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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So, one of the most common household chemicals is killing you. Surprise!

26 March 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature analyzes the new World Health Organization (WHO) determination that Roundup weedkiller causes cancer: The cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization last week announced that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, is probably carcinogenic to humans. But the assessment, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, has been followed by an immediate backlash from industry groups. … On 20 March, a panel of international experts convened by the agency reported the findings of a review of five agricultural chemicals in a class known as organophosphates. A summary of the study was published in The Lancet Oncology. Two of the pesticides — tetrachlorvinphos and parathion — were rated as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, or category 2B. Three — malathion, diazinon and glyphosate — were rated as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, labelled category 2A. Why should I care about glyphosate? Glyphosate is the world’s most widely produced herbicide, by volume. […]

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Cream… no, wait. South Central Skim? *Nightmilking*?

20 February 2014 // 0 Comments

Modern Farmer reports on ongoing research that’s found that cows make more milk when listening to R.E.M. and Simon & Garfunkel: Many dairies in the U.S. play either country or Spanish-language music in parlors. This choice is highly dependent on milking employee preferences. However, no matter how many calls are made to the request line, one only has so much control over what’s played on the radio. This begs the question: If you could make the perfect mix tape for a dairy, what would it include? “The beat of the music seems to matter more than a specific genre,” says Alworth. “[In studies] animals seemed, in general, to find slow, rhythmic music most relaxing. Perhaps easy listening or new age would be best.” Frannie Miller, of Sulphur Springs, Texas, plays Spanish-language music in her parlor where her largely Latino employees milk about 130 Jerseys. “Our cows will tolerate some country and western, but they do […]

Science Art: “One Today,” by Richard Blanco

21 January 2013 // 0 Comments

Miami-raised poet and engineer Richard Blanco was selected to write a poem for today’s presidential inauguration. It begins and ends with the sky. Here’s what he read: One Today One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies. One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story told by our silent gestures moving behind windows. My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors, each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day: pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper— bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives— to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother […]

The weed that can feed the world.

31 December 2012 // 0 Comments

Well, maybe not *directly*… but Science Daily explains how scientists are watching Arabidopsis thaliana, a fast-growing, globally found weed known as mouse-eared cress, to learn how plants can produce even in tough growing conditions: Unlike crops, which for millennia have been selectively refined to express certain traits, Arabidopsis has not been cultivated and thus has not suffered the same loss of genetic diversity. This robust genetic makeup contributes to the plant’s tolerance of stresses associated with climate change and rising temperatures: increased carbon dioxide concentrations, drought, salinity, and mineral limitation and toxicity. “Ideally, if we can understand better the genetic diversity of this species, we can begin to explore the possibility of related biotechnological manipulations within crop species,” [Penn State University Waller Professor of Plant Biology Dr. Sarah Assmann] says. “Here we have a great opportunity to harness the genetic variation in Arabidopsis to inform crop improvement efforts and ameliorate the effects of climate change […]

SONG: “This Stupid War”

12 May 2012 // 0 Comments

SONG: “This Stupid War.” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “Pesticide exposure linked to brain changes: study”, AFP, via Yahoo!News, 30 Apr 2012, as used in the post “Stupid pesticide lowers your kids’ IQs.”. ABSTRACT: This song was a response to Bill Corbett’s SongFu prompt, “Write an upbeat, danceable song telling the story of some kind of battle.” Upbeat – I’m assuming this means “optimistic” and not necessarily “prior to or emphasizing the first and third beats in a measure,” or even more technically “anacrusis.” Although this may do that, I’m not book-learned enough to tell. I tried to start on as optimistic a note as possible. And danceable… well, a waltz is a dance, right? I think I can dance a waltz, anyway. It’s the classic bride’s first dance at weddings… because anybody can waltz! The battle here is the perennial one against insect pests, which we […]

Cleaning the world’s plate.

2 August 2011 // 0 Comments

A new U.N. report (over at Scientific American) shows we’re actually wasting 300 million Hummer H2s’ weight of food every year: What is more interesting is how the food is wasted around the world: Food losses in industrialized countries are as high as in developing countries, but in developing countries more than 40% of the food losses occur at post harvest and processing levels, while in industrialized countries, more than 40% of the food losses occur at retail and consumer levels. Food waste at consumer level in industrialized countries (222 million ton) is almost as high as the total net food production in sub- Saharan Africa (230 million ton). I nearly dropped my sandwich reading that. But is it really a surprise to many of us? Take a trip to the grocery store and one will find aisles upon aisles of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and other processed foodstuffs. Food that isn’t taken home is […]

Test-tube steak will save Earth.

22 June 2011 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg hops on the in-vitro meat bandwagon with a study that concludes lab-grown meat will lower greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent: The analysis, carried out by scientists from Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam, also estimates that cultured meat would require 7-45% less energy to produce than the same volume of pork, sheep or beef. It would require more energy to produce than poultry but only a fraction of the land area and water needed to rear chickens. A report of the team’s research is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. ‘What our study found was that the environmental impacts of cultured meat could be substantially lower than those of meat produced in the conventional way,’ said Hanna Tuomisto of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, who led the research. ‘Cultured meat could potentially be produced with up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45% less energy, 99% lower land use, […]

Mother cow.

