August 2010

Science Art: Ecphora gardnerae, by J.C. McConnell

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A shellfish that was around when megalodons swam and the first crows flew.

It was drawn by J.C. McConnell, a doctor who officially worked as a clerk for the Army Medical Museum, and gained a reputation for his shells, especially prehistoric ones.

If you’re going to be known for anything, I guess, why not that?

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SONG: "Jump, Jump, Jump."

SONG: “Jump, Jump, Jump”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “Fish and Adaptation: Mangrove Fish Jumps into Air in Warming Water”, Nature World News, 21 Oct 2015, as used in the post “Global warming might make the fish jump.”

ABSTRACT: First, let me say that this was done on time, even early. It started as a jokey thing I was singing to my son while he was watching me play guitar on the couch, and I decided what the hell. They call it “playing” music for a reason. (I guess if I spoke …

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SONG: All Praise Black Ice

SONG: “All Praise Black Ice”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto”,, 8 Oct 2015, as used in the post “There’s water ice on another planet. Not Mars. Pluto.”


Laryngitis followed by a business trip and here I am, a couple weeks late. I hope the brass section makes up for that.

(Yes, there’s brass in there, somewhere. I really need help mastering these things, but one does what one can in between everything e…

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Science Art: Taf. V: Feuer-Salamander by Bruno Dürigen.


Fire salamanders.

They don’t look so hot.


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Science Art: Chemical Laboratory room. Experimental Research labs, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Tuckahoe, New York

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Welcome to Wellcome.

They’ve got all kinds of wonderful things in their image gallery, including this marvelous experimenter in an even more marvelous experimental lab.

In 1935, this was where the future was made.

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Look who’s running the asylum.

31 August 2010 // 0 Comments

And, in fact, the whole discipline of psychology. National Post exposes the sad truth that industrialized, post-Enlightenment Westerners are weird: The article, titled “The weirdest people in the world?”, appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are. “If you’re a Westerner, your intuitions about human psychology are probably wrong or at least there’s good reason to believe they’re wrong,” Dr. Henrich says. Problem is, we’re the ones we’ve been basing most of our psychological studies on. And we’ve totally messed up the baseline.

Homegrown eyes.

30 August 2010 // 0 Comments

Medical Daily is dishing up a bright new recipe for making biological corneas from scratch: More than a decade ago, Dr. Griffith and her colleagues began developing biosynthetic corneas in Ottawa, Canada, using collagen produced in the laboratory…. After extensive laboratory testing, Dr. Griffith began collaborating with Dr. Per Fagerholm, an eye surgeon at Linköping University in Sweden, to provide the first-in-human experience with biosynthetic cornea implantation. Together, they initiated a clinical trial in 10 Swedish patients with advanced keratoconus or central corneal scarring….. Over two years of follow-up, the researchers observed that cells and nerves from the patients’ own corneas had grown into the implant, resulting in a “regenerated” cornea that resembled normal, healthy tissue. Eyes seem to be some kind of easy test case for this stuff – the first organ banks were for corneas, too.

Science Art: Repeating circle with two telescopes, Caroline Hassler, 1820

29 August 2010 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen Image of Victorian-era coastal survey equipment found in the NOAA Photo Library. The equipment belonged to the artist’s grandfather, a Swiss immigrant and West Point math professor. He’s the man who made all America’s gallons the same gallon – before that, it was up to states to decide just how much a gallon was.

Dry water.

27 August 2010 // 0 Comments

No, not ice, but, as the Telegraph explains it, a form of water that just isn’t wet: Each particle of dry water contains a water droplet surrounded by a sandy silica coating. In fact, 95 per cent of dry water is ”wet” water. Scientists believe dry water could be used to combat global warming by soaking up and trapping the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Tests show that it is more than three times better at absorbing carbon dioxide than ordinary water. Dry water may also prove useful for storing methane and expanding the energy source potential of the natural gas. Also useful as a catalyst. Also useful for packaging other, volatile chemicals. Also useful for… well, we’ll see.

Unselfish? Don’t expect us to *like* it.

26 August 2010 // 0 Comments

Science Daily explores an ugly side of human nature. Research shows that groups don’t like good guys among them: Four separate studies led by a Washington State University social psychologist have found that unselfish workers who are the first to throw their hat in the ring are also among those that coworkers most want to, in effect, vote off the island. “It’s not hard to find examples but we were the first to show this happens and have explanations for why,” said Craig Parks, lead author of “The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group” in the current Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. … Parks and [former PhD student Asako Stone found that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they “raise the bar” for what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad. … The do-gooders are also seen as deviant rule […]

Pee-pee power.

24 August 2010 // 0 Comments

I went there. No, really, I went there. The BBC reports on the way chemists will use urine as fuel: Dr Tao said: “Growing up in rural eastern China I was aware of the use of urea as an agricultural fertiliser. When I became a chemist and was looking at fuel cell development, I thought of using it in the process. “We are only at prototype stage at present, but if this renewable material can be used as a commercially viable and environmentally-friendly energy source, then we will be absolutely delighted, and many people around the world will benefit.”

SONG: Rising Like the Sun

23 August 2010 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Rising Like the Sun” [Download] . (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “Antidepressants in water cause shrimps to ‘swim towards the light’”, BBC News, 7 July 2010, as used in the post “Prozac Pollution and Shrimp Suicide”. ABSTRACT: First off, it’s no use denying that the melody for this was pretty much cribbed from “Dead Queen” by Espers (because I couldn’t get it out of my head any other way), but I’m 85% sure they cribbed it from Fairport Convention, who cribbed it from Pentangle, who cribbed it from Jean Redpath, who cribbed it from some schmo in the 1400s, and once you go that far back it’s not cribbing, it’s tradition. So, three chords, some scratchy violins (actually erhu), some boomy organs/accordions (actually synths & fake mellotrons), a tambourine and a crunchy electric guitar. Oh, and the monks of the Delay Lama VSTi. Tradition. The subject matter […]

Zombie ants from 48 million BC!!

