Science Art: Ecphora gardnerae, by J.C. McConnell

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A shellfish that was around when megalodons swam and the first crows flew.

It was drawn by J.C. McConnell, a doctor who officially worked as a clerk for the Army Medical Museum, and gained a reputation for his shells, especially prehistoric ones.

If you’re going to be known for anything, I guess, why not that?

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SONG: "Jump, Jump, Jump."

SONG: “Jump, Jump, Jump”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “Fish and Adaptation: Mangrove Fish Jumps into Air in Warming Water”, Nature World News, 21 Oct 2015, as used in the post “Global warming might make the fish jump.”

ABSTRACT: First, let me say that this was done on time, even early. It started as a jokey thing I was singing to my son while he was watching me play guitar on the couch, and I decided what the hell. They call it “playing” music for a reason. (I guess if I spoke …

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SONG: All Praise Black Ice

SONG: “All Praise Black Ice”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto”,, 8 Oct 2015, as used in the post “There’s water ice on another planet. Not Mars. Pluto.”


Laryngitis followed by a business trip and here I am, a couple weeks late. I hope the brass section makes up for that.

(Yes, there’s brass in there, somewhere. I really need help mastering these things, but one does what one can in between everything e…

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Science Art: Taf. V: Feuer-Salamander by Bruno Dürigen.


Fire salamanders.

They don’t look so hot.


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Science Art: Chemical Laboratory room. Experimental Research labs, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Tuckahoe, New York

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Welcome to Wellcome.

They’ve got all kinds of wonderful things in their image gallery, including this marvelous experimenter in an even more marvelous experimental lab.

In 1935, this was where the future was made.

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Mealworms can eat our plastic trash.

1 October 2015 // 0 Comments

Science Alert (citing Environmental Science & Technology) shows us a new way to think about chucking out all that delicious “non-biodegradable” garbage: Researchers led by Stanford University in US and Beihang University in China found that the mealworm – the larval form of the darkling beetle – can safely subsist on a diet of Styrofoam and other kinds of polystyrene, with bacteria in the worm’s gut biodegrading the plastic as part of its digestive process. … “Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem,” co-author Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford, said in a statement. In the study, 100 mealworms ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam each day, converting about half into carbon dioxide and the other excreting the bulk of the rest as biodegraded droppings. They remained healthy on the plastic diet, and their droppings appeared […]

American bees get a (small) break.

15 September 2015 // 0 Comments

It’s tough being a bee for lots of reasons, but at least, as New Scientist reports, brain damage from chemical warfare won’t be as much of a problem any more – not in the United States. (Because it was, you know.) But now, America has banned one new neonicotinoid pesticide: As a result of the US decisions, rules on the controversial chemicals in the US and European Union are in bizarre contradiction. The US has approved most neonicotinoids while now banning sulfoxaflor. But the EU has banned most neonicotinoids for use on flowering crops and spring sown crops since 2013, but approved sulfoxaflor in July on the basis that it would not have any unacceptable effects on the environment. “The public will be justifiably confused and concerned,” says Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, a British group that campaigns against neonicotinoids. The US ruling against sulfoxaflor, which is manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, was made by a […]

City grime “breathes out” pollution

18 August 2015 // 0 Comments

BBC reveals a dirty secret about our sooty cities – the grunge doesn’t trap air pollution – it creates it: In rooftop experiments in Germany, the researchers tracked the content of grime in both sunshine and shade. They say sunlit grime releases nitrogen in two forms: the toxic pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2), plus nitrous acid – a key driver of smog formation. The findings, presented at a conference of the American Chemical Society in Boston, were welcomed by pollution experts – and may explain a “missing” source of smog-producing gas in the skies of London. … On a tower above the city they set up two large shelves filled with beads of window glass. Both sets of beads received the same air flow – and got thoroughly grimy – but only one was in the sun.

