Science is the poetry of Nature.

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Posts tagged "science"


These bananas were developed by researchers fromQueensland University of Technology (QUT), who are tackling vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition in the developing world. The biofortifed bananas are on track to be grown in Uganda by 2020:

from Science Alert

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How diamonds and lasers can recreate Jupiter’s core

Understanding what the insides of the biggest planets in the universe has been largely wrapped up in theories.  Now scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Lab have recreated these conditions with the help of diamonds and the world’s largest laser:

Though diamond is the least compressible material known, the researchers were able to compress it to an unprecedented density, greater than lead at ambient conditions.

The hope is to understand how these planets evolve over time by being able to reproduce their immense pressures.  You can read more about it here.


Garden snail glow-paint dance party! 

Corni aspersum are marked with LED lights and UV paint to help researchers track their movements. This is the humble garden snail who munches your lettuce throughout the temperate parts of the world, and is eaten itself as escargot. It turns out that they have a great homing and roaming instinct (bad news for your seedlings).

Time-lapse photography revealed that snails move faster and further than most imagine, reaching speeds of 1 metre an hour and able to cover 10 metres a night. In wet weather, they form convoys, sliding along the slime trails of preceding snails.

When not raving it up with the boffins, these snails are better known for their hermaphrodite love-dart marathon sex.

source: newscientist

Snail parties for science!

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Happy 86th birthday to Vera Rubin (b. July 23, 1928), a pioneering astronomer who uncovered the galaxy rotation problem. While attempting to explain the galaxy rotation problem, she encountered some of the most firm evidence up to that time of dark matter.

Via American Museum of Natural History.

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This is Your Brain on Drugs

Funded by a $1 million award from the Keck Foundation, biomedical researchers at UCSB will strive to find out who could be more vulnerable to addiction

We’ve all heard the term “addictive personality,” and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of neurochemicals in the brain that spurs him or her to overdo it is still something of a mystery.

“There’s not really a lot we know about specific molecules that are linked to vulnerability to addiction,” said Tod Kippin, a neuroscientist at UC Santa Barbara who studies cocaine addiction. In a general sense, it is understood that animals — humans included — take substances to derive that pleasurable rush of dopamine, the neurochemical linked with the reward center of the brain. But, according to Kippin, that dopamine rush underlies virtually any type of reward animals seek, including the kinds of urges we need to have in order to survive or propagate, such as food, sex or water. Therefore, therapies that deal with that reward system have not been particularly successful in treating addiction.

However, thanks to a collaboration between UCSB researchers Kippin; Tom Soh, professor of mechanical engineering and of materials; and Kevin Plaxco, professor of chemistry and biochemistry — and funding from a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation — the neurochemistry of addiction could become a lot less mysterious and a lot more specific. Their study, “Continuous, Real-Time Measurement of Psychoactive Molecules in the Brain,” could, in time, lead to more effective therapies for those who are particularly inclined toward addictive behaviors.

“The main purpose is to try to identify individuals that would be vulnerable to drug addiction based on their initial neurochemistry,” said Kippin. “The idea is that if we can identify phenotypes — observable characteristics — that are vulnerable to addiction and then understand how drugs change the neurochemistry related to that phenotype, we’ll be in a better position to develop therapeutics to help people with that addiction.”

To identify these addiction-prone neurochemical profiles, the researchers will rely on technology they recently developed, a biosensor that can track the concentration of specific molecules in vivo, in real time. One early incarnation of this device was called MEDIC (Microfluidic Electrochemical Detector for In vivo Concentrations). Through artificial DNA strands called aptamers, MEDIC could indicate the concentration of target molecules in the bloodstream. 

“Specifically, the DNA molecules are modified so that when they bind their specific target molecule they begin to transfer electrons to an underlying electrode, producing an easily measurable current,” said Plaxco. Prior to the Keck award, the team had shown that this technology could be used to measure specific drugs continuously and in real time in blood drawn from a subject via a catheter. With Keck funding, “the team is hoping to make the leap to measurements performed directly in vivo. That is, directly in the brains of test subjects,” said Plaxco.

