Science-- there's something for everyone

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What's in that sea water you just swallowed?

Photographer David Littschwager has captured this incredible image of a drop of seawater magnified 25 times.

You can read descriptions of what all these critter are at Dive Shield.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The world's most dangerous animals

What do you think is the most dangerous animal on Earth? To be more specific, which animal kills the most humans? Here's an infographic that might surprise you:

The World's Deadliest Animals Infographic, Mosquito Week | The Blog of Bill Gates

As you can see, number one and two, mosquitoes and other humans, completely dwarf any

other creatures. 

Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) put this graphic on his blog to kick off 'Mosquito Week' and bring attention to the problem of mosquito-born illnesses.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The pocket guide to bullshit prevention

Michelle Nijhuis has done us all the service of providing The Pocket Guide to Bullshit Prevention:

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 8.46.43 AM

Nijhuis gives an example of how she uses this Bullshit Prevention Protocol (BPP) over at The Last Word On Nothing. It turns out although Beijing is very smoggy, the Chinese are not in fact televising sunrises so that their citizens will remember what the sun looks like.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why can't we save stranded dolphins?

It’s tragic when whales and dolphins strand themselves on beaches. It becomes even more sad when, despite heroic efforts by teams of veterinarians and volunteers, the animals still don’t survive. Why do some dolphins swim away and others restrand themselves and die?

To find out, scientists led by Sarah Sharp of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and her colleagues analyzed data from stranded common dolphins. Common dolphin strandings are unfortunately common at Cape Cod, Massachusetts where the research was conducted. During a 2 year period, the researchers responded to 143 stranded common dolphins where the animal was still alive.

Upon arriving on the scene, IFAW vets took measurements and blood samples and performed physical examinations while quickly preparing the animal for transport to a suitable release site. All dolphins were released the same day they were found. A subset of these were tagged for satellite tracking. Dolphins that were still swimming around after three weeks were considered ‘survived’. Dolphins that died during the initial response effort (but after blood drawing) or that restranded themselves or were found dead within that 3 week period were considered ‘failed’.

The researchers found blood chemistry differences between the survived and failed groups. Anemia was a very strong indicator that the animal would not survive. Failed dolphins also tended to have cardiovascular abnormalities, pneumonia or liver disease. There were also differences in length to girth ratio in surviving versus failing dolphins.

All of this suggests that by the time a dolphin strands himself on a beach, he's probably beyond saving. In many cases, nothing can be done for him. There are animals that do survive, however, and identifying them is critical, especially during mass strandings, when responders must quickly decide which animals to save first and which to euthanize. The data collected by Sharp and her colleagues could become valuable triage tools for managing marine mammals.

Sharp, S., Knoll, J., Moore, M., Moore, K., Harry, C., Hoppe, J., Niemeyer, M., Robinson, I., Rose, K., Brian Sharp, W., & Rotstein, D. (2013). Hematological, biochemical, and morphological parameters as prognostic indicators for stranded common dolphins ( from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Marine Mammal Science DOI: 10.1111/mms.12093.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Folding wasp wings

Pennsylvania State University researcher István Mikó and his colleagues have described a couple of new wasp species.

Here's one of them: Afrevania longipetiolata. Notice anything unusual?

Brightfield images of Afrevania longipetiolata, anterior to the left.A: Dorsolateral view. B: Dorsal view.

It has teeny tiny wings. Or at least that's how they first appear. In reality, the wings are folded in a way that's completely new for wasps. You can see the complex folding pattern below:

Fore wing of Afrevania longipetiolata sp. nov.A: CLSM micrograph of the fully unfolded fore wing, anterior to the left.
B: Brightfield image of the fully unfolded fore wing, anterior to the left.
C: Brightfield image of the folded fore wing, anterior to the top.

Interestingly, while other wasps don't fold their wings this way, some cockroaches, and these wasps prey on cockroach eggs. Is this the best way for an insect to get into the places where cockroaches lay their eggs? 

Mikó, I., Copeland, R., Balhoff, J., Yoder, M., & Deans, A. (2014). Folding Wings like a Cockroach: A Review of Transverse Wing Folding Ensign Wasps (Hymenoptera: Evaniidae: Afrevania and Trissevania) PLoS ONE, 9 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094056.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Wonderful spinning

This may be the most wonderful hoop trick I've ever seen:

But it's actually part of a wonderful spinning series.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to enjoy a sting in the face

This is a grasshopper mouse.

This is a bark scorpion.

Grasshopper mice eat bark scorpions. They often get stung in the process. Luckily for the mice, the scorpion venom acts like an analgesic for them. Yes, that’s right, the mice feel better after a few stings in the face.

