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.

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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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Sorry, arachnophobes. Spiders can go *everywhere*.

6 July 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature reveals how spiders can use webbing to sail through the air… and then land on water and keep on sailing: Morito Hayashi, a spider researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, says that it had been assumed that a wet landing would be deadly for what are known as ballooning spiders — those that drift to new habitats on wind-blown silken threads that they spin to lift themselves aloft. But laboratory experiments by Hayashi and his colleagues, conducted at the University of Nottingham, UK, have shown that spiders can survive afloat, and can also harness the wind to ‘sail’ on the surface of water bodies. “Because 70% of our planet is covered by water, if they’re ballooning, they have to face landing on water,” says Hayashi. … Their water-repellent legs kept them alive on both fresh and salt water in laboratory tests and allowed them to deal with waves up to 0.5 millimetres […]

Science Art: Beetle, magnified 26 diameters, 1871.

14 June 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This seems to be a minute beetle, as pictured in Objects for the microscope, being a popular description of the most instructive and beautiful subjects for exhibition by Louisa Lane Clarke. Whether that’s a beetle that happens to be minute (as in small) or does something quickly, or if it’s one of a number of beetles called “minute something beetles” is unclear to me. It’s quite lovely, though. This is a sample of a larger illustration. Nearby on the same page, you can see the beetle life size, not magnified by any diameters. According to the caption, beetles like this are common in spring. The book itself is sort of wonderfully arbitrary, like a Borges quote from an ancient Chinese encyclopedia – it’s a list of somewhat random objects, all of which would possibly delight a curious child with a microscope. Scales of a clothes moth. Spicules of sponge. Common cheese mites […]

Plate LXXVII: The First Picture of an American Butterfly from The Butterfly Book by W.J. Holland, 1930 edition.

24 May 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen In 1930, this picture… or rather, the picture with the inscriptions beside it… had never before been published. And the inscriptions are rather interesting. In Latin, the short one reads, “Hanc e Virginia Americana Candidus ad me Pictor detulit, 1587”, which the author of The Butterfly Book (where I found this) translates as “White, the painter, brought this picture to me from American Virginia, 1587”. White, we’re pretty sure, was John White, described elsewhere as “a man deft with water-colours,” and the father* of Virginia Dare, the first European child born in the New World. They were citizens of the short-lived Roanoke Colony, which vanished while John White was in England obtaining supplies. It took him a year. His wife and daughter** may have joined the local Native American people while he was out. The butterfly is a tiger swallowtail, Papilio turnus… apparently, according to the other inscription, called by the local […]

Insects in tiny space suits. Real ones. In a vacuum.

29 January 2015 // 0 Comments

Can’t beat NBC’s headline for this: Insects Wear Tiny Spacesuits, for Science: Scanning electron microscopes (SEM) provide incredibly detailed images of biological specimens, but the instruments have not been able to image living organisms because of the powerful vacuum environment required. But now, a team of researchers has developed a way to image mosquitoes and other insects in an SEM, by wrapping them in a substance that keeps the organisms alive, without interfering with the imaging process. There’s a video of the nano-suits (1,000th the width of a human hair) in action.

Science Art: Nest of the Honey-Wasp Attacked by Jaguar, 1916

28 December 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen From Marvels of Insect Life: A Popular Account of Structure and Habit, edited by Edward Step, found in the BioDiversity Library. This is probably not exactly the book Dylan Thomas was thinking of (but it might have been) when he wrote about receiving gifts for Christmas including “books that told me everything about the wasp except why.” One bit of why – according the caption, the jaguar here isn’t interested in honey (and I doubt these paper wasps have any). He wants to eat their grubs. Protein on the go.

Science Art: #11268 (Small, Unidentified Insect On the Exoskeletal Surface Of A Dragonfly)

16 November 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This is a strange bug from PHIL, the CDC’s Public Health Image Library. Not the kind of bug the CDC usually deals with… it’s an unidentified insect found, mysteriously enough, on the outside of an unidentified dragonfly. Sticking to an antenna, in fact. As PHIL says, Though this arthropod was found here to be, what appeared to be, “residing” on the dragonfly’s body, it also may merely have been picked up by the dragonfly, as was the case with other debris such as pollen granules, or general vegetative matter, and not living as a parasitic inhabitant. .

Science Art: Sarcoptes scabiei, from Brockhaus’ Konversations-Lexikon, 1892.

21 September 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen They itch. They dig in and they itch. These are the mites that cause scabies, the tiny tunnelers, burrowing into the skin and digesting as they go. If your German’s good, you can read more about them in Brockhaus’ Konversations-Lexikon yourself. Or, you can rely on a more modern source. Either way, brrr. The smaller fellow on the right is a male, I think, and the larger, a female, capable of laying hundreds of eggs. They even LOOK itchy.

Clawed worm rewrites evolutionary history.

20 August 2014 // 0 Comments

A prehistoric worm with claws, says Live Science, has rewritten the origin story of crabs, spiders and mosquitos: According to a new study of the creatures’ odd claws, Hallucigenia sparsa is the ancestor of modern-day velvet worms, which are strange, sluglike creatures with centipede-style legs. The finding is surprising because it rewrites the evolutionary history of spiders, insects and crustaceans, said study researcher Javier Ortega-Hernandez, a paleobiologist at the University of Cambridge. … The ancient creature gets its name from the word “hallucination,” a moniker the worm earned due to its weird body. The animal’s head looks almost like its tail, and the creature has seven or eight pairs of legs as well as strange back-spikes. … The finding, detailed online yesterday (Aug. 17) in the journal Nature, puts Hallucigenia in the lineage of velvet worms, but disrupts the link between those worms and modern spiders, insects and crustaceans, a group known as arthropods. In […]

SONG: “Colonies”

24 June 2014 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Colonies.” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “Bees build mental maps to get home”, Nature, 2 Jun 2014, as used in the post “Bees know their way. As in they *know*. They remember.” ABSTRACT: Bees. I’d been keeping them for the past few months (like my parents did when I was a kid) until a couple of weeks ago, when some truck sprayed some chemical along my back yard and zip, bees all died. (Thought it was mosquito control; turns out it might have been *weed killer* sprayed to get the invasives out of the canal.) There’s something really analogous to keeping a beehive and maintaining a website or an online community – lots of checking things, watching systems at work, keeping an eye on things that build up or try to intrude on the proper functioning. With the right attention, the system kind of takes care […]

Bees know their way. As in they *know*. They remember.

