June 2010

Science Art: Five of Spades, from Playing Cards: Engineering


This is one of a whole deck of… well, they’re practically a technological tarot, really. They’re playing cards illustrating concepts in engineering. (The two of diamonds is also beautiful, though some might prefer the human figures in cards like the seven of clubs.)

They were originally collected by William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the New York City subway. He was on the library board from 1911 to 1932, when he died. More importantly, he also donated a set of mechanics pla…

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Science Art: Red White Blood Cells, by NCI-Frederick.


The one carries oxygen around, the other keeps the system clean. They’re teeny tiny.

Image from the Electron Microscopy Facility at The National Cancer Institute at Frederick (NCI-Frederick).

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SONG: Levitating Diamonds (Tiny Impossible Things)

SONG: “Levitating Diamonds (Tiny Impossible Things)”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE:Based on “Lasers used to levitate glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum”, Science Daily, 7 Sep 2015, as used in the post “A laser levitating glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum..”

ABSTRACT: I really wanted to use “A laser levitating nanodiamonds in a vacuum” as a lyric, because it’s got such a great rhythm, but no, it didn’t happen.

Musically, things fell together well – I came up with chords on a guitar, and t…

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SONG: One (is the Loneliest Number) (penitential cover)

SONG: “One (Is The Loneliest Number)”.

ARTIST: grant, featuring Sebastian Balfour. (Originally by Harry Nilsson.)

SOURCE: It doesn’t have a research source. It’s a penitential cover of a haunting song by Harry Nilsson that Three Dog Night turned into a prog anthem, which Aimee Mann turned into stunning reclamation project. Nilsson still wins.

ABSTRACT: I’ve been a penitential cover* behind for months and months. I first had the idea of doing this song in something like this way …

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Science Art: To Scale: The Solar System by Wylie Overstreet.

To Scale: The Solar System from Wylie Overstreet on Vimeo.

I like the desert in Nevada already because of the sense of perspective – such wide, flat spaces (wider and flatter even than Florida’s water-level wet prairies), sometimes flanked by mountains just big enough to provide a frame of reference. This is how small you are. This is how far you have to go.

That’s the ideal landscape for this kind of project. How big are we really? How far away is the place next door?

This far away. …

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Science Art: Aequorea Forbesiana by Philip Henry Gosse.

Click to embiggen

This is a jellyfish drawn by Philip Henry Gosse, a naturalist and Creationist (!) who gave us the word “aquarium” as a place to see marine creatures. Before Gosse, an aquarium was a place to water cattle.

He built the very first public one as the “Fish House” of the London Zoo in 1853.

A few years later, he published a book trying to prove that fossils couldn’t disprove Genesis because of course the act of creation would make things appear to be older than they are. …

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Gay men remember faces.

30 June 2010 // 0 Comments

e! Science finds something besides choosing mates that gay men’s brains do differently – recognize faces: “Our results suggest that both gay men and heterosexual women code faces bilaterally. That allows for faster retrieval of stored information,” says study lead author Jennifer Steeves, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health [at the University of York]. Study participants were asked to memorize photographs of ten faces, and differentiate them from 50 others, shown to them for only milliseconds each. The images were rendered in black and white and edited to remove ears, hair and blemishes, which can serve as obvious identifying cues. Participants then had to relay which faces were new, as quickly and accurately as possible. Steeves and her colleagues also investigated the influence of hand dominance on such tasks. They found that left-handed heterosexual participants had better face recognition abilities than left-handed homosexuals, and also outperformed right-handed heterosexuals. Found [via].

Chimp War.

29 June 2010 // 0 Comments

Science Daily spoils the myth of the peaceful forest apes that live idyllic lives with no concept of ownership. Apparently, the brutes fight long wars over land rights: During a decade of study, the researchers witnessed 18 fatal attacks and found signs of three others perpetrated by members of a large community of about 150 chimps at Ngogo, Kibale National Park. Then in the summer of 2009, the Ngogo chimpanzees began to use the area where two-thirds of these events occurred, expanding their territory by 22 percent. They traveled, socialized and fed on their favorite fruits in the new region. “When they started to move into this area, it didn’t take much time to realize that they had killed a lot of other chimpanzees there,” Mitani said. “Our observations help to resolve long-standing questions about the function of lethal intergroup aggression in chimpanzees.” Graphic descriptions of war crimes at the link.