Researchers from Michigan State University led by Ashlee Rowe tested the painkilling effects of scorpion venom by injecting mouse foot pads with either the venom or a simple saline solution. Mice react to foot pain by licking their feet and sure enough the unfortunate mice in the experiment did spend time licking their feet. But the scorpion-injected mice licked a lot less than the saline-injected mice.

How is this possible? The sensation of pain is created when sodium ions pass through special channels in cell membranes. Most mammals have one type of sodium channel, but the grasshopper mice have a particular genetic variation. Scorpion venom can bind to the amino acids in the mouse channels, effectively blocking them.

Needless to say, this result has interesting implications for medicine, and not just for people who get stung in the face by scorpions. If researchers can find compounds that block our sodium channels, that could be a powerful painkiller.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Focusing without glasses

Now, here's a trick I can use. Next time I forget my reading glasses in a restaurant, I'll just peer at the menu through my fingers. This really does work and here's why:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Introducing SensaBubble

University of Bristol Professor Sriram Subramanian and his colleagues have invented the SensaBubble. It's a way to make bubbles that contain different scents and upon which different images can be displayed.

This isn't meant to be a updated version of a lava lamp. The researchers envision using the bubbles to send information to people via scent and color. In other words, it's a human-computer interface. 

I have to say, the researchers who developed SensaBubble seem a lot more optimistic about its use as a communication device than I am. If you had to send someone a bubble smelling like a bacon cheeseburger to tell them dinner's ready, you might as well just yell.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Explaining the hemihelix

If you’ve ever had a child or been a child, I guarantee you are familiar with the hemihelix. It’s the shape your slinky takes on when the coils suddenly switch to the opposite direction and you can’t make the thing squeeze neatly together any more. That kink in the middle changes the slinky from a helix to a hemihelix.

You can find hemihelices with just the one direction change, or ‘perversion’ in nature. Roots will sometimes spiral in one direction and then switch to going around the other way as they penetrate the soil. If you want a spring with multiple perversions, you’ll have to create it in the lab, and that’s exactly what Harvard University scientists, led by Jia Liu, did.

The researchers played with elastomer strips to figure out what properties (width and length) and what energies were required to make the rubbery strips switch from helix, to single-perversion helix, to multiple perversion helix. If your strips have the right cross-section, you can get cool shapes like the ones below.

Top: regular helix
Middle: a hemihelix with one perversion marked by an arrow
Bottom: a hemihelix with multiple perversions
The scale bar is 5 cm for each image.
Credit: Jiangshui Huang

Did I say play? This is serious science folks. 

Liu, J., Huang, J., Su, T., Bertoldi, K., & Clarke, D. (2014). Structural Transition from Helices to Hemihelices PLoS ONE, 9 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093183.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Robonaut gets some new legs

Ever hear of Robonaut? Even if you haven't, you've probably guessed that it's a robotic astronaut. In other words, it's a robot that's designed to help out on space missions. Robonaut just received a new pair of legs. Apparently, it will be even more helpful now that it can grip things with its toes.

This is a bigger change than you might think. Since it's arrival on the International Space Station (ISS) three years ago, Robonaut has had to make due with only an upper body. Once its legs have been properly attached, it will be able to move about the ISS.
Robonaut attached to Centaur 1 cart

Among Robonaut's tasks are to assist with medical procedures. Now it will be able to to go to its patients.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The HI-SEAS Mission to Mars--no, that's not a pirate movie

There’s a new mission to Mars underway, only it’s not actually going anywhere. The second Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS mission (who doesn’t love cosmologists?) takes place atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

Three men and three women, out of a pool of 700 applicants, will share a 1000 food habitat for four months. They’ll be simulating life on Mars, which means a 20 minute delay in all communications and only one shower per week. Also, no leaving the habitat without your spacesuit.

 Yajaira and the hab Photo by Sian 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wellcome Image Awards 2014

If you like beautiful, fascinating photographs, you're going to love the Wellcome Image Awards.

Here's the overall winner, a dual-energy computed tomography scan of a patient with an artificial heart:


I was also pretty riveted by this image: a head louse egg (nit) attached to a human hair. No wonder they're so hard to get rid of!


You can see all of the pictures at this slideshow.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What is that you're eating?

I love this artist! Painter Hikaru Cho teaches us that all is not as it seems.

Take this lovely cucumber.

Artist Paints Common Foods to Disguise them as Other Foods vegetables painting optical illusion fruit food
©cho All Right Reserved.

Maybe a closer look is in order:

Artist Paints Common Foods to Disguise them as Other Foods vegetables painting optical illusion fruit food
©cho All Right Reserved.

You can see more food surprises here, but that's not all Cho does. She also adds body parts and zippers where they don't ordinarily belong:

肌衣 背中チャック(画材:アクリル絵の具)
©cho All Right Reserved.