Book Explores Adventures in Making
Posted on April 28, 2012 Comments (1)
Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder, the editor-in-chief of Make magazine. explores his adventures in the world of do-it-yourself.
Frauenfelder spent a year trying a variety of offbeat projects such as keeping chickens and bees, tricking out his espresso machine, whittling wooden spoons, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and doing citizen science with his daughters in the garage. His whole family found that DIY helped them take control of their lives, offering deeply satisfying alternatives for spending time together. Working with their hands and minds helped them feel more engaged with the world around them.
Frauenfelder also profiles fascinating “alpha makers” leading various DIY movements and grills them for their best tips and insights. He offers a unique perspective on how earning a few calluses can be far more rewarding than another trip to the mall.
Fossil or Mystery Monster Found In Kentucky Seems to Defy All Known Groups of Organisms
Posted on April 26, 2012 Comments (0)
Around 450 million years ago, shallow seas covered the Cincinnati region and harbored one very large and now very mysterious organism. Despite its size, no one has ever found a fossil of this “monster” until its discovery by an amateur paleontologist last year.
The fossilized specimen, a roughly elliptical shape with multiple lobes, totaling almost seven feet in length, will be unveiled at the North-Central Section 46th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, April 24, in Dayton, Ohio.
Fine is a member of the Dry Dredgers, an association of amateur paleontologists based at the University of Cincinnati. The club, celebrating its 70th anniversary this month, has a long history of collaborating with academic paleontologists.
“I knew right away that I had found an unusual fossil,” Fine said. “Imagine a saguaro cactus with flattened branches and horizontal stripes in place of the usual vertical stripes. That’s the best description I can give.”
The layer of rock in which he found the specimen near Covington, Kentucky, is known to produce a lot of nodules or concretions in a soft, clay-rich rock known as shale. “While those nodules can take on some fascinating, sculpted forms, I could tell instantly that this was not one of them,” Fine said. “There was an ‘organic’ form to these shapes. They were streamlined.”
Harvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal Publishers
Posted on April 24, 2012 Comments (0)
For a decade journals have been trying to continue a business model that was defensible in a new world where it is not. They have becoming increasing abusive with even more outrageous fees than they were already charging. As I said years ago it has become obvious they are enemies of science and should be treated as such. The time to find mutual beneficial solution past years ago.
A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.
he memo from Harvard’s faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an “untenable situation” at the university by making scholarly interaction “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive”, while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.
More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.
Research Libraries UK negotiated new contracts with Elsevier and Wiley last year after the group threatened to cancel large subscriptions to the publishers. The new deal, organised on behalf of 30 member libraries, is expected to save UK institutions more than £20m.
These journals have continuously engaged in bad practices. Scientists should publish work in ways that enrich the scientific community not ways that starve the scientific commons and enrich a few publishers that are doing everything they can to hold back information sharing.
Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science Cartel – Science Commons: Making Scientific Research Re-useful – MIT Faculty Open Access to Their Scholarly Articles – Merck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review Journal – Open Access Journal Wars
The Secret Life of Plankton
Posted on April 20, 2012 Comments (1)
Fun video with great shots of exotic ocean life that forms the base of the food chain in the ocean from TED Education.
How do Plants Grow Into the Sunlight?
Posted on April 18, 2012 Comments (2)
Plants are extremely competitive in gaining access to sunlight. A plant’s primary weapon in this fight is the ability to grow towards the light, getting just the amount it needs and shadowing its competition. Now, scientists have determined precisely how leaves tell stems to grow when a plant is caught in a shady place.
The researchers discovered that a protein known as phytochrome interacting factor 7 (PIF7) serves as the key messenger between a plant’s cellular light sensors and the production of auxins, hormones that stimulate stem growth.
“We knew how leaves sensed light and that auxins drove growth, but we didn’t understand the pathway that connected these two fundamental systems,” says Joanne Chory, professor and director of the Salk’s Plant Biology Laboratory and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator (HHMI provides huge amounts of funding for scientific research). “Now that we know PIF7 is the relay, we have a new tool to develop crops that optimize field space and thus produce more food or feedstock for biofuels and biorenewable chemicals.”
