The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired

Thursday, November 9th, 2023

An investigation by the New York Times found that many of the troops sent to bombard the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017 returned to the United States plagued by nightmares, panic attacks, depression and, in a few cases, hallucinations:

Interviews with more than 40 gun crew veterans and their families in 16 states found that the military repeatedly struggled to determine what was wrong after the troops returned from Syria and Iraq.

All the gun crews filled out questionnaires to screen for post-traumatic stress disorder and took tests to detect signs of traumatic brain injuries from enemy explosions. But the crews had been miles away from the front lines when they fired their long-range cannons, and most never saw direct fighting or suffered the kinds of combat injuries that the tests were designed to look for.

A few gun crew members were eventually given diagnoses of PTSD, but to the crews, that didn’t make much sense. They hadn’t, in most cases, even seen the enemy.

The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired.

The United States had made a strategic decision to avoid sending large numbers of ground troops to fight the Islamic State, and instead relied on airstrikes and a handful of powerful artillery batteries to, as one retired general said at the time, “pound the bejesus out of them.” The strategy worked: Islamic State positions were all but eradicated, and hardly any U.S. troops were killed.

But it meant that a small number of troops had to fire tens of thousands of high-explosive shells — far more rounds per crew member, experts say, than any U.S. artillery battery had fired at least since the Vietnam War.

Military guidelines say that firing all those rounds is safe. What happened to the crews suggests that those guidelines were wrong.

The cannon blasts were strong enough to hurl a 100-pound round 15 miles, and each unleashed a shock wave that shot through the crew members’ bodies, vibrating bone, punching lungs and hearts, and whipping at cruise-missile speeds through the most delicate organ of all: the brain.

More than a year after Marines started experiencing problems, the Marine Corps leadership tried to piece together what was happening by ordering a study of one of the hardest-hit units, Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines.

The research was limited to reviewing the troops’ medical records. No Marines were examined or interviewed. Even so, the report, published in 2019, made a startling finding: The gun crews were being hurt by their own weapons.

More than half the Marines in the battery had eventually received diagnoses of traumatic brain injuries, according to a briefing prepared for Marine Corps headquarters. The report warned that the experience in Syria showed that firing a high number of rounds, day after day, could incapacitate crews “faster than combat replacements can be trained to replace them.”

The military did not seem to be taking the threat seriously, the briefing cautioned: Safety training — both for gun crews and medical personnel — was so deficient, it said, that the risks of repeated blast exposure “are seemingly ignored.”


The military for generations set maximum safe blast-exposure levels for eardrums and lungs but never for brains. Anything that didn’t leave troops dazed was generally considered safe. But that has recently changed.

Today, shooters wear hearing protection, even when shooting relatively low-power guns, like pistols, alone, outdoors, but it wasn’t that long ago that a machine-gunner was supposed to tough it out. The military didn’t address the problem until a new technology made it impossible to ignore.

Spider silk spun by silkworms

Sunday, September 24th, 2023

Scientists in China have synthesized spider silk from genetically modified silkworms, producing fibers six times tougher than Kevlar:

Previously developed processes for spinning artificial spider silk have struggled to apply a surface layer of glycoproteins and lipids to the silk to help it withstand humidity and exposure to sunlight — an anti-aging “skin layer” that spiders apply to their webs.

Genetically modified silkworms offer a solution to this problem, says Mi, since silkworms coat their own fibers with a similar protective layer.


To spin spider silk from silkworms, Mi and his team introduced spider silk protein genes into the DNA of silkworms so that it would be expressed in their glands using a combination of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology and hundreds of thousands of microinjections into fertilized silkworm eggs.

The microinjections posed “one of the most significant challenges” in the study, said Mi, but when he saw the silkworms’ eyes glowing red under the fluorescence microscope — a sign that the gene editing had been successful — he was overjoyed.

