they blow up.

A student named Aryan Kapoor started building his own vertical lander in August 2021. At the end of May 2024, he finally hit the ground.

In a video for his YouTube channel JRD Propulsion, Kapoor said, “This rocket works differently than other model rockets of its kind.” “My rockets don’t have fins to keep them stable; instead, they use thrust vector control.” Thrust vector control lets the rocket’s engine move like a gimbal, giving the pilot control over the rocket’s path in space.

Even more impressive is the fact that software controls the rocket’s flight on its own.

“To guide the rocket, a flight computer makes all inflight decisions, such as steering the rocket and deciding when to ignite the landing motor.”

The onboard barometer gave the wrong reading of the rocket’s altitude during its first test flight in 2023. Kapoor wrote on his JRD Propulsion website, “The rocket did well in all other ways and collected useful data.” “Future flights will use only the accelerometer to measure altitude, providing much higher accuracy and precision.”

On his fifth attempt, Kapoor has landed successfully once more.

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