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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First contact for health’s sake.

20 July 2015 // 0 Comments

Peruvian officials have, Science Daily reports, made like technologically advanced aliens and had first contact with a very isolated tribe: Peru’s Ministry of Culture begins ‘controlled contact’ with an isolated group of Mashco Piro tribe members to build their immune system. Video at the link.

Science Art: Fig. 3, The Pocket Cephalometer, or Compass of Coordinates, by Dr. Gustave Le Bon, c.1878.

12 July 2015 // 0 Comments

This is a demonstration of an instrument used to measure “cephalic index,” or how big a person’s head was. This was, at this point in the 1800s, deemed important so that we’d know how smart the person was and, generally, what kind of person he or she was. The same pamphlet, translated into English in the 1920s, also describes a device used to map out 3D models of solid objects… so the kind of modeling that, like, made Gollum and Jurassic Park‘s dinosaurs come to life. You can read how they work here, at

SONG: Vulnerable Ape Theory (Going to a Blues Show with the Young Earth Creationists)

29 June 2015 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Vulnerable Ape Theory (Going to a Blues Show with the Young Earth Creationists)”. [Download] ARTIST: grant. SOURCE:Based on “Vulnerability made us human: how our early ancestors turned disability into advantage”, PhysOrg, 15 June 2015, as used in the post “The Vulnerable Ape theory of human origins.” ABSTRACT: This is the late song. I had the chorus on time, but no verses. Will these do? They have mutations and selection in them. This is a song about tolerating people who are wrong and different, just because the more we do that, the better off our species is. Let selection happen. Maybe someday I’ll get someone with a sweet, fey voice to record this for me… it so wants to be twee. And I’ll actually play a slide guitar in the bridge, where we’re singing about slide guitars. (Because we’re going to a blues show, remember?) The Young Earth Creationists would actually be a pretty good […]

The Vulnerable Ape theory of human origins.

16 June 2015 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg turns the “brutal caveman” stereotype on its head, with a new look at our earliest ancestors as sensitive folks who got a leg up on the competition because we were vulnerable apes: Small numbers of individuals in the distant past would sometimes be driven to landscapes that allowed them to avoid predators and competitors, or exploit emergency resources. They would have become isolated, creating genetic ‘bottlenecks’ which brought disabling genes to the surface. The researchers argue that these groups would have experienced a new type of selection pressure – not selection in favour of individuals with the ‘best’ genes but selection that favoured those who were able to cope with the challenges that their genes threw at them. They speculate that our need to socialise and ability to experiment and learn new behaviours, as well as our compassion and communication skills, arose as coping strategies that allowed our ancestors to get through these bottlenecks. […]

The thing that really sets human beings apart: our chins.

14 April 2015 // 0 Comments

Thanks to Science Daily, I’ll never think of my beard the same way again. They’ve got new insight into the evolution of humankind’s most uniquely human feature – trying to pin down why we’re the only animals to have developed chins: “In some way, it seems trivial, but a reason why chins are so interesting is we’re the only ones who have them,” says Nathan Holton, who studies craniofacial features and mechanics at the University of Iowa. “It’s unique to us.” New research led by Holton and colleagues at the UI posits that our chins don’t come from mechanical forces such as chewing, but instead results from an evolutionary adaptation involving face size and shape — possibly linked to changes in hormone levels as we became more societally domesticated. The finding, if true, may help settle a debate that’s gone on intermittently for more than a century why modern humans have chins and how they […]

The Big-Brain Gene. So here’s where the trouble started….

16 March 2015 // 0 Comments showcases the gene that gave us (and our Neanderthal and Denisovan cousins) big brains: A gene that is responsible for brain size in modern Homo sapiens and their ancient relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, has been identified by a team of scientists from Germany led by Dr Wieland Huttner of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. … …[T]hey noticed that one particular gene contributed to the reproduction of basal brain stem cells, triggering a folding of the neocortex. The scientists said: “This gene manages to trigger brain stem cells to form a bigger pool of stem cells. In that way, during brain development more neurons can arise and the cerebrum can expand. The cerebrum is responsible for cognitive functions like speaking and thinking.” According to the team, the gene, called ARHGAP11B, is found in modern-day humans and our ancient relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, but not in chimpanzees.

The oldest harmony. (Well, polyphony.)

30 December 2014 // 0 Comments

University of Cambridge researchers have gotten to the root of the chord. (See, that’s a music theory joke.) No, really, they’ve found was seems to be the oldest written music with more than one note playing at the same time: The inscription is believed to date back to the start of the 10th century and is the setting of a short chant dedicated to Boniface, patron Saint of Germany. It is the earliest practical example of a piece of polyphonic music – the term given to music that combines more than one independent melody – ever discovered. Written using an early form of notation that predates the invention of the stave, it was inked into the space at the end of a manuscript of the Life of Bishop Maternianus of Reims. … The piece was discovered by Giovanni Varelli, a PhD student from St John’s College, University of Cambridge, while he was working on an […]

Latin American diabetes risk traced to Neanderthal ancestors.