15 June 2011 // 0 Comments

It must be strange to work in a facility like the ones Sky News just reported on – the places where genetically modified cows produce human breast milk: The milk produced by the transgenic cows is identical to the human variety and has the same immune-boosting and antibacterial qualities as breast milk, scientists at China’s Agricultural University in Beijing say. The transgenic herd of 300 was bred by inserting human genes into cloned cow embryos which were then implanted into surrogate cows. The technology was similar to that used to produce Dolly the sheep. The milk is still undergoing safety tests but with government permission it will be sold to consumers as a more nutritious dairy drink than cow’s milk. Workers at the university’s dairy farm have already tasted the milk, and say it is sweeter and stronger than the usual bovine variety. It’s funny that in English, the university where this is happening is […]

Zap goes the mushroom.

5 May 2010 // 0 Comments

No, not like that. PhysOrg reveals the way lightning makes the mushrooms grow: A four-year study carried out at Iwate University in northern Japan on ten species of mushroom (so far) has shown that for eight of the 10 mushroom species a bolt of lightning-strength electricity could double the crop yield. The best improvements were found in the popular nameko and shiitake mushrooms. The experiments were carried out by seeding logs with mushroom spores and then applying high-voltage electricity pulses to the logs. … The experiments showed mushrooms react best when exposed to a ten-millionth of a second burst of electricity at 50-100,000 volts. Under the best conditions the nameko yield was 80% greater than the untreated control crop, while the shiitake crop yield doubled. Takaki said the mushrooms initially decrease the enzyme and protein secretions from the hyphae (tiny filaments that spread under the surface, acting like roots and giving rise to the fruiting […]

Space berries!

4 May 2010 // 0 Comments

Purdue University researchers have devised a menu for a mission to Mars (or further) – fresh strawberries grown in space: Cary Mitchell, professor of horticulture, and Gioia Massa, a horticulture research scientist, tested several cultivars of strawberries and found one variety, named Seascape, which seems to meet the requirements for becoming a space crop. “What we’re trying to do is grow our plants and minimize all of our inputs,” Massa said. “We can grow these strawberries under shorter photoperiods than we thought and still get pretty much the same amount of yield.” Seascape strawberries are day-neutral, meaning they aren’t sensitive to the length of available daylight to flower. Seascape was tested with as much as 20 hours of daylight and as little as 10 hours. While there were fewer strawberries with less light, each berry was larger and the volume of the yields was statistically the same. “I was astounded that even with a day-neutral […]

Terror from the farm.

7 September 2009 // 0 Comments

Johns Hopkins University is unleashing a wave of… no, wait. It’s farms. Johns Hopkins is just warning about it. Farms, however, are unleashing a wave of antibiotic terror: Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health, refers to a typical pig farm manure lagoon that he sampled. “There were 10 million E. coli per liter [of sampled waste]. Ten million. And you have a hundred million liters in some of those pits. So you can have trillions of bacteria present, of which 89 percent are resistant to drugs. That’s a massive amount that in a rain event can contaminate the environment.” He adds, “This development of drug resistance scares the hell out of me. If we continue on and we lose the ability to fight these microorganisms, a robust, healthy individual has a chance of dying, where before we would be able to prevent that death.” Schwab says that if he […]

Waterproof sand brings promise of new life.

25 February 2009 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg, ready for a day on the beach, reports that nanotech engineers have created waterproof sand. They expect to use it to make the world’s deserts bloom. The stuff is just like ordinary sand, but if you put a layer of it down in a field, it’ll hold water like a pond: As DIME engineer Fahd Mohammad Saeed Hareb explains, their idea is to lay a 10-cm layer of waterproof sand beneath desert topsoil. The hydrophobic sand could serve as a water table to stop water from bleeding downward below the plants’ roots. Normally, water quickly trickles down through the sand, requiring that farmers water their plants five or six times per day. With the new layer of hydrophobic sand, farmers would only need to water their plants once per day, decreasing water use by up to 75 percent. Another benefit of the hydrophobic sand is that it prevents underground salt from passing through the […]

The Vertical Farm

12 February 2009 // 0 Comments

I was reading about urban farming lately – growing food in places where normally you’d see multilevel parking garages take root – when a page on Cuba’s successful urban farms led me to some intriguing designs from Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier, especially his uplifting Vertical Farm page: Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming. … What is proposed here differs radically from what currently exists; namely to scale up the scope of operations, in which a wide variety of produce is harvested in quantity enough to sustain even the largest of cities without significantly relying on resources beyond the urban footprint. Our group has determined that a single vertical farm […]

If a potato can power a clock…

2 October 2008 // 0 Comments

…then a tree can power a forest-fire deterrent system. At least, so says Discover magazine and a group of MIT scientists who’ve started a “tree power” company: Working with the U.S. Forest Service, Voltree has created cheap sensors that use tree power to monitor temperature and humidity conditions inside forests. The goal is to give forest managers and firefighters better tools to predict and monitor fires. Mershin and Love were initially skeptical of tree power but investigated it anyway. To debunk alternative explanations for the observed electrical charges, Mershin and Love put a potted, four-foot-tall ficus tree into MIT’s copper Faraday cage (which blocks out external static electrical fields), stuck platinum electrodes into the soil and into the tree’s tissue, and turned off the lights. …A tree living in harsh soil conditions can generate a few hundred millivolts at best. It’s just a short step from this technology to creating an army of animatronic Ents, […]