Posts tagged science

What Do Drugs Do to Spiders?

via Mental Floss:

Getting spiders high for science started in 1948, when German zoologist H.M. Peters got fed up with trying to study web-building behavior in spiders who wouldn’t do him the courtesy of working on his schedule. His garden spiders tended to build their webs between two and five a.m., and he asked his pharmacologist friend P.N. Witt if there might be some chemical stimulant that would coax the spiders into building their webs at a more reasonable time. 

Witt tried giving the spiders some amphetamine and, while they kept building at their usual hour (to Peters’ dismay), the two scientists did notice that those webs were more haphazard than normal. Over the next few decades, Witt continued to dose spiders with a smorgasbord of psychoactive substances, including marijuana, LSD, caffeine and mescaline, to see how they reacted. Since spiders can’t use tiny bongs or drink from little mugs, Witt and his team either dissolved the drugs in sugar water or injected them into flies and then fed the spiders with them.

Images: Spider web images by NASA, via Mental Floss. Clockwise, starting with the top-left: a regular web; a web on marijuana; a web on benzedrine; a web on caffeine; a web on chloral hydrate; and a web on LSD

Does Math Actually Exist?

Your Sunday ponderable via the PBS Idea Channel.

NASA to LGBTQ Space Nerds: It Gets Better

The Out & Allied @ JSC Employee Resource Group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has added its voice to the It Gets Better Project.

As they write at ReelNASA, the video’s creation is meant to send a “message to current and future NASA employees that it is OK to be LGBTQ, and that NASA JSC management supports and encourages an inclusive, diverse workforce in our workplace.”

How does copyright work in space?

Here’s one for your inner copyright lawyer:

CHRIS HADFIELD has captured the world’s heart, judging by the 14m YouTube views of his free-fall rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, recorded on the International Space Station (ISS). The Canadian astronaut’s clear voice and capable guitar-playing were complemented by his facility in moving around in the microgravity of low-earth orbit. But when the man fell to Earth in a neat and safe descent a few days ago, after a five-month stay in orbit, should he have been greeted by copyright police? Commander Hadfield was only 250 miles (400 km) up, so he was still subject to terrestrial intellectual-property regimes, which would have applied even if he had flown the “100,000 miles” mentioned in the song’s lyrics, or millions of kilometres to Mars. His five-minute video had the potential to create a tangled web of intellectual-property issues. How does copyright work in space?

Some things to think about before you answer.

Copyright law differs from country to country while global agreements also create common rules and regulations. But with the space station orbiting the planet almost 16 times a day, which earthbound jurisdiction should govern any copyright claims? Or, riddle this one: the ISS is constructed of different modules. There’s an American one along with European, Russian and Japanese ones. So whose rules would govern copyright as Hadfield floated throughout while singing Bowie’s song?

As The Economist points out, “The agreement governing the ISS makes it clear (in Article 5) that the applicable laws, including those governing IP rights, depend on which part of it an astronaut is in.” [Emphasis ours.]

Google Streetview Comes to the Galapagos
There are some good gigs in the world. Say, for instance, being part of the Google Streetview or Charles Darwin Foundation teams that are collecting panoramic images of Galapagos islands for inclusion in Streetview later this year.
Via the Google Lat Long Blog:

It’s critical that we share images with the world of this place in order to continue to study and preserve the islands’ unique biodiversity. Today we’re honored to announce, in partnership with Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Parks Directorate (GNPD), that we’ve collected panoramic imagery of the islands with the Street View Trekker. These stunning images will be available on Google Maps later this year so people around the world can experience this remote archipelago…
…Our 10-day adventure in the Galapagos was full of hiking, boating and diving around the islands (in hot and humid conditions) to capture 360-degree images of the unique wildlife and geological features of the islands with the Trekker. We captured imagery from 10 locations that were hand-selected by CDF and GNPD. We walked past giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, navigated through steep trails and lava fields, and picked our way down the crater of an active volcano called Sierra Negra.
…Life underwater in the Galapagos is just as diverse as life on land. We knew our map of the islands wouldn’t be comprehensive without exploring the ocean that surrounds them. So for the second time we teamed up with the folks at the Catlin Seaview Survey to collect underwater panoramic imagery of areas being studied by CDF and GNPD. This imagery will be used by Catlin Seaview Survey to create a visual and scientific baseline record of the marine environment surrounding the islands, allowing for any future changes to be measured and evaluated by scientists around the world.

Image: Shooting a group of Sea Lions at Champion Island in Galapagos. Via Google Lat Long and Catlin Seaview Survey.

Google Streetview Comes to the Galapagos

There are some good gigs in the world. Say, for instance, being part of the Google Streetview or Charles Darwin Foundation teams that are collecting panoramic images of Galapagos islands for inclusion in Streetview later this year.