For this study, the technology would be modified for use in the brain tissue of awake, ambulatory animals, whose neurochemical profiles would be measured continuously and in real time. The subjects would then be allowed to self-dose with cocaine, while the levels of the drug in their brain are monitored. Also monitored are concomitant changes in the animal’s neurochemistry or drug-seeking (or other) behaviors.

“The key aspect of it is understanding the timing of the neurochemical release,” said Kippin. “What are the changes in neurochemistry that causes the animals to take the drug versus those that immediately follow consumption of the drug?”

Among techniques for achieving this goal, a single existing technology allows scientists to monitor more than one target molecule at a time (e.g., a drug, a metabolite, and a neurotransmitter). However, Kippin noted, it provides an average of one data point about every 20 minutes, which is far slower than the time course of drug-taking behaviors and much less than the sub-second timescale over which the brain responds to drugs. With the implantable biosensor the team has proposed, it would be possible not only to track how the concentration of neurochemicals shift in relation to addictive behavior in real time, but also to simultaneously monitor the concentrations of several different molecules.

“One of our hypotheses about what makes someone vulnerable to addiction is the metabolism of a drug to other active molecules so that they may end up with a more powerful, more rewarding pharmacological state than someone with a different metabolic profile,” Kippin said. “It’s not enough to understand the levels of the compound that is administered; we have to understand all the other compounds that are produced and how they’re working together.”

The implantable biosensor technology also has the potential to go beyond cocaine and shed light on addictions to other substances such as methamphetamines or alcohol. It also could explore behavioral impulses behind obesity, or investigate how memory works, which could lead to further understanding of diseases such as Alzheimers.

Discrimination isn’t a thunderbolt, it isn’t an abrupt slap in the face. It’s the slow drumbeat of being underappreciated, feeling uncomfortable and encountering roadblocks along the path to success.

Propeller Nebula in SHO by Didier CHAPLAIN & Laurent BOURGON


World’s Biggest Laser Blasts Diamond to Simulate Planet Cores

The biggest laser in the world was used to crush a diamond, offering insights into how the hardest known material behaves when it is exposed to extremely high pressures. The experiment could also reveal new clues about what happens at the cores of giant planets, where conditions of intense atmospheric pressures exist.

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, led by physicist Raymond Smith, blasted a sliver of diamond with a laser beam at a pressure of 725 million pounds per square inch (51 million kilograms per square centimeter). This is the kind of pressure found near the core of giant planets, such as Jupiter or huge, rocky bodies known as “super-Earths.”

The entire experiment took only 25 billionths of a second. The researchers fired 176 laser beams at a small cylinder of gold, called a hohlraum, with a tiny chip of synthetic diamond embedded in it. When the laser beams hit the cylinder, the energy was converted to X-rays. The hohlraum was vaporized, and in the process, the diamond was exposed to pressures tens of millions of times Earth’s atmospheric pressure.

Theoretical calculations predicted that such high pressures should cause a diamond to change its crystal structure. One way to test if this is true is to measure the speed of sound waves in a material. If this speed changes abruptly as the pressure goes up, then the diamond structure has rearranged itself.

But that didn’t happen — the velocity of sound waves changed smoothly.

"If there was a phase transformation you’d expect a discontinuity," Smith said.

The rate of change in the diamond’s density also didn’t match up with earlier theoretical models. Materials typically become denser at high pressures, and diamond is no exception. But how fast its density changed was a surprise, the researchers said.

The experiment was a breakthrough, in that instead of smacking the diamond with high pressure in a stepwise fashion, such as hitting it with successively heavier hammers, the researchers were able to boost the pressure smoothly. This enabled them to crush the diamond and expose it to intense pressure without the substance becoming too hot and melting. (Diamonds can and do melt at sufficiently high temperatures).

Since diamonds are made of carbon, understanding how this material behaves at high pressures can be important in the study of planets around other stars, said Nikku (Madhu) Madhusudhan, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Cambridge.


Liz Butler Draws The ROM: Multi-Tasking Waterfowl!

Hi ROMKids!

This week I was back to the Gallery of Birds to look at waterfowl: a common eider, a common merganser, and a greater white-fronted goose. These birds are extra awesome because they can navigate on land, in water, and in the air!

