Archive for the '30-second science blogging' Category

30-second science blogging: The Earth and Moon…

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

…as seen from Mars! How freakin’ cool is that?

The Earth and Moon, as seen by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA\'s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
(click on the picture for full-size image)

[h/t to Oliver Willis]

30-second science blogging: Special WTF? Edition

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

With a Sci/Tech headline like “Scientist’s ideas on sex re-examined,” how could you not click, right? Too bad it isn’t really science:

RANGELEY, Maine – Physician-scientist Wilhelm Reich, best known for his claims of a cosmic life force associated with sexual orgasm, died in federal prison, and the government burned tons of his books and other publications and destroyed his equipment.

But half a century later, a small number of scientists and other believers are working to advance the European-born psychiatrist’s work on what he called “orgone energy” — a theory largely forgotten in the scientific mainstream.

Of course, the article never actually interviews or identifies anyone who would actually qualify as a scientist… Whoops…

The 50th anniversary of his death is being marked by a major exhibition on Reich and his work that opens Nov. 15 at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, the city where he attended medical school, began his psychiatric practice and studied under Sigmund Freud.

Also this month, archives of Reich’s unpublished papers, which have been stored at Harvard Medical School, will become available to researchers for the first time. Reich had stipulated that his papers only be opened 50 years after his death.


Even as the anniversary-related events rekindle memories of Reich and his theories, some of his supporters worry that they are in a race against time.

The challenge, they say, is to keep his work alive and advance it through new studies and experimentation at a time when Reich is not being taught in either medical schools or physics classes.

While I do think that his papers will hold items of interest to historians of science, to say that I have my doubts about their actual utility to practicing scientists would be a major understatement.

So here’s a hint for the Reich supporters and believers out there: you probably aren’t going to have your theories taught, well, anywhere when they’re recurring thematic elements in William S. Burroughs’ novels. Now, I likes me some Burroughs, but I’m thinking that this association probably elevates your situation past ‘challenge’ and into the realm of ‘fucking impossible.’

Just sayin’.

30-second science blogging: Colony Collapse Disorder

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

A quick glance at this category shows that most of the posts relate to space (space! w00t!), evolution, gadgets (gadgets! w00t!), and a smattering of geeky in-jokes. And while I may not have put topics such as Bird Flu under this category, I’ve definitely blogged about various environmental and epidemiological topics as well.

In these outlying cases, it’s been because the politics surrounding the story was, from my perspective, more consequential than the science content; 30-second science blogging came about as a way to provide short-form link blogging on random science and technology tidbits that simply struck my fancy. No politics, and little-to-no commentary beyond a usual summation of “How cool is that?”

But today’s link isn’t about gee-whiz, where’s my flying car tech or science. It’s a piece in Science News Online about what is being called “Colony Collapse Disorder” – mass die-offs of honeybee colonies.

I’ve been following the whole story with more than a little personal interest – my dad is a beekeeper. Not on a large scale, mind you – I think at his largest, he’s had maybe two- or three-dozen hives going. It’s been a long time since I put on a bee veil and fired up a smoker, but I have a fair amount of first-hand knowledge about the ins and outs of hive ecology, and the Science News Online piece does an excellent job covering some of the current research on CCD:

It’s a good mystery all right, with any number of hypothetical culprits: mites, bad bee food, cell phones, bee AIDS, pesticides, genetically modified (GM) crops, overwork. Jeff Pettis, based in Beltsville, Md., as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s network of laboratories devoted to bees, even suggested to the Washington Post that bees had worn themselves out making crop circles, thus explaining two mysteries at once.

Joking aside, Pettis, his government-bee-lab colleagues, Lipkin, and other researchers have been working in earnest on the problem. So far, they’ve eliminated several hypotheses. Now, they’re mixing old-fashioned case study epidemiology with modern genetics. It now looks, says Pettis, as if “more than one factor may be coming together” in the mystery of the missing honeybees.


