Grist List

Climate & Energy

This is the most science-fictiony solar generator we’ve ever seen

If we’re really going to get a significant part of our energy from solar power, we’re going to need to have a LOT of solar panels. Ideally, we’d put solar panels on everything — every roof, every wall, every car. Solar panels on the Capitol. Solar panels on the Moon. So it might be a good idea for them to not be eyesores, huh? Designer André Broessel’s Beta Torics solar generator blows past that goal. It’s not just non-ugly — it’s genuinely awesome-looking, like something out of a science fiction or fantasy movie.

Pencil that sprouts into a plant will solve zero problems but is cool

The 12 people who still write with pencils will be excited about this Kickstarter, funding production of a pencil that sprouts into flowers or herbs when it gets too short to use. This will solve the rampant problem of discarded pencil stubs filling up landfills with … uh … wood and rock. Okay, it won’t solve any problems, but come on: you stick the pencil in some dirt and it grows a radish! That is neat.

Got a broken coral reef? Send in the tiny robots

Coral reefs are fragile. Their biggest enemies: storms and bottom-fishing. Their new best friend? Tiny robots. Yes, robots are now good for more than speaking in a monotone and repeating the same non-sequitur every time you ask them a question. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University are developing swarms of underwater robots that can repair busted coral reefs. The “coralbots” will gather broken pieces of coral from the sea floor (they will be “trained” to differenciate coral from other things in the sea like rocks or shells or Spongebob Squarepants), and they will then affix these pieces to the remaining reef.

Now your dank, squalid Man Cave can smell like a national park

This product may be a perfect metaphor for the modern condition: It’s an air freshener that will fill your TV room with chemical compounds that mimic the scent of the national parks, so you can experience a simulacrum of fresh air without ever having to go outside. Hooray for the future!

This newly discovered fish has its genitals on its head

In the category of “hats you probably shouldn’t wear to the Royal Wedding,” Phallostethus cuulong — a new species of fish discovered in Vietnam — has its genitalia on its head. I really want that to mean that its penis is dongling from its forehead, like some kind of anglerfish/dildo hybrid, but in fact the genitals of P. cuulong sit near the throat. The female’s oviduct is located there, and the male has a complicated structure called the priapum, a kind of modified throat-pelvis housing the anus and the genitals — plus a jawlike structure intended for grasping the female’s head during …

China’s brand-new baby panda is the result of actual panda sex

Fans of (slightly weird) adorableness are having a good week, as a panda named Yuan Yuan at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base in southwest China gave birth to her fourth cub.

Food

They’re genetically modifying goats to create human breast milk substitute

You know that human breast milk is very important for babies’ development. (If you don’t know this, go ostentatiously bottle-feed a baby doll near a farmers market! It will be fun, I promise.) But for various reasons, sometimes new moms can’t breastfeed — they need medication that shows up in breast milk, for instance, or they just don’t produce enough. And this is where genetically engineered goats, uh … butt in.

What is this talking otter trying to tell us?

I never realized this before, but it turns out otters can talk, and furthermore they sound just like Ike from South Park. This one also seems mildly irked by human inability to comprehend her language. What is she trying to tell us?

Cities

Number of bees in Queens man’s yard exceeds population of Queens

New York legalized beekeeping in 2010, but that does not mean that it was cool with city officials when they discovered that a guy in Queens named Yi Gin Chen had 45 beehives in his yard, containing 3 million bees. That’s more bees than there are people who live in Queens.

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