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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Italian police pressure scientists investigating olive blight.

2 June 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature uncovers just how hard it can be to do research when your subjects keep dying: In the past year, plant scientists at various institutes in Bari, the capital of the Puglia region, have seen their work and their motivations criticized by local campaigners. Most recently, they have been subject to a police investigation about whether they are responsible for the introduction of the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, into Puglia, or for allowing its subsequent spread. Police have called in several researchers involved in Xylella research for questioning and confiscated computers and documents from scientific institutes. “We’d just like to be left to do our work without this suspicion and this stress,” says Donato Boscia, head of the Bari unit of the CNR Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP), whom police questioned in April. “The scientists in Puglia working on the Xylella outbreak have been working non-stop for two years,” adds Rodrigo Almeida, a Xylella expert […]

Wood chips (of the computer variety).

27 May 2015 // 0 Comments

Science Daily peers into the smoke clouds to see the truth behind biodegradable computer chips make from wood: Portable electronics — typically made of non-renewable, non-biodegradable and potentially toxic materials — are discarded at an alarming rate in consumers’ pursuit of the next best electronic gadget. In an effort to alleviate the environmental burden of electronic devices, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has collaborated with researchers in the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to develop a surprising solution: a semiconductor chip made almost entirely of wood. … “The majority of material in a chip is support. We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else,”[UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering professor Zhenqiang “Jack” Ma] says. “Now the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer.”

Science Art: Peppergrass, by Zoe Keller

22 June 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen I love peppergrass. This is a great illustration of the middle part of the plant – there are actually some narrow, spiky-looking leaves that are even tastier. (I am not alone in this. The roots can apparently be used like the plant’s cousin, horseradish.) Discovering peppergrass was probably one of the best consequences of playing softball as a kid. I was always in the outfield. What else was I going to do? Found on Tumblr: “My corner of the studio smelled like mustard by the time this study was done.” It always seemed more like nasturtiums or watercress, but mustard… yes, I can see that. Planning on using some in cocktail bitters experiments now.

This vine changes shape to fit in with whatever’s nearby.

28 April 2014 // 0 Comments

How can this vine *know* what to look like? Science looks at the first known case of shape-shifting mimicry in the vegetable kingdom: Fewer examples of mimicry—or crypsis—are known for plants. But as in some mistletoe species in Australia, all of these imposters copy only one other species. That’s not the case with the woody vine Boquila trifoliolata, which transforms its leaves to copy a variety of host trees. Native to Chile and Argentina, B. trifoliolata is the first plant shown to imitate several hosts. It is a rare quality—known as a mimetic polymorphism—that was previously observed only in butterflies, according to this study, published today in Current Biology. When the vine climbs onto a tree’s branches, its versatile leaves… can change their size, shape, color, orientation, and even the vein patterns to match the surrounding foliage…. If the vine crosses over to a second tree, it changes, even if the new host leaves are […]

Boeing announces (with much hype) new way to turn deserts into biofuel farms.

30 January 2014 // 0 Comments

Energy Post calls it “the BIGGEST BREAKTHROUGH EVER!” That seems a bit much, but it is interesting that a Boeing-sponsored group in Abu Dhabi has figured out how to make super-clean, super-cheap oil from salt-tolerant desert plants: What researchers at the Masdar Institute have been studying is a category of plants called halophytes. These plants have naturally evolved to be able to live on salt water. Not only that: they are also able to live in arid lands, in deserts. “If you look around you here [in Abu Dhabi], most of the plants you see are halophytes.” Clearly if it is possible to grow plants in deserts around the world, and use them for biofuels, that would be an ideal solution. It would solve the major problems of traditional biofuels – use of fresh water and arable land – at one stroke. “Twenty per cent of the world’s land is either desert or becoming desert […]

Plants hear herbivores coming. No, really.

22 August 2013 // 0 Comments

National Geographic reveals what really goes on in a plant’s… mind?… when sap-thirsty plant killers are on the prowl: [University of Wisconsin researcher John] Orrock and botanist Simon Gilroy show that black mustard plants can “hear” the chemical signals of approaching plant-eaters—and prepare to fight back. “One of the things that makes plants so ecologically interesting is that they can’t run away,” says Orrock. Forced by their immobility to get creative, plants have evolved a whole host of spectacular defenses—from thorns and poison darts to awful-tasting chemical juices—against would-be predators. … Orrock and Gilroy used water mixed with snail mucus to slime the soil at the base of a number of black mustard plants. (Because snails secrete a slimy trail of mucus everywhere they go, the presence of mucus is a sure sign to plants that a snail is nearby.) The team then offered the slime-exposed plants to hungry snails, along with a control group […]

Science Art: Plate from Kitab fi al-adwiyah al-mufradah by Abu Ja`far al-Ghafiqi.

