Design for the Unwealthiest 90 Percent

Posted on April 30, 2007  Comments (0)

Design for the unwealthiest 90 percent by Alice Rawsthorn:

Many humanitarian designers focus on helping the needy to enhance their earning potential by setting up new businesses, or running existing ones more efficiently. The Bamboo Treadle Pump enables poor farmers in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia and India to pump up groundwater during the dry season. The Big Boda Load-Carrying Bicycle provides cheap transport in Kenya and Uganda to carry hundreds of pounds of cargo or two passengers using pedal-power. And thanks to the KickStart MoneyMaker Block Press, eight workers can produce up to 800 building blocks a day from soil and a small quantity of cement.

Related: Appropriate TechnologySafe Water Through Play$100 Laptop

Home Experiments: Quantum Erasing

Posted on April 29, 2007  Comments (4)

Do your own experiment on quantum erasing – Quantum Erasing in the Home (for instructions). From the accompanying article, A Do-It-Yourself Quantum Eraser:

The light patterns that you will see if you conduct the experiment successfully can be accounted for by considering the light to be a classical wave, with no quantum mechanics involved. So in that respect the experiment is a cheat and falls short of fully demonstrating the quantum nature of the effect.

Nevertheless, the individual photons that make up the light wave are indeed doing the full quantum dance with all its weirdness intact, although you could only truly prove that by sending the photons through the apparatus and detecting them one at a time. Such a procedure, unfortunately, remains beyond the average home experimenter.

Related: Science Toys You Can Make With Your KidsParticles and Waves

Backyard Wildlife: Turtle

Posted on April 28, 2007  Comments (7)

Turtle photo

I took this photo in my back yard yesterday. It is the first time I have seen a turtle there. I saw a chipmunk today – I have see them occasionally but can’t get a photo of them – they move quite quickly 🙂 Other wildlife I have seen in my backyard: possum, raccoon, mole, fox, squirrels, rabbits, many birds including hawks and/or falcons, robins, starlings, doves, a humming bird once (front yard), butterflies, bats, lightning bugs, all sorts of bees, ants, praying mantis, and many more birds. And I see several cats prowl the yard frequently.

Hacking Your Body’s Bacteria

Posted on April 27, 2007  Comments (0)

Hacking Your Body’s Bacteria for Better Health by Brandon Keim

In sheer numbers, bacterial cells in the body outnumber our own by a factor of 10, with 50 trillion bacteria living in the digestive system alone, where they’ve remained largely unstudied until the last decade. As scientists learn more about them, they’re beginning to chart the complex symbiosis between the tiny bugs and our health.

“The microbes that live in the human body are quite ancient,” says NYU Medical Center microbiologist Dr. Martin Blaser, a pioneer in gut microbe research. “They’ve been selected (through evolution) because they help us.” And it now appears that our daily antibacterial regimens are disrupting a balance that once protected humans from health problems, especially allergies and malfunctioning immune responses.

Related: anitbiotics postsBeneficial BacteriaBacteria on Our SkinPrograming Bacteria

Funding for Science and Engineering Researchers

Posted on April 26, 2007  Comments (1)

To authorize programs for support of the early career development of science and engineering researchers, and for support of graduate fellowships, and for other purposes. passed the house on a vote of 397 – 20 and was forwarded to the senate. From the majority whips talking points:

supports outstanding researchers in the early stages of their careers through grants at the National Science Foundation (NSF)
and the Department of Energy of $80,000 per year for 5 years

enlarges an existing program at NSF supporting graduate students in multidisciplinary fields of national importance

This bill started with the same name as the Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act – though seems to be missing much on fellowships now.

Related: Increasing American Fellowship Support for Scientists and EngineersPresidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

When Fair Use Isn’t Fair

Posted on April 26, 2007  Comments (2)

In her post, Antioxidants in Berries Increased by Ethanol (but Are Daiquiris Healthy?), Shelley Batts, commenting on a journal article which was written based on publicly funded research, used “ONE panel of ONE figure, and a chart, from over 10+ figures in the paper.” The for profit journal sent a threat of legal action. This is exactly the type of behavior that leads many (including me) to push for open access publication of publicly funded research.

When Fair Use Isn’t Fair:

Isn’t the point of publishing data to disseminate it, rather that lob threats at grad students who happen to be excited about it?

It should be but many of the for profit publishers seem to have mistaken their mission to promote science (which would then generate funds to sustain their organization) for a mission to make money with no concern for science.

One comment on that post includes a link to the Standford Fair Use Project which looks like a great resource. Also see: Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation

More on the Bee Deaths

Posted on April 26, 2007  Comments (0)

Experts may have found what’s bugging the bees (link removed since content not freely available):

A fungus that caused widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia may be playing a crucial role in the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder that is wiping out bees across the United States, UC San Francisco researchers said Wednesday.