The researchers also needed to perform “localization” modifications on the transgenic spider silk proteins so that they would interact properly with proteins in the silkworm glands, ensuring that the fiber would be spun properly. To guide the modifications, the team developed a “minimal basic structure model” of silkworm silk.

“This concept of ‘localization,’ introduced in this thesis, along with the proposed minimal structural model, represents a significant departure from previous research,” says Mi. “We are confident that large-scale commercialization is on the horizon.”

Creating fractures in rocks with low permeability means that the water in the system can’t easily leak out

Tuesday, September 5th, 2023

Geothermal offers a virtually limitless, always-on source of emissions-free heat and electricity:

If the US could capture just 2% of the thermal energy available two to six miles beneath its surface, it could produce more than 2,000 times the nation’s total annual energy consumption.

But because of geological constraints, high capital costs and other challenges, we barely use it at all: today it accounts for 0.4% of US electricity generation.

To date, developers of geothermal power plants have largely been able to tap only the most promising and economical locations, like this stretch of Nevada. They’ve needed to be able to drill down to porous, permeable, hot rock at relatively low depths. The permeability of the rock is essential for enabling water to move between two human-drilled wells in such a system, but it’s also the feature that’s often missing in otherwise favorable areas.

Starting in the early 1970s, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory began to demonstrate that we could engineer our way around that limitation. They found that by using hydraulic fracturing techniques similar to those now employed in the oil and gas industry, they could create or widen cracks within relatively solid and very hot rock. Then they could add in water, essentially engineering radiators deep underground.

Such an “enhanced” geothermal system then basically works like any other, but it opens the possibility of building power plants in places where the rock isn’t already permeable enough to allow hot water to circulate easily. Researchers in the field have argued for decades that if we drive down the cost of such techniques, it will unlock vast new stretches of the planet for geothermal development.

A noted MIT study in 2006 estimated that with a $1 billion investment over 15 years, enhanced geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts of new capacity on the grid by 2050, putting it into the same league as more popular renewable sources. (By comparison, about 135 gigawatts of solar capacity and 140 gigawatts of wind have been installed across the US.)


Creating fractures in rocks with low permeability means that the water in the system can’t easily leak out into other areas. Consequently, if you close off the well system and keep pumping in water, you can build up mechanical pressure within the system, as the fractured rock sections push against the earth.

“The fractures are able to dilate and change shape, almost like balloons,” Norbeck says.

That pressure can then be put to use. In a series of modeling experiments, Fervo found that once the valve was opened again, those balloons effectively deflated, the flow of water increased, and electricity generation surged. If they “charged it” for days, by adding water but not letting it out, it could then generate electricity for days.

Each pixel in the experiment was labeled with three thermal physics attributes

Sunday, August 20th, 2023

Researchers at Purdue have developed HADAR, or heat-assisted detection and ranging:

Because thermal waves constantly scatter, infrared cameras capture “ghostlike” images with no depth or texture:

For their experiment, the researchers chose an outdoor space in a marshy area, far from roads and urban illumination. They collected thermal images in the infrared spectrum across almost 100 different frequencies. And just as each pixel in RGB images is encoded by three visible frequencies (R for red, G for green, B for blue), each pixel in the experiment was labeled with three thermal physics attributes, TeX—temperature (T), material fingerprint or emissivity (e), and texture or surface geometry (X). “T and e are reasonably well understood, but the crucial insight about texture is actually in X,” says Jacob. “X is really the many little suns in your scene that’s illuminating your specific area of interest.”

The researchers fed all the collected TeX information into a machine-learning algorithm to generate images with depth and texture. They used what they call TeX decomposition to untangle temperature and emissivity, and recover texture from the heat signal. The decluttered T, e, and X attributes were then used to resolve colors in terms of hue, saturation, and brightness in the same way humans see color. “At nighttime, in pitch darkness, our accuracy was the same when we came back in the daytime and did the ranging and detection with RGB cameras,” Jacob says.