21 July 2013 // 0 Comments

In the 11th century, this was the pinnacle of medical knowledge – a book called Kitab fi al-adwiyah al-mufradah compiled by an Andalusian scholar Abu Ja`far al-Ghafiqi. It’s an illustrated guide to medicinal plants – a materia medica. Al-Ghafiqi, according to later historians, was “the greatest savant of medicinal plants, their names and their properties, and his work had no equal in this field.” If you’re curious about the state of medicine in Islamic Spain, check out McGill University’s Ghafiqi Project, where I found this keen flower painting.

Plants talk. Using fungus-phones.

10 May 2013 // 0 Comments

BBC opens the weird world of vegetable communication, revealing the fungal networks plants use to signal one another: But below ground, most land plants are connected by fungi called mycorrhizae. The new study, published in Ecology Letters, is the first to demonstrate these fungi also aid in communication. Researchers from the University of Aberdeen, the James Hutton Institute and Rothamsted Research, all in the UK, devised a clever experiment to isolate the effects of these thread-like networks of mycorrhizae. The team concerned themselves with aphids, tiny insects that feed on and damage plants. … As the researchers allowed single plants in the sets to be infested with aphids, they found that if the infested plant was connected to another by the mycorrhizae, the un-infested plant began to mount its chemical defence.

Science Art: Cattleya Maxima Backhousei by John Nugent Fitch, 1886

20 January 2013 // 0 Comments

A hothouse flower, far from home. Mr. Fitch drew this picture – one of an awful lot – for The Orchid Album: Comprised of Coloured Figures and Descriptions of New, Rare and Beautiful Orchidaceous Plants, a book published by B.S. Williams “at the Victoria and Paradise Nurseries, Upper Holloway, N.” I found it in the Bio Diversity Library, which is not Victorian nor paradisiacal, but offers glimpses of both states of being.

Durian mystery revealed: why *does* it stink so deliciously?

3 December 2012 // 0 Comments

Laboratory Equipment plunges to the bottom of a pressing mystery – why the “king of fruits” packs such a pungent punch: Martin Steinhaus, from the German Research Center for Food Chemistry, and colleagues … set out to identify the big chemical players in the durian’s odor signature. In doing so, they pinpointed 41 highly odor-active compounds, 24 of which scientists had not identified in durian before. Among the most prominent were substances associated with fruity, sweet, sulfurous and oniony smells. The oniony smelling odorants belonged to a compound class that had rarely been found in food before. Four of the newly discovered chemical compounds were previously unknown to science.

What does the zombie-making fungus fear? Its own parasite.

15 November 2012 // 0 Comments

Science Tech Daily says in the parasite world, it’s turtles all the way down. No matter how much of a *parasite* you are… like the brain-eating cordyceps fungus, for example… there’s going to be some kind of fearsome parasite that feeds on you: Ophiocordyceps fungi depend on ants to reproduce and spread. …Eventually, the ant will clamp down onto a leaf, roughly 25 cm off the forest floor, which is optimal for the fungus’ later stage in which it ejects spores onto the soil directly below. The bites are synchronized near noon (possibly cued by clock genes in the fungus) and usually occur in a north-northwestern orientation. … The zombie-ant fungus is not the end of the parasitizing line. It meets its own death at the work of yet another parasite. A secondary fungus, a hyperparasite, can cover the original fungus and its stalk, preventing the fungus from ejecting its spores. The second-level parasite seems […]

SONG: Particle

23 September 2012 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Particle.” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant (with apologies to Antonio Vivaldi). SOURCE: Based on “How Fungi Create the Amazon’s Clouds”, Time, 5 September 2012, as used in the post “Mushrooms that make the weather.” ABSTRACT: Unlike the last few songs, this one has nothing to do with a SongFu prompt; we’d kind of fallen out of synch with our respective due dates, and by the time this month’s prompt rolled around (about television crushes), I’d already started working on a song about the fungus particles that make it rain. I may whip out a TV-crush song yet for October. This one, though, was almost done to a much simpler chord progression – something like Am/G/F/F – but I’ve long been obsessed with the Bobby McFerrin/Yo-Yo Ma version of Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Two Mandolins” (Because the “Don’t Worry” guy! Being beautiful!) and figured if “Whiter Shade of Pale” could rip […]

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