As news spread about the trouble last winter, bells rang for memories of past cases of honeybee-hive disasters, says Jay Evans of USDA’s Beltsville, Md., bee lab. He cites a 1975 paper titled “Disappearing disease of honey bees” in the American Bee Journal. That report cited the paper “Bees evaporated: A new malady” in an issue of Gleanings in Bee Culture from 1897. These old reports raise the possibility that a bee pathogen is always lurking in hives but occasionally flares up in an especially virulent form. “It could be like the Spanish flu,” says Evans. Flu is ever present, but the legendary 1918 epidemic killed an estimated 25 million people worldwide.

I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a ‘How cool is that?’ moment in the piece – it just isn’t that kind of an article. On the other hand, it’s a well-written, sober article highlighting the importance of basic, well-conducted science. And in my book, that’s always cool.

30-second science blogging: ‘More evolved’ doesn’t mean what you think it means

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

I thought this article was a good reminder about what ‘evolution’ means – and perhaps more importantly, what it doesn’t:

A comparison of human and chimpanzee genes has revealed a startling possibility: chimps may have evolved more than humans in the 6 or 7 million years since both diverged from a common ancestor.

A study comparing human and chimp genes that appear to have evolved since we parted ways shows that humans have about 154 such genes and our nearest primate relative a whopping 233.

30-second science blogging: An irrational celebration

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

At 3/14 1:59 PM, wish your favorite geek a Happy π Day!

(No, I can’t take full credit for the title – I ganked it from the Cosmic Log link.)

Oh yeah – it’s Einstein’s birthday today, too…

30-second science blogging: Happy Darwin Day!

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Charles Darwin has a posse

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

Born on the same day as Abe Lincoln – 12 Feb 1809, 198 years ago. More here. Quote and pic from here.

30-second science blogging: Wow, thing

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

As the song goes, “You make my heart sing./You make everything…”

Well, okay – this thing doesn’t make everything – but still… If you’ve got US$2400 lying around, maybe you could make your own desktop fabricator:

Rapid prototyping machines are already used by designers, engineers and scientists to create one-off mechanical parts and models. These create objects by depositing layer upon layer of liquid or powdered material.
These machines typically cost from $20,000 to $1.5 million, says Hod Lipson from Cornell University, US, who launched the Fab@Home project with PhD student Evan Malone in October 2006.
The standard version of their Freeform fabricator – or “fabber” – is about the size of a microwave oven and can be assembled for around $2400 (£1200). It can generate 3D objects from plastic and various other materials. Full documentation on how to build and operate the machine, along with all the software required, are available on the Fab@Home website, and all designs, documents and software have been released for free.

A desktop fabricator – how cool is that? Then you could sing your own version of the song – You make everything? Groovy.

(Oh yeah, the article mentions a similar project at Bath University in the UK, but their website doesn’t appear to have survived being slashdotted a couple of days ago…)

30-second science blogging: News flash! Newest Nobel Laureate *not* a unit of measurement

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Despite sharing the same last name as well as the same undergraduate institution, the newest Nobel Laureate in Physics is not the Smoot of Mass. Ave. bridge fame.

So, which would you rather be? Immortalized by the Nobel Prize, or by an MIT hack?

30-second science blogging: Having kids warps your brain

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

No! Really?

P[arenting] has obvious effects on mothers, but fathers appear to be affected, too. A study published this week shows that fatherhood increases the nerve connections in the region of the brain that controls goal-driven behaviour—at least, it does in marmosets.

I mean really… as a parent, I had no doubt that fatherhood rewired my brain.

Seriously, though – it’s worth a click… It dovetails nicely with some of the research around involved fathers – for instance, the more engaged a father is with the day-to-day raising of offspring, the less likely he is to harm them… Changing diapers & assisting with feedings on a regular basis has got to have a major impact on the way you perceive your child, and since there’s a whole chicken/egg-style feedback loop that goes on with thoughts and brain structure (thoughts influence brain structure, brain structure influences thoughts, back and forth, round and round), I would be so not surprised if similar-ish changes could be seen in human brains.

30-second science blogging: My God! It’s full of stars!