27 December 2013 // 0 Comments

BBC has more on one unfortunate modern human inheritance from our ancestors interbreeding with Neanderthals: The gene variant was detected in a large genome-wide association study (GWAS) of more than 8,000 Mexicans and other Latin Americans. The GWAS approach looks at many genes in different individuals, to see whether they are linked with a particular trait. People who carry the higher risk version of the gene are 25% more likely to have diabetes than those who do not, and people who inherited copies from both parents are 50% more likely to have diabetes. The higher risk form of the gene – named SLC16A11 – has been found in up to half of people with recent Native American ancestry, including Latin Americans. … They discovered that the SLC16A11 sequence associated with risk of type 2 diabetes is found in a newly sequenced Neanderthal genome from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Analyses indicate that the higher risk version […]

Invisible ink revealed… a few centuries later.

13 November 2013 // 0 Comments

The medievalists at are all excited over a new technology that “unerases” writings that were erased by scribes to make more room on precious parchment: Using cutting-edge technology, European scientists have uncovered new fragments by Euripides and an unknown ancient commentary on Aristotle. These writings were on parchments that were washed off and overwritten in medieval times. Using advanced multispectral imaging methods, the Palamedes project, based out of the Universities of Göttingen and Bologna were able to see the original writings in the manuscripts, one of which is located at the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, while the other can be found at the National Library of France in Paris. More about Palamedes (short for PALimpsestorum Aetatis Mediae EDitiones Et Studia) and their palimpsest discoveries over here.

How Forbidden City was built: ice machine!

9 November 2013 // 0 Comments

Not the moving parts kind, but the wedge/screw/lever kind. Want to move giant blocks of stone a few miles, but the locomotive and crane haven’t been invented yet? Nature‘s answer… by waiting until winter and freezing the streets: Some of the largest stones used to construct Beijing’s Forbidden City beginning in 1406 were hauled from distant quarries on wooden sledges along ice roads, ancient Chinese documents have revealed. Calculations now reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that, on uneven, winding roads, this method is safer, more reliable and much easier than using wooden rollers or dragging the sledges over bare ground. … Many of the largest stones in the complex came from a quarry located about 70 kilometres from Beijing, says Howard Stone, a fluid mechanicist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and a member of the team that performed the study. “You go to the Forbidden City and see these […]

Utopia or catastrophe: How long do civilizations live? (And how can we find another?)

11 October 2013 // 0 Comments

Those questions were raised in, of all publications, Astrobiology Magazine. Why are astrobiologists so concerned about human culture? Because if civilizations can really die out, that affects how many alien civilizations are likely to be out there somewhere: The longevity of our civilization was the topic of a symposium recently held in Washington DC. The symposium was organized and led by the holder of the NASA/ Library of Congress Astrobiology chair David Grinspoon, in an ornate room that would not have been out of place in ancient Pompeii — before that city was destroyed by an enormous volcanic eruption. The complexity of answering the question of our longevity was evidenced by the far-ranging discussion that ensued among the panelists and the audience. Beyond science and technology, they discussed the current state of economics and politics, the fate of the environment, and even McDonald’s plastic cups, which were designed to be used for 20 minutes but […]

Prehistoric art shows psychedelic traces, scientists say.

16 July 2013 // 0 Comments

Alternet (of course) spreads the news that researchers studying our earliest ancestors have collected some intriguing proof that cave painters were tripping: Their thesis intriguingly explores the “biologically embodied mind,” which they contend gave rise to similarities in Paleolithic art across the continents dating back 40,000 years, and can also be seen in the body painting patterns dating back even further, according to recent archelogical discoveries. At its core, this theory challenges the long-held notion that the earliest art and atrists were merely trying to draw the external world. Instead, it sees cave art as a deliberate mix of rituals inducing altered states for participants, coupled with brain chemistry that elicits certain visual patterns for humanity’s early chroniclers. … “The prevalence of certain geometric patterns in the symbolic material culture of many prehistoric cultures, starting shortly after the emergence of our biological species and continuing in some indigenous cultures until today, is explained in terms […]

Science Art: Nazca Lines, Peru, 2000, NASA’s Earth as Art

7 April 2013 // 0 Comments

These are probably the world’s largest petroglyphs. They’re ancient rock carvings that we can see from space. You can’t make out the funky checkerboards, or the hummingbirds or monkeys… but you can see that there’s something there. Welcome to Nazca, ancient gods. Approach on runway number three. [via NPR]

SONG: “Mesopotamia” (a penitential B52s cover)

2 January 2013 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Mesopotamia” (penitential cover) [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: This is a cover (a late one) making up for a late song in November. There’s no original research here, and some pretty sketchy anthropology. But still. It’s the B52s. It’s hard for me to say which version is really the original – there’s a story connected to the recording. But either the David Byrne mix or the No, David You’re Doing It All Wrong mix will do. ABSTRACT: I always liked this song. It had this immediate aura of what-the-heck-are-we-dancing-to to it, which I loved. So much eeriness. So ancient. So new. Why a song about Mesopotamia? They had a lot of ruins! Of course. So this is a slower, slinkier version of that. With way too much of whatever I liked. (Except, of course, those voices.) Happy new year.

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