AN ECLECTIC MIX OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, HISTORY AND THE ARTS

                            

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Beautiful view of a rainbow over a lighthouse

rainbow lighthouse

Photographer Owen Humphreys captured this dramatic view of a rainbow appearing over the lighthouse at Tynemouth, England.

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Magnetism

We all use magnetism to stick photos to the fridge, find the North with a compass, store data on a hard drive. Although magnetism has been known for centuries, now we understand that magnetic materials only exist thanks to quantum mechanics.

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The Cradle of Humankind

Located 65 Km south west of South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria, is The Cradle of Humankind. The site includes the Sterkfontein Caves, where the famous 2.3 million year old fossil “Mrs. Ples” was discovered. The discovery was made by Dr Robert Broom and John T Robinson. Prior to 2010, the Sterkfontein Caves produced over 30% of hominid fossils ever found.

Including the Sterkfontein Caves and a massive complex of limestone caves, the site currently occupies over 45 000 hectares. There are close to 40 fossil-bearing caves across the site. A massive number of homonin fossils have thus far been excavated from the many sites comprising the Cradle of Humankind, including some of the oldest ever discovered. A few of these fossils have been found to be almost 3.5 million years old. It is theorized that hominins may have lived all across the African continent, but their fossils can only be found where the conditions for fossil formation are optimal. The hominin fossils found in dolomitic caves at the Cradle are often enclosed in a blend of limestone and breccia.

hominid – “group consisting of all modern and extinct Great Apes”

hominin - “the group consisting of modern humans, extinct human species and all our immediate ancestors”

Breccia – clastic sedimentary rocks made up of angular fragments. Often there are gaps between the angular fragments. These gaps are filled with a medium consisting of smaller particles that binds the rock together. Via Facebook.

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First non-beating heart transplant performed successfully in the UK

Surgeons in Cambridge have successfully installed a new type of heart transplant in a 60-year-old patient who is reportedly doing great, leaving the hospital just four days after the procedure.

Prior to this procedure, heart transplants have only ever been able to be done using still-beating hearts. This means that if a person dies in a car accident, they can’t donate their heart to a person needing a transplant, and instead, transplant patients have to rely on donations from people who have fallen into a permanently vegetative state. But now, researchers have figured out how to successfully transplant non-beating hearts, which means a whole lot more organs could suddenly become available.

“The use of this group of donor hearts could increase heart transplantation by up to 25 percent in the UK alone,” lead surgeon, Stephen Large, told Ian Sample at The Guardian.

The patient, named Huseyin Ulucan, suffered a heart attack in 2008, and agreed to receive treatment, which involved inserting a non-beating heart in his chest cavity within five minutes of the donor dying, and restarting it in situ. The activity of the heart was then assessed via ultrasound for 50 minutes, and if everything still looks great, and the heart is still happily beating away, the surgeons will go ahead with the transplant, swapping out the recipient’s defective heart for the donated heart.

Once the surgeons decide they’re going to perform the transplant after waiting 50 minutes, the beating donor heart is placed in a ‘heart-in-a-box machine’, which circulates blood and nutrients through it for three hours while the patient is prepped. The same device is used to get other organs, such as livers, kidneys, and lungs, ready for transplantation. Via First non-beating heart transplant performed successfully in the UK

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Spinning Top in a Vacuum Chamber

A top spinning in a vacuum chamber lasts much longer than outside. This is because the friction with the air.

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Malaysian Grand Prix – Stats & Facts

malaysian_gp

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Dark matter ‘ghosts’ through galactic smash-ups

_81929037_81929035By observing multiple collisions between huge clusters of galaxies, scientists have witnessed dark matter coasting straight through the turmoil. Dark matter is the mysterious, invisible stuff that makes up 85% of the matter in the cosmos – and these results rule out several theoretical models put forward to explain it. This is because it barely interacts with anything at all, including the dark matter in the oncoming galaxies. The work appears in Science magazine.

To conduct their study, astrophysicists looked at 72 smash-ups between galactic clusters, using two space telescopes: visible light was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope, and X-rays by the Chandra Observatory. Scouring multiple views of the collisions, the researchers tracked the movement of the three main components of galaxies: stars, clouds of gas, and dark matter. The violently swirling clouds of gas are hot enough to glow with X-rays, which Chandra detects. And stars can be seen in regular, visible-light images from Hubble. Dark matter is more difficult to “see” – but not impossible. Although it does not emit or absorb light, it does have gravity, and so it bends the path of light passing nearby. This warps our view of anything on the other side of it, in an effect called “gravitational lensing”.

_81914522_hubble_space_telescope_artwork“Looking through dark matter is like looking through a bathroom window,” said Dr Richard Massey from Durham University, one of the study’s authors. “All the objects that you can see in the distance appear slightly distorted and warped.” Images were used from the Hubble Space Telescope (illustrated here) and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Using this distortion allowed Dr Massey, with colleagues from the University of Edinburgh, University College London and Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), to “map” the dark matter in the clusters as they collided.