Plants gather intelligence about their light situation—including whether they are surrounded by other light-thieving plants—through photosensitive molecules in their leaves. These sensors determine whether a plant is in full sunlight or in the shade of other plants, based on the wavelength of red light striking the leaves. This is pretty cool; I love to learn about the brilliant strategies that have evolved.
If a sun-loving plant, such as thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), the species Chory studies, finds itself in a shady place, the sensors will tell cells in the stem to elongate, causing the plant to grow upwards towards sunlight.
When a plant remains in the shade for a prolonged period, however, it may flower early and produce fewer seeds in a last ditch effort to help its offspring spread to sunnier real estate. In agriculture, this response, known as shade avoidance syndrome, results in loss of crop yield due to closely planted rows of plants that block each other’s light.
Bacteria In Cave Isolated for 4 Million Years Highly Resistant to Many Antibiotics
Posted on April 17, 2012 Comments (1)
PLoS published an interesting open access research paper on bacteria and their resistance to antibiotics. I am surprised how widespread and strong the antibiotic resistance was is the isolated bacteria that were studied. It raises more interesting questions about the important area of antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance is a global challenge that impacts all pharmaceutically used antibiotics. The origin of the genes associated with this resistance is of significant importance to our understanding of the evolution and dissemination of antibiotic resistance in pathogens. A growing body of evidence implicates environmental organisms as reservoirs of these resistance genes; however, the role of anthropogenic use of antibiotics in the emergence of these genes is controversial.
We report a screen of a sample of the culturable microbiome of Lechuguilla Cave, New Mexico, in a region of the cave that has been isolated for over 4 million years. We report that, like surface microbes, these bacteria were highly resistant to antibiotics; some strains were resistant to 14 different commercially available antibiotics. Resistance was detected to a wide range of structurally different antibiotics including daptomycin, an antibiotic of last resort in the treatment of drug resistant Gram-positive pathogens.
Enzyme-mediated mechanisms of resistance were also discovered for natural and semi-synthetic macrolide antibiotics via glycosylation and through a kinase-mediated phosphorylation mechanism. Sequencing of the genome of one of the resistant bacteria identified a macrolide kinase encoding gene and characterization of its product revealed it to be related to a known family of kinases circulating in modern drug resistant pathogens. The implications of this study are significant to our understanding of the prevalence of resistance, even in microbiomes isolated from human use of antibiotics. This supports a growing understanding that antibiotic resistance is natural, ancient, and hard wired in the microbial pangenome.
Baboons Learn to Recognize Hundreds of Words
Posted on April 15, 2012 Comments (1)
The (Monkey) Business Of Recognizing Words by Jon Hamilton
But here’s the amazing thing: Dan and the other baboons also learned to tell whether a string of letters they’d never seen before was an English word. That’s something first-graders learn to do when they start reading, but scientists had assumed that children were simply sounding out the letters to decide whether they make sense.
Of course, the baboons couldn’t do this because they’re not learning to read a language they already speak. They had to rely on a part of the brain that can tell whether objects fit a known pattern.
Michael Platt, who directs the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, says he was surprised by what the baboons were able to do.
“I was really looking for holes to poke in this study, but it was very difficult to find any because it was really beautifully done,” he says. “And I think the linchpin here was that the baboons, once they had learned the rule, could generalize to new words that they had not seen before.”
Platt says when you think about it, the finding makes sense, given what’s known about human and animal brains. “Brains are always looking for patterns,” he says. “They are always looking to make some statistical pattern analysis of the features and events that are in the environment. And this would just be one of those.”
Platt says that’s a big departure from the idea that reading is a direct extension of spoken language.
One questions I have, is why the experiment done in France tested wether the Baboons could recognize English words?
Pay as You Go Solar in India
Posted on April 12, 2012 Comments (6)
When his balance runs low, Anand pays 50 rupees ($1) — money he would have otherwise spent on kerosene. Then he receives a text message with a code to punch into the box, giving him about another week of electric light.
When he pays off the full cost of the system in about three years, it will be unlocked and he will get free power.
Across India and Africa, startups and mobile phone companies are developing so-called microgrids, in which stand- alone generators power clusters of homes and businesses in places where electric utilities have never operated.
