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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The third kind of lie: science vs. p-hacking.

8 October 2015 // 0 Comments

Fusion goes beyond the three kinds of lies (“Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” according to… someone) and into the awful implications of trusting the data as it lies, lies, lies to us: In many fields of research right now, scientists collect data until they see a pattern that appears statistically significant, and then they use that tightly selected data to publish a paper. Critics have come to call this p-hacking, and the practice uses a quiver of little methodological tricks that can inflate the statistical significance of a finding. As enumerated by one research group, the tricks can include: “conducting analyses midway through experiments to decide whether to continue collecting data,” “recording many response variables and deciding which to report postanalysis,” “deciding whether to include or drop outliers postanalyses,” “excluding, combining, or splitting treatment groups postanalysis,” “including or excluding covariates postanalysis,” “and stopping data exploration if an analysis yields a significant p-value.” Add it all […]

SONG: One (is the Loneliest Number) (penitential cover)

21 September 2015 // 0 Comments

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 years ago, in fact. It’s such a peculiar little song – a kind of lament bass behind a meditation on number theory, or a heartbroken projection into mathematics… what *is* he thinking, anyway? The existential grief of binary? Two can be as bad as one. It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? Instinctively? Yes? No? This recording kind of shows off all the weaknesses of my not-really-monitoring setup (a pair of Koss Portapro headphones with no foam covers […]

Viral science – things that spread fast.

10 March 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature skips past the blue-and-black dress to ask: Have you seen the one about viral scholarship?: In a paper due to appear in Management Science, Sharad Goel and his collaborators propose a mathematical definition of virality that quantifies the extent to which a concept is spreading between friends as opposed to via popular news outlets. Nature asked Goel, a computational social scientist at Stanford University in California, how his work applies to #TheDress. … What does ‘viral’ mean? When people say viral they can mean a lot of different things. It’s often a synonym for popular. People will say, “Look at this viral video”, when really it was something released by Taylor Swift or something like that. Something that’s a little bit closer to what I think of as viral, is something that’s not being promoted by a celebrity and that you wouldn’t ordinarily think is going to become very popular. Closer still — and […]

Science Art: D ß ist der schneck auß dem grund…, by Albrecht Duerer, from Four Books on Measurement (Underweysung der Messung mit dem Zirckel und Richtscheyt)

26 January 2015 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen The full title of this appears to be: “D ß ist der schneck auß dem grund auf gezogen/mit allen notwendigen linien drauß er gemacht wirdet,” or “This is the spiral from the plan drawn into the room, with all necessary construction lines.” It’s from a volume on making three-dimensional shapes out of numbers.

Gödel music composition to debut at Gödel Prize celebration.

8 July 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature has more on the suitably self-recursive premiere of a uniquely mathematical piece of music: The piece, “The Hilbert Heartbreak Hotel” by Danish composer Niels Marthinsen, was the brainchild of computer scientist Thore Husfeldt of Lund University in Sweden and IT University of Copenhagen. “I probably have some latent frustration about the increasing fragmentation of the arts and sciences,” Husfeldt says, “so maybe it’s an attempt to bring together some strands of culture that I happen to enjoy very much.” … Marthinsen was a student of the Danish composer Per Nørgård, who in the 1960s explored the use of mathematics in composition with, for example, series of notes with the fractal-like property of self-similarity. So Marthinsen was a natural choice for commissioning the piece. “He said: ‘This is completely insane and I don’t have time at all, but of course we have to do it.’” Husfeldt recalls. “From there, the puzzle was to actually make […]

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 […]

1 in 25 Death Row inmates don’t belong there.

30 April 2014 // 0 Comments

Or so says a new analysis published in Nature. That’s 4% of condemned people who would be exonerated given enough time: Few convictions result in an exoneration, most of those convicted never manage to prove their innocence and many cases do not have their final outcomes recorded, so data are not available to researchers. Innocent people also frequently plead guilty in the hope of reducing their sentence, effectively eliminating themselves from any analysis. Therefore, quantifying exonerations is the only way to get a glimpse of the extent of wrongful convictions, says lead author Samuel Gross, a criminologist at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. Gross and his colleagues analysed the rate of exonerations among prisoners on death row, whose outcomes are carefully tracked by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics in Washington DC. In a previous report, the researchers found that less than 0.1% of prison sentences are death sentences, yet capital […]

So a shark, a hunter-gatherer and a honeybee walk into a bar…

31 December 2013 // 0 Comments

…and they way they move, ScienceDaily says follows the same mathematical pattern: A mathematical pattern of movement called a Lévy walk describes the foraging behavior of animals from sharks to honey bees, and now for the first time has been shown to describe human hunter-gatherer movement as well. The study, led by University of Arizona anthropologist David Raichlen, was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Lévy walk pattern appears to be ubiquitous in animals, similar to the golden ratio, phi, a mathematical ratio that has been found to describe proportions in plants and animals throughout nature. “Scientists have been interested in characterizing how animals search for a long time,” said Raichlen, an associate professor in the UA School of Anthropology, “so we decided to look at whether human hunter-gatherers use similar patterns.” … The Lévy walk, which involves a series of short movements in one area and then a […]

Polynesian polynomials? Islanders counted in binary.