The biggest advantage of HADAR is that it is passive, Jacob adds. “Which means you don’t have to illuminate the scene with a laser, sound waves, or electromagnetic waves. Also, in active approaches like lidar, sonar, or radar, if there are many agents in the scene, there can be a lot of crosstalk between them.”

As a new technology, HADAR is in a fairly nascent stage, Jacob says. At present, data collection requires almost a minute. By comparison, an autonomous vehicle driving at night, for example, would need to image its surroundings in milliseconds. Also, the cameras required for data collection are bulky, pricey, and power hungry: “Great for a scientific demonstration, but not really for kind of widespread adoption,” according to Jacob. The researchers are currently working on these problems, and Jacob predicts another few years of research will be directed to address them.

The story of precision and mechanization is indistinguishable from an ode to Britain

Saturday, August 12th, 2023

Misha Saul reviews Simon Winchester‘s Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, published in the US as The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, with an introduction that makes the case for getting the audiobook:

For a British analogy, Winchester is a kind of David Attenborough of the engineering world. Reading the audiobook himself, he shares the same gentle British tone of old-worldliness and authority, unveiling the story of man’s machine world just for you.

Initially, he says, the story of precision and mechanisation is indistinguishable from an ode to Britain:

We are acquainted with leading figures of the Industrial Revolution, the minds behind the steam engine, the standardised screw, locks and pulleys and more, that preceded and then fed the British Empire’s zenith and allowed her shipyards to support the navy that once ruled the world. Even after her zenith, Britain birthed the jet engine (arguably jointly with Germany2). (Exactly makes for a wonderful companion to James Dyson’s memoir Invention: A Life, Dyson being a British descendent of this British tradition of tinkering and invention.) Some time in the early 20th century (and in some respects much earlier) the Americans pick up the baton in manufacturing and technology. Where the Rolls-Royce was the epitome of precision manufacturing no expenses spared, Henry Ford brought the assembly line and mass manufacturing to the world. And where it was a plucky general who first proposed and demonstrated the power of interchangeable components in a French dungeon,3 the French Revolution put a halt to that. But it was Thomas Jefferson, witness to the experiment, who brought it to the New World and to the gun manufacturers of New England. And it is the Hubble telescope — that American fountain of knowledge — whose first $2bn iteration was ruined by a lens manufacturer who was out by a mere 1/50th of a human hair. Winchester ends his book in Japan, the Mecca of precision engineering, in a charming meditation on the Japanese blend of venerable human craftsmanship and the power of humanless manufacturing.

(Hat tip to Byrne Hobart.)

The Lorraine basin could contain 46 million tons of natural hydrogen

Friday, August 11th, 2023

While carrying out work to check the risk of firedamp pockets in the abandoned mines of the Lorraine region in May, FDE discovered a large deposit of natural hydrogen:

For years, researchers and businesses in the private sector have been looking for rare natural hydrogen, otherwise known as native or white hydrogen, due to its potential as a clean and renewable energy source.

“If confirmed, this would be the largest potential natural hydrogen discovered to date in Europe,” Philippe de Donato, co-director of research at the GeoRessouces laboratory at the University of Lorraine, told France 3 Grand-Est at the end of May.

Indeed, it is believed that the Lorraine basin could contain 46 million tonnes of natural hydrogen — equivalent to half the world’s current hydrogen production — and enough to contribute to the EU’s decarbonisation objectives significantly.

Natural hydrogen is naturally present in the Earth’s crust and mantle, explains Isabelle Moretti, a researcher at the University of Pau and the Pays de l’Adour. It can be found in several places: “at ocean ridges, in the mountains with ophiolites, remnants of ancient oceanic rocks, but also in iron-rich rocks,” she said in an interview with L’Usine Nouvelle in June 2021.

The resource, which can be harnessed when it degases on the earth’s surface or when extracted with boreholes, has been on scientists’ radars for some time. But a broader interest in the resource arose as world nations sought to replace fossil gas with a clean-burning fuel.

Unlike hydrogen produced from natural gas or electrolysis, its natural counterpart requires no water and little energy to extract while taking up very little land.


