Virgin Births in the Animal Kingdom
Posted on December 25, 2014 Comments (1)
Initially, a virgin birth, also known as parthenogenesis, was thought to be triggered by extreme situations; it was only documented among captive animals, for example, perhaps by the stress, or isolation. A way to continue the bloodline when all other options had gone, when there was no other choice.
Not necessarily. It now appears that some virgin females produce offspring even in the presence of males.
Another interesting area of research for scientists. The value of sex to aid a species’ success is well understood. The value of being able to produce offspring when no males are around seems obvious also. But how this all works is quite interesting and again shows how much we have to learn.
Related: Fungus-gardening Ant Species Has Given Up Sex Completely (2010) – Some Female Sharks Can Reproduce All by Themselves (2007) – Amazon Molly Fish are All Female (2008) – Bdelloid Rotifers Abandoned Sex 100 Million Years Ago (2007)
The Downside of Adopting the Metric System
Posted on December 9, 2014 Comments (4)
The only downside of adopting the metric system is less control over room temperature (based on my experience). Every ºC = ºF * 1.8 so have less control (when using only integers to control temperature as is the case in my experience).
Granted this could be solved easily by using .5 (option in air conditioning and heating controllers but in my experience they don’t) for Celsius. For Fahrenheit this works out to enough control for me. For Celsius in a fair number (lets say 15%) of systems it is a bit uncomfortable.
The specific circumstances add greatly to creating a problem. My guess is those that annoy me swing even further than 1 ºC, they move further in one direction in order to not turn on and off all the time. So maybe that moves to swings of 2 or 3 ºC at the measurement point. But that is another issue, the measurement on home (or hotel) systems is often 1 reader so the variation is often greater in other locations.
Add to that the imprecision of their measures, I don’t have good data, but I am confident that the measurement error is fairly high. I am pretty comfortable at about 25ºC for air conditioning. But in some places I am cold at 27º and others I am warm at 23º. It could be me, but I don’t think so (most of the time – sometimes it is me).
A long time ago I had some imprecise portable temperature gauge and while I wouldn’t stake my life on results based on it, it confirmed my feelings (when I felt it was warmer than the local reading said my device agreed and when I felt it was colder my device agreed). Hardly scientifically valid proof, but it made me more comfortable trusting my opinion on this matter anyway.
My guess is in a unit using ºF you often can be 4 or 5 degrees off (or more) in different locations. For some people that might be ok. But for me that often starts to be uncomfortable. If you convert the issue to that time 1.8 it is noticably worse.
Now in reality I don’t think it expands quite that much. While the manufactures balance the confusion of adding .5 to a Celsius controller and decide not to, I would think they don’t swing 1.8 times as far (in heating or cooling in order to not turn on and off all the time), but it is still let precise than using Fahrenheit integers. I believe (hope) they set their internal dynamics not based only on integers but could say for example turn off .5º past the setting and turn on when the conditions are .5º worse than the setting (so .5º too warm in the case of air conditioning, for example).
It is still lame the USA fails to adopt the metric system, but reducing this problem in the USA is one small benefit of holding off I wonder if 1 in a million, 1 in 10 million… up to 1 in 7.2 billion people (just me, all alone in the world) have my concern for the lack of precision of heating and air conditioners when using the metric system.
Leslie Lamport Receives 2013 ACM Turing Award
Posted on November 22, 2014 Comments (1)
Leslie Lamport, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, has been named as the recipient of the 2013 ACM A.M. Turing Award for imposing clear, well-defined coherence on the seemingly chaotic behavior of distributed computing systems, in which several autonomous computers communicate with each other by passing messages. He devised important algorithms and developed formal modeling and verification protocols that improve the quality of real distributed systems. These contributions have resulted in improved correctness, performance, and reliability of computer systems.
ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) announced that the funding level for the ACM Turing Award is now $1,000,000 (to be provided by Google). The new amount is four times its previous level. It seems to me the 14th of November 2014 is a bit late to announce the 2013 award winner, but for an extra $750,000 I would gladly wait a year (or a decade for that matter).
The new award level brings the computer science award to the level of Nobel Prizes and the Fields medal.
Leslie Lamport’s 1978 paper, “Time, Clocks, and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System,” one of the most cited in the history of computer science.
Read more about the work of Leslie Lamport.
Biology: How Wounds to Our Skin Heal
Posted on November 15, 2014 Comments (2)
This is an interesting webcast looking at how our bodies heal wounds to our skin.
Related: Science Explained: How Cells React to Invading Viruses – Tissue Regeneration in Animals – Science Explained: Cool Video of ATP Synthase, Which Provides Usable Energy to Us – Looking Inside Living Cells – A Healthy Lifestyle is More About Health Care than the Sickness Management That We Call Health Care Is
Deinocheirus is a Totally Bizarre Dinosaur
Posted on November 8, 2014 Comments (0)
A very strange dinosaur has been uncovered, studied and explained by scientists. The dinosaur is from Mongolia about 70 million years ago.
