New Technology May Lead To Light- And Heat-Sensitive Tent

The tent we’re all familiar with from camping trips may soon be old tech thanks to a new material designed by a team of Harvard scientists.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have announced in a press release that they’ve developed a flexible material that can shed or retain moisture, and turn from opaque to transparent.

You can see how it works in the image below. The material is a liquid-repellent film that coats, and is infused in, an elastic porous backing. Normally the surface is flat and will shed water, but when the backing is stretched it changes the size of the pores, causing the surface to become rough and retain droplets.

In its normal state the material is transparent, but when stretched it becomes opaque. The material could be used to make a tent that blocks light on a dry and sunny day, and becomes transparent and water-repellent on a dim, rainy day.

The material may also be used in products as diverse as contact lenses and water pipes.

Researchers were inspired by the function of tears, which block materials from damaging the eye, and flush out these materials, yet remain transparent. Such inspiration is typical of work at the Wyss Institute, which looks to nature to find solutions to technological problems.

Top image courtesy Krish Dulal. Bottom image courtesy Harvard University.

A travel guide to the 2011 Oscar movies

The 83rd annual Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks and the Oscars race is on. This year’s nominations contained few surprises, with many nods for Brit period piece The King’s Speech, Facebook biopic The Social Network, and headtrip Inception. While 2010’s ultimate travel blockbuster Eat, Pray, Love failed to made the cut, there’s still plenty to inspire wanderlust among the Best Picture picks.

Read on for a travel guide to the best movies of 2010 and how to create your own Oscar-worthy trip.

127 HoursLocation: Danny Boyle’s nail-biter was shot on location in Utah’s Blue John Canyon near Moab and on a set in Salt Lake City. Go there: Should you want to explore Moab’s desert and canyons while keeping all limbs intact, check out Moab in fall for bike races and art festivals.

Black Swan
Location: Much of the ballet psychodrama was shot in New York City, though the performances were filmed upstate in Purchase, New York. Go there: To see the real “Swan Lake” on stage at Lincoln Center, you’ll have to hope tickets aren’t sold out for the New York City Ballet, performing this month February 11-26.

The FighterLocation: in the grand tradition of Oscar winners Good Will Hunting and The Departed, the Mark Wahlberg boxing flick was filmed in Massachusetts, in Micky Ward’s real hometown of Lowell, 30 miles north of Boston. Go there: For a map of locations in Lowell, check out this blog post and perhaps spot Micky Ward at the West End Gym.

InceptionLocation: The setting of this film depends on what dream level you’re in. The locations list includes Los Angeles, England, Paris, Japan, even Morocco. Go there: There are plenty of real locations to visit, including University College London and Tangier’s Grand Souk. Canada’s Fortress Mountain Resort where the snow scenes were shot is currently closed, but you can ski nearby in Banff.

The Kids Are All Right
Location: Director Lisa Cholodenko is a big fan of southern California, she also filmed the 2002 Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Go there: Love it or hate it, L.A. is still a top travel destination in the US and perhaps this year you can combine with a trip to Vegas, if the X Train gets moving.

The King’s SpeechLocation: A prince and a commoner in the wedding of the century. Sound familiar? This historical drama was shot in and around London, though stand-ins were used for Buckingham Palace’s interiors. Go there: It might be hard to recreate the vintage look of the film, but London is full of atmospheric and historic architecture and palaces to visit. If you’re a sucker for English period films or places Colin Firth has graced, tour company P & P Tours can show you around many historic movie locations like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

The Social NetworkLocation: Another Massachusetts and California movie, this very academic film shot at many college and prep school campuses, but none of them Harvard, which hasn’t allowed film crews in decades. Go there: If you enjoyed the Winklevoss rowing scene, head to England this summer for the Henley Royal Regatta June 29 – July 3.

Toy Story 3 – Location: The latest in the Pixar animated trilogy is set at the Sunnyside Daycare. Go there: Reviews are mixed, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a new Pixar parade, to let fans see their favorite characters in “person.” Visit any Disney gift shop to make your own toy story.

True Grit – Location: The Coen brothers western remake may be set in 19th century Arkansas, but it was filmed in modern day Santa Fe, New Mexico and Texas, taking over much of towns like Granger. Go there: If you’re a film purist or big John Wayne fan, you can tour the locations of the original film in Ouray County, Colorado.

Winter’s Bone – Location: Many moviegoers hadn’t heard of this film when nominations were announced, set and shot in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. Go there: The difficult film centers around the effects of methamphetamine on a rural family, but travel destinations don’t get much more wholesome than Branson, Missouri. Bring the family for riverboat shows and the best bathroom in the country.

[Photo by Flickr user Lisa Norman]

Book events and readings as a travel pursuit

As a cheap entertainment option when traveling, head to a book store to catch an author talk or reading. While movies have approached $10 or higher in many cities, book store readings are usually free. If you’re in a college town or major city, your chances of a book reading happening during your trip are pretty high. I also went to book events in Singapore and New Delhi. Anywhere where there are book stores, there will be book events at one time or another.

Tonight, for example, I headed to one of the Barnes and Noble bookstores in Columbus to hear a talk by Washington Post columnist and book critic Michael Dirda. Earlier today I heard him on a local talk show, “Open Line with Fred Anderle,” thought he sounded interesting, didn’t have plans, so there I went. Dirda’s latest book is a collection of essays about the pleasure of reading classics called Classics for Pleasure.

Listening to writers read, talk about their work and answer audience questions stimulates me to think about my own perceptions of life and the world. I bought a cup of tea which cost $1.55 with tax and that was all I spent. I do normally buy one of the author’s books, but I have one of Dirda’s already and yesterday was a day of spending money elsewhere.

If you go on Barnes and Noble’s Web site, there’s a place where you type in a city, town or state, pick from a drop down menu what type of event you are looking for and it will let you know what authors are coming within a 25 mile range up to three months from now. There’s another option where you type in the name of the author and that author’s events will show up. Anne Lamott, one of the funniest, most poignant writers around, for example, has a few readings scheduled —one of them is at the Union Square Barnes and Noble. The store, pictured in the photo, has author events as a regular feature.

The Harvard Book Store also has several authors making appearances through the Author Event Series. If you’re going to be in Cambridge or Boston, head here.

Globe Corner Adventure Travel Lecture Series

The Globe Corner Bookstore has announced its latest lecture series lineup. The Adventure Travel Lecture Series includes three events, all beginning at 6 pm at The First Parish Church, at the corner of Church Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square. The first one is coming up soon after Thanksgiving, so here’s the scoop on the full set, in case you’ll be in the area at all over the next three months:

On Wednesday, November 28th, Peter Thomson, author of The Sacred Sea: A Journey to Lake Baikal will speak about his and his brother’s extraordinary travels to Siberia. Then, on December 13th, Ferenc Mate will talk about A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover’s Dream, his captivating story about pursuing a dream of living in Tuscany. Finally, on January 31, 2008, Helen Thayer will read from Walking the Gobi: A 1600-Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair. She’ll talk about her and her husband Bill’s adventures as the first man and woman to walk the entire length of almost 1,500 miles, east to west, of the Mongolian Gobi Desert.

A nice trifecta of engaging journeys have been chosen to be celebrated by the folks at Globe Corner — three very unique and different travel stories. And an interesting collection of books to check out, even if you can’t make any of the Boston-area events.