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The Ideas Factory: From crying at bad films to solar cars - five thoughts we liked this week

1. CULTURE: Can a mediocre movie test the science of crying?

When people are asked to name their favourite weepie film, many will opt for Bambi, Steel Magnolias or Titanic. Not many would nominate The Champ (pictured above), a 1979 remake of the 1931 Oscar-winner. But a scene in which a young boy cries over his boxer father's dead body has been proven by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley as the scene most likely to elicit an emotion of pure sadness. Since 1995, the clip has been used to test whether depressed people are more likely to cry and non-depressed people. Another blow to Bambi's mum.

Source : Smithsonian

2. MILITARY: Crowdsourcing military vehicles

Every week reveals another crowdsourcing project – from annotating photo archives to website translations. Crowdsourcing military vehicles hints at a new level of seriousness for the concept though. In June, America's first crowdsourced military prototype, the FLYPmode combat support vehicle was unveiled by a team from Phoenix's Local Motors to President Obama. Darpa – the US military's advance research projects agency – has since selected Vanderbilt University to set up a crowdsourcing site, vehicleforge.mil, with the aim of drastically reducing the time it take to design, develop and procure military vehicles. It's hoped that the project will lead to prototype combat machines being made real by 2014.

Source : Popular Science

3. WATER: Singapore scientists make seawater safe to sip

A cheap way to desalinate seawater could be one of the most vital scientific breakthroughs of our time. The Economist's Babbage reported on rain-starved, but science-propelled, Singapore and its attempts to create a sustainable freshwater source. A scheme run in conjunction with Siemens aims to halve the amount of energy need to take the salt levels in sea water (around 3.5 per cent) to a drinkable levels of 0.5 per cent. A demonstration plant that uses a complicated method of electrodialysis has been open in the city state since December and – a full-scale plant is planned for 2013.

Source: The Economist

4. ENERGY: Behold the 'zero emissions' electric car

Though the likes of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt are a big advance on gas guzzlers when it comes to environmental impact, their thirst for electricity still eats up fossil fuels. Predictably, a Californian solar company is hoping that the recent release of various electric models will make their idea of solar-charged fuel points viable. SolarCity is offering chargers – which could save drivers hundreds of dollars a month – in 11 US states. Whether British weather will make the scheme as attraction in Blighty remains to be seen.

Source: Autopia, Wired.com

5. HEALTH (REVISITED): A quick answer to the lavatory question

In last week's inaugural Ideas Factory we looked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's attempt to fund ideas to reinvent the loo. Already, one scientist has had a prototype approved for funding. Michael Hoffman, of the California Institute of Technology has previously worked with a solar-powered small-scale method of water treatment. Hoffman thinks he can transport that technology to a lavatory and build one for $2,000 and, as such, the Gates Foundation has given him a grant to reduce the cost and prepare a loo for mass consumption. Stay tuned...

Source : One Per Cent blog, The New Scientist