Indeed, the Earth continuously produces natural hydrogen through chemical reactions that are mainly related to oxidation of ferrous iron minerals.

All these advantages make natural hydrogen a much cheaper resource than hydrogen produced from electrolysis. The price of natural hydrogen is estimated at €1 per kilo, while renewable hydrogen currently reaches €6, according to a position paper published in February at the request of the European Commission by the Earth2 initiative, a French body bringing together industry and research groups.

Glass nanolattice structures are four times higher in strength but five times lower in density than steel

Thursday, August 10th, 2023

Researchers from UConn, Columbia University, and Brookhaven National Lab have created a material lighter and stronger than steel from two unlikely components:

Lee and colleagues report that by building a structure out of DNA and then coating it with glass, they have created a very strong material with very low density. Glass might seem a surprising choice, as it shatters easily. However, glass usually shatters because of a flaw – such as a crack, scratch, or missing atoms – in its structure. A flawless cubic centimeter of glass can withstand 10 tons of pressure, more than three times the pressure that imploded the Oceangate Titan submersible near the Titanic last month.

It’s very difficult to create a large piece of glass without flaws. But the researchers knew how to make very small flawless pieces. As long as the glass is less than a micrometer thick, it’s almost always flawless. And since the density of glass is much lower than metals and ceramics, any structures made of flawless nano-sized glass should be strong and lightweight.

The team created a structure of self-assembling DNA. Almost like Magnatiles, pieces of DNA of specific lengths and chemistry snapped themselves together into a skeleton of the material. Imagine the frame of a house or building, but made of DNA.

Oleg Gang and Aaron Mickelson, nanomaterials scientists at Columbia University and Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, then coated the DNA with a very thin layer of glass-like material only a few hundred atoms thick. The glass only just coated the strands of DNA, leaving a large part of the material volume as empty space, much like the rooms within a house or building.

The DNA skeleton reinforced the thin, flawless coating of glass making the material very strong, and the voids comprising most of the material’s volume made it lightweight. As a result, glass nanolattice structures are four times higher in strength but five times lower in density than steel. This unusual combination of lightweight and high strength has never been achieved before.


The team is currently working with the same DNA structure but substituting even stronger carbide ceramics for glass. They have plans to experiment with different DNA structures to see which makes the material strongest.

Normal aging reduces the amount of nitric oxide in the body, which reduces nitrosylation, which reduces memory and learning ability

Tuesday, August 8th, 2023

Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus believe they have identified the central mechanism behind cognitive decline associated with normal aging:

“The mechanism involves the misregulation of a brain protein known as CaMKII which is crucial for memory and learning,” said the study’s co-senior author Ulli Bayer, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.


Bayer said that aging in mice and humans both decrease a process known as S-nitrosylation, the modification of specific brain proteins including CaMKII.

“The current study now shows a decrease in this modification of CaMKII is sufficient to cause impairments in synaptic plasticity and in memory that are similar in aging,” Bayer said.

Normal aging reduces the amount of nitric oxide in the body. That in turn reduces nitrosylation which reduces memory and learning ability, the study said.

Nanoplastics are small enough to slip across cell membranes

Monday, August 7th, 2023

For the love of God, Wired pleads, stop microwaving plastic:

Microwaving delivers a triple whammy: heat, UV irradiation, and hydrolysis, a chemical reaction through which bonds are broken by water molecules. All of these can cause a container to crack and shed tiny bits of itself as microplastics, nanoplastics, and leachates, toxic chemical components of the plastic.


Our kidneys remove waste, placing them on the front lines of exposure to contaminants. They are OK at filtering out the relatively larger microplastics, so we probably excrete a lot of those. But nanoplastics are small enough to slip across cell membranes and “make their way to places they shouldn’t,” Boland says.


