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Just for the Tech Of It: Transparent wood, fly-bombing drones, a ninth planet

In certain parts of Africa, nasty little bugs called tsetse flies bite, suck your blood, and spread infectious parasites to both humans and livestock. This is a big problem for a country like Ethiopia, where access to hospitals is limited and food is typically in short supply. So, to combat the problem, a Spanish company by the name of Embention has developed an awesome plan — they’re going to use drones to bomb the area with swarms of sterile tsetse flies that will help thin out the bug’s population.

Here’s how it works — they basically round up a bunch of tsetse flies, breed them, pick out the males, blast them with radiation to make them incapable of reproducing, cram them in little pods, load the pods onto a UAV, and then release them over rivers and other bodies of water where the flies breed. When these flies go out and mate with females, they won’t produce any offspring, and the tsetse population will gradually begin to decline.

In other weird news, word broke this week that scientists have actually developed a way to make transparent wood. Now, technically, this isn’t the first time anyone’s ever made clear wood. Scientists actually figured out how to do it years ago, and generally use the technique to create clear microscopic wood samples that can be used to study the wood’s anatomy. But recently, scientists from Sweden have taken it a step further. They’ve essentially scaled up the process and figured out how to make the same material on a much larger scale — which means they can actually make big chunks of semi-transparent wood. With a bit more refinement, the material could actually be used to make windows, semitransparent structures, and even solar panels.

And finally, as you may or may not have heard, a few months ago astronomers found some fairly compelling evidence that there might actually be a ninth planet hiding somewhere in our solar system. The thing is, they can’t actually see this thing, and we don’t have any visual proof that it’s there. Instead of spotting it with a telescope, astronomers actually found evidence of the planet’s existence by analyzing the orbits of all the known bodies in our solar system. What they discovered is that these orbits seem to be periodically affected by the gravity of some unseen 9th body lurking in the outer reaches.

It’s a crazy theory, and the jury is still out on whether or not it’s correct — but other astronomers have already begun to extrapolate on the idea. Earlier this week, a pair of prominent astrophysicists published a paper that suggests that this ninth planet is responsible for comet showers linked to mass extinctions on Earth at intervals of approximately 27 million years. Basically, these guys think when this planet reaches the far end of its long, elliptical orbit, its gravity pulls comets, asteroids, and other objects from the Kuiper Belt, and slings them back toward Earth about once every 27 million years. The interesting thing is that if this theory is correct, it means that in addition to mass extinctions, Planet Nine might also have played a role in seeding life on planet Earth millions of years ago. Pretty far out, right?