Graphene’s tin cousin

10 August 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature greets a new one-atom-thick material – a super-thin sheet of tin scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University are calling “stanene”: Stanene (from the Latin stannum meaning tin, which also gives the element its chemical symbol, Sn), is the latest cousin of graphene, the honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms that has spurred thousands of studies into related 2D materials. Those include sheets of silicene, made from silicon atoms; phosphorene, made from phosphorus; germanene, from germanium; and thin stacks of sheets that combine different kinds of chemical elements…. Many of these sheets are excellent conductors of electricity, but stanene is — in theory — extra-special. At room temperature, electrons should be able to travel along the edges of the mesh without colliding with other electrons and atoms as they do in most materials. This should allow the film to conduct electricity without losing energy as waste heat, according to predictions2 made in 2013 by Shou-Cheng Zhang, […]

Fish juice and shrimp shell sunscreen.

31 July 2015 // 0 Comments

Not sure how it smells once you rub it on (despite assurances it doesn’t), but New Scientist is looking toward a blend of fish extract and shrimp shells to protect our skin and more against UV exposure: Some species of algae, bacteria and fish that spend a lot of time in the sun have evolved sun shields that absorb the DNA-damaging UV rays in sunlight. These chemicals, known as Mycosporine-like amino acids, have now been turned into a material that can be applied like a sunscreen to skin, as well as objects such as outdoor furniture that are at risk of UV damage. Besides potentially being a more effective UV-absorber than conventional sunscreens, this natural alternative is biodegradable and some of its ingredients could be scavenged from food waste. Vincent Bulone from AlbaNova University Center in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues from the University of the Basque Country in Leioa, Spain, reacted the amino acids with […]

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. […]

3D printing molecules to order.

13 March 2015 // 0 Comments

Popular Mechanics takes the 3D printer to the next level – synthesizing not new shapes, but new chemicals from scratch: In a new study published in the journal Science today, [University of Illinois chemist Martin] Burke has announced the specs of a chemistry’s own version of the 3D printer—a machine that can systematically synthesize thousands of different molecules (including the ratanhine molecular family) from a handful of starting chemicals. Such a machine could not only make ratanhine step-by-step, but also could custom-create a dozen other closely-related chemicals—some never even synthesized before by humans. That could allow scientists to test the medicinal properties of a whole molecular family. … Whether you’re trying to form a ring of carbon atoms or strip away hydrogen atoms, each step requires a dose of starting chemicals, which Burke separates into distinct building blocks. Think of them as simple groups of chemical compounds like O2 or CO2 that snap together. To […]

Programmable solids. Any shape you like.

2 March 2015 // 0 Comments

Science magazine is shaping up for a flexible future, with a whole new kind of 3D LCD screen: The moving images we see on a display are created by controlling the net orientation of the molecules, which changes the optical polarization of the liquid so that it either blocks or transmits light. But what if instead of producing an image on a flat screen, your LCD television could transform into different three-dimensional (3D) objects, and then back to a flat screen? Is it possible for soft materials to reproduce shapes instead of images? On page 982 of this issue, Ware et al. (1) demonstrate this possibility with liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs). There are images of the LCEs making different textures on Science‘s Twitter feed.

Stronger than spider silk

20 February 2015 // 2 Comments

Washington Post reveals the natural substance that beats spider silk for toughness, and diamonds for hardness – and it’s limpet teeth: In a study set to come out this month in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, British researchers announced that the teeth of shelled, aquatic creatures called limpets are the strongest biological material on Earth, overtaking the previous record-holder, spider silk. The teeth, which are so small they must be examined with a microscope, are composed of very thin, tightly-packed fibers containing a hard mineral called goethite. Limpets use them to scrape food off of rocks, but lead author Asa Barber said humans can adapt the technology to build better planes, boats and dental fillings. … He found that the material had a strength of 5 gigapascals, about five times the strength of most spider silks. “People are always trying to find the next strongest thing, but spider silk has been the winner […]

There’s gold in them thar sewers….

