What we're talking about Many Roads Lead to Rome Thursday, December 18, 2014

Many Roads Lead to Rome

New research from Vanderbilt University shows that hummingbirds and insects have a lot in common…when it comes to flying at least. The researchers placed nontoxic paint on the wing of a ruby-throated hummingbird at 9 different spots then videotaped the animal flying at 1,000 frames per second with 4 cameras simultaneously. Using 3D simulations of…

The final step of the scientific process is to share your results with others, and that’s the step where things are most prone to breaking down. Countless great discoveries have been delayed or temporarily lost because the people who made them were more concerned with protecting “their” secrets than with sharing new knowledge with the…

I’ve been trying to keep to a roughly chronological ordering of these stories, but this slow-motion snow storm that was waiting to greet us on our return from Florida made the schools open on a two-hour delay today, which eats the time I usually use for blogging and books stuff. So I’m going to jump…

“Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.” -Robert Frost Sure, it’s…

On Life Lines, Dr. Dolittle examines the fascinating parallels between hummingbird and insect flight. He and/or she writes: "The researchers placed nontoxic paint on the wing of a ruby-throated hummingbird at 9 different spots then videotaped the animal flying at 1,000 frames per second with 4 cameras simultaneously." Despite being far removed from insects on the phylogenetic tree, hummingbirds "stir up air around their wings in a way similar to insects like mosquitoes and dragonflies." This is an example of convergent evolution, as natural selection engineers similar solutions for very distant cousins. On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel attests to another kind of convergence, one also based on re-arranging the letters of a code. In the 17th century, as Galileo made his stupendous observations about the solar system, he distributed his findings in cryptic anagrams to keep them on the down-low. Johannes Kepler, a psychic savant if there ever was one, untangled Galileo's anagrams incorrectly— but still managed to elicit unknown truths from the jumble. He interpreted one of Galileo's missives to confirm his idea that Mars had two moons—a fact that would not be known until 265 years later. (Galileo had intended to convey that Saturn had two "ears" of a sort, which turned out to be its rings.) In another message, Galileo conveyed his landmark observations about the movement of Venus, which Kepler unscrambled to say something about a rotating red spot on Jupiter. Little did he know it actually existed.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

Ever wonder what lies beneath the polar ice? Turns out several researchers did as well. This past July a team of scientists led an expedition designed to image life under sea ice. The video below was captured with the Nereid Under Ice (NUI) vehicle and shows brown algae living on the bottom of sea ice…

Michael Egnor has replied to my dismissal of his claims that memories can’t be stored in the brain with a curiously titled post, Understanding Memories: Lovely Metaphors Belong in Songs, Not Science. I was a bit confused, at first…I don’t recall using any song lyrics or poetic metaphors in my post on the subject, but…

Michael Egnor, neurosurgeon, has made a bizarre post in which he reveals that he knows nothing about how the brains he cuts up work. Egnor claims that it is impossible for the brain to store memories. Yes, he knows that neural damage can cause loss of memory, that certain delicate areas of the brain, if…

Physical Science

We all have our own interpretation of what “the scientific method” is, but there’s always at least one thing that they all have in common: the ultimate arbiter of whether a theory or idea is valid depends on the evidence that comes back from physically observable phenomena. But not everyone necessarily agrees with this in the way…

There’s no way I could possibly go through a long history-of-science blog series without mentioning the great Marie Skłodowska Curie, one of the very few people in history to win not one but two Nobel Prizes for her scientific work– if nothing else, Polish pride would demand it. She made a monumental contribution to physics…

I visited SteelyKid’s first-grade class yesterday with several liters of liquid nitrogen. Earlier in the fall, they did a science unit on states of matter– solid, liquid, gas– and talked about it in terms of molecules being more spread out, etc. Looking at her homeworks, I said “Oh, damn, if it wasn’t the middle of…

Environment

“In the 602 days since the West, Texas tragedy there have been 355 chemical accidents resulting in 79 deaths and 1500 hospitalizations,” said Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) opening the hearing. “Essentially,” said Boxer, since the West, Texas accident, there’s been a U.S. incident involving hazardous chemicals every other day. “This,” she said, “is absolutely outrageous.”

Ever wonder what lies beneath the polar ice? Turns out several researchers did as well. This past July a team of scientists led an expedition designed to image life under sea ice. The video below was captured with the Nereid Under Ice (NUI) vehicle and shows brown algae living on the bottom of sea ice…

In early December I wrote a post called “2014 will not be the warmest year on record, but global warming is still real.” The very first thing I said in that post is that I was going out on a limb. I also discussed whether or not one year mattered, and I discussed the nature…

Humanities

“In the 602 days since the West, Texas tragedy there have been 355 chemical accidents resulting in 79 deaths and 1500 hospitalizations,” said Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) opening the hearing. “Essentially,” said Boxer, since the West, Texas accident, there’s been a U.S. incident involving hazardous chemicals every other day. “This,” she said, “is absolutely outrageous.”

There’s no way I could possibly go through a long history-of-science blog series without mentioning the great Marie Skłodowska Curie, one of the very few people in history to win not one but two Nobel Prizes for her scientific work– if nothing else, Polish pride would demand it. She made a monumental contribution to physics…

When compared with gasoline-powered cars, vehicles fueled with electricity from renewable sources could cut air pollution-related deaths by 70 percent, according to a new study, which noted that air pollution is the country’s greatest environmental health threat.

