Alt-week 8.4.12: buckyballs, bosons and bodily fluids

Alt-week peels back the covers on some of the more curious sci-tech stories from the last seven days.

alt-week 8.4.12

Remember when we told you last week that we live in a strange world? Well, we had no idea what we were talking about. Seriously, things are about to get a whole lot weirder. High school is certainly a head-scratcher, no matter how old you are, but the mathematics of social hierarchies can't hold a candle to the mysteries of the buckyball. And, if the strange behavior of the familiar carbon molecule isn't enough for you, we've got an entirely new molecule to contend with, while the once-elusive Higgs Boson is getting us closer to unlocking the secrets of the universe. It's all pretty heady stuff, which is why we're also gonna take a quick detour to the world of human waste. This is alt-week.

Buckyballs have been confounding scientists for years. While they've been a staple of labs and chemistry books the world over for the better part of three decades, we've never quite figured out how the highly symmetrical bundles of carbon atoms form. The high energies at which they're created and the speed at which they grow has protected their secrets for some time, but researchers at Florida State University and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory finally think they've got it figured out. Rather than break open in their rush to grow, it seems the carbon cages stay locked, meaning they expand seamlessly, rather than crack and grow new facets.

DNP Altweek 8412 buckyballs, bosons and bodily fluids

If the idea of self-assembling carbon molecules isn't out there enough, try to wrap your head (and tongue) around cyanomethanimine. A team of undergrad students visiting the University of Virginia discovered this interstellar molecule in just three weeks of working together, shocking themselves and their professors. The discovery of a new molecule floating around space is rare enough; having it be discovered by such young researchers is just the icing on the cake. What makes this tale of amateur astral chemistry even more amazing is that cyanomethanimine is believed to be a precursor to RNA -- one of the building blocks of life on Earth.

DNP Altweek 8412 buckyballs, bosons and bodily fluids

While we're busy unraveling the mysteries of carbon and RNA, the LHC team is digging deeper... much deeper. The big press event has already happened, but the hunt for the Higgs Boson is far from over. Researchers have improved on previous observations, jumping from a 4.9 to a 5.9 Sigma level of certainly -- well beyond what is generally accepted as experimental confirmation. Scientists are still hedging their bets by using the phrase "Higgs-like" in their press material, but when the chances of observing the same experimental results sans God Particle are one in 550 million, we'd say it's pretty safe to drop the pretense.

DNP Altweek 8412 buckyballs, bosons and bodily fluids

If all this talk of carbon fullerenes, RNA precursors and mass-giving bosons is hurting your head, take a break, run to the bathroom and find out just how much you pee. That is the entire purpose of Flowsky, a uroflometer that is entirely contained in a toilet. While the idea of measuring the flow and volume of your urine might seem giggle-worthy at first, it does have a legitimate role in medical diagnosis. What makes this development from Toto so unique is that the requisite sensors are built right into an otherwise standard toilet. The trick is a series of sensors that monitor water levels and measure how quickly they rise. We guarantee nurses around the globe will be petitioning their urology departments to pick one up -- traditionally these measurements involve a funnel, a container and a scale.

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.