Swarm of Yellowstone Quakes Baffles Scientists
Posted on December 31, 2008 Comments (1)
“There doesn’t seem to be anything to be alarmed about,” Vallie said. Smith said it’s difficult to say what might be causing the tremors. He pointed out that Yellowstone is the caldera of a volcano that last erupted 70,000 years ago.
Yellowstone has had significant earthquakes as well as minor ones in recent decades. In 1959, a magnitude 7.5 quake near Hebgen Lake just west of the park triggered a landslide that killed 28 people.
So far the most powerful quake over the last few days has been one at 3.8 on the Richter scale. An earthquake of 4.0-4.9 “Noticeable shaking of indoor items, rattling noises. Significant damage unlikely.” The Richter scale is a logarithmic scale, meaning a measure of 4.0 is 10 times as powerful as 3.0 quake, and 5.0 is 100 times more powerful than a 3.o quake.
Related: Scientists Chart Record Rise in Yellowstone Caldera (2007) – Yellowstone Is Rising on Swollen “Supervolcano” – Live earthquake measurements at Yellowstone – Quake Lifts Island Ten Feet Out of Ocean – Wabash Valley, Illinois Earthquakes
Learning About the Moon
Posted on December 30, 2008 Comments (2)
Planetary scientist Jennifer Heldmann discusses the Moon. From Fora.tv which has a wide selection of great webcasts.
Related: Science and Engineering Webcast Directory – China Reaches for the Moon – Astronomers Find a Planet Denser Than Lead – Studying Martian Soil for Evidence of Microbial Life – Cool Astronaut photo
Open Source Abandoned by OLPC
Posted on December 30, 2008 Comments (2)
Not Free at Any Price by Richard M. Stallman
The OLPC had practical inconveniences, too: no internal hard disk, a small screen, and a tiny keyboard. In December 2007 I test-drove the OLPC with an external keyboard, and concluded I could use it with an external disk despite the small screen. I decided to switch.
If you want to support a venture to distribute low-priced laptops to children, wait a few months, then choose one that donates MIPS-based machines that run entirely free software. That way you can be sure to give the gift of freedom.
He is more anti-microsoft than I am but I agree with this contention that what we should support is a open source solution to provide laptops to children around the world. It is a shame, I really liked the potential for OLPC. I still wish them success I just am not interesting in directly supporting that effort but instead would like an alternative open source solution.
The Sylvania Netbook is available from Amazon now with the Ubuntu operating system (linux version). I use Ubuntu and it is excellent.
Related: Will Desktop Linux Take Off? – Lemote (fully open source laptop) – 13 Things For Ubuntu – posts on Ubuntu – Great Freeware – One Laptop Per Child – Give One Get One – OLPC’s Open Source Rift Deepens
The Year in Bad Science
Posted on December 29, 2008 Comments (0)
The Year in Bad Science Ben Goldacre reviews some of the science lowlights of the year.
In the world of evidence based social policy we saw how the government quietly dropped death as an outcome indicator for their drugs policy, the fascinating inconsistencies in food additive judgment calls, and more. We also watched with delight as right-wing think tank Reform produced a report on the crisis in maths in which they got their maths wrong.
Related: Illusion of Explanatory Depth – The Most Trusted Sources in Science – Seeing Patterns Where None Exists – Bigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg? – Poor Reporting and Unfounded Implications
Rethinking the Food Production System
Posted on December 29, 2008 Comments (5)
Water scarcity: “One of the key things that I have been pushing is to get the UK government to start auditing food by water,” Professor Lang said, adding that 50% of the UK’s vegetables are imported, many from water-stressed nations.
Biodiversity: “Biodiversity must not just be protected, it must be replaced and enhanced; but that is going to require a very different way growing food and using the land.”
“In Europe, 30% of the food grown did not appear on the shelves of the retailers because it was a funny shape or odd colour.
“The way that seeds are selected is about immunity to any known disease; they have also got to grow big and fast, and have a fantastic shelf life. “Never mind taste, texture or nutrition, it is all about how it looks.
I agree. The food system is broken. We have moved to mono-culture food production. We have changed our diets to eat food like concoctions. We need to return to healthier and sustainable food production.
Related: Grow Your Own Food and Save Money – Protecting the Food Supply – Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. – The Science of Gardening – Pigs Instead of Pesticides – Obesity Epidemic Explained – Kind Of
Educating the Biologist of the 21st Century
Posted on December 28, 2008 Comments (0)
An Introductory Science Curriculum for 21st Century Biologists by David Botstein (webcast)
Very good look at future of biology education.
Related: MIT Faculty Study Recommends Significant Undergraduate Education Changes – The Importance of Science Education – Webcast: Engineering Education in the 21st Century – Educating the Engineer of 2020: NAE Report
High School Students to Intern in Engineering
Posted on December 27, 2008 Comments (1)
“The idea is to start a program of internships starting in the 10th grade,” said Wahnish, who presents the idea to the Florida Engineering Society today.