“Babies are at greater risk from those contaminants than full-grown people,” Hussain says. So to test how much plastic babies are exposed to, Hussain’s team chose three baby-food containers available at a local grocery store: two polypropylene jars labeled “microwave-safe” according to US Food and Drug Administration regulations, and one reusable food pouch made of an unknown plastic.

They replaced the original contents of each container with two different liquids: deionized water and acetic acid. Respectively, these simulate watery foods like yogurt and acidic foods like oranges.

They then followed FDA guidelines to simulate three everyday scenarios using all three containers: storing food at room temperature, storing it in the refrigerator, and leaving it out in a hot room. They also microwaved the two polypropylene jars containers for three minutes on high. Then, for each container, they freeze-dried the remaining liquid and extracted the particles left behind.

For both kinds of fluids and polypropylene containers, the most microplastics and nanoplastics — up to 4.2 million and 1.2 billion particles per square centimeter of plastic, respectively — were shed during microwaving, relative to the other storage conditions they tested.

In general, they found that hotter storage temperatures cause more plastic particles to leak into food. For example, one polypropylene container released over 400,000 more microplastics per square centimeter after being left in a hot room than after being stored in a refrigerator (which still caused nearly 50,000 microplastics and 11.5 million nanoplastics per square centimeter to shed into the stored fluid). “I got terrified seeing the amount of microplastics under the microscope,” Hussain says.

To test what these plastics do to our bodies once they’re consumed, the team bathed human embryonic kidney cells in the plastic roughage shed by the baby-food containers. (The team chose this kind of cell because kidneys have so much contact with ingested plastic.) After two days of exposure to concentrated microplastics and nanoplastics, about 75 percent of the kidney cells died—over three times as many as cells that spent two days in a much more diluted solution.

19-year-old MIT dropout is “working to replace gunpowder”

Sunday, August 6th, 2023

Investor interest in defense startups has grown, with nearly $8 billion of VC dollars flowing to aerospace and defense startups last year, and 19-year-old MIT dropout Ethan Thornton’s Mach Industries has landed Sequoia Capital’s first investment into defense tech:

Mach’s seed round, which included participation from Marque VC and Champion Hill Ventures, came to $5.7 million.

Mach is developing hydrogen-powered platforms for the military, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), munitions and hydrogen generation systems.


On LinkedIn Thornton has said that the company is “working to replace gunpowder,” and in our interview he described a less expensive approach to munitions.

“Taking a missile [and turning it into] a bullet, every time you do that, you really, really decrease your costs,” he said. “That’s fundamentally one of the changes Mach wants to see happen: taking more away from the rocket equation — because you have to bring your own propellant, your own sensors, and things get very expensive — and back to actually an older model using more projectile-based systems.”

Thornton’s interest in hardware stretches back to his childhood; the way he tells it, it’s part-nature, part-nurture, with a grandfather who built kit aircraft in his spare time, a high school job as an auto mechanic and a small business selling handmade kitchen knives, cutting boards and other products.

At some point along the way, he developed what he called an “[obsession] with electrolysis.” Electrolysis is a process by which water is split into its constituent elements — one of which, of course, is hydrogen. The first result of that obsession was a small arms device he made while still in high school. The entire thing cost around $200 — funded by his parents, after he pitched them with a 20-page paper — and consisted of a couple of deer feeder batteries and an electrolyzer, all powering what was essentially a bazooka.


Before his first academic year at MIT even commenced, he started working with MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a national R&D center managed by the school for the DOD. The military has long had an interest in hydrogen, especially as a robust energy supply chain for contested war environments, and the lab had its own group focused on energy systems.

While Thornton realized that the Lincoln Lab wasn’t the perfect fit for what he wanted to build, he was able to build his government connections. And then he decided to drop out.

“This was pre-team, pre-revenue, anything,” he said. “I just couldn’t sit through classes anymore.”

Thornton also walked away from Lincoln Lab with two significant hires: Erik Limpaecher, who was a senior technical staff at the lab’s energy systems group, and who had been with the center for nearly 12 years; and Mark Donahue, a former program manager for control and autonomous systems, who departed the lab after 15 years. Limpaecher is now Mach’s chief innovation officer, while Donahue was installed as VP of engineering.