Oysters in the spill.

28 June 2010 // 0 Comments

The Tallahassee Democrat demonstrates how the Deepwater Horizon disaster is affecting what we can still learn about sea life: ST. TERESA — Thunder clattered and purple clouds gathered over the Florida State University Coastal & Marine Laboratory on Friday afternoon as David Kimbro ran around, adjusting bins holding research specimens so they could weather the oncoming storm. “Just getting them ready to be hit by lightning,” he said. Gallows humor is a good response to the oncoming Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which threatens to decimate the oyster beds that Kimbro and his colleagues study. Kimbro is principal investigator on a new three-year, $860,000 National Science Foundation-funded grant to study oyster reefs from Florida to Maine. … Scientists estimate that nearly 90 percent of the world’s oyster reefs have been destroyed due to harvesting or dredging, making the remaining 10 percent extremely valuable for study even before they were threatened by the oncoming oil spill. “We’re […]

MS drugs from Chinese herbs.

25 June 2010 // 0 Comments

The Wall Street Journal dishes the dirt on the humble origins of a new pill for treating multiple sclerosis: Fingolimod comes from an idea hatched a quarter-century ago by Tetsuro Fujita, a Kyoto University pharmacology professor who had investigated bitter plants used in traditional Asian medicine. A wonder drug at the time was cyclosporin, which helps tamp down the immune system in transplant patients to reduce the risk of organ rejection. The chemical cyclosporin is derived from a fungus, first isolated from soil samples, that uses the substance to attack other fungi. Dr. Fujita says he reasoned that an even more powerful immunosuppressant chemical ought to be present in a group of Asian fungi known in Chinese and Japanese as “winter-insect-summer-plants.” These fungi attack insects in the winter with their chemical arsenal. By summertime, the insect is dead and its corpse has been transformed into a vessel for the blooming fungus. Ironically, the same properties […]

Oil research stalled.

24 June 2010 // 0 Comments

Nature gets a little rough with the sloppy White House response to the ongoing Gulf of Mexico mess: On 15 June, BP announced that it would distribute US$25 million in fast-track funding across three research institutions in its first step towards fulfilling a $500-million pledge for high-priority studies to assess environmental damage from the oil spill. … But on 16 June, the White House issued a vaguely worded statement that could slow the effort. The press release said that BP would consult with “governors, and state and local environmental and health authorities” to design its long-term monitoring programme within the research initiative. This has left the future of the initiative uncertain, even to members of an independent advisory panel of six scientists that the company had set up to evaluate research proposals and decide how the remaining funds would be divided up.

SONG: Crocodile Surf

23 June 2010 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Crocodile Surf” [Download] . (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: “Crocodiles go with the flow”, Nature, 7 June 2010, as used in the post Crocodile surf. ABSTRACT: I mean, c’mon. Surfing crocodiles? Backing vocals by Sophia and Sebastian Balfour, ages 5 and 7.

Dirtier. Happier. Smarter.

22 June 2010 // 0 Comments

Science Daily makes me eager to get out in the woods and get dirty. Mostly, just to dig around in the fallen leaves, but also because I might infect myself with bacteria that fights depression and raises intelligence: “Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breathe in when they spend time in nature,” says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks. … Matthews and Jenks fed live bacteria to mice and assessed their ability to navigate a maze compared to control mice that were not fed the bacteria. “We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice,” says Matthews. … A final test was given to the mice after three weeks’ rest. While the experimental mice continued to navigate the maze faster […]

Put your face in space.

21 June 2010 // 1 Comment

Seriously. NASA wants to take you into orbit. Or at least a likeness of you. It’s their way of celebrating the final two shuttle missions. It’s also free. And you get a certificate. G’wan, give it a shot.

