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

                            

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Rockhopper

penguinPenguins may lack teeth, but they have backward facing spines in their throats that grip and guide fish down. This photo of a rockhopper penguin was taken by Will Burrard-Lucas on the Falkland Islands. Via Facebook.

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How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries

Adam Savage (you know the guy from Mythbusters) walks through two spectacular examples of profound scientific discoveries that came from simple, creative methods anyone could have followed — Eratosthenes’ calculation of the Earth’s circumference around 200 BC and Hippolyte Fizeau’s measurement of the speed of light in 1849.

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5 facts about Mount Everest

Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were determined to do the impossible and tackle the mountain that no other person had managed to conquer. Here are 5 facts about their rival – the mountain that towers above all the others…

1) The name ‘Everest’ was chosen by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India. He found it difficult naming the mountain as in his attempts to find a local name, he ended up finding a multitude, including ‘Deodungha’ in Darjeeling and ‘Chomolungma’ in Tibet. Waugh decided instead that the mountain should be named after his predecessor, George Everest, and after further disagreements, the name eventually stuck.

2) The last year that nobody climbed Mount Everest since the successful ascent of Hillary and Norgay was 1974. Since then, there has been a successful climb of the mountain along one of the two main routes every year, as well as others along less established routes.

3) Every year, due to the upward thrust generated by two opposing tectonic plates underneath the Earth’s surface, Mount Everest grows 4mm taller – extending its record as the world’s highest mountain.

4) The highest number of deaths recorded during attempts at ascending Everest in one year was in 1996. In total, 15 climbers died, including nine in a single incident. This is closely followed by 2012, when 11 climbers lost their lives, showing how dangerous this mountain really is. It is speculated that hundreds of corpses are still on the mountain, gathered over the years.

5) Around eight tonnes of rubbish was collected from the slopes of Everest in 2012, which was then turned into 75 pieces of art. The collected ephemera from previous expeditions even included the remains of a helicopter. It took 65 porters and 75 yaks to bring all of the gathered garbage down over two expeditions, the idea behind the exhibition being to promote the Nepalese artists who took part, as well as to try and keep the mountain clean. Via 5 facts about… Mount Everest

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All the planets in the Solar System fit between the Earth and the Moon

earth to moon

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Kelvin’s Thunderstorm

The physics behind Kelvin’s Thunderstorm explained. No, it is not a practical way of generating electricity, which is why we use turbines at hydro stations.

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Featured Artworks – Grayson Perry – Comfort Blanket

Grayson Perry tapestry Comfort Blanket, 2014

Grayson Perry’s latest tapestry, which goes on public view at the British National Portrait Gallery in London on Saturday is a portrait of a nation. As Grayson says “you could lay it out for a national picnic”.  The style is based on a £10 note with the Queen presiding over the image as if she were “your auntie”, he says. “She might have stitched the whole thing in front of her hissing gas fire, with her brass ornaments twinkling in the background, Corrie playing on the telly and The Hay Wain over the fireplace.” Click on the image for a larger view. – Deskarati

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China launches first mission to moon and back

China launched its first space mission to the moon and back early Friday, authorities said, the latest step forward for Beijing’s ambitious programme to one day land a Chinese citizen on the Earth’s only natural satellite. The unnamed, unmanned probe will travel to the moon, fly around it and head back to Earth, re-entering the atmosphere and landing, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said in a statement.

“The first stage of the first return journey test in China’s moon probe programme has been successful,” it said after the launch, from the Xichang space base in the southwestern province of Sichuan. The module will be 413,000 kilometres from Earth at its furthest point on the eight-day mission, it added. The official Xinhua news agency said it would re-enter the atmosphere at 11.2 kilometres per second (25,000 mph) before slowing down—a process that generates extremely high temperatures—and landing in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region. Via China launches first mission to moon and back.

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Spectacular new desert time-lapse

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Scientists have opened the blood-brain barrier for the first time

For the first time in humans, researchers have managed to penetrate the brain’s protector, meaning that doctors will be able to deliver drugs to previously inaccessible parts of the brain. The blood-brain barrier is a network of cells that separates the brain from the rest of the body, preventing harmful toxins and chemicals in the blood stream from entering the brain tissue. This blocking mechanism makes it very difficult to deliver drugs to the brain for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.  This protective barrier has been opened in animals but never in humans, until now. A medical start-up company CarThera in France, have opened and closed the barrier on demand with the help of an ultrasound brain implant and an injection of microbubbles.