Thornton did end up finishing his first year at MIT this past spring, but not before putting together a team of undergrads and testing a large, mounted gun under the railroad tracks near Charles River, and joining the newest class of Peter Thiel’s Thiel Fellowship in February.

The advanced version replaces the potato projectile, I assume.

It was too “technically sweet” not to develop

Friday, July 28th, 2023

Oppenheimer opposed the H-bomb, which would be 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs that ended World War II, but not entirely for moral reasons:

At first, he thought it was infeasible. Then, when the math proved it feasible, he dropped his resistance, admitting that it was too “technically sweet” not to develop. (The film does not quote this rather famous line of his.) Still, he remained unenthusiastic, worrying that the H-bomb would divert money from Hiroshima-type A-bombs, which he thought the Army should continue building as weapons to be used on the battlefield if the Soviets invaded Western Europe. He argued that H-bombs were too powerful for battlefield targets—they could destroy only big cities—and, if the Russians built them, as they would if we did, a war would devastate American cities, too. He did eventually come to the view, as portrayed in the film, that this mutual vulnerability might deter both sides from using the weapons or even from going to war at all. But he was not opposed to nuclear weapons in general.


His hedged attitude toward the H-bomb threatened the project’s funding. And so its leading advocates set out to destroy him.

Japanese researchers find a simple and affordable way to store ammonia

Thursday, July 13th, 2023

Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science (CEMS) in Japan have found a simple and affordable way to store ammonia :

For its current use, ammonia is stored in pressure-resistant containers after liquefying it at temperatures of -27 Fahrenheit (-33 degrees Celsius).


Kawamoto’s team found that the perovskite ethyl ammonium lead iodide (EAPbI3) reacts with ammonia at room temperature and pressure to make lead iodide hydroxide, or Pb(OH)I. Ethyl ammonium lead iodide has a one-dimensional columnar structure but, after reacting with ammonia, forms a two-dimensional layered structure.

Ammonia is a highly corrosive gas, but the chemical reaction with the perovskite allows for its safe storage that does not need any special equipment to store it either. The retrieval process is also very straightforward. Under vacuum, ethyl ammonium lead iodide can be heated to 122 Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) to release ammonia gas.


The perovskite-ammonia reaction is fully reversible, and the perovskite can be reused to store ammonia again after retrieval is completed. Interestingly, the perovskite also changes color to white when it stores ammonia and returns to its original yellow after ammonia is retrieved. Scientists can exploit this feature to make color-based sensors to determine the amount of ammonia stored in the perovskite.

Hydrogen fuel cells have found their groove

Thursday, June 22nd, 2023

Hydrogen fuel cells have found their groove, IEEE Spectrum reports:

Now scientists have found that adding grooves to PEM fuel cells can improve the performance of these devices by up to 50 percent compared with state-of-the-art conventional electrodes under standard operating conditions.


Conventional PEM fuel cell electrodes are composed of a carbon-supported platinum catalyst and ion-conducting polymers known as ionomers, which are mixed in an ink slurry and deposited on a membrane or other structure as a porous electrode. This creates a random electrode structure with a complex, mazelike network of narrow pores that limits the flow within the fuel cell. This structure has largely stayed the same for more than 30 years, the researchers note.

In contrast, the new electrodes feature catalyst ridges loaded with ionomers separated by empty grooves. The ridges improve proton transport, while the grooves simultaneously help oxygen flow.

In conventional PEM fuel cell electrodes, a high ionomer content may enhance proton transport, but it typically also limits oxygen flow. By separating proton and oxygen flow along grooves and ridges, the new electrodes help improve the transport of both. This also helps keep reaction rates uniform in the fuel cell, boosting catalyst performance.