21 January 2015 // 0 Comments

It just ain’t sanitary. Science magazine plumbs the depths of the million-dollar treasure hiding at the municipal waste treatment plant: Metals have long been known to concentrate in sewage, which mixes toilet water with effluent from industrial manufacturing, storm runoff, and anything else flushed down the drain. It’s a headache for sewage utilities that must cope with toxic metals lacing wastewater headed for streams or sludge that might otherwise be spread on farm fields. But what if those metals had value? In a new study, scientists at Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, quantified the different metals in sewage sludge and estimated what it all might be worth. They took sludge samples gathered from around the country and measured the metal content using a mass spectrometer that can discern different elements as they are ionized in a superhot plasma. The upshot: There’s as much as $13 million worth of metals in the sludge produced every year […]

Dumb chemicals drop babies’ IQs.

17 December 2014 // 0 Comments

Science Daily reveals that two kinds of phthalates – chemicals found in ordinary stuff like dryer sheets, soap, lipstick and vinyl fabrics – can drop IQ points off developing babies: Since 2009, several phthalates have been banned from children’s toys and other childcare articles in the United States. However, no steps have been taken to protect the developing fetus by alerting pregnant women to potential exposures. In the U.S., phthalates are rarely listed as ingredients on products in which they are used. Researchers followed 328 New York City women and their children from low-income communities. They assessed the women’s exposure to four phthalates–DnBP, DiBP, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, and diethyl phthalate–in the third trimester of pregnancy by measuring levels of the chemicals’ metabolites in urine. Children were given IQ tests at age 7. Children of mothers exposed during pregnancy to the highest 25 percent of concentrations of DnBP and DiBP had IQs 6.6 and 7.6 points lower, […]

Once in the ocean, where does the plastic *go*?

16 December 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature surveys the plastic in the seas, expects to see things like detergent bottles and Barbies breaking up into tiny “microplastic” particles, and doesn’t. So the question becomes… where does the plastic go?: More than 5 trillion plastic pieces, with a combined mass of more than 250,000 tonnes, are floating in the ocean, researchers reported on 10 December in PLoS ONE. On its face, the estimate is shockingly high — but it is still much lower than expected, amounting to less than 1% of the annual global production of plastic, says study co-author Hank Carson, a marine biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Olympia. A team led by Marcus Eriksen, research director at the Five Gyres Institute in Los Angeles, California, took samples with fine-mesh nets and visually counted pieces of trash on 24 expeditions through all five subtropical gyres — areas of rotating ocean currents where plastic collects — as […]

Bullet-proof fabric and cheap hydrogen fuel… and it comes from carbon.

3 December 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature celebrates more wonders – potential ones, from flexible armor to affordable fuel cells – that we can make from graphene: Protons’ ability to travel through graphene suggests that the material could be used as a membrane to sieve hydrogen from air, and to help extract energy from that hydrogen in a fuel cell, says co-author Andre Geim, a materials scientist at the University of Manchester, UK, who won a Nobel prize in 2010 for his pioneering experiments on graphene. Fuel cells convert the chemical energy stored in hydrogen (or other fuels) into electricity by breaking it apart into protons and electrons: the electrons race around an outside wire to create a current, with the protons flowing through a membrane within the cell. (Electrons and protons recombine at an electrode to react with oxygen.) Today’s membranes, such as a commercial polymer called Nafion, are tens of micrometres thick but do not entirely prevent hydrogen fuel […]

Mummies: WAAAY older than we thought.

15 August 2014 // 0 Comments

Jesus lived 2,000 years ago. There was no such thing as the English language, and most human beings had never even seen paper. 2,500 years before *that* is when we thought the first Egyptian mummies were made. But now, as New Scientist reports, we’ll have to move the date of the first mummies back by another 2,000 years: It had been assumed that before about 2500 BC, when Egyptians wanted to mummify their deadMovie Camera, they placed the wrapped bodies outside and let the hot, dry air and desert sand do the hard work. Deliberate mummification with preserving oils and resins was thought to be a much later development. But the earliest known Egyptian burials date from 4500 to 3350 BC. These led some Egyptologists to suspect that mummification began early, but there was no hard evidence of this. For the first time, the bandages, skin and wadding from these ancient burials have been chemically […]

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