The findings were presented last week at the Focused Ultrasound symposium in the US by Michael Canney, a neuroscientist at CarThera. The study involved the treatment of glioblastoma – the most aggressive form of brain cancer –  in four patients. Patients with glioblastoma usually need surgery to remove the tumour, after which they are given chemotherapy drugs to destroy any remaining cancerous cells. The blood-brain barrier becomes leaky when a tumour is present, so a small amount of the drugs are able to enter the brain. “If more of the chemotherapy drugs could get through, they’d do a better job of killing cancer,” Canney told Chris Weller from Medical Daily.

To penetrate the barrier, the surgeons first inserted a tiny ultrasound brain implant into the patients’ skulls. They then injected microbubbles to counter the ultrasound imaging. When the ultrasound’s pulses collided with the bubbles, it caused them to vibrate, pushing apart the cells of the blood-brain barrier. To confirm the observations, an MRI scan showed that the microbubbles were effectively crossing the blood-brain barrier. “We hope this means the chemotherapy drug is doing the same thing,” Canney told Helen Thomson from New Scientist. The team estimate that the novel approach keeps the barrier open for up to six hours, allowing enough time to deliver high dosages of the drugs. Via Scientists have opened the blood-brain barrier for the first time. Image: Juan Gaertner

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How to See Time Travel!!!

How to build your own cloud chamber particle detector and test relativity at home.

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Pierre Bézier

bezierPierre Étienne Bézier (September 1, 1910 – November 25, 1999) was a French engineer and one of the founders of the fields of solid, geometric and physical modelling as well as in the field of representing curves, especially in CAD/CAM systems. As an engineer at Renault, he became a leader in the transformation of design and manufacturing, through mathematics and computing tools, into computer-aided design and three-dimensional modeling. Bézier patented and popularized, but did not invent the Bézier curves and Bézier surfaces that are now used in most computer-aided design and computer graphics

bezier text

Born in Paris, Bézier was the son and grandson of engineers. He obtained a degree in mechanical engineering from the École nationale supérieure d’arts et métiers in 1930. He earned a second degree in electrical engineering in 1931 at the École supérieure d’électricité, and a doctorate in 1977 in mathematics from the Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University. From 1968 to 1979 Bézier was Professor of Production Engineering at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers.

Pierre_BezierHe wrote four books and numerous papers, and received several distinctions including the Steven Anson Coons Award from the Association for Computing Machinery and an honorary doctorate from the Technical University Berlin. He was an honorary member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and of the Société Belge des Mécaniciens, president of the Société des Ingénieurs et Scientifiques de France, Société des Ingénieurs Arts et Metiers, and one of the first Advisory Editors of Computer-Aided Design magazine.

With his family’s consent, the Solid Modeling Association established The Pierre Bézier Award for Solid, Geometric and Physical Modeling and Applications in 2007. Continue reading

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Oldest DNA ever found sheds light on humans’ global trek

Scientists said Wednesday they had unravelled the oldest DNA ever retrieved from a Homo sapiens bone, a feat that sheds light on modern humans’ colonisation of the planet. A femur found by chance on the banks of a west Siberian river in 2008 is that of a man who died around 45,000 years ago, they said. Teased out of collagen in the ancient bone, the genome contains traces from Neanderthals—a cousin species who lived in Eurasia alongside H. sapiens before mysteriously disappearing. Previous research has found that Neanderthals and H. sapiens interbred, leaving a tiny Neanderthal imprint of just about two percent in humans today, except for Africans.

The discovery has a bearing on the so-called “Out of Africa” scenario: the theory that H. sapiens evolved in East Africa around 200,000 years ago and then ventured out of the continent. Dating when Neanderthals and H. sapiens interbred would also indicate when H. sapiens embarked on a key phase of this trek—the push out of Eurasia and into South and later Southeast Asia.