20 August 2010 // 0 Comments

Science Daily assures us these shocking, primordial monsters are very real: “This leaf shows clear signs of one well documented form of zombie-parasite, a fungus which infects ants and then manipulates their behaviour.” The fungus, called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, causes ants to leave their colonies and head for a leaf which provides the ideal conditions for the host to reproduce. When it gets there the ant goes into a ‘death grip’- biting down very hard on the major vein of a leaf. This means that when the ant dies, its body stays put so the fungus has time to grow and release its spores to infect other ants. The death grip bite leaves a very distinct scar on the leaves. This prompted Dr Hughes, together with research partners Conrad Labandeira from the Smithsonian Institution in the USA and Torsten Wappler, from the Steinmann Institute in Germany, to search for potential evidence of the fungus at work […]

Take a hike, kid.

19 August 2010 // 0 Comments

G’wan. Get out of here. No, you don’t need me to hold your hand. The Guardian says you should go outside and play! [A] growing body of evidence is starting to show that it’s not so much what children know about nature that’s important, as what happens to them when they are in nature (and not just in it, but in it by themselves, without grownups). Respectable scientists – doctors, mental health experts, educationalists, sociologists – are beginning to suggest that when kids stop going out into the natural world to play, it can affect not just their development as individuals, but society as a whole. “There’s a paradox,” says Stephen Moss, naturalist, broadcaster and author. “More kids today are interested in the natural world than ever before; they watch it on the telly, they may well visit a nature reserve or a National Trust site with their families. But far fewer are experiencing it […]

Look happy, feel happy.

18 August 2010 // 0 Comments

It’s not just about paralyzing your face to make you look younger. Not too long ago, Indiana University revealed that Botox really does make people happier: Here’s David Havas, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He helped uncover an interesting possible effect of Botox in a recent study: “There were 40 participants. They were all patients who were scheduled to receive Botox injections in the corrugator muscle, that is the frown muscle between the eyes at the eyebrows. They were all women, and we recruited them at local cosmetic surgery clinics. They read these sentences one at a time on the computer screen, both just prior to injection and then two weeks later.” The researchers found that paralyzing the muscle that’s needed to express sadness or anger led to slower comprehension of sentences that described sad or angry situations.

Before there was DNA….

17 August 2010 // 0 Comments

That’s what’s still going inside this food-poisoning bacteria, according to Science Daily. Its genetic material is so ancient, it’s older than genes as we know them: In old textbooks, RNA was viewed simply as the chemical intermediary between DNA’s instruction manual and the creation of proteins. However, Breaker’s lab has identified the existence and function of riboswitches, or RNA structures that have the ability to detect molecules and control gene expression — an ability once believed to be possessed solely by proteins. Breaker and many other scientists now believe the first forms of life depended upon such RNA machines, which would have had to find ways to interact and carry out many of the functions proteins do today. … The new study, however, suggests that in the pathogenic stomach bacterium Clostridium difficile, this RNA structure acts as a sort of sensor to help regulate the expression of genes, probably to help the bacterium manipulate human […]

Destination Venus.

16 August 2010 // 0 Comments

Or, as Discovery News puts it, RETURN TO HELL: We have a lot of unanswered questions about Venus that warrant a return surface visit. Venus might have once had oceans and even incubated life. But the oceans quickly evaporated into space. Recent data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express orbiter shows hydrogen leaking into space, which would come from ultraviolet light breaking apart water molecules. … If there were Venusian oceans, and their evaporation was slow enough for life to begin and adapt, microbes might have fled into the thick atmosphere. The environment is balmy a few dozen miles above the surface where temperatures are 150 degree Fahrenheit and there is a concentration of water vapor. To further explore these questions, NASA is considering a mission to land the first U.S. probe on Venus. It is called the Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer (SAGE). The Venus visit is not funded, but competing for space […]

Science Art: Deep Sea Angler, by Justin Marshall, QBI.

15 August 2010 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This is a photograph taken off Osprey Reef by researchers with the Sensory Neurology Group of the Queensland Brain Institute. No, not marine biologists – but scientists trying to find out how sight evolved. Where else but the lightless deep to investigate the origins of vision? Things glow down there. And, more importantly, they use senses other than sight to get around. Those spots on the anglerfish’s side, they’re vibrational sensors. It uses them to detect the tiny motions made by living things, like invisible auras in the water 4,000 feet down. Next month, the QBI team is traveling to a trench off Peru to see what else they can find. See? Photo credit: Justin Marshall, Queensland Brain Institute. More images and information here and here.

Fall of antibiotics

13 August 2010 // 0 Comments

Break out the garlic and sulfur compounds. The Guardian’s predicting the end of antibiotics in as soon as 10 years: Hyperbole? Unfortunately not. The highly serious journal Lancet Infectious Diseases yesterday posed the question itself over a paper revealing the rapid spread of multi-drug-resistant bacteria. “Is this the end of antibiotics?” it asked. Doctors and scientists have not been complacent, but the paper by Professor Tim Walsh and colleagues takes the anxiety to a new level. Last September, Walsh published details of a gene he had discovered, called NDM 1, which passes easily between types of bacteria called enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae and makes them resistant to almost all of the powerful, last-line group of antibiotics called carbapenems. Yesterday’s paper revealed that NDM 1 is widespread in India and has arrived here as a result of global travel and medical tourism for, among other things, transplants, pregnancy care and cosmetic surgery. […]

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