November 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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Too clean, too sensitive.

30 November 2010 // 0 Comments brings us yet another report on the problems with cleanliness: The modern trend for using antibacterial soaps is actually harming young people by making them more prone to developing allergies. It seems teenagers are becoming over-exposed to a compound called triclosan, widely used in household products such as soaps, toothpaste, pens and nappy bags. Food cans, toothbrushes and garbage bags are also generally high in bisphenol A. To keep them well-sealed and antiseptic, of course.

Saturn’s friendly moon.

29 November 2010 // 0 Comments

Pack up your things! Discover reports that the Cassini Saturn probe has found an oxygen atmosphere around Rhea: Other atmospheres known to exist throughout the solar system, like that of Titan as well as Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, were discovered and studied from afar. Rhea’s, however, is so thin that this direct pass through it was the only way to be sure it was there. The astronomers believe the same process that creates the atmospheres of Europa and Ganymede is also at work on Rhea: Charged particles strike the ice on the surface, breaking it apart and freeing molecules to feed the moon’s thin envelope. … “All this suggests these kinds of exospheres may be very common,” said Dr. [Ben] Teolis. “There are different moons at Saturn and at Uranus, for example, which should be massive enough to hold an atmosphere. And, presumably, this kind of thing is duplicated billions of times throughout the […]

SONG: Beyond the Ends of the Earth

23 November 2010 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Beyond the Ends of the Earth” [Download] . (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “100 Year Starship: Nasa’s plan to colonise galaxy”, The First Post, 27 October 10, as used in the post One-way ticket out. ABSTRACT: Mmm. November. Lonely month. Traditional month. Minor key waltz month. Going out of our heads month. Looking at the sky and wondering month. Reverb guitar month. Never returning month. Never coming back.

Squid can fly.

22 November 2010 // 0 Comments

I am not making that up. has the photographic evidence of flying squid: “From our observations it seemed like squid engaged in behaviors to prolong their flight,” she said. “One of our co-authors saw them actually flapping their fins. Some people have seen them jetting water while in flight. We felt that ‘flight’ is more appropriate because it implies something active.” But unfortunately such eyewitness accounts were all that the scientific community had to go on. Soon, however, that would change. Extra points: the proof was obtained from the deck of a cruise ship. [via Yaldabaoth]

Science Art: Merman (Vir marinus episcopi specie), 1696

21 November 2010 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen I’ll just quote the Wikimedia Commons text on this one. It tells a better story than I could. A relatively benign merman complete with scales caught in the Baltic Sea in 1531, according to Johann Zahn’s sources. In: Specula physico- mathematico-historica notabilium ac mirabilium sciendorum by Johann Zahn. published 1696 at Augsburg, Germany. Library Call Number Q155 .Z33 1696. The caption reads: “Vir marinus episcopi specie An: 1531 captus im mari Baltico.” Image ID: libr0081, Treasures of the NOAA Library Collection Photographer: Archival Photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA), United States of America Secondary source: Just in case it’s not clear, what this actually was, in all likelihood, was what happens when old sea gods meet a cartilaginous fish body. That sea bishop – he’s lower than a stingray’s belly.

Hurt so good.

19 November 2010 // 0 Comments

Yes. Well. New Scientist’s never-so-aptly-named “Short Sharp Science” blog revels in the discovery that the female orgasm is neurologically linked to pain: To get his results, Komisaruf somehow persuaded nine women to stimulate themselves to orgasm while having their brains scanned in a functional MRI machine. Taking snapshots of activity throughout the event allowed Komisaruf and his colleagues to create a 3D video of the spread of activity around the brain during an orgasm. Although the work has clear applications for the treatment of sexual dysfunction, there could be other avenues to explore. Komisaruf says his study showed activation in numerous areas previously thought to be inactive during orgasm, such as parts of the frontal cortex, providing more information about neural connectivity. His team also saw activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula. This was surprising, since these areas are more commonly involved in the processing of pain. “The fact that these areas […]

Inject stem cells into damaged brain. Wait.

18 November 2010 // 0 Comments

That’s a rough outline of what The Telegraph says scientists are doing in what could wind up being a dramatic medical breakthrough: The study, Pilot Investigation of Stem Cells in Stroke (PISCES), is the first of its kind in the world. It will test whether implanting stem cells can treat damaged areas of the brain and improve quality of life for victims of ischaemic stroke, the most common form of the condition, which is caused by a blockage of blood flow in the brain. Be very interesting to see what happens after the “wait” phase is over… in two years.

