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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SONG: “Kavachi”

24 July 2015 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Kavachi”. [Download] ARTIST: grant. SOURCE:Based on “Deep-Sea Cameras Reveal a ‘Sharkcano’”, National Geographic Explorers’ Journal, 9 July 2015, as used in the post as used in the post “Live Sharks Discovered Inside A Live Volcano.” ABSTRACT: There’s nothing I didn’t like about the process of writing this. If I was influenced by anyone in the making of this song, I guess it was The Residents, although the basic structure of it was unabashedly ripped off… myself. For about, oh, 15 years or so, I’ve had this vision of Devo doing a cover of a particular Doors song. It’s never going to happen. So I just stole that cover and rewrote it to have words about a sharkcano. Sharks. In a volcano. Filled with acid. Nearly everything you hear here is synthetic, except the main drum beat, which is me beatboxing into a pair of headphones, and the solo, which is a pair of sound […]

The Big One is coming. Sorry, Seattle. And Portland.

13 July 2015 // 0 Comments

The New Yorker paints a pretty vivid seismic picture of the quake that some scientists say is due to rip the Pacific Northwest in two: Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan. Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known […]

Live sharks discovered inside a live volcano.

10 July 2015 // 0 Comments

National Geographic reveals an ecosystem my 10-year-old son might have dreamed up. It’s all lava, acid and sharks. Inside the cauldron of Kavachi is a “sharkcano”: “Absolutely, we were scared,” says [Brennan] Phillips, a National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program grantee. “But one of the ways you can tell that Kavachi is erupting is that you can actually hear it—both on the surface and underwater. Anywhere within 10 miles even, you can hear it rumbling in your ears and in your body.” No one heard rumbling, so they prepared to go right to the rim of the crater. … Even without such theatrics it’s a dangerous place though. “Divers who have gotten close to the outer edge of the volcano have had to back away because of how hot it is or because they were getting mild skin burns from the acid water.” So the team strategically deployed their instruments—including disposable robots, underwater cameras, and National […]

SONG: “How the Moon Began”

24 April 2015 // 0 Comments

SONG: “How the Moon Began.” [Download] ARTIST: grant. SOURCE:Based on “Puzzle of Moon’s origin resolved”, Nature, 8 April 2015, as used in the post “Scientists: The moon was formed when Earth smacked her twin sister.” ABSTRACT: Once again, Allison said this was the story that needed a song, and she was right. At around the same time, I was listening to “Cruel Sister” and thinking about murder ballads, but somehow, this didn’t come out folksy at all. I mean, except that it’s about ancient sisters getting into some kind of deadly fight. And has finger picking in it. I also kind of set out to write a *gushi* again, but that didn’t happen either – it kept wanting to rhyme, and then slant or else kind of extend past the rhyme (what’s the name for when that happens? Cole Porter does it all the time…). The thing that sounds like an accordion, isn’t. It’s a […]

The phrase “human-induced seismic hazards” means “man-made earthquakes.” Thanks to oil mining…

21 April 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature has more on the research into the aformentioned artificial earthquakes: It’s the first thing that geologist Todd Halihan asks on a sunny spring afternoon at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater: “Did you feel the earthquake? My mother-in-law just called to complain that the house was shaking.” Halihan’s mother-in-law has been calling a lot lately. Fifteen quakes of magnitude 4 or greater struck in 2014 — packing more than a century’s worth of normal seismic activity for the state into a single year. Oklahoma had twice as many earthquakes last year as California — a seismic hotspot — and researchers are racing to understand why before the next major one strikes. … Oklahoma’s quakes have been linked to underground wells where oil and gas operations dispose of waste water, but mining, geothermal energy and other underground explorations have triggered earthquakes from South Africa to Switzerland. … Companies drill into the ground to extract oil and […]

Science Art: Las Cascadas Slide (Section 6) from AB Nichols Notebook Vol. 38, 1910

19 April 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This is a handmade map from the construction of the Panama Canal, one of history’s greatest feats of engineering. Culebra Cut is where the project experienced massive landslides (is it fair to say some of them are still going on today? I think it is… it is). So the folks in charge of the dig, the Isthmian Canal Commission, got geologists down there to study how to move all that dirt out of the way without burying any workers and steam shovels and train cars. This is one section of the dirt-profile from AB Nichols’ notebooks. It’s labeled “Isthmian Canal Commission. Partial Geological Profile along axis of Canal in Culebra Cut, by A.B. Nichols and A. Raggi. 1910.” I found it in the Linda Hall Library Digital Collection.

Scientists: The moon was formed when Earth smacked her twin sister.