Education

Ever wonder what lies beneath the polar ice? Turns out several researchers did as well. This past July a team of scientists led an expedition designed to image life under sea ice. The video below was captured with the Nereid Under Ice (NUI) vehicle and shows brown algae living on the bottom of sea ice…

I visited SteelyKid’s first-grade class yesterday with several liters of liquid nitrogen. Earlier in the fall, they did a science unit on states of matter– solid, liquid, gas– and talked about it in terms of molecules being more spread out, etc. Looking at her homeworks, I said “Oh, damn, if it wasn’t the middle of…

By USA Science & Engineering Festival Nifty Fifty Speaker Jeff Potter Jeff Potter’s Patent-Violating* Chocolate Chip Cookies. Photo by Jeff Potter One of the biggest advantages that home-cooked foods have over store-bought goods is time. Commercial products have to be shelf-stable, so manufacturers have to come up with clever tricks to mimic home cooking. What…

Politics

“In the 602 days since the West, Texas tragedy there have been 355 chemical accidents resulting in 79 deaths and 1500 hospitalizations,” said Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) opening the hearing. “Essentially,” said Boxer, since the West, Texas accident, there’s been a U.S. incident involving hazardous chemicals every other day. “This,” she said, “is absolutely outrageous.”

The hot topic of the day is, of course, the big shake-up at Scientific American’s blog network. The official statement is, of course, very carefully worded, but the end result is that they’re shedding a bunch of blogs and instituting a standard set of guidelines for those that remain. A more detailed breakdown of who’s…

For those that don’t know, Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and one of only two Greens in the Canadian Parliament — and the only one elected as a Green. As such, you would expect that she would be a strong advocate for democracy and the environment, willing to stand…

Medicine

When compared with gasoline-powered cars, vehicles fueled with electricity from renewable sources could cut air pollution-related deaths by 70 percent, according to a new study, which noted that air pollution is the country’s greatest environmental health threat.

Not being Australian and, for some reason, never having encountered her promotion of “natural health” online before, I first encountered Jessica Ainscough, also known as “The Wellness Warrior” over a year ago when I learned that her mother Sharyn Ainscough had died of breast cancer. Her mother, it turns out, had rejected conventional treatment for…

Wow. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun. In fact, it flies so fast that I don’t even notice when a major anniversary (or, if you will, blogiversary). Remember how I’ve been mentioning that I can’t believe it’s been almost ten years since I started doing this? I’ve been droppoing these little…

Brain & Behavior

  Propolis is a resin-like compound honeybees collect to coat their hives. New research suggests that this compound may increase hair growth as observed in studies of mice. Although the researchers did not test propolis on balding mice, they did find faster hair growth in mice that had been shaved or waxed, which is somewhat…

Feeling tired? You’re not alone. A new study finds that many U.S. workers aren’t getting enough sleep, which is essential to optimal health, and that people who work multiple jobs are at heightened risk of getting less than the recommended hours of nightly rest.

New research from Vanderbilt University shows that hummingbirds and insects have a lot in common…when it comes to flying at least. The researchers placed nontoxic paint on the wing of a ruby-throated hummingbird at 9 different spots then videotaped the animal flying at 1,000 frames per second with 4 cameras simultaneously. Using 3D simulations of…

Technology

Ever wonder what lies beneath the polar ice? Turns out several researchers did as well. This past July a team of scientists led an expedition designed to image life under sea ice. The video below was captured with the Nereid Under Ice (NUI) vehicle and shows brown algae living on the bottom of sea ice…

  Propolis is a resin-like compound honeybees collect to coat their hives. New research suggests that this compound may increase hair growth as observed in studies of mice. Although the researchers did not test propolis on balding mice, they did find faster hair growth in mice that had been shaved or waxed, which is somewhat…

New research from Vanderbilt University shows that hummingbirds and insects have a lot in common…when it comes to flying at least. The researchers placed nontoxic paint on the wing of a ruby-throated hummingbird at 9 different spots then videotaped the animal flying at 1,000 frames per second with 4 cameras simultaneously. Using 3D simulations of…

Information Science

As you all have no doubt noticed over the years, I love highlighting the best science books every year via the various end of year lists that newspapers, web sites, etc. publish. I’ve done it so far in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. And here we are in 2014! As in previous years,…

For those that don’t know, Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and one of only two Greens in the Canadian Parliament — and the only one elected as a Green. As such, you would expect that she would be a strong advocate for democracy and the environment, willing to stand…

I’ve decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the “standard” academic science track. The eleventh…

Jobs

Poultry and meatpacking workers submitted a petition to OSHA in September 2013 asking the agency to issue a regulation to address line speed and other hazards that lead to musculoskeletal injuries. Sixteen months later, they’re still waiting for a response.

Petrochemical companies spend millions to undermine the science on benzene; in-depth series sheds light on the horrific working conditions in Mexico’s agricultural sector; National Labor Relations Board rules in favor of worker organizing; and federal officials grilled on response to West fertilizer explosion.

The week of midterm exams is stressful for any college student. For San Francisco State student Michelle Flores, it was another stress-filled example of the unfair conditions she and millions of other retail workers face on a regular basis.