Reading names, forgetting faces.

17 November 2010 // 0 Comments

Forget your eyes. New Scientist (have I seen them somewhere before?) says all that reading is bad for your memory: The scans firstly confirmed which regions of the brain are associated with reading: as expected, the visual word form area, which is known to enable people to link sounds with written symbols, became active during reading, demonstrating that it plays an important role. Unsurprisingly, those who were better readers had more activation in this area when they were reading compared with the others. And when volunteers listened to spoken sentences, all their brains showed similar responses in the visual word form area. … But when the researchers showed participants pictures of faces, the visual word form area of those who could read was much less active than that of participants who could not read. So, the researchers speculate, learning to read competes with face recognition ability – in this part of the brain at least. […]

Sleights of Mind

16 November 2010 // 0 Comments

This is more of a “heads up” than highlighting any particular discovery, but Medical News Today has a review of a fascinating collaboration between neuroscientists and stage magicians: “We have spent the last few years traveling the world, meeting magicians, researching their art, and collaborating with them on our study of the brain,” says Dr. Martinez-Conde, director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience. “Magicians do cognitive science experiments for audiences all night long and they may be even more effective than we scientists are in the lab.” Drs. Macknik and Martinez-Conde accepted faculty appointments at Barrow in 2004 and their research into vision and cognition is now a focal point at Barrow, the largest neurosurgical facility in the United States. “We are on a fascinating journey about the neural underpinning of magic and the brain,” says Dr. Macknik, director of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology. “If we fully understand how magicians hack our brains, we […]

Mutant mosquitoes fight “breakbone fever.”

15 November 2010 // 0 Comments

The Miami Herald reports on a new front line in a genetic war against insect-borne disease: Researchers at Oxitec Limited, an Oxford-based company, created sterile male mosquitoes by manipulating the insects’ DNA. Scientists in the Cayman Islands released 3 million mutant male mosquitoes to mate with wild female mosquitoes of the same species. That meant they wouldn’t be able to produce any offspring, which would lower the population. Only female mosquitoes bite humans and spread diseases. From May to October, scientists released batches of genetically mutated male mosquitoes in cages three times a week in a 40-acre (16-hectare) area. By August, mosquito numbers in that region dropped by 80 percent compared with a neighboring area where no sterile male mosquitoes were released. Luke Alphey, Oxitec’s chief scientific officer, said with such a small area, it would have been very difficult to detect a drop in dengue cases. But their modeling estimates suggested an 80 percent […]

Science Art: Arsinoitherium, by Heinrich Harder

14 November 2010 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen slightly This big fellow is Arsinoitherium, a prehistoric swamp monster related to elephants and hyraxes. Those horns were once believed to be hollow – possibly used for making big, booming noises of one sort or another – but now seem to be thought to do basically what rhinos’ horns do – defend the rhino. Unlike rhinos, these creatures’ horns are made of bone. They lived in northern Africa around 30 million years ago, when most of what’s now the Sahara was then a mangrove marsh. Not having access (as far as we know) to a time machine, Heinrich Harder did the best he could with the few skeletons that were available around 1920, when he painted the noble beasts for a series of collector cards. Found on’s Heinrich Harder pages.

Bubbles in the Milky Way

12 November 2010 // 0 Comments

NASA astronomers have found the equivalent of a lost continent in space – a pair of colossal radioactive bubbles rising from the galaxy: NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has unveiled a previously unseen structure centered in the Milky Way — a finding likened in terms of scale to the discovery of a new continent on Earth. The feature, which spans 50,000 light-years, may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the center of our galaxy. “What we see are two gamma-ray-emitting bubbles that extend 25,000 light-years north and south of the galactic center,” said Doug Finkbeiner, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who first recognized the feature. “We don’t fully understand their nature or origin.” At more than 100 degrees across, the structure spans more than half of the sky, from the constellation Virgo to the constellation Grus. It may be millions of years […]

Hawking Q&A

10 November 2010 // 0 Comments

Time has a vox-pop interview with professional smartypants Stephen Hawking: Does it feel like a huge responsibility to have people expecting you to have all the answers to life’s mysteries? —Susan Leslie, BOSTON I certainly don’t have the answers to all life’s problems. While physics and mathematics may tell us how the universe began, they are not much use in predicting human behavior because there are far too many equations to solve. I’m no better than anyone else at understanding what makes people tick, particularly women.

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