Science Art: Ursa Major, Sidney Hall

20 June 2010 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen vastly. This is the Great Bear, which has led our eyes to the North Star for centuries. Sidney Hall was an engraver best remembered for maps and atlases of our world here. But it’s hard to get a sense of “here” without looking up from time to time. Ursa Major was part of Urania’s Mirror, a set of star-locator cards that Hall engraved in 1825. The cards have little holes punched where the stars are. Go out at night, line up the stars with the holes, and you know their names, their relative positions and how to find them in the real world. Found on Wikimedia Commons, which also has the names of all the stars pictured.

Our salts aren’t the same.

18 June 2010 // 0 Comments

Science Daily has new research that shows people sense salt differently. Genes play a role in what healthy food tastes like to supertasters: The research involved 87 carefully screened participants who sampled salty foods such as broth, chips and pretzels, on multiple occasions, spread out over weeks. Test subjects were 45 men and 42 women, reportedly healthy, ranging in age from 20 to 40 years. The sample was composed of individuals who were not actively modifying their dietary intake and did not smoke cigarettes. They rated the intensity of taste on a commonly used scientific scale, ranging from barely detectable to strongest sensation of any kind. … “Most of us like the taste of salt. However, some individuals eat more salt, both because they like the taste of saltiness more, and also because it is needed to block other unpleasant tastes in food,” said [Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences food scientist John] Hayes. “Supertasters, […]

Better prostate exam? Good dog!

17 June 2010 // 0 Comments

LiveScience examines the way dogs save human lives – by sniffing out prostate cancer: Doctors at Paris’s Hospital Tenon trained the [Belgian Malinois] dogs to distinguish between the smell of urine from men with prostate cancer and those without it. At the end of the training and study the dogs correctly identified 63 out of 66 samples. … Canine sense of smell is said to be 100,000 times more acute than ours, and prostate cancer cells may release distinct odors. Lead researcher Jean-Nicolas Cornu concluded that the dogs “are certainly recognizing the odor of a molecule that is produced by cancer cells.” … If the study can be replicated, the dog-sniffing prostate cancer screening would be more accurate than the blood test currently used, which detects elevated levels of a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) protein and has a high rate of false positives.

Take it ALL off.

16 June 2010 // 0 Comments

The bloggers at ufunk.net have appealed to my prurient side with the Eizo Pin-up Calendar: Miss June, 2010. Yes, it’s a calendar that really shows it all. Eizo is a German medical imaging company. The calendar is the brainchild of their advertisers, Butter. Read more here.

Welcome home, Hayabusa.

15 June 2010 // 0 Comments

BBC News reports on the long-awaited return of the first probe to make it out to an asteroid and back: The Hayabusa pod was picked up by a helicopter team and transferred to a control centre on the Woomera Prohibited Area. The canister, which is believed to hold the first samples ever grabbed from the surface of an asteroid, will now be shipped to Tokyo. … The return was the culmination of a remarkable seven-year adventure, which saw Hayabusa visit asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and attempt to pluck dust from its surface before firing its engines for home. The $200m mission encountered many technical problems, from being hit by a solar flare to experiencing propulsion glitches. But each time an issue came up, the Japanese project team found an elegant solution to keep Hayabusa alive and bring it back to Earth – albeit three years late. It’s only the fourth time stuff from space has […]

Hang onto that four-leaf clover.

14 June 2010 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg produces scientific proof that superstitions kinda do bring luck: Damisch teamed with colleagues Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler, also from the University of Cologne, to design four experiments to test the effectiveness of good-luck superstitions…. The results of all four experiments showed the superstition did improve performance. In the golf task those with the “lucky ball” performed significantly better than the control, and those doing the motor dexterity test were faster and better if the researcher wished them luck. The third and fourth experiments showed the improvements were brought about by changes in “perceived self-efficacy,” with those keeping their lucky charms reporting they felt confident and competent to carry out the task. The fourth experiment also indicated performance was improved because the superstitious belief led them to try harder and be more persistent, because those who kept their lucky charms set higher goals for themselves and kept working longer on the puzzle. The research […]

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