“Deinocheirus is a totally bizarre dinosaur,” explains Phil Currie, professor and Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Paleobiology at the University of Alberta. At 11 meters long and with an estimated weight of 6.4 tons, Deinocheirus was a behemoth to be sure—but hardly the giant tyrannosaur its massive arms may have suggested. Rather, the apparently disproportionately large forearms were more likely used for digging and gathering plants in freshwater habitats, or for fishing. Among its other unusual attributes are tall dorsal spines, truncated hoof-like claws on the feet to prevent sinking into muddy ground, and bulky hind legs that indicate it was a slow mover.
“Although the arms have been known since 1965 and have always aroused speculation because of their enormous size and sharp, recurving claws, we were completely unprepared for how strange this dinosaur looks,” says Currie. “It almost appears to be a chimera, with its ornithomimid-like arms, its tyrannosaurid-like legs, its Spinosaurus-like vertebral spines, its sauropod-like hips, and its hadrosaur-like duckbill and foot-hooves.”
Currie notes that Deinocheirus is a descendant of ostrich-like dinosaurs that were only slightly larger than humans, so its evolution into a giant, multi-tonne creature is almost certainly responsible for most of its unusual characteristics. “Its great size probably gave it some protection from the tyrannosaurid Tarbosaurus, which appears to have been relatively common in that part of Mongolia some 70 million years ago,” says Currie. To feed its great bulk, Deinocheirus was apparently an omnivore that ingested both plants and fish, as evident from fish remains found in its stomach contents.
“The study of this specimen has shown that even in dinosaurs like Deinocheirus, an animal that has been known for almost half a century, we can still learn surprising things about their anatomy,” says Currie. “Furthermore, it underlines the fact that even today, dinosaurs are still relatively poorly known. The fact that Deinocheirus is from the Nemegt Formation of Mongolia, one of the richest and most diverse dinosaur faunas known, hints that there are probably thousands of dinosaurs that we still do not know about from the majority of dinosaur localities in the world.”
Including poached dinosaur bones (stealing bones has long been a problem to the advancement of science) with the existing bones available to scientists allowed the new understanding of this amazing dinosaur. The now near-complete Deinocheirus specimen has been returned to its home for further study in the Mongolia Centre for Paleontology.
Related: Ancient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian Desert – Nigersaurus, the Mesozoic Cow – Dinosaur Remains Found with Intact Skin and Tissue – Lobopodians from China (“the walking cactus” – an animal) – Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project
RoboBoat 2014 – Student Designed Autonomous Boats
Posted on November 1, 2014 Comments (10)
The first video gives a recap of RoboBoat 2014. In 2014, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University took 1st place. University of Florida was 2nd, followed by the Robotics Club at UCF and in 4th place the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The teams must design and build an autonomous boat to compete in challenges. During the competition, student teams race their autonomous surface vehicles through an aquatic obstacle course. This includes littoral area navigation, channel following, and autonomous docking. The competition provides an opportunity for students to develop skills in system engineering by accomplishing realistic missions with autonomous vehicles in the maritime environment.
A team participated from Diponegoro University, Semarang, Indonesia, which is next to me – though about as far from the finals as you can be on the globe.
Related: 9th International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition – 20th Annual US First Robotics Competition – Botball 2009 Finals – Robo-One Grand Championship in Tokyo (2007) – Eco-Vehicle Student Competition
Apples Increase the Growth of Beneficial Bacteria in Our Guts, Which Improves Our Health
Posted on October 25, 2014 Comments (3)
Science provides some very clear knowledge that is easy for us to apply (the value of vaccines, materials to use in solar panels, support needed to build a bridge, dangers of consuming small amounts of lead…). But much of our knowledge about nutrition and human health is a bit unclear. This is one of the struggles we face is using our judgement to decide how to eat and live based on what we know and what seems to be so.
Eating more fruit and vegetables than most in the USA eat is pretty clearly beneficial to our health. but exactly how much, how beneficial, how it is beneficial are questions with only varying degrees of good answers so far. Apple’s Scientists at Washington State University have concluded that nondigestible compounds in apples – specifically, Granny Smith apples – may help prevent disorders associated with obesity.
“We know that, in general, apples are a good source of these nondigestible compounds but there are differences in varieties,” said food scientist Giuliana Noratto, the study’s lead researcher. “Results from this study will help consumers to discriminate between apple varieties that can aid in the fight against obesity.”
The tart green Granny Smith apples benefit the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon due to their high content of non-digestible compounds, including dietary fiber and polyphenols, and low content of available carbohydrates. The non-digestible compounds are fermented by bacteria in the colon, which benefits the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.
The study showed that Granny Smith apples surpass Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Red Delicious in the amount of nondigestible compounds they contain.
Appropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MIT
Posted on October 18, 2014 Comments (0)
I have written about the D-lab at MIT founded by Amy Smith. This is just a reminder of all the good stuff they are doing. The D-Lab is building a global network of innovators to design and disseminate technologies that meaningfully improve the lives of people living in poverty. The program’s mission is pursued through interdisciplinary courses, technology development, and community initiatives, all of which emphasize experiential learning, real-world projects, community-led development, and scalability.
Another of their initiatives, the International Development Innovators Network seeks to create low-cost, high-impact technologies and ventures, while simultaneously documenting and evaluating approaches to international development that value local ingenuity and innovation. This effort includes design summits, innovation centers, business incubators, and a growing network of over 400 innovators in 50 countries.
D-Lab’s Youth Outreach Program focuses on Hands-on Invention Education and works with primary and secondary school teachers to develop curricular materials that build the confidence and skills needed by the next generation of innovators from around the world. Together with students and educators from around the world, D-Lab is developing and delivering hands-on curricula aimed at youth that utilize affordable locally available resources.
The program continues to help develop and deploy great products that are meeting the needs to people around the world.
The Leveraged Freedom Chair, is an all-terrain wheelchair designed for the harsh terrain faced by people with disabilities in developing countries.
Ocean Exploration – Live Feed and Highlights
Posted on October 11, 2014 Comments (1)
Nautilus Live provides a live view of the E/V Nautilus as it explores the ocean studying biology, geology, archeology, and more. The site also includes highlights such as this video of a siphonophore.
Siphonophores are actually made up of numerous animals even though they look like one animal. These amazing colonial organisms are made up up many smaller animals called zooids, and can be found floating around the pelagic zone in ocean basins. The Portugese Man O’ War is a famous siphonophore.
Each zooid is an individual, but their integration with each other is so strong, the colony attains the character of one large organism. Indeed, most of the zooids are so specialized, they lack the ability to survive on their own.
Related: Giant Star Fish and More in Antarctica – Hydromedusae, Siphonophora, Cnidarians, Ctenophores (what are jellyfish?) – Macropinna Microstoma: Fish with a Transparent Head – Large Crabs Invading Antarctic as Waters Warm
Here is another video from Nautilus, showing a large dumbo octopus:
STEM Graduates in the USA: 465,000 Women and 451,000 Men
Posted on October 4, 2014 Comments (1)
STEM baccalaureate degrees in the USA in 2010 (reported by NSF in 2014):
|Science (including math)||442,000||343,000|
If you exclude health, women still lead 465,000 to 451,000.
The same data for master’s degrees:
|Science (including math)||86,000||72,000|
Excluding health the totals are: women 100,000, men 125,000.
In 2005, 235,197 women received undergraduate science and engineering degrees, compared to 230,806 for men. In 2005, 53,051 women received masters science and engineering degrees, compared to 66,974 men. All increased a large amount from 2005 to 2010 and degrees awarded to women increased much faster than the increase seen for men.
As I predicted in 2008 (Women Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and Math) the trends continued and resulted in large imbalances in favor of women at the undergraduate level for science related degrees.
At the masters level women continue to increase degrees (nearly doubling from 2005 to 2010 excluding health). The relative gains (compared to men) at the masters level are small in that 5 year period, but it seems to me the news is mainly good. I expect women will show relative gains at the masters and PhD levels going forward, though those gains may well be slower than they were at the undergraduate level.
STEM fields continue to show large gender imbalances (with women and men dominating certain fields and being relatively rare in others). Continuing to provide opportunities for talented and interested students to explore their field of choice is important for the students well being and for the well being of society. We want to take advantage of the great minds we have and not have people excluded from pursuing their dreams.
Lots of Bacteria are Always Living in Our Bodies
Posted on September 27, 2014 Comments (0)
My response to a question on Reddit – Ask Science:
Let’s say you get infected with a bacterium that causes annoying, but totally non-dangerous symptoms. If you just try to “live with it,” will your immune system eventually kill it, or does killing bacteria require antibiotics in all cases?
Your body definitely kills lots of bacteria.
Your body also has tons of bacteria all the time (many doing much more good than they do harm). These bacteria also compete with each other.
So your “existing” bacteria kill off others all the time too (you have lots of different types of bacteria full time in your body – they often settle into niches and fight off any others , which is normally good as they are long term residents your body has learned to live with them).
Also like everything bacteria die off themselves – though if the conditions are right they are multiplying like crazy so that exceeds die off.
An astonishing number and variety of microbes, including as many as 400 species of bacteria, help humans digest food, mitigate disease, regulate fat storage, and even promote the formation of blood vessels.
Staphylococcal food poisoning – an example of bacteria infection my body dealt with quickly.
People talk about genetics impact on getting cavities and impact of brushing and flossing well. Also the makeup of bacteria can help or hurt. If your mouth is home to certain bacteria tooth decay is less likely, home to others it is more likely. They tend to remain fairly steady (a certain makeup of bacteria will be consist for a person over the long term – not perfectly that way but tend that way). A UCLA microbiologist developed a mouthwash to try and ceed your mouth with good bacteria and oust the bad guys.