The scientists fabricated the new electrodes by depositing a mixture of carbon-supported platinum catalyst and ionomer in a patterned silicon template, followed by a transfer to a membrane made of the common polymer electrolyte known as Nafion. They experimented with electrodes with grooves 1 to 2 micrometers wide, and had grooves repeat across the electrodes every 3 to 6 µm. The narrower the grooves and the shorter the distances between them, the better the performance.


The best-performing grooved electrodes were also significantly more durable than regular electrodes, displaying 170 percent higher current density after 500 cycles of activity. The researchers note that pores in conventional electrodes collapse over time due to corrosion, hampering their performance. By contrast, the grooved electrode structures remained relatively intact.

Florida county under quarantine after giant African land snail spotted

Tuesday, June 20th, 2023

Part of Florida’s Broward County is under quarantine after giant African land snail spotted:

Florida’s agriculture officials have contended with the giant African land snail before, and in the past referred to it as “one of the most damaging” mollusk subtypes in the world. The snail is unusually large, growing to be as long as 8 inches as an adult, and can procreate in enormous quantities as it lays thousands of eggs at a time. It poses significant threats to vegetation, consuming at least 500 different types of plants as well as paint and stucco. In addition to causing property damage, the snails also pose serious health risks for humans, as they carry a parasite called rat lungworm that can cause meningitis.

Officials set a quarantine order for Pasco County, about half an hour north of the city of Tampa, last summer, after confirming at least one sighting of the invasive snail species. More than 1,000 giant African land snails were captured there over the course of several weeks, said agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried at the time, and most were found alive.

The giant snails, which, authorities believe, likely arrived in Florida when someone brought it home to the U.S. as a pet, are notoriously difficult to eradicate and getting rid of them entirely can take years. Florida’s agriculture department has recorded only two instances where the snail was fully eradicated, since infestations were first reported in the state in the 1960s.

Engeroff’s plyometric program involved nothing but hopping on the spot

Friday, May 26th, 2023

Plyometric training can make you a more efficient runner, Alex Hutchinson notes, but there’s still plenty of debate about how it works:

As a result, studies like this one in Sports Biomechanics, published last month by a group led by Aurélien Patoz of the University of Lausanne, don’t garner much attention. They found a 3.9 percent improvement in running economy after eight weeks of either plyometric or dynamic strength training, roughly comparable to what Nike’s original Vaporfly 4% shoe produced. (They also found no evidence that either form of training altered running stride in any significant way, for what it’s worth.)

Why no excitement about a free four-percent boost? As someone who has experimented on and off with various forms of plyometric training over several decades, let me venture a hypothesis: it’s perceived as too complicated, and possibly risky, for most of us.

Does it need to be that complicated?

That’s the question tackled by another recent study, this one led by Tobias Engeroff of Goethe University Frankfurt and published in Scientific Reports. They stripped plyometric training down to its bare bones, tested it on a group of amateur runners—and still found a significant improvement in running economy after just six weeks. The exact size of the improvement depends on how you measure it and at what speed, but was between 2 and 4 percent.

Engeroff’s plyometric program involved nothing but hopping on the spot. Specifically, “participants were instructed to start with both feet no wider than hip width apart and to hop as high as possible with both legs, keeping the knees extended and aiming to minimize ground contact time.” They started by hopping for 10 seconds, resting for 50 seconds, and repeating five times for a total of five minutes. They did this five-minute program daily, decreasing the rest and increasing the number of sets each week: the second week was 6 sets of 10 seconds of hopping with 40 seconds of rest; the sixth and final week was 15 sets of 10 seconds hopping with 10 seconds of rest, still totaling five minutes.

This program was based on the idea that it’s tendon stiffness that boosts running economy. In particular, the stretch and recoil of the Achilles tendon provides between half and three-quarters of the positive work required for running, by some estimates. Engeroff’s short daily program draws on recent research by Keith Baar and others suggesting that connective tissue such as tendons responds best to brief, frequent stimulus rather than longer and harder workouts. Notably, this approach didn’t injure any of the runners.