Swarm of Yellowstone Quakes Baffles Scientists

Posted on December 31, 2008  Comments (1)

Swarm of Yellowstone Quakes Baffles Scientists

Swarms of small earthquakes happen frequently in Yellowstone, but it’s very unusual for so many earthquakes to happen over several days, said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah. “They’re certainly not normal,” Smith said. “We haven’t had earthquakes in this energy or extent in many years.”

“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 YellowstoneQuake Lifts Island Ten Feet Out of OceanWabash 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 DirectoryChina Reaches for the MoonAstronomers Find a Planet Denser Than LeadStudying Martian Soil for Evidence of Microbial LifeCool Astronaut photo

Open Source Abandoned by OLPC

Posted on December 30, 2008  Comments (2)

Not Free at Any Price by Richard M. Stallman

When the OLPC appeared, it fell one step short of full freedom: the highly publicized wireless mesh network device, which allows OLPCs to connect to the Internet through nearby OLPCs, required a non-free program. This piece of non-free code prevented me from fully endorsing the OLPC. But that would not stop me from using one: I would just have to delete the non-free code and do without the internal wireless device.

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 Ubuntuposts on UbuntuGreat FreewareOne Laptop Per Child – Give One Get OneOLPC’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 a world where rigorous evidence from scientific research languishes unpublicised, the media continued to churn out bogus wacky science stories. Britain’s happiest places were mapped by “scientists”, although the differences were just chance findings; there were innumerable “surveys” from unrepresentative populations; and the right wing press claimed that “Lord Nelson and Captain Cook’s ship logs question climate change theories,” although they did nothing of the sort, as the researchers themselves helpfully explained. We saw how the BBC misrepresented the statistics on parents’ choices about keeping a Down’s Syndrome pregnancy, producing their a publicity avalanche on the back of an incorrect story, and learnt along the way about confounding variables, baseline changes, and more.

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 DepthThe Most Trusted Sources in ScienceSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsBigger 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 (4)

wineberriesphoto by John Hunter of wine-berries from his Garden.

Food needs ‘fundamental rethink’

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

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 MoneyProtecting the Food SupplyEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.The Science of GardeningPigs Instead of PesticidesObesity 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)

At Princeton’s new Lewis-Sigler Institute, Botstein is spearheading an innovative effort at interdisciplinary undergraduate education. Students will take advantage of state of the art laboratories and computers capable of crunching vast amounts of data generated by actual research. Professors will “provide essential fundamental concepts as required, using the just-in-time-principle” – no more of the “learn this now, it will be good for you later” approach, which Botstein likens to hazing. Botstein says there is “lots of overhead in teaching historical and traditional origins” so his students will learn instead “with ideas and technologies of today.” He wants to create a new basic language that will enable his biology students to make sense of the fundamental issues of other disciplines.

Very good look at future of biology education.

Related: MIT Faculty Study Recommends Significant Undergraduate Education ChangesThe Importance of Science EducationWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st CenturyEducating the Engineer of 2020: NAE Report

High School Students to Intern in Engineering

Posted on December 27, 2008  Comments (1)

Pasco high school students to work as interns in engineering

Five area manufacturers announced Tuesday that they will join forces with River Ridge High’s new engineering career academy, which opens in fall 2009, to provide students work opportunities while they are still in school.

“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.

Related: Engineering Internship OpeningsSummer Jobs for Smart Young MindsToyota Cultivating Engineering TalentInternships Increasingly Popularcareers in science and engineering

Brain Reorganizes As It Learns Math

Posted on December 26, 2008  Comments (2)

Brain reorganizes to make room for math

It takes years for children to master the ins and outs of arithmetic. New research indicates that this learning process triggers a large-scale reorganization of brain processes involved in understanding written symbols for various quantities.

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.

Related: Brain DevelopmentThe Brain Hides Information From Us To Prevent MistakesHow The Brain Rewires Itselfposts about brain research

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.

Related: fun with catsBunny and KittensBird Brains: thinking crowsPhotos by Fritz the Catanimal planet on the cat and crow

Appropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses

Posted on December 25, 2008  Comments (4)

Self Adjusting Glasses for 1 billion of the world’s poorest see better

What if it were possible, he thought, to make a pair of glasses which, instead of requiring an optician, could be “tuned” by the wearer to correct his or her own vision? Might it be possible to bring affordable spectacles to millions who would never otherwise have them?

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 EyecareBringing Eye Care to Thousands in IndiaRiver Blindness Worm Develops Resistance to DrugsStrawjet: Invention of the Year (2006)Fixing the World on $2 a DayAppropriate Technology

Making Embryonic Stem Cells

Posted on December 24, 2008  Comments (1)

photo of Junying Yuphoto of Junying Yu, an assistant scientist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison by Bryce Richter, 2007.

Holy Grail of stem cell research within reach by Mark Johnson

It was time to test the 14 genes she had selected as the best candidates to reprogram a cell.

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 cellsEdinburgh University $115 Million Stem Cell CenterStanford Gets $75 Million for Stem Cell Centerposts relating to Madison, Wisconsin