Galaxy clusters are vast and contain huge amounts of dark matter, so when they collide – over billions of years – it offers a unique glimpse of how the stuff behaves. “We like these collisions because it’s exactly what we’d do in the lab,” Dr Massey told BBC News. “If you want to figure out what something is made out of, you knock it, or you throw it across the room and see where the bits go.” In this case, the bits went straight through each other. Unlike the gas clouds, which grind to a turbulent halt, and the stars, which mostly glide past each other, the ubiquitous dark matter passes through everything and emerges unscathed, like a ghost. “It seems not to interact with anything at all,” Dr Massey said. Edited from – Dark matter ‘ghosts’ through galactic smash-ups

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Incredible non-stick coating has solved a universally annoying problem

No more struggling to get condiments out of the bottle. One of the most frustrating feelings in the world is struggling to get the last bit of ketchup out of the bottle or the last squirt of toothpaste out of the tube.

Now there’s a coating called LiquiGlide that can keep the inside of a container permanently wet and allow its contents to easily slide out. Look how easy it is get to mayonnaise out of a bottle coated in LiquiGlide:

For some reason, ketchup companies have shown little interest. But just look at that flawless pouring:

Edited from – Incredible non-stick coating has solved a universally annoying problem.

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What Happens If All The Bees Die?

Will we go extinct if the bees all die?

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Engineers create structures tougher than bulletproof vests

Researchers at UT Dallas have created new structures that exploit the electromechanical properties of specific nanofibers to stretch to up to seven times their length, while remaining tougher than Kevlar. These structures absorb up to 98 joules per gram. Kevlar, often used to make bulletproof vests, can absorb up to 80 joules per gram. Researchers hope the structures will one day form material that can reinforce itself at points of high stress and could potentially be used in military airplanes or other defense applications.In a study published by ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, a journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers twisted nanofiber into yarns and coils. The electricity generated by stretching the twisted nanofiber formed an attraction 10 times stronger than a hydrogen bond, which is considered one of the strongest forces formed between molecules. Via Engineers create structures tougher than bulletproof vests.

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Schrödinger’s Vet

Cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz from this week’s issue of the New Yorker magazine.

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DNA of ‘an entire nation’ assessed

iceland

The genetic code of “an entire nation” has effectively been deduced, say researchers in Iceland. The feat was performed by combining DNA data with family trees. The team say they could now find every woman at high-risk of breast cancer “at the touch of a button” and it would be “criminal” not to use the information. The reports, published in the journal Nature Genetics, used the data to make a suite of discoveries including the age of the last common ancestor of men.

DNA is passed from one generation to the next. If you knew everything about the DNA of a child and their grandparents, you could figure out a lot about about the DNA of the parents too. The deCODE genetics team has taken the whole genome sequence of 10,000 people and combined it with nation-wide family trees. “By using these tricks we can predict, with substantial accuracy, the genome of the entire nation,” the chief executive of deCODE, Dr Kari Stefansson told the BBC News website. Via DNA of ‘an entire nation’ assessed

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CD Shattering at 170,000FPS!

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‘Beautiful mind’ John Nash adds Abel Prize to his Nobel

Although some consider the Abel Prize to be the ‘Nobel of mathematics’, its winners are hardly ever household names. But this year’s prize, announced on 25 March, includes a notable exception: John Nash, the subject of the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe — and a previous winner of a Nobel prize for economics.

Nash, who spent most of his career at Princeton University in New Jersey, shares the prize with Canadian-born mathematician Louis Nirenberg of New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences for work on partial differential equations. Nash’s contributions to this field are widely considered more profound than the research in game theory that earned him a Nobel.

Partial differential equations (those that involve multiple, independent derivatives) are fundamental to pure maths and crop up throughout science, describing phenomena from the diffusion of heat to the motion of quantum particles. “Partial differential equations lie at the foundation of many areas, both within and beyond mathematics, ranging from geometry to physics,” says mathematician Robert Kohn of the Courant Institute. “Louis Nirenberg and John Nash have had huge influence on this field, not only by solving important problems, but more importantly by introducing fundamentally new methods and ideas.” Via ‘Beautiful mind’ John Nash adds Abel Prize to his Nobel

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Here’s what happens when you crack your knuckles

A whole lot of people crack their knuckles. And they don’t just do it occasionally – many people do it habitually, barely even noticing that they’re doing it. But is it bad for you?

As the Vox video above explains, it all comes down to the fluid that surrounds our joints, called synovial fluid. When you stretch your joints, you release gas in the fluid, which forms into little bubbles. When your joints settle back into place, those bubbles burst and make a cracking sound. Want to crack the same knuckle twice? You’re gonna have to wait another 20 minutes for the gas to accumulate again.

Sounds pretty harmless, right? But what does science say about this curious habit? Californian medical doctor, Donald Unger, decided to investigate, and dedicated 60 years of his life to the pursuit of the answer. And by that I mean he spent 60 years cracking the knuckles on one hand, and 60 years not cracking the knuckles on the other, so he could compare the effects.

