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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Language is the music of emotion.

23 March 2012 // 0 Comments

PLoS ONE presents research on music and words, showing that, no matter what language you use, speaking an emotion uses the same sounds as playing an emotion: In Western music, the major mode is typically used to convey excited, happy, bright or martial emotions, whereas the minor mode typically conveys subdued, sad or dark emotions. Recent studies indicate that the differences between these modes parallel differences between the prosodic and spectral characteristics of voiced speech sounds uttered in corresponding emotional states. Here we ask whether tonality and emotion are similarly linked in an Eastern musical tradition. The results show that the tonal relationships used to express positive/excited and negative/subdued emotions in classical South Indian music are much the same as those used in Western music. Moreover, tonal variations in the prosody of English and Tamil speech uttered in different emotional states are parallel to the tonal trends in music. These results are consistent with the […]

Beethoven isn’t Beethoven any more.

4 March 2010 // 0 Comments

Slate has a great piece on why the piano we hear now ain’t the instrument great composers wrote on – and how that changes the best known tunes in history: But music from the 18th and 19th centuries doesn’t just sound different now than on the original instruments; some of it can’t even be played as written on modern pianos. One example is the double-octave glissando in the last movement of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata. With the light action and shallow key dip of a period Viennese piano you can plant your thumb and little finger on the octave and slide to the left, and there it is. Given the much heavier action and deeper key dip of a modern piano, if you tried that today you’d dislocate something. Every pianist has a dodge for that passage. It’s said that before the glissando Rudolf Serkin would discreetly spit on his fingers. The prime example of what […]

Monkey music.

14 August 2009 // 0 Comments

OK, not monkeys, but apes, New Scientist says, have been caught making musical instruments: The orang-utan’s music, if you can call it that, is actually an alarm call known as a “kiss squeak”. “When you’re walking the forest and you meet an orang-utan that not habituated to humans, they’ll start giving kiss squeaks and breaking branches,” says Madeleine Hardus, a primatologist at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who documented the practice among wild apes in Indonesian Borneo. She contends that orang-utans use leaves to make kiss squeaks to deceive predators, such as leopards, snakes and tigers, as to their actual size – a deeper call indicating a larger animal. Leaf-enhanced kiss-squeak musician videos are at the link.

Listen to the lituus.

10 July 2009 // 0 Comments

About two months ago, the BBC tells us, Scottish researchers used computer models to bring a lost medieval instrument back to life: Bach’s motet (a choral musical composition) “O Jesu Christ, meins lebens licht” was one of the last pieces of music written for the Lituus. Now, for the first time, this 18th Century composition has been played as it might have been heard. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh carried out the study, which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Performed by the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (SCB) the Lituus produced a piercing trumpet-like sound interleaving with the vocals. Until now, no one had a clear idea of what this instrument looked or sounded like. But there are several depictions of similar instruments being played throughout Europe for centuries. The team at Edinburgh University developed a system that enabled them to design the Lituus from the best guesses of its […]

Cave man boogie.

7 July 2009 // 0 Comments

The New York Times reports on a German discovery – or, really, a whole set of discoveries – of Stone Age tools, sculptures and the oldest known flutes: Dr. Conard, a professor of archaeology, said in an e-mail message from Germany that “the new flutes must be very close to 40,000 calendar years old and certainly date to the initial settlement of the region.” … The most significant of the new artifacts, the archaeologists said, was a flute made from a hollow bone from a griffon vulture; griffon skeletons are often found in these caves. The preserved portion is about 8.5 inches long and includes the end of the instrument into which the musician blew. The maker carved two deep, V-shaped notches there, and four fine lines near the finger holes. The other end appears to have been broken off; judging by the typical length of these bird bones, two or three inches are missing. […]

Music boosts brains.

19 June 2009 // 0 Comments

Scientific American casts a cold eye on music makers, and clinically reveals that yes, music really matters: To record brain stem responses, the researchers placed electrodes on the heads of 30 people who were either musicians or non-musicians. The electrodes measured the electric currents that send signals through the brain stem, while the participants listened to an infant’s unhappy cry. The surprising result was that the musicians’ brain showed enhanced responses to the infant’s cries. And the greater the number of years of practice and the earlier the person began training, the stronger the signal. But how can musical training account for musicians’ advantage in detecting vocal emotion? Strait and her colleagues suggest that as we engage in activities that involve high levels of cognitive processing, such as memory or attention in music, we also enhance our sensory system’s responses.

Music opens your heart. No, really.

15 May 2009 // 0 Comments

CNN recently covered some fun physiological research from the University of Maryland that showed that music – music you like – really is good for your heart: Miller thought, if laughter can do that, why not music? So, he tested the effects of music on the cardiovascular system. “Turns out music may be one of the best de-stressors — either by playing or even listening to music,” said Miller. The setup was basically the same as with the laughter study: Using high-tech imaging, Miller measured blood vessel size as people listened to music. The results did not surprise Miller. “The inner lining of the blood vessel relaxed, opened up and produced chemicals that are protective to the heart,” he said. But when participants listened to music they didn’t particularly enjoy, Miller said, “the vessels actually began to close up.” Make sure you keep finding new tunes, though: …Miller found that listening repeatedly to the same […]

Music’s in the genes.

7 July 2008 // 0 Comments

Scientific American presents a scathing indictment of my forebears as it reveals a link between genetics and musicality: In what the researchers called the first study of its kind, they found specific regions of chromosomes that were connected to musical ability. The report appeared in the Journal of Medical Genetics. The subjects were 234 members of several generations of 15 families in Finland. The team used a number of tests to gauge musical skill: one measured pitch, another tested the ability to keep a beat. The chromosomal regions that were found to be connected to music are known to be involved in the migration of neurons during development

Whistles of death and healing.

2 July 2008 // 0 Comments

Wired takes a musical trip to ancient Mexico, with the help of an engineer who has recreated the sounds of the Aztecs and Mayans and their whistles of death and healing: Noisemakers made of clay, turkey feathers, sugar cane, frog skins and other natural materials were an integral part of pre-Columbian life, found at nearly every Mayan site. The Aztecs sounded the low, foghorn hum of conch shells at the start of ceremonies and possibly during wars to communicate strategies. Hunters likely used animal-shaped ocarinas to produce throaty grunts that lured deer. The modern-day archaeologists who came up with the term Whistles of Death believe they were meant to help the deceased journey into the underworld, while tribes are said to have emitted terrifying sounds to fend off enemies, much like high-tech crowd-control devices available today. Experts also believe pre-Columbian tribes used some of the instruments to send the human brain into a dream state […]