Very cool. Worldwide, approximately 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and another 1 billion have extremely unreliable access. The poorest spending up to 30% of their income on inefficient and expensive means of providing light and accessing electricity. Solutions like this, finding engineering solutions for basic needs that are market based, are great.
That the poor end up owning their solar system after just 3 years is great.
Creating great benefit to society with the smart adoption of technology and sustainable economics is something I love.
Related: Solar Power Market Solutions For Hundreds of Millions Without Electricity – Appropriate Technology: Solar Hot Water in Poor Cairo Neighborhoods – Engineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Sheller – Water Pump Merry-go-Round
Flavonoids Reduce Instances of Parkinson’s Disease in Men
Posted on April 9, 2012 Comments (0)
Men who eat flavonoid-rich foods such as berries, tea, apples and red wine significantly reduce their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to new research by Harvard University and the University of East Anglia.
The findings add to the growing body of evidence that regular consumption of some flavonoids can have a marked effect on human health. Recent studies have shown that these compounds can offer protection against a wide range of diseases including heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and dementia.
This latest study is the first study in humans to show that flavonoids can protect neurons against diseases of the brain such as Parkinson’s.
Around 130,000 men and women took part in the research. More than 800 had developed Parkinson’s disease within 20 years of follow-up. After a detailed analysis of their diets and adjusting for age and lifestyle, male participants who ate the most flavonoids were shown to be 40 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who ate the least. No similar link was found for total flavonoid intake in women.
“These exciting findings provide further confirmation that regular consumption of flavonoids can have potential health benefits,” said Prof Aedin Cassidy of the Department of Nutrition, Norwich Medical School at UEA.
“This is the first study in humans to look at the associations between the range of flavonoids in the diet and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and our findings suggest that a sub-class of flavonoids called anthocyanins may have neuroprotective effects.”
Prof Gao said: “Interestingly, anthocyanins and berry fruits, which are rich in anthocyanins, seem to be associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease in pooled analyses. Participants who consumed one or more portions of berry fruits each week were around 25 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, relative to those who did not eat berry fruits. Given the other potential health effects of berry fruits, such as lowering risk of hypertension as reported in our previous studies, it is good to regularly add these fruits to your diet.”
Flavonoids are a group of naturally occurring, bioactive compounds found in many plant-based foods and drinks. In this study the main protective effect was from higher intake of anthocyanins, which are present in berries and other fruits and vegetables including aubergines, blackcurrants and blackberries. Those who consumed the most anthocyanins had a 24% reduction in risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
The findings must now be confirmed by other large epidemiological studies and clinical trials.
Parkinson’s disease is a progresssive neurological condition affecting one in 500 people. There are few effective drug therapies available.
The result is far from conclusive and even if the result were confirmed the 24% reduction is hardly huge. But since berries are yummy there seem little reason to not tilt toward more berries in your diet.
Backyard Wildlife: Mountain Lion
Posted on April 6, 2012 Comments (3)
Sadly this isn’t my backyard. I would love to see a mountain lion like this. So close. A real wild mountain lion. And I am safe.
Posted on April 1, 2012 Comments (1)
The potential for regular people contributing to science is great. This has a long history. For most of human history science was done by non-scientists since there were no scientists. Calling is science might be a stretch but to me it was (passing on what health cures worked for various sicknesses, how to use various tools, how to grow crops…). As scientists came into being they were primarily unprofessional – that is they practiced science but were doing so as a hobby, they were not paid and had no requirements to get a PhD or anything.
Today regular people help by collecting data (counting birds, documenting plant growth [time of year], migration data, weather data…) sharing knowledge with scientists who ask, sharing their computer to be used to analyze data, analyzing data (for example, in astronomy hobbyists often make new discoveries) and the latest way people help is through games (that essentially tap human brainpower to analyze data – such as Foldit, which I have posted about previously).
I like the contributions people can make to science but I think the biggest value is the scientific understanding people gain while participating. As Neil Degrasse Tyson says the scientifically literate see a different world.
Cornell University provides an online tool to find opporunities participate in scientific research.
And we shouldn’t forget the amazing science done by students like those honored with Intel Talent Search, though the work those winning the awards do I would lump with science by “real scientists” (I believe now most of those who win are working on projects with university scientists).