17 December 2013 // 0 Comments

Nature has more on the math whizzes of the South Pacific: Binary arithmetic, the basis of all virtually digital computation today, is usually said to have been invented at the start of the eighteenth century by the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz. But a study now shows that a kind of binary system was already in use 300 years earlier among the people of the tiny Pacific island of Mangareva in French Polynesia. The discovery, made by analysing historical records of the now almost wholly assimilated Mangarevan culture and language and reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, suggests that some of the advantages of the binary system adduced by Leibniz might create a cognitive motivation for this system to arise spontaneously, even in a society without advanced science and technology. Pure binary arithmetic works in base 2 rather than the conventional base 10, which many cultures have adopted possibly as a consequence of […]

Some critters are so small, they can’t make a species.

9 August 2013 // 0 Comments

That’s the argument Laboratory Equipment describes some mathematical taxonomists (there’s a discipline for you) are making – claiming that some kinds of plankton are individually so small and so *weird*, they’re impossible to divide into different species: A new mathematical theory from the Univ. of Bath is challenging one of the most basic ideas of biology: that the concept of a “species” applies to all creatures. In a paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biology, an interdisciplinary team of scientists, including mathematician Tim Rogers, outline findings from a recent study into the mathematics of biodiversity. Small organisms, measuring less than one millimeter, form the bedrock of the global ecosystem and their diversity is crucial for ecological health and stability. With recent advances in genetic sequencing technology, ecologists had hoped to be able to count the number of different species of such creatures by looking for groups of organisms with similar genomes. […]

SONG: “Beautiful People” (a penitential Books cover)

9 June 2013 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Beautiful People” (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 April. Now, I owe one more cover for May. Mea maxima culpa. This song was written by the curiously academic and oddly moving Books. ABSTRACT: I was searching for songs about science and this came up. What a peculiar and brilliant artifact – a math rock/electronica hymn to tangrams. I sort of fixated on the hymn part, and thought about what might happen if The Books were ever invited to A Prairie Home Companion, which is where I hear most of my songs of praise nowadays. It became kind of important to me that this be done all acoustically. I had a church organ part for the second chorus sprouting in my head, but since I don’t have a church organ in my living room […]

Science Art: Bodendruckapparat nach Pascal by Max Kohl

10 March 2013 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen This is an illustration of a model of a paradox – they hydrostatic paradox, as demonstrated by Blaise Pascal. The paradox is that the pressure at the bottom of a column of water only depends on the height of the water, not the shape or the volume. Six tons of water and six ounces of water will exert the same pressure if they’re each in a vessel that’s only a foot tall. And, if you connect any vessels together, regardless of their shape, they’ll fill with water up to the same level. The big vessel won’t force water further up the small one. Seems weird. There’s a better explanation of what’s happening here. Max Kohl’s engraving I found on Wikimedia Commons.

Finding the influential few. In medicine, in politics, and in social networks….

19 February 2013 // 0 Comments

Nature looks at the star power of “network theory,” curious statistics that control all kinds of complicated systems. They’ve found that even really complex networks are shaped by an influential few: To demonstrate their technique, Yang-Yu Liu of Northeastern University in Boston and his colleagues looked at the entire human metabolic network and found that concentrations of about 10% of the body’s 2,763 metabolites could be used to determine the levels of all the rest. But the method could also be used in social networks to identify the people whose opinions determine everyone else’s, helping to predict the outcome of, say, a presidential election. Or it could help ecologists to single out the particular species to track to follow changes in an entire ecosystem, to name just a few potential applications. … Liu’s team tackled the problem by examining clusters of strongly connected components in a network, again represented by nodes with arrows connecting them. […]

Space statistics: Martian astronauts would see a 1-megaton collision

19 December 2012 // 0 Comments

MIT Technology Review crunches the numbers and figures that anyone who spends three years on Mars is going to witness an H-bomb-sized asteroid collision: Today. William Bruckman and pals at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao do exactly this kind of analysis but with a twist. They derive impact probabilities for Earth but also for Mars. Their conclusion is that astronauts visiting Mars for just a few years are likely to witness a significant asteroid impact. … Their model suggests that Tunguska-type events of around 10 megatons should occur roughly once a century and smaller 1 megaton events once every 15 years. They say that both these predictions are compatible with crater counts and most other estimates. Emboldened by this success, they apply the same model to Mars, where impact rates are likely to be higher because of its proximity to the asteroid belt. Here’s the interesting part: these guys calcaulte that Mars experiences […]

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