Via the Google Lat Long Blog:

It’s critical that we share images with the world of this place in order to continue to study and preserve the islands’ unique biodiversity. Today we’re honored to announce, in partnership with Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Parks Directorate (GNPD), that we’ve collected panoramic imagery of the islands with the Street View Trekker. These stunning images will be available on Google Maps later this year so people around the world can experience this remote archipelago…

…Our 10-day adventure in the Galapagos was full of hiking, boating and diving around the islands (in hot and humid conditions) to capture 360-degree images of the unique wildlife and geological features of the islands with the Trekker. We captured imagery from 10 locations that were hand-selected by CDF and GNPD. We walked past giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, navigated through steep trails and lava fields, and picked our way down the crater of an active volcano called Sierra Negra.

…Life underwater in the Galapagos is just as diverse as life on land. We knew our map of the islands wouldn’t be comprehensive without exploring the ocean that surrounds them. So for the second time we teamed up with the folks at the Catlin Seaview Survey to collect underwater panoramic imagery of areas being studied by CDF and GNPD. This imagery will be used by Catlin Seaview Survey to create a visual and scientific baseline record of the marine environment surrounding the islands, allowing for any future changes to be measured and evaluated by scientists around the world.

Image: Shooting a group of Sea Lions at Champion Island in Galapagos. Via Google Lat Long and Catlin Seaview Survey.

He became something of a womaniser, dating undergraduates and hanging out with show girls and prostitutes in Las Vegas. In a celebrated book of anecdotes about his life – Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman – the scientist recounts how he applied an experimental approach to chatting up women. Having assumed, like most men, that you had to start by offering to buy them a drink, he explains how a conversation with a master of ceremonies at a nightclub in Albuquerque one summer prompted him to change tactics. And to his surprise, an aloof persona proved far more successful than behaving like a gentleman.

Christopher Riley in Richard Feynman: Life, the universe and everything, The Telegraph.

In these days of frivolous entertainments and frayed attention spans, the people who become famous are not necessarily the brightest stars. One of the biggest hits on YouTube, after all, is a video of a French bulldog who can’t roll over. But in amongst all the skateboarding cats and laughing babies, a new animated video, featuring the words of a dead theoretical physicist, has gone viral. In the film, created from an original documentary made for the BBC back in the early Eighties, the late Nobel Prize-winning professor, Richard Feynman, can be heard extolling the wonders of science contained within a simple flower.

There is “beauty”, he says, not only in the flower’s appearance but also in an appreciation of its inner workings, and how it has evolved the right colours to attract insects to pollinate it. Those observations, he continues, raise further questions about the insects themselves and their perception of the world. “The science,” he concludes, “only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of the flower.” This interview was first recorded by the BBC producer Christopher Sykes, back in 1981 for an episode of Horizon called “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”. When it was broadcast the following year the programme was a surprise hit, with the audience beguiled by the silver-haired professor chatting to them about his life and his philosophy of science.

Now, thanks to the web, Richard Feynman’s unique talents – not just as a brilliant physicist, but as an inspiring communicator – are being rediscovered by a whole new audience. As well as the flower video, which, to date, has been watched nearly a quarter of a million times, YouTube is full of other clips paying homage to Feynman’s ground-breaking theories, pithy quips and eventful personal life.

Keep Reading.

But, Key Takeaway: You get girls by being aloof.

Science: A+
Via Phil Plait at Slate

Once you’ve stopped screaming in rage and/or pounding your head against the desk, let’s discuss this.
To start with, this photo is real, and was part of a quiz given at Blue Ridge Christian Academy, a private religious school. Since the school is private, and not public, this is not a violation of the First Amendment (unlike the flagrant stomping of the Constitution going on in Louisiana). In other words, this school can legally teach this. My complaint, therefore, is not a legal one.

Image: A fourth grade “science” quiz given at Blue Ridge Christian Academy in South Carolina, via Slate.

Science: A+

Via Phil Plait at Slate

Once you’ve stopped screaming in rage and/or pounding your head against the desk, let’s discuss this.

To start with, this photo is real, and was part of a quiz given at Blue Ridge Christian Academy, a private religious school. Since the school is private, and not public, this is not a violation of the First Amendment (unlike the flagrant stomping of the Constitution going on in Louisiana). In other words, this school can legally teach this. My complaint, therefore, is not a legal one.

Image: A fourth grade “science” quiz given at Blue Ridge Christian Academy in South Carolina, via Slate.

It is the responsibility of scientists and journalists to work together in stopping such empathy fatigue, because empathy is the primary human quality that fuels our instinct to protect human rights around the world.

Jamil Zaki, Empathy Fatigue and What the Press Can Do About It, The Huffington Post.