Not only did the effort earn him an Ig Nobel in 2009, but it dispelled a long-standing myth that cracking your knuckles increases your risk of developing arthritis. Watch the video above to find out the results, and discover the real dangers associated with knuckle-cracking. (Hint: it has to do with driving everyone around you insane.) Via Here’s what happens when you crack your knuckles

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Fresh news from CERN

Fresh news from CERN about the impending restart of the Large Hadron Collider:

LHC run 2 is coming ever closer. Seven of the machine’s eight sectors have successfully been commissioned to the 2015 operating energy of 6.5 TeV per beam, and the eighth is not far behind. There will, however, be no circulating beam in the LHC this week. An intermittent short circuit to ground in one of the machine’s magnet circuits was identified on 21 March and is under investigation. It is a well understood issue, but one that could take time to resolve since it is in a cold section of the machine and repair may therefore require warming up and re-cooling after repair. “Any cryogenic machine is a time amplifier,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators, Frédérick Bordry, “so what would have taken hours in a warm machine could end up taking us weeks.”

Current indications suggest a delay of between a few days and several weeks. A full assessment is on going, and a revised schedule will be announced as soon as it is known. Whatever the case, the impact on LHC operation will be minimal: 2015 is a year for fully understanding the performance of the upgraded machine with a view to full-scale physics running in 2016-2018.

“All the signs are good for a great run 2,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “In the grand scheme of things, a few weeks delay in humankind’s quest to understand our universe is little more than the blink of an eye.” Via Facebook.

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Mammoth DNA has been implanted into functioning elephant cells

Scientists have been discussing and debating over it for years, and now the first real step towards bringing the extinct woolly mammoth back from the dead is complete.

A renowned geneticist in the US has extracted DNA from the frozen remains of a long-dead mammoth found on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, created a synthetic replica of it, and implanted it into elephant cells that have been isolated in a petri dish, using a new technique of DNA splicing that allows for unprecedented accuracy. He reports that, so far, the altered elephant cells have been functioning perfectly.

Lead scientist George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard University, and his team weren’t able to synthesise the entire woolly mammoth genome, but instead selected genes that encoded particularly ‘mammoth-like’ characteristics, such as cold-busting fat, ear size, and a woolly coat.

“We prioritised genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially haemoglobin,” Church told Ben Webster at The Sunday Times. Haemoglobin is what scientists think helped the mammoths survive such a frigid climate thousands of years ago. “We now have functioning elephant cells with mammoth DNA in them. We have not published it in a scientific journal because there is more work to do, but we plan to do so.”

If Church’s experiments go as planned, this could be the first time we see a woolly mammoth alive in more than 3,300 years.  Via Mammoth DNA has been implanted into functioning elephant cells

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No more physics and maths, Finland to stop teaching individual subjects

Finland, one of the leading educational hotspots in the world, is embarking on one of the most radical overhauls in modern education. By 2020, the country plans to phase out teaching individual subjects such as maths, chemistry and physics, and instead teach students by ‘topics’ or broad phenomena, so that there’s no more question about “what’s the point of learning this?”

What does that mean exactly? Basically, instead of having an hour of geography followed by an hour of history, students will now spend, say, two hours learning about the European Union, which covers languages, economics, history and geography. Or students who are taking a vocational course might study ‘cafeteria services’, which would involve learning maths, languages and communication skills, as Richard Garner reports for The Independent. So although students will still learn all the important scientific theories, they’ll be finding out about them in a more applied way.

“What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life,” Pasi Silander, the Helsinki’s development manager, told Garner. “Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed. We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”

The new system also encourages different types of learning, such as interactive problem solving and collaborating among smaller groups, to help develop career-ready skills. “We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow,” Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki’s education manager, who is leading the change, told Garner. Via No more physics and maths, Finland to stop teaching individual subjects

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RICHARD III – TRUTH AND LIES

With the re-internment of Richard III, Alan Mason reminds us what it’s all about.

skull of richard the third(1) Skull of Richard III – Image credit : University of Leicester

An Ear-splitting Silence

The first modern mystery over the remains (1) of the former King of England, Richard III, (1483-1485), is why there has been no response from Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II, or any other member of the current royal family. Wouldn’t you expect that they would want a former king to be buried with the honour of a full state funeral in Westminster Abbey, rather than in the cathedral of a provincial city?

The answer to this mystery, I suggest in this essay, is because Richard III was the last really English king of England, succeeded by Welsh Tudor kings, then Scottish Stewart Kings, and finally German monarchs, which is what we have now. The original Tudor claim to the throne was feeble in the extreme, so the Tudors spent much of their time in curtailing the ancient freedoms of the English people, to avoid the risk of being thrown out. They created a police state which took the English people another 200 years to roll back.

The Scottish Stewart claim to the throne is based on the weak Tudor claim, and the German Hanoverian succession rests on the Stewart claim. Of course, no one bothers about disputed royal succession nowadays, but if we are concerned with historical truth the role of Richard III merits some examination. Continue reading

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Penguin Galaxy

The wispy blue galaxy in this Hubble Space Telescope image is NGC 2936. It owes its graceful curved shape to its gravitational interaction with its neighbor, the elliptical galaxy NGC 2937, which is pulling the less massive NGC 2936 apart. Astronomers have compared the pair to a penguin guarding its egg. Via Facebook.

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