February 2012

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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Zapping into flow.

10 February 2012 // 2 Comments

New Scientist reawakens that old dream of turning on the creative juices as if you were turning on a tap… or flipping a switch: I am in a lab in Carlsbad, California, in pursuit of an elusive mental state known as “flow” – that feeling of effortless concentration that characterises outstanding performance in all kinds of skills. Flow has been maddeningly difficult to pin down, let alone harness, but a wealth of new technologies could soon allow us all to conjure up this state. … This effortless concentration should speed up progress, while the joyful feelings that come with the flow state should help take the sting out of further practice, setting such people up for future success, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont Graduate University in California. Conversely, his research into the flow state in children showed that, as he puts it, “young people who didn’t enjoy the pursuit of the subject they were gifted […]

Home-cooked Parkinson’s.

9 February 2012 // 0 Comments

BBC reports on neurologists who’ve managed to not only create brain cells in the lab – but to make Parkinson’s-diseased cells from scratch: The breakthrough means they can now see exactly how mutations in the parkin gene cause the disease in an estimated one in 10 patients with Parkinson’s. … “This is the first time that human dopamine neurons have ever been generated from Parkinson’s disease patients with parkin mutations,” said Dr Jian Feng who led the investigations. “Before this, we didn’t even think about being able to study the disease in human neurons. “The brain is so fully integrated. It’s impossible to obtain live human neurons to study.” They started with skin cells from people who had the parkin gene mutation that causes Parkinson’s.

Tune into the li-fi.

8 February 2012 // 0 Comments

Wired is all aglow over a new wireless transmission system that uses light instead of radio waves: Using off-the-shelf electronics, he can stream videos using an ordinary light bulb fitted with signal-processing technology of his own design. The lamp shines directly on to a hole cut into the oblong box on which it sits. Inside this box is a receiver that converts the light signal into a high-speed data stream, and a transmitter that projects the data on to a screen as a short video. If Haas puts his hand in front of the lamp, excluding the light, the video stops. Haas, 43, holds the chair of mobile communications at Edinburgh University’s Institute for Digital Communications. His demo is scientifically groundbreaking: it proves that large amounts of data, in multiple parallel streams, can be transferred using various forms of light (infrared, ultraviolet and visible). The technology, he says, has huge commercial potential. His device can […]

Testosterone and bad ideas.

7 February 2012 // 0 Comments

Irish Times reveals the link between lousy decision-making and the hormone linked to lust and aggression: Dr Nick Wright and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at [University College London] tested the impact of testosterone on the levels of co-operative decision-making accomplished by groups. They publish their findings this morning in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. … Men already have high levels of the hormone and if extra is given it will quickly be broken down. For this reason only women were used as subjects, Dr Wright said. Supplements were given to elevate their testosterone levels temporarily and the women conducted a series of tests to measure levels of co-operation. Dr Wright used 17 pairs of female volunteers who were asked to watch images on separate screens, trying to identify a particular target. If they co-operated well, their results would be better than if they did not collaborate on the […]

Skin becomes brain

6 February 2012 // 0 Comments

BBC News ponders what it means for our bodies when Stanford University professors start shuffling around our cellular building blocks. Not turning stem cells into other kinds of cells, but directly transforming skin into brain: This study created “neural precursor” cells, which can develop into three types of brain cell: neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. These precursor cells have the advantage that, once created, they can be grown in a laboratory into very large numbers. This could be critical if the cells were to be used in any therapy. Brain cells and skin cells contain the same genetic information, however, the genetic code is interpreted differently in each. This is controlled by “transcription factors”. The scientists used a virus to infect skin cells with three transcription factors known to be at high levels in neural precursor cells. After three weeks about one in 10 of the cells became neural precursor cells. Lead researcher Prof Marius Wernig […]

Science Art: Quiet Engine Sonic Inlet, NASA Glenn Research Center

5 February 2012 // 0 Comments

Let us take a moment, while contemplating the sleek engineering of the quiet engine sonic inlet, to consider that tie. That man is not a model. He is, in all likelihood, an engineer. An actual rocket scientist. There are no horn-rim glasses, no pocket protectors and neither white coat nor jumpsuit. Perhaps… and I can find no higher resolution than the NASA Image Library’s photo… that white bow-tie shape is, in fact, ear protection, removed and placed casually around the scientist’s neck. Perhaps. But one can dream. One can dream of aeronautic laboratories filled with men in corduroy blazers, oxblood Chelsea boots and maroon pants. And, yes, ties. White ties. Ties wide enough to shake the stars from their heavens.

Inside magic mushrooms… inside the MRI

3 February 2012 // 0 Comments

Imperial College, London, is learning what makes psilocybin mushrooms *trippy* – and what that means for our brains: Professor David Nutt, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, the senior author of both studies, said: “Psychedelics are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity, but surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas. These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly. We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange.” … The function of these areas, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), is the subject of debate among neuroscientists, but the PCC is proposed to have a role in consciousness and self-identity. The mPFC is known to be hyperactive in depression, […]

Lovecraft report: Scientists set to disturb primordial lake, deep under Antarctic ice.

2 February 2012 // 3 Comments

Who knows what dim, multiform entities could yet lurk for silent millennia beneath that hostile, white blanket of impervious snow and unrelenting wind? Washington Post is almost ready to discover what ancient secrets lie in Lake Vostok: After drilling for two decades through more than two miles of antarctic ice, Russian scientists are on the verge of entering a vast, dark lake that hasn’t been touched by light for more than 20?million years. Scientists are enormously excited about what life-forms might be found there but are equally worried about contaminating the lake with drilling fluids and bacteria, and the potentially explosive “de-gassing” of a body of water that has especially high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen. … “This is a huge moment for science and exploration, breaking through to this enormous lake that we didn’t even know existed until the 1990s,” said John Priscu, a researcher at Montana State University who has long been involved […]

Python problem grows in the Everglades

1 February 2012 // 0 Comments

National Geographic is watching South Florida with a growing sense of unease over the alien monsters eating any creature who wanders into the Everglades: …[T]his is “the first study to show that pythons are having impacts on prey populations—and unfortunately those impacts appear to be pretty dramatic,” said study leader Michael Dorcas, a herpetologist at Davidson College in North Carolina. “We started the study after we realized, Man, we’re not seeing a lot of these animals around anymore,” Dorcas said. But “when we did the calculations, we were pretty astonished.” … For the study, Dorcas and colleagues conducted nighttime surveys of live and dead animals on roads between 2003 and 2011. Such numbers provide estimates of how many animals of a certain species are present in a given area. The scientists compared these data with similar surveys conducted in 1996 and 1997. Before 2000 it was common to see mammals such as rabbits, red foxes, […]

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