Background:

Circa 2009, I geeked out over Zaki’s article because, well, hearing a psychologist weigh in on the objectivity-is-perilous-in-journalism debate is refreshing. No one’s really arguing anymore over the fact that objectivity is a tricky, nuanced, sub-standard ethic for journalism, but a new, better ethic hasn’t quite emerged. A singular sterling standard probably won’t. 

Last fall, some of the best and brightest in media sat down to talk about it all and thanks to Poynter, this book emerged. Really smart people all over the world are creating and debating around accurate and value-creative reporting. You can explore our ethics tag for past coverage of some of those conversations.

The News:

Zaki, who is on the science side of things, very much heeded his own call to action and today I’m geeking out over his newest project, The People’s Science, a digital public space where scientists and the public can meet, share, and talk about science.

The site’s purpose is to encourage scientists to write posts about their research in easy-to-understand language and for the public to have conversations with those scientists directly.

In Zaki’s words (via NPR): 

In an ideal world, I think TPS could provide a platform for scientists to feature their work to a broad audience and describe why they find it exciting and relevant. For non-scientists, I hope that the site can provide an insider’s perspective on how scientists think, and a way to go beyond the “punchlines” of a given study and understand the process that went into it. I also think the public should be able to use this to vet other media sources, testing claims made by reporters against scientists’ own descriptions. Finally, I’d like the site to be a true forum: instead of each “pop” abstract serving as a static document, I’d like non-scientists and scientists alike to be able to ask questions and engage in discussion about the work posted here. At the highest level, my dream for this site would be to help scientists and non-scientists into more dialogue, which I believe can only be a good thing for our culture at large.

FJP: We agree, obviously, on very many levels. It humanizes the researchers behind academia’s impenetrable walls by thrusting them into the social sphere. It’s a gold mine for science reporters to have easy and direct access to emerging research and scientists. As someone who (in my non FJP life) works for an academic journal and deals quite regularly with the incomprehensible abstract and insanely long paper title, it’s wonderful.

Now go explore the site and ask questions.—Jihii

Exploring Space
The BBC has created a monster infographic illustrating “every attempt to leave Earth’s orbit and reach a destination in extraterrestrial space – be it with probes, orbiters, rovers, or of course manned missions.”
The graphic shows successful and failed missions, country of launch origin and type of mission (eg., fly-by, rover, actual landing).
Related: How Big is Space?
Image: Screenshot, detail from Spacial Awareness: Ultimate guide to exploring space, via the BBC. Select to embiggen.

Exploring Space

The BBC has created a monster infographic illustrating “every attempt to leave Earth’s orbit and reach a destination in extraterrestrial space – be it with probes, orbiters, rovers, or of course manned missions.”

The graphic shows successful and failed missions, country of launch origin and type of mission (eg., fly-by, rover, actual landing).

Related: How Big is Space?

Image: Screenshot, detail from Spacial Awareness: Ultimate guide to exploring space, via the BBC. Select to embiggen.

A Boy and His Atom

IBM researchers have created the world’s smallest movie, a 90-second stop motion animation made by moving a few dozen carbon atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope.

The video is viewable once you magnify it 100 million times, and would take 1,000 frames laid side by side to equal the width of a human hair.

Via the BBC:

The new movie, titled A Boy and His Atom, instead uses the STM, an IBM invention which garnered the scientists behind it the 1986 Nobel prize in physics.

The device works by passing an electrically charged, phenomenally sharp metal needle across the surface of a sample. As the tip nears features on the surface, the charge can “jump the gap” in a quantum physics effect called tunnelling.

The 242 frames of the 90-second movie are essentially maps of this “tunnelling current” with a given arrangement of atoms. It depicts a boy playing with a “ball” made of a single atom, dancing, and jumping on a trampoline…

…The effort, detailed in a number of YouTube videos, took four scientists two weeks of 18-hour days to pull off.

It underlines the growing ability of scientists to manipulate matter on the atomic level, which IBM scientists hope to use to create future data storage solutions.

IBM reports that while it currently takes about a million atoms to store a bit of data on computer devices, they have successfully reduced that number down to 12 with what they call atomic-scale magnetic memory. Meaning, the future of computing devices is about to get very, very small.

For example, “Being able to increase the data density of devices means more storage in a smaller space: specifically, storage that is 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives, 150 times more dense than solid-state memory. An entire music and movie collection could fit on a charm-sized pendant around your neck.”

How polluted is the ocean near Daiichi Japan? — rogerwhart
Timely of you to ask.
From today’s New York Times.

Two years after a triple meltdown that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is faced with a new crisis: a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.
Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s discovery of leaks in water storage pits at the wrecked Fukushima atomic station raises the risk the utility will be forced to dump radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean…
…While the company has since built a makeshift sealed cooling system, underground water is breaching basement walls at a rate of about 400 tons a day and becoming contaminated, according to Tepco’s estimate.