Researchers have been struggling for months to explain the disorder, and the new findings provide the first solid evidence pointing to a potential cause. But the results are “highly preliminary” and are from only a few hives from Le Grand in Merced County, UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi said. “We don’t want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved.”

Other researchers said Wednesday that they too had found the fungus, a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae, in affected hives from around the country — as well as in some hives where bees had survived. Those researchers have also found two other fungi and half a dozen viruses in the dead bees.

N. ceranae is “one of many pathogens” in the bees, said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University. “By itself, it is probably not the culprit … but it may be one of the key players.”

Related: Bye Bye BeesMystery Ailment Strikes Honeybees

Fruit Better Than Vitamins

Posted on April 23, 2007  Comments (1)

Fruit proves better than vitamin C alone. Tests show that it isn’t just the vitamin that protects the body.

Other nutrition researchers have suggested that sugars in juice interact with vitamin C to generate the antioxidant effect2. But Guarnieri suspects that the phytochemicals found in oranges (cyanidin-3-glucoside, flavanones and carotenoids) are the substances that need further study. “But how they are interacting is still anyone’s guess,” she adds.

Related: Eat Food. Eat Less. Mostly plants

Innovation with Math

Posted on April 21, 2007  Comments (2)

Flight Plan:

Invented by scientists at the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1980s, complexity science is a gumbo of insights drawn from fields as diverse as biology, physics, and economics. At its core is the belief that any seemingly complex and utterly random system or phenomenon–from natural selection to the stock market–emerges from the simple behavior of thousands or millions of individuals. Using computer algorithms to stand in for those individual “agents,” scientists discovered they could build fantastically powerful and detailed models of these systems if only they could nail down the right set of rules.

When Brown arrived in town in the late 1990s, many of the scientists-in-residence at the Santa Fe Institute–the serene think tank dedicated to the contemplation of complexity–were rushing to commercialize their favorite research topics. The Prediction Co. was profitably gaming Wall Street by spotting and exploiting small pockets of predictability in capital flows. An outfit called Complexica was working on a simulator that could basically model the entire insurance industry, acting as a giant virtual brain to foresee the implications of any disaster. And the BiosGroup was perfecting agent-based models that today would fall under the heading of “artificial life.”

Eat Less Salt – Save Your Heart

Posted on April 21, 2007  Comments (0)

Reducing salt cuts cardiovascular disease risk:

Cutting back on salt intake could lower the risk of developing heart disease by 25 per cent, in addition to lower blood pressure benefits, say researchers who studied people with borderline high blood pressure. Researchers in the U.S. looked at more than 3,000 people in two trials with pre-hypertension who reduced their sodium intake by 25 per cent to 35 per cent, compared with control groups that did not.

Cut Heart Risk by Eating Less Salt:

Last summer, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for a minimum 50% reduction in sodium in processed foods, fast foods, and non-fast-food restaurant meals within a decade. The group also called on the FDA to work harder to educate consumers about the health risks associated with a high-sodium diet.

“The average American is eating three times as much salt as is healthy every day — the equivalent of 2 to 3 teaspoons instead of no more than 1,” he says. “The assumption tends to be, ‘If I don’t use my salt shaker much, I’m probably OK,’ but that just isn’t true.”

Related: Cutting salt ‘reduces heart risk’

10 Lessons of an MIT Education

Posted on April 20, 2007  Comments (0)

Very good, definitely worth reading – 10 Lessons of an MIT Education by Gian-Carlo Rota:

In science and engineering, you can fool very little of the time. Most of the sweeping generalizations one hears about MIT undergraduates are too outrageous to be taken seriously. The claim that MIT students are naive, however, has struck me as being true, at least in a statistical sense.

Last year, for example, one of our mathematics majors, who had accepted a lucrative offer of employment from a Wall Street firm, telephoned to complain that the politics in his office was “like a soap opera.” More than a few MIT graduates are shocked by their first contact with the professional world after graduation. There is a wide gap between the realities of business, medicine, law, or applied enginering, for example, and the universe of scientific objectivity and theoretical constructs that is MIT.

An education in engineering and science is an education in intellectual honesty. Students cannot avoid learning to acknowledge whether or not they have really learned. Once they have taken their first quiz, all MIT undergraduates know dearly they will pay if they fool themselves into believing they know more than is the case.

On campus, they have been accustomed to people being blunt to a fault about their own limitations-or skills-and those of others. Unfortunately, this intellectual honesty is sometimes interpreted as naivete.