5 June 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature reveals a truth with some odd implications about insects’ inner lives. Memory tests prove that bees are more thoughtful than we realize: “The surprise comes for many people that such a tiny little brain is able to form such a rich memory described as a cognitive map,” says co-author Randolf Menzel, a neurobiologist at the Free University of Berlin. … The cognitive map used by mammals is thought to originate in the brain’s hippocampus. Humans employ such maps on a daily basis; for example, even in a windowless office, many people can point towards their home, orienting themselves in space based on knowledge of their location relative to the outside world. … The authors tested their theory by interfering with the bees’ Sun compass: they shifted the bees’ internal biological clock by inducing sleep using a general anaesthetic. Once the bees had woken up, Menzel and his colleagues tracked them along a path of […]

Ant colonies are smarter than Google.

27 May 2014 // 0 Comments

When it comes to finding new information, The Independent reports, those crazy, criss-crossing paths that ants take are more efficient than Google at processing new information: The joint Chinese-German study, which is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that while individual “scout” ants may seem “chaotic” in their movements, they are leaving a trail of pheromones to allow following “gathering” ants to refine and shorten their journeys to food sources in the vicinity of the colony. As this journey is repeated again and again by worker ants carrying their loads, a “self-reinforcing effect of efficiency” creates a shorter trail, saving the colony the time and energy of “continued chaotic foraging”. “While single ants can appear chaotic and random-like, they very quickly become an ordered line of ants crossing the woodland floor in the search for food,” co-author of the study Professor Jurgen Kurths told The Independent. He added: “That transition between […]

Thinking insects

22 May 2014 // 0 Comments

Science Daily peeks into the mind of insects with new research that shows that fruit flies think before they act: In experiments asking fruit flies to distinguish between ever closer concentrations of an odor, the researchers found that the flies don’t act instinctively or impulsively. Instead they appear to accumulate information before committing to a choice. Gathering information before making a decision has been considered a sign of higher intelligence, like that shown by primates and humans. ‘Freedom of action from automatic impulses is considered a hallmark of cognition or intelligence,’ says Professor Gero Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the new research was performed. ‘What our findings show is that fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognised.’ … The researchers observed Drosophila fruit flies make a choice between two concentrations of an odor presented to them from opposite ends of a narrow chamber, having been trained to avoid one concentration. When […]

It really is the nicotine-based pesticide that’s killing all the bees.

12 May 2014 // 0 Comments

The Guardian (with a little help from Harvard) confirms what folks have suspected for a while – that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is largely due to neonicotinoid pesticides: In the new Harvard study, published in the Bulletin of Insectology, the scientists studied the health of 18 bee colonies in three locations in central Massachusetts from October 2012 till April 2013. At each location, two colonies were treated with realistic doses of imidacloprid, two with clothianidin, and two were untreated control hives. “Bees from six of the 12 neonicotinoid-treated colonies had abandoned their hives and were eventually dead with symptoms resembling CCD,” the team wrote. “However, we observed a complete opposite phenomenon in the control colonies.” Only one control colony was lost, the result of infection by the parasitic fungus Nosema and in this case the dead bees remained in the hive. Previously, scientists had suggested that neonicotinoids can lead to CCD by damaging the immune […]

A viral aphrodisiac. Like, literally – a virus that makes sexytime happen. Then it kills you….

5 May 2014 // 0 Comments

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), as NPR reports, it only affects crickets. They get infected, then want to have more sex, spreading the virus to more hosts: Shelley Adamo and her team at Dalhousie University in Halifax have just discovered a virus that seems to have an effect kind of like that … in crickets. It’s called iridovirus and she stumbled across its aphrodisiac qualities accidentally. When Adamo’s whole colony of crickets was accidentally infected with the virus (which also turns their guts blue, and kills them within a matter of weeks), she noticed, in passing, that in the days before they died their mating behavior seemed to increase. … Interestingly, the virus also appears to sterilize the crickets — which Adamo points out could be advantageous to the virus, because it means that instead of wasting time and energy producing eggs, the female crickets will continue to mate. The virus (which is highly contagious) seems […]

My, madam, what a spiky member you have… in me….

21 April 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature has published an article about a cave insect that combines the words “marathon sex session” with “the female’s spiky penis”: In desolate caves throughout Brazil live insects that copulate for days, the female’s penetrating erectile organ sticking fast in a reluctant male’s genital chamber until he offers a gift of nutritious semen. Neotrogla seems to be unique among species with reversed sex roles — with choosy males and aggressive, promiscuous females — in also having swapped anatomy…. When the flea-sized winged insects mate, the female mounts the male and penetrates deep into a thin genital opening in his back. Membranes in her organ swell to lock her in, and multiple spiky spines act as grappling hooks to anchor her tightly to the male. (When researchers tried to pull apart two mating insects, the female was gripping so tightly that the male was accidentally ripped in half, leaving his genitalia still attached to the female.) […]

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