The company has two options, reports Bloomberg. One is to build above ground storage facilities but with 400 tons of contaminated water pouring in a day, it can only build so much. The second option, which Bloomberg says the company is hesitant to do but isn’t ruling out, is to dump the water into the ocean.
Back in November, Nature had this to say:

The Fukushima disaster caused by far the largest discharge of radioactivity into the ocean ever seen. A new model presented by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts estimates that 16.2 petabecquerels (1015 becquerels) of radioactive caesium leaked from the plant — roughly the same amount that went into the atmosphere.
Most of that radioactivity dispersed across the Pacific Ocean, where it became diluted to extremely low levels. But in the region of the ocean near the plant, levels of caesium-137 have remained fixed at around 1,000 becquerels, a relatively high level compared to the natural background. Similarly, levels of radioactive caesium in bottom-dwelling fish remain pretty much unchanged more than 18 months after the accident…
…a fresh analysis by oceanographer Jota Kanda at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology suggests that not one source, but three, are responsible. First, radioactivity from the land is being washed by rainfall into rivers, which carry it to the sea. Second, the plant itself is leaking around 0.3 terabecquerels (1012 becquerels) per month, he estimates.
But Kanda thinks that the third source, marine sediment, is the main cause of the contamination. Around 95 terabecquerels of radioactive caesium has found its way to the sandy ocean floor near the plant.

Becquerels? That would be a unit of radioactivity. To get at the science of all this, we suggest you ask this guy. — Michael
Have a question? Ask away.
Image: Satellite view of Daiichi, Japan (indicated by the red pin), via Google Maps.

How polluted is the ocean near Daiichi Japan?rogerwhart

Timely of you to ask.

From today’s New York Times.

Two years after a triple meltdown that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is faced with a new crisis: a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.

Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s discovery of leaks in water storage pits at the wrecked Fukushima atomic station raises the risk the utility will be forced to dump radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean…

…While the company has since built a makeshift sealed cooling system, underground water is breaching basement walls at a rate of about 400 tons a day and becoming contaminated, according to Tepco’s estimate.

The company has two options, reports Bloomberg. One is to build above ground storage facilities but with 400 tons of contaminated water pouring in a day, it can only build so much. The second option, which Bloomberg says the company is hesitant to do but isn’t ruling out, is to dump the water into the ocean.

Back in November, Nature had this to say:

The Fukushima disaster caused by far the largest discharge of radioactivity into the ocean ever seen. A new model presented by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts estimates that 16.2 petabecquerels (1015 becquerels) of radioactive caesium leaked from the plant — roughly the same amount that went into the atmosphere.

Most of that radioactivity dispersed across the Pacific Ocean, where it became diluted to extremely low levels. But in the region of the ocean near the plant, levels of caesium-137 have remained fixed at around 1,000 becquerels, a relatively high level compared to the natural background. Similarly, levels of radioactive caesium in bottom-dwelling fish remain pretty much unchanged more than 18 months after the accident…

…a fresh analysis by oceanographer Jota Kanda at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology suggests that not one source, but three, are responsible. First, radioactivity from the land is being washed by rainfall into rivers, which carry it to the sea. Second, the plant itself is leaking around 0.3 terabecquerels (1012 becquerels) per month, he estimates.

But Kanda thinks that the third source, marine sediment, is the main cause of the contamination. Around 95 terabecquerels of radioactive caesium has found its way to the sandy ocean floor near the plant.

Becquerels? That would be a unit of radioactivity. To get at the science of all this, we suggest you ask this guy. — Michael

Have a question? Ask away.

Image: Satellite view of Daiichi, Japan (indicated by the red pin), via Google Maps.

If Jupiter Was as Close to Us as the Moon
Via 22 Words, How the sky would look if the planets were as close as the moon.
FJP: Someone needs to do a follow-up along the lines of, Chaos: What Would Happen if the Planets Were as Close as the Moon?

If Jupiter Was as Close to Us as the Moon

Via 22 Words, How the sky would look if the planets were as close as the moon.

FJP: Someone needs to do a follow-up along the lines of, Chaos: What Would Happen if the Planets Were as Close as the Moon?

Your 4-Billion-Pixel Mars Rover Panorama 

Created by Andrew Bodrov from 295 photos taken by the Curiosity Rover at the Gale Crater on Mars.

Best way to explore the 90,000 by 45,000 pixel panorama is by selecting fullscreen once you hit play.

Via: Mars Gigapixel Panorama - Curiosity rover: Martian solar days 136-149 in The World.

H/T: Wired.

This is a Brain
This describes the brain and what’s happening.