How do you follow a butterfly? It’s not easy, but in the mid-’70s, Canadian zoologist Fred Urquhart recruited thousands of volunteers to help tag and track the insect’s movements by applying tags to their wings.“Butterflies in 3D,” screening now at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, tells the story of Urquhart’s 40-year effort to map the winter migration of monarch butterflies, which make an extended southward jaunt across North America to Mexico. The film re-creates the journey of a single bug, dubbed PS 397, which was released by two schoolboys and a teacher in Chaska, Minn., and, through sheer luck, was found four months later by Urquhart in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, flapping around amid a million other butterflies. It’s a heartwarming story, but the film’s main draw is the breathtaking 3-D footage, which uses sophisticated cameras and filmmaking techniques to capture the insect’s life cycle in extraordinary detail. “Butterflies in 3D” will be shown at the museum through the end of November, with an extension of the run possible.
In this month’s issue of Wired, Bryan Gardiner examines the engineering marvel that is Gorilla Glass, the crystal-clear, ultra-thin and shatter-resistant material that smartphone makers use to build touch screens. “In just five years, Gorilla Glass has gone from a material to an aesthetic, a seamless partition that separates our physical selves from the digital incarnations we carry in our pockets,” Gardiner writes. So, what makes Gorilla Glass different? A series of specialized manufacturing processes allow the outer layers of the glass to cool faster than the inside. When the center finally cools, it contracts, pulling at the already stiff outer shell and creating additional tension that produces extra strength. As anybody with a cracked iPhone screen knows, sometimes even Gorilla Glass fails. But the manufacturer, Corning, is trying to make it better. Gardiner talks to researchers at Corning, where engineers pound different versions of the glass with spring-powered hammers, looking for weaknesses.