8 April 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature reports on a new way of looking at lunar formation that almost reads like a myth. The moon came to be when Earth collided with a near-identical sister planet: The ‘giant impact’ hypothesis, first proposed in the 1970s, suggests that the Moon was formed from the debris scattered when a Mars-sized planet slammed into the early Earth some 4.5 billion years ago. This fits well with what we know about the Moon, including its mass and lack of any significant iron core. But the theory also implies that the Moon is made up mostly of impactor material. Since lunar and Earth rocks have such similar compositions, this suggests that Earth and the planet that smacked into it resembled each other too. They would have needed to be sister planets, with a relationship much closer than that of any other planetary bodies we have studied in our Solar System.

Science Art: Phramgocone of Belemnitella, In Flint, 1851

12 October 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen slightly A “phragmocone” is a fancy word for a shell of a nautilus or ammonoid, and “Belemnitella” is a genus of belemnite, which is to say, a prehistoric critter like squid with a long, chambered shell… that it kept inside, like a skeleton. Once upon a time, they were all over the place. [via

Antarctica has melted so much, it’s changing Earth’s gravitational profile.

6 October 2014 // 0 Comments

Daily Beast has more on how 204 billion tons of melting glaciers have changed the way our planet’s gravity works: Between 2009 and 2012, the years for which GOCE was taking data, the amount of gravity in Antarctica decreased noticeably, corresponding to a lot of ice melt. From the point of view of artificial satellites or the Moon, Earth’s gravity is mostly a steady influence, a tug that doesn’t particularly depend on where the satellite is over Earth’s surface. However, mass is the source of gravity, so if the crust is thicker in one place than another—say, the Himalayas vs. the floor of the Atlantic Ocean—the thicker part will exert a slightly higher gravitational pull. … The authors of the new paper looked at GOCE and GRACE data for three Antarctic glaciers, and found they are losing approximately 185 billion metric tons (204 billion US tons) of ice each year for the three years of […]

Science Art: Urban Expansion of Shenyang, China, 2014.

31 August 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen vastly. This is a story of explosive growth, as told by the USGS Landsat satellite, and recorded in the Earth Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center “Image of the Week” collection. On the left is Shenyang in 1984. On the right, the same location 30 years later. City is spreading like… well, like city. Nothing else spreads like it. Mold on bread, maybe. At least there’s this: The large green feature in the north-central part of the urban area is Beiling Park, the largest park in the city. You can see it from space. Or a geosynchronous orbit, at least.

Moving rocks caught on camera.

29 August 2014 // 0 Comments

You might have heard, like many Discovery News readers, of the weird moving rocks of Death Valley – the ones with the long, curving trails behind them. No one’s ever seen how these huge boulders skate across the desert until now: The first witnesses to an enduring natural mystery are an engineer, a biologist and a planetary scientist who met thanks to a remote weather station. … Now, with video, time-lapse photographs and GPS tracking of Racetrack Playa’s moving rocks, the mystery has finally been solved. … agged plates of thin ice, resembling panels of broken glass, bulldoze the rocks across the flooded playa, the scientists reveal today (Aug. 27) in the journal PLOS One. Driven by gentle winds, the rocks seem to hydroplane atop the fluffy, wet mud. “It’s a wonderful Goldilocks phenomenon,” said lead study author Richard Norris. “Ponds like this are vanishingly rare in Death Valley, and it may be a decade […]

Mysterious crater explained. Not that it helps….

5 August 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature offers one of the least comforting explanations for a mysterious hole in Siberia. It wasn’t from an asteroid or a rogue telephone-pole-installing crew. The 30-meter-wide crater was caused by methane – a flammable, stinky greenhouse gas – being released from melting permafrost: Over the past 20 years, permafrost at a depth of 20 metres has warmed by about 2°C, driven by rising air temperatures, notes Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, a geochemist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany. Hubberten speculates that a thick layer of ice on top of the soil at the Yamal crater site trapped methane released by thawing permafrost. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” he says. Hubberten says that he has never before seen a crater similar to the Yamal crater in the Arctic. Larry Hinzman, a permafrost hydrologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks […]

The West is drying up.

29 July 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature shares satellite data that shows not only lakes, rivers and reservoirs shrinking across the whole U.S. Southwest, but even water underground is going away: To track groundwater losses, researchers used data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a pair of satellites operated by NASA and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) that measure variations in the gravitational pull of Earth. The team found that from December 2004 to November 2013, the Colorado River basin — which supplies roughly 40 million people in seven US states — lost roughly 65 trillion litres of fresh water. To determine how much of that was groundwater, they subtracted out water lost from surface reservoirs and soil. The result was more than 50 trillion litres, roughly 1.5 more than the maximum capacity of the United States’ largest reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada and Arizona. “It was way more than we ever thought,” says study co-author Jay Famiglietti, a […]

Science Art: “Dolerite” Dyke Traversing “Desert Sandstone”, 1872.

8 June 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen From the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, volume 28. It’s a dyke, a rock formation between two layers of Australian rock like jam in a sandwich. This seems like a great place to find fossils or “vein-stones,” but the London geologists said, “No. No, it isn’t.” It’s just dolerite.

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