MySci Round-Up September 13: Ice Cubes for Calcutta

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On this day in 1833, the first shipment of imported ice, cut from frozen lakes in Massachusetts, arrived in Calcutta (now called Kolkata), in the hold of the Clipper Tuscany after a four month voyage. The American sailing ship had a specially insulated hold to keep the 180 tons of ice packed in wood and hay to keep the blocks from melting  during the long voyage. Sounds crazy? Before the invention of mechanical ice-making by Dr. John Gorrie in 1851, the only way to get an ice cube in India probably would have been to go up into the Himalayas and carve it from a mountainside.

Ice actually was a lucrative product for New England, shipped it all over the world in the mid-1800s. The founder of the international ice trade was a Boston entrepreneur, Frederick Tudor, who became known as the “Ice King.” Tudor began selling ice in 1826 to Charleston, New Orleans and Havana, and gradually expanded across the globe. The Tuscany’s voyage to Calcutta—described in Gavin Weightman’s book, “The Frozen Ice Trade”– was one of Tudor’s most ambitious forays. Not only did the ship have to make a long and arduous voyage to east India, but after reaching the coastline it had to navigate 70 miles up the treacherous Hoogly River. Along the route, the ship passed Saugar island, from which sailors could hear the frightening roars of tigers. The Tuscany’s progress was the subject of intense coverage in Indian newspapers, which published conflicting reports about how much of the cargo had melted during the trip. (Tudor would claim that about two-thirds of the ice made it from Massachusetts to India intact.)

To promote his business in India, Tudor built lavishly ornamented “ice houses” in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras—the latter of which, the magnificent Vivekanandar Illam, remains a landmark today.

And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.

Researchers develop touch-sensitive artificial skin for robots. The innovation may help machines to perform delicate tasks. Of course, if their skin is too sensitive, they may have to trade their WD-40 for Jurgen’s Lotion.

The Hubble’s successor. The James Webb Space Telescope, now under construction, may make even more amazing discoveries.

WiFi on Steroids. The FCC is working on rule changes that would allow Internet service providers to beam their connections out over portions of the broadcast spectrum vacated by analog TV stations.

Ancient viral invasion shaped human genome. Researchers in Singapore have discovered that viruses apparently changed the way that the embryonic stem cells are turned on and off by the human body.

YouTube tests  live streaming platform. And who knows? Pretty soon, you may be able to watch dogs on skateboards and that guy who screams “Leave Britney alone!” live, in real time. You’ll have to, because the content reportedly won’t be archived.

Super-soaking IEDs may be the way to stop them. Sandia National Laboratories and a company called Team Technologies have developed a device that disarms roadside bombs by using a high-pressure “fluid blade” to slice them in half.