September 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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Science Jobs: Collect Monkey Dung!

28 September 2010 // 0 Comments

The New York Times has perspective on what a “really crappy job” looks like: Collecting poop is our way of doing invasive research without being invasive. We cannot just collect any sample we see. We need to place the piece of poop into context. For both genetics and hormones we need to know the individual who “gave” us the sample. For the hormonal research we need to know what time of day the sample was collected, what the male or female’s social status was, what the male or female’s reproductive state was, and on what day of the month the sample was collected. So as much fun as it is to say “pooper-scooper,” there is a lot more science to what we do.

Science Art: 5 of Wands – Fusion, by Janelle Schneider (from Science Tarot).

26 September 2010 // 0 Comments

I’m a tarot enthusiast. I take the same approach to the cards as do the folks behind this deck – as a good way to create meaningful stories about your life (which is a good way to discover the secrets you keep from yourself). So of course I think the Science Tarot is a fine idea. Three creators. Five artists for five stories (four suits and the major arcana). Symbolic neurotransmitters for the face cards. They even throw in a little Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey stuff to make the suits fit together nicely. I love the wands as Bunsen burners…. Each of the people involved in the creation of these seems to be involved in other fascinating stuff, too – paramecium-shaped gardens, molecular jewelry and naturally, science music. [via Liminal Nation, which caught wind of it through Ben “Bad Science” Goldacre]

SONG: The Imperial Worm

25 September 2010 // 1 Comment

SONG: “The Imperial Worm” [Download] . (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “Warrior Worms Swallow Enemies Whole”, Discovery News, 14 September 10, as used in the post Worms, organize!. ABSTRACT: You remember Empire of the Ants? Not the one written by H.G. Wells, but the one starring Joan Collins shot out in a sugar packing plant in Belle Glade. Yeah. Ants are creepy because individually, they don’t seem much like people, but once you look at a colony you think, “Oh. OK. That’s kind of smart.” And if the colony in question isn’t ants but worms – transparent ones with the eyes of their enemies peering out from inside them – then that’s a whole other kind of creepy. So this is a song about the worms taking over because they’re better organized than we are. Music-wise, I got hung up on an indie band’s Katy Perry cover… it […]

Song delay.

23 September 2010 // 0 Comments

This hasn’t been a week for lyrics. September’s song will be completely shortly, followed by another penitential cover.

Compassionate kids, caveman kids.

23 September 2010 // 0 Comments

You want a child who’s smart, calm and caring? Science Daily recommends doing it like the Neanderthals: Three new studies led by Notre Dame Psychology Professor Darcia Narvaez show a relationship between child rearing practices common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies (how we humans have spent about 99 percent of our history) and better mental health, greater empathy and conscience development, and higher intelligence in children. “Our research shows that the roots of moral functioning form early in life, in infancy, and depend on the affective quality of family and community support,” says Narvaez, who specializes in the moral and character development of children. … “The way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well being and a moral sense,” she says. Narvaez identifies six characteristics of child rearing that were common to our distant ancestors: * Lots of positive touch — as in no […]

Do not fear the super-spud.

21 September 2010 // 0 Comments

New Scientist is considerably cheerier about another transgenic thing coming out of the sub-continent – a new generation of high-protein potatoes: Subra Chakraborty and colleagues at India’s Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla created the high-protein “protato” in 2003 by giving potatoes a gene from the grain amaranth, a South American plant widely eaten across the tropics, including India. The gene codes for a “storage” protein in amaranth seeds, but in the protato it was linked to a DNA code that turns on production of the storage protein in tubers. … The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 925 million people will suffer chronic hunger this year. “Despite promises that GM crops could make a significant contribution to achieving global food security,” Chakraborty and colleagues write, such crops have so far mostly been used for industry or fodder, not for boosting human nutrition. The researchers hope their potatoes will change that.

Fear the superbug. Fear it.

