Not Exactly Rocket Science

Archives for March, 2009

Classical ballet is one of the more conservative of art forms. Dancers express emotion and character through the same vocabulary of postures that was originally set in 1760, and often with entire choreographies that have been handed down for centuries. But even amid this rigorous cascade of tradition, there is room for change. Over the…

For all appearances, this looks like the skull of any human child. But there are two very special things about it. The first is that its owner was clearly deformed; its asymmetrical skull is a sign of a medical condition called craniosynostosis that’s associated with mental retardation. The second is that the skull is about…

For any animal, it pays to be able to spot other animals in order to find mates and companions and to avoid predators. Fortunately, many animals move in a distinct way, combining great flexibility with the constraints of a rigid skeleton – that sets them apart from inanimate objects like speeding trains or flying balls.…

Anyone who has played video games for too long is probably familiar with the sore, tired and dry eyes that accompany extended bouts of shooting things with rocket launchers. So it might come as a surprise that playing games could actually improve a key aspect of our eyesight. Renjie Li from the University of Rochester…

Animals have distinct personalities and temperaments, but why would evolution favour these over more flexible and adaptible mindsets? New game theory models show that animal personalities are a natural progression from the choices they make over how to live and reproduce. Any pet owner, wildlife photographer or zookeeper will tell you that animals have distinct…

Termite colonies are families – millions of individual workers all descended from one king and one queen. But the colony itself tends to outlast this initial royal couple. When they die, new kings and queens rise to take their place. These secondary royals are a common feature of some families of termites, and they will…

There’s no you in Yong…

Apropos of nothing, a whinge: my name has no u in it. It rhymes with “song” not “sung” and “long” but not “lung”. I’m fairly used to people adding in the errant u but for some reason, this has been annoying me of late. Seriously, there are only four letters, six if you count the…

On the 3rd of October, 2006, Nicolas Makris watched a quarter of a billion fish gather in the same place. They were Atlantic herring, one of the most abundant fishes in the ocean and one prone to gathering in massive schools. This was the first time that anyone had watched the full scope of the…

We’re used to thinking of neglect as a lack of appropriate care, but to a neuroscientist, it has a very different meaning. “Spatial neglect” is a neurological condition caused by damage to one half of the brain (usually the right), where patients find it difficult to pay attention to one half of their visual space…

Be it in sports or comedy, they say that timing is everything. In evolution, it’s no different. Many of the innovations that have separated us from other apes may have arisen not through creating new genetic material, but by subtly shifting how the existing lot is used. Take our brains, for example. In the brains…