This week in Tech Reads: the biological basis behind yawning, the suspicious backroom deals that undergird "sound science," high-tech toilets, and a Silicon Valley inventor who's either a prolific genius or a criminal con-man. And more!
- Maria Konnikova delves into the long and strange history of the ways scientists have investigated a misunderstood thing we do every day: yawning. [The New Yorker]
- Colin Macilwain explains the insidious and unethical ways that research is altered or spun, all under the misnomer of "sound science." [Nature]
- Jeremy Keehn digs into the high-tech proposals for the toilet of the future, and how these designs could help prevent the spread of disease and save lives in developing countries. [The Walrus]
- Alexander Nazaryan takes a fascinating voyage to Chernobyl, where the radiation is still deadly but the curiosity is creating a strange form of tourism. [Newsweek]
- Ben Popper profiles Mike Cheiky, who's either a prolific Silicon Valley inventor and entrepreneur or an evil snake-oil salesman, depending on who you believe. [The Verge]
- Liz Stinson explains how mega-corporation GE is taking a page from scrappy startups to crowdsource ingenious ideas. [Wired]
Image: This is not a scene from a sci-fi special effects movie. The green beam of light and red lunar disk are real enough, captured in the early morning hours of April 15. Of course, the reddened lunar diskis easy to explain as the image was taken during this week's total lunar eclipse. Immersed in shadow, the eclipsed Moon reflects the dimmed reddened light of all the sunsets and sunrises filtering around the edges of planet Earth, seen in silhouette from a lunar perspective. But the green beam of light really is a laser. Shot from the 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in southern New Mexico, the beam's path is revealed as Earth's atmosphere scatters some of the intense laser light. The laser's target is the Apollo 15 retroreflector, left on the Moon by the astronauts in 1971. By determining the light travel time delay of the returning laser pulse, the experimental team from UC San Diego is able to measure the Earth-Moon distance to millimeter precision and provide a test of General Relativity, Einstein's theory of gravity. Conducting the lunar laser ranging experiment during a total eclipse uses the Earth like a cosmic light switch. With direct sunlight blocked, the reflector's performance is improved over performance when illuminated by sunlight during a normal Full Moon, an effect known as the real Full Moon Curse.