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Haven’t had one of these in a while, have we? At any rate, via Crooked Timber comes a site that made me think something I’d never imagine possible: I might actually want to visit Utah some day.

No, really. Click here and see why.

30-second science blogging – Viral factories

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Caught this on Wired last night (I can’t find the URL now, but it’s on /. this morning): scientists at MIT have genetically modified a common virus so that it attracts metal ions and then extrudes them as nano-scale wires.

The resulting nanowires can be used in minuscule lithium ion battery electrodes, which in turn would be used to power very small machines, the researchers report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.


They modified the M13 virus’ genes so its outside layer, or coat, would bind with certain metal ions. They incubated the virus in a cobalt chloride solution so that cobalt oxide crystals mineralised uniformly along its length.

They added a bit of gold for the desired electrical effects.


The resulting nanowires worked as positive electrodes for battery electrodes, the researchers said.

They hope to build batteries that range from the size of a grain of rice up to the size of existing hearing-aid batteries.

Yeah, the headlines are playing up the ‘viral batteries’ idea, even though that isn’t really what’s been done here. But still, I gotta ask (as always), how cool is that?

30-second science blogging – Tank, I need an exit…

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Wow… I’ll let this speak for itself:

The line between living organisms and machines has just become a whole lot blurrier. European researchers have developed “neuro-chips” in which living brain cells and silicon circuits are coupled together.

The achievement could one day enable the creation of sophisticated neural prostheses to treat neurological disorders, or the development of organic computers that crunch numbers using living neurons.

To create the neuro-chip, researchers squeezed more than 16,000 electronic transistors and hundreds of capacitors onto a silicon chip just 1 millimeter square in size.

How cool is that?

30-second science blogging – One of these days, Alice…

Monday, March 6th, 2006

“…to the Moon!”

It seems that Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have been up to more than they’ve been willing to let on – Musk has been using his PayPal fortune to build a reusable space capsule:

“It took SpaceX just over three years to build both a company and a rocket from scratch, including engines, structure, avionics, two launch sites [and to get through the] regulatory crud,” [Musk] said. “If we hadn’t been forced to go to Kwaj[alein] (sic), we would very likely have launched by now. As it is, total time from zero to launch will be just over three and a half years.”

Well, maybe this doesn’t move us that much closer to fulfilling Ralph Kramden’s immortal words, “Straight to the moon, Alice!”. But it seems clearer to me that we are so getting off this rock…

[via /.]

30-second science blogging – “…the ultimate goal is to make life multi-planetary.”

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

“I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a rocket business.”

So said Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, during a speech at his alma mater, Virginia Tech in which he discussed his new venture, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX); the quote in the title also comes from this speech. While his current goal is to take on the space monolith that is Lockheed Martin and Boeing, his long term goal is making it easier for humanity to spread out and ultimately colonize space.

I find it interesting that a number of wealthy techies have decided to put their money into space travel – along with Musk’s SpaceX, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has his Blue Origin and John Carmack of id Software (Doom, Quake) fame has Armadillo Aerospace… I don’t know off the top of my head if there are any others, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were. And while I wouldn’t count Richard Branson as a techie, his love of technology is quite apparent in his launch of Virgin Galactic.

This ‘Silicon Valley’-style approach to space makes this commentary by Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard from a month ago quite ironic. Bemoaning the state of the US space program, it starts:

Where would the U.S. space program be today if run not by NASA bureaucrats but by Silicon Valley geeks and financiers–by crazy entrepreneurs?

..and not once does he even appear to be aware that these alternate programs are already up and running. Dude, these guys are already there – doing an end run around NASA.
[via /.]

30-second science blogging – The future is already here…

Friday, February 17th, 2006

…it’s just not evenly distributed.*

Spaceports are to be constructed in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore (read Space Adventure, Ltd’s press release here) and New Mexico has agreed to commit funds for their proposed spaceport. Toss in the most recent successful tests of the components of LiftPort’s space elevator, and I’m starting to feel like I’m living in a William S. Gibson novel

[*]quote widely attributed to Gibson.