Like most sea birds, common eiders take advantage of their amphibious abilities by nesting on land and eating food from the water. Eiders particularly like to eat shellfish and crustaceans, and they have a pretty unique way of doing so; eiders dive all the way to the sea floor to find their favourite foods.

Common mergansers also dive for their food, but have much more active prey to pursue. Mergansers use their keen eyes to find fish and other small animals and invertebrates, and then chase their prey through the water. Once they catch their prey, a serrated beak edge helps the merganser to keep a grip on slippery food items.

The greater white-fronted goose takes a different approach to eating than the eider or the merganser. These geese use a feeding technique known as dabbling. Dabbling birds feed at the surface of the water, tipping their heads under the water while their legs and tails stay above the surface. It might be silly looking, but it’s a good way to forage for plants in shallow water! Greater white-fronted geese also eat foods on land, including seeds and grasses.

What species of waterfowl can you see in your own city or town? How are their behaviours similar or different to those of the common eider, common merganser, or greater white-fronted goose? Make some notes on your discoveries, or even some sketches!

More info:

  • Liz Butler is an artist and teacher who loves natural history and museums. She loves drawing, painting, and making crafts of all kinds. She is happiest when she can find ways to combine art projects with science content.
  • Liz’s WebsiteLiz Butler Draws
  • Liz’s BlogSaw Whet Studio
  • More guest posts from Liz HERE!
  • Do you like to sketch? Love museums? Are you a full time student in Canada? The ROM is yours to explore, FREE, every Tuesday! MORE!

Guest Post By Liz Butler. Last Updated: July 21st, 2014.

How Mysterious Natural Arches Form

Arches of stone seem to defy explanation, but a new study may have solved the mystery of how these and other strange natural stone wonders form.

The bewildering shapes apparently owe their origin in large part to how rock can strengthen when squashed from above, scientists explained.

Mysterious rock formations such as arches, bridges, pillars and mushroom-shaped pedestal rocks occur all over the world. Geologists mostly think these form due to erosion from wind and water, as well as from the weathering effects of salt and frost.

However, lead author of the new study Jiří Bruthans, a geologist at Charles University in Prague, and his colleagues did not think erosion and weathering alone could explain how many of these natural sculptures arose. They also noted that prior research did not explain how the upper parts of arches remain stable.

Now, the researchers said they can help explain how these rock formations develop by accounting for the way rock can strengthen when compacted by weight from above.

"The results were shocking for me when I started to realize how simply nature carves all these shapes," Bruthans said.


MIT’s New Robot Glove can Give You Extra Fingers
Have you ever wondered if five fingers is really enough? The folks at MIT have. Researchers in the institute’s department of mechanical engineering have created a robotic glove that adds two additional digits to the standard human claw, positioning two long fingers on either side of the hand. It’s ridiculously easy to use, too. “You do not need to command the robot, but simply move your fingers naturally.” Ford Professor of Engineering Harry Asada says. “Then the robotic fingers react and assist your fingers.” The glove’s movements are based on biomechanical synergy, the idea that each finger reacts to the movements of its peers - if you try to grasp a bottle, the glove’s extra fingers will try to help.

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Scientific Diagrams | John Philipps Emslie | Via

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I meet many people offended by evolution, who passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime…What they wish to be true, they believe is true.

Only 9 percent of Americans accept the central finding of modern biology that human beings (and all other species) have slowly evolved by natural processes from a succession of more ancient beings with no divine intervention needed along the way.

Carl Sagan (via whats-out-there)

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Erwin Schrödinger is known as the father of quantum mechanics— which parts ways with classical mechanics at the atomic and subatomic level. Rather than following the usual (and logical) Newtonian laws, quantum mechanics posits some unique theories—some of which are outlined in these videos.

So, what does this mean to us? Aside from seeking to explain how our world works, quantum mechanics is being used by some individuals looking to create quantum computers. Traditional computing is based upon binary code where bits can be either a 1 or 0. In quantum computing, a Qubit can be a 1 or 0 or 1 and 0 at the same time. If this turns out to be true, then quantum computers can run calculations much faster than traditional computers.

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