By the time graduation rolls around, students will have had three six-week apprenticeships and received industry certifications in computer-assisted design and other applications. They also will be ready to go to work or enroll in a university program. Even those who go to work still would attend college at least two days a week.
Brain Reorganizes As It Learns Math
Posted on December 26, 2008 Comments (2)
The findings support the idea that humans’ ability to match specific quantities with number symbols, a skill required for doing arithmetic, builds on a brain system that is used for estimating approximate quantities. That brain system is seen in many nonhuman animals.
When performing operations with Arabic numerals, young adults, but not school-age children, show pronounced activity in a piece of brain tissue called the left superior temporal gyrus, says Daniel Ansari of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Earlier studies have linked this region to the ability to associate speech sounds with written letters, and musical sounds with written notes. The left superior temporal gyrus is located near the brain’s midpoint, not far from areas linked to speech production and understanding.
In contrast, children solving a numerical task display heightened activity in a frontal-brain area that, in adults, primarily serves other functions.
Friday Cat Fun #10: Cat and Crow Friends
Posted on December 26, 2008 Comments (7)
Very cool, it is amazing what happens in life. And that bird is remarkably patient. Getting, even playfully, ambushed by a cat doesn’t seem like something what would come naturally. At least with polar bears and huskies they both are used to playing rough with their own.
Appropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses
Posted on December 25, 2008 Comments (4)
More than two decades after posing that question, Josh Silver [a physics professor at Oxford] now feels he has the answer. The British inventor has embarked on a quest that is breathtakingly ambitious, but which he insists is achievable – to offer glasses to a billion of the world’s poorest people by 2020.
Some 30,000 pairs of his spectacles have already been distributed in 15 countries, but to Silver that is very small beer. Within the next year the now-retired professor and his team plan to launch a trial in India which will, they hope, distribute 1 million pairs of glasses. The target, within a few years, is 100 million pairs annually.
Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.
The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.
Oxford University, at his instigation, has agreed to host a Centre for Vision in the Developing World, which is about to begin working on a World Bank-funded project with scientists from the US, China, Hong Kong and South Africa. “Things are never simple. But I will solve this problem if I can. And I won’t really let people stand in my way.”
Cool. A couple points I would like to make:
1) this professor is making a much bigger difference in the “real world” than most people ever will. The idea that professors are all lost in insignificant “ivory towers” is a very inaccurate view of what really happens.
2) Spending money on this kind of thing seems much more important for the human race than spending trillions to bail out poor moves by bankers, financiers… It sure seems odd that we can’t find a few billion to help out people across the globe that are without basic necessities yet we can find trillions to bail out the actions of few thousand bad actors.
Related: Adaptive Eyecare – Bringing Eye Care to Thousands in India – River Blindness Worm Develops Resistance to Drugs – Strawjet: Invention of the Year (2006) – Fixing the World on $2 a Day – Appropriate Technology
Making Embryonic Stem Cells
Posted on December 24, 2008 Comments (1)
Holy Grail of stem cell research within reach by Mark Johnson
Using viruses to deliver the genes, she inserted all 14 at once into human cells. On the morning of July 1, 2006, Yu arrived at the lab and examined the culture dishes. Her eyes focused on a few colonies, each resembling a crowded city viewed from space. They looked like embryonic stem cells.
Cells must pass certain tests. They must multiply for weeks while remaining in their delicate, primitive state. When they are allowed to develop, they must turn into all the other cell types.
Bad things happen. Cells develop too soon. Cells die. There is no “aha!” moment, Thomson has said, only stress. He looked at the colonies and suppressed any excitement. He told Yu, essentially: OK, well get back to me in a couple of weeks.
In the fall of 2006, Yu was preparing to whittle down her list of genes when she fell ill. The pain in her gut was awful. She struggled to eat. Her doctor thought it was a stomach flu. Instead, in late October, Yu’s appendix burst. She was laid up for a month. When she returned to the lab, the problem with the culture medium struck again.
Not until January 2007 was she able to begin narrowing the list of genes. She spent several months testing subsets of them, finally arriving at four. Two, Oct4 and Sox2, were “Yamanaka factors,” the name given to the genes the Japanese scientist had used to reprogram mouse cells. Two, Nanog and Lin28, were not.
Using a virus to deliver the four genes, she reprogrammed a line of fetal cells, then repeated the experiments with more mature cells. Although the process was inefficient, succeeding with only a small fraction of cells, it did work.
Dr. Junying Yu, an American trained scientist who entered the US as a foreign student from China. Which is somewhat ironic given the movement of USA based stem cell researches to China. Great article showing the process of scientific inquiry.
Related: Junying Yu, James Thomson and Shinya Yamanaka (Time people who mattered 2007) – Discovery leaps legal, financial and ethical hurdles facing stem cells – Edinburgh University $115 Million Stem Cell Center – Stanford Gets $75 Million for Stem Cell Center – posts relating to Madison, Wisconsin