20 September 2010 // 0 Comments

Wired is feeling… apprehensive… about the latest progress made by the “Indian superbug” gene: This week, I’m at ICAAC (the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy), an enormous 12,000-person meeting focused on infectious diseases and the drugs to treat them, and talk of NDM-1 is everywhere. The news is not good. This new resistance factor has been found so far in the United States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Germany, Oman, Kenya, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. Most of the isolates, the bacterial samples in which it has been identified, are susceptible to only one or two remaining antibiotics. One was susceptible to none. “These resistant bugs,” Dr. Patrice Nordmann, a professor of clinical microbiology at the South-Paris Medical School, said in a briefing here, “have already spread all over the world.” Just in case you’d started to relax about that one.

Worms, organize!

17 September 2010 // 1 Comment

It’s not just ants and naked mole rats that organize into eerily intelligent colonies, Discovery News says. Worms are getting in on the action, too: The study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to determine that any worm lives in a colony with organized division of labor. In this case, trematode flatworm parasites exist in cooperative colonies consisting of big reproducers, which release hundreds to thousands of clonal offspring daily, and specialized soldiers that defend the colony. “The soldiers use their relatively large mouth parts to bite enemies,” lead author Ryan Hechinger told Discovery News. “They sometimes swallow enemies whole.” “Soldiers sometimes rip open the body wall of the enemy and then suck out the insides,” added Hechinger, an assistant research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at University of California, Santa Barbara. “You can sometimes see the eyes of the enemies’ progeny inside the soldiers’ guts.” There […]

Prescription pop.

16 September 2010 // 0 Comments

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University are using music (and audio engineering) to treat pain and depression – by mapping out emotional terrain in pop songs: Each volunteer listens to pieces of previously unheard contemporary popular music* and assigns each one a position on a graph. One axis measures the type of feeling (positivity or negativity) that the piece communicates; the other measures the intensity or activity level of the music. The research team then assess the audio characteristics that the pieces falling into each part of the graph have in common. “We look at parameters such as rhythm patterns, melodic range, musical intervals, length of phrases, musical pitch and so on,” says Dr [Don] Knox. “For example, music falling into a positive category might have a regular rhythm, bright timbre and a fairly steady pitch contour over time. If tempo and loudness increase, for instance, this would place the piece in a more ‘exuberant’ or […]

Duck penis competition.

15 September 2010 // 0 Comments

This is so going to trigger spam filters, but I don’t care. Science News has reported breaking news… that male ducks grow bigger penises when they’re around other males: A drake’s penis substantially wastes away at the end of one breeding season and then regrows as the next season begins. Among lesser scaup and ruddy ducks, the regrowth varies in length or timing depending on whether males have to compete with a bunch of other guys, said Patricia Brennan of Yale University. Her new measurements offer the first evidence in vertebrates that social circumstances influence penis growth, she reported July 29 at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society. … In the competitive groups, a few big males grew prodigious organs as if dominating the group. Other males grew more moderate penises, which started wasting away weeks earlier than those of dominant males or males with no competition. Thus, Brennan said, male ducks are […]

The Michigan extinction event.

13 September 2010 // 0 Comments

It’s happening now, the CS Monitor writes. The entire Lake Michigan ecosystem is collapsing: The quagga [mussel] is found in all of the Great Lakes; the invasive species was introduced by ocean-going vessels dumping ballast water. Their favorite food is phytoplankton. Hank Vanderploeg, a colleague of Kerfoot’s, calculated that they consume phytoplankton at a rate that’s five to seven times greater than the plants are being produced. All the energy in the phytoplankton, which once fed fish, is now being sucked down to the bottom of the lake by quaggas. Their waste can stimulate the growth of Cladophora algae, which die, decompose and remove all the oxygen from the surrounding water. Under such conditions, populations of zooplankton will decline, as will the alewives, chubs, Atlantic salmon, muskies, smelt, walleyes, perch and the rest of the hundred or so species of fish that inhabit Lake Michigan. Probably ironic that this extinction event is being caused by […]

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