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Archives for January, 2010

Inspiring One Another

We inspire each other with our everyday actions and attitudes–monkey see, monkey do. On The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer describes an experiment in which individuals who observed their peers choosing carrots over cookies were more likely to make the same thoughtful choice themselves. Jonah explains that self-control “contains a large social component” and plays a…

Safety: Life or Death

Recognizing the drawbacks of uranium reactors, Mike the Mad Biologist explains that using thorium for nuclear fuel would produce safer energy. Uranium was originally established as the element of choice “since it would yield plutonium which could be used to build nukes,” but thorium reactions produce less waste, less radioactivity, and no leftovers for warheads.…

A Few Head Scratchers

Love it or hate it, physics is a demanding subject. It defines much of our knowledge and experience in a daunting variety of ways. But really, you do love physics, don’t you? On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel describes a modern implementation of “Maxwell’s Demon,” a dreamed-of 19th century device that could “cool a gas without…

Authorial Issues

Self-expression is a human ideal, but just as you can be a virtuoso with a hammer, you can be a hack with a paintbrush. On Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer questions the value of painted canvas when the painters “neither recognize nor are particularly interested in” the scenes they produce. In the case of Chinese technicians who…

Efficiency: Mould vs. Man

Robert Burns wrote that the best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew, but Tokyo railway planners seem to have arranged things just right. Ed Yong on Not Exactly Rocket Science reports that Japanese researchers are exploring “better network design through biological principles,” by setting a “slime mould” cell loose on an in…

Synthetic Voices & Musical Notes

On Oscillator, Christina Agapakis lays out some of the history of synthetic biology. While in the last century this field has employed molecular and informational toolkits, in centuries past inventors relied on grosser modes of simulation. Such was the case with eighteenth century wetware, which aspired “to make machines look and feel more like living…

Getting it All Wrong

Even with the best intentions, it’s possible to get things wrong. And with lesser intentions, being wrong becomes easy. First, James Hrynyshyn on The Island of Doubt reports that the IPCC will retract its 2007 prediction that global warming could melt the Himalayan glaciers by 2035. Although the IPCC promises “the best peer-reviewed science available,”…

Barricading the Body

If not always wieldy, armor offers great protection against teeth, talons and pincers–not to mention blades, bullets and shrapnel. On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong reports that a deep sea snail has evolved one of the toughest shells on the planet, a three-layer system that has scientists rethinking the possibilities of human armor. These…

Cause and Effect

Evolutionary change responds to all kinds of pressures, and sometimes, the results can be surprising. On Gene Expression, Razib Khan challenges the idea that human evolution has stopped since “the vast majority of humans reach the age of potential reproduction.” He explains that differential mortality is not a precondition for natural selection, and supports his…

ScienceOnline 2010

ScienceOnline 2010 is underway, and for those not lucky enough to be in attendance, there are other ways to participate. On The ScienceOnline 2010 Blog, Coturnix tells us how to keep up with the latest discussion via social networking outlets, and on Discovering Biology In a Digital World, Sandra Porter offers an even more radical…