The new study, published in the journal Nature, was headed by Svante Paabo, a renowned geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who has pioneered research into Neanderthals. More here Oldest DNA ever found sheds light on humans’ global trek.

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Atom-scale brain sensors will show exactly how your mind works

Neural activity maps frequently present an incomplete picture of how a brain works; you can measure electrical activity, stimulate it or visualize the anatomy, but you can’t do all three. DARPA and the University of Wisconsin might just pull off that seemingly impossible feat, however. They recently built a hybrid brain sensor that combines both electrical and optical techniques to present a vivid picture of what’s happening inside the mind. The sensor is primarily made of ultra-thin graphene (just four atoms thick) that both conducts electricity and lets light through. By putting this device on top of neural tissue, you can simultaneously create brain activity and monitor virtually every aspect of it. Graphene is safe for your body, too, so you shouldn’t face the same risks you see with metal alloys.

It’s still early days for the project, so you won’t be getting graphene-based implants in the near future. However, a finished version might do wonders for medicine. Doctors and scientists could see tighter correlations between activity in certain parts of the brain and related behavior, which could help them study and hopefully treat diseases that previously remained a mystery. Via Atom-scale brain sensors will show exactly how your mind works.

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Island in the sky

island in the sky

“There is an ethereal, otherworldly feeling to this photograph, as this little island in the middle of Tumuch Lake in northern British Columbia appears as if it’s floating in the clouds,” says Shane Kalyn, who submitted this photo to the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest. “To bring us back to Earth, a fish has left a ripple in the water on the left-hand side of the shot. The scene was amazing to witness, let alone be lucky enough to photograph—totally the right place at the right time.” Via Tumuch Lake Picture

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We now know why some people get SAD in the winter

Scientists say they have identified the underlying reason why some people are prone to the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People with Sad have an unhelpful way of controlling the “happy” brain signalling compound serotonin during winter months, brain scans reveal. As the nights draw in, production of a transporter protein ramps up in Sad, lowering available serotonin. The work will be presented this week at a neuropsychopharmacology conference.

The University of Copenhagen researchers who carried out the trial say their findings confirm what others have suspected – although they only studied 11 people with Sad and 23 healthy volunteers for comparison. Using positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans, they were able to show significant summer-to-winter differences in the levels of the serotonin transporter (SERT) protein in Sad patients. The Sad volunteers had higher levels of SERT in the winter months, corresponding to a greater removal of serotonin in winter, while the healthy volunteers did not.

Lead researcher, Dr Brenda Mc Mahon, said: “We believe that we have found the dial the brain turns when it has to adjust serotonin to the changing seasons. “The serotonin transporter (SERT) carries serotonin back into the nerve cells where it is not active – so the higher the SERT activity, the lower the activity of serotonin. “Sunlight keeps this setting naturally low, but when the nights grow longer during the autumn, the SERT levels increase, resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels. “Many individuals are not really affected by Sad, and we have found that these people don’t have this increase in SERT activity, so their active serotonin levels remain high throughout the winter.” Edited from Brain scans show cause of seasonal affective disorder.

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Raphael Ravenscroft

With the sad news today of the death of Raphael Ravenscroft we thought you might like to hear from the man himself talking about his work and one of the all time great saxophone solos from Jerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. – Deskarati

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Do you get your moons mixed up?

deskarati moons

I have lately been getting my moons mixed up! This is somewhat understandable for someone with only a poor knowledge of Greek Mythology and Shakespeare and not helped when three of them sound very similar. Titan, Titania and Triton. So as an aid memoir to me and any of you with a similar problem, I am posting this great graphic showing all the major moons alongside the Earth to help gauge the sizes. – Deskarati

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Brian Cox: Making Sense of the Cosmos

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Scientists build first map of hidden universe

A team led by astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has created the first three-dimensional map of the ‘adolescent’ Universe, just 3 billion years after the Big Bang. This map, built from data collected from the W. M. Keck Observatory, is millions of light-years across and provides a tantalizing glimpse of large structures in the ‘cosmic web’ – the backbone of cosmic structure.

On the largest scales, matter in the Universe is arranged in a vast network of filamentary structures known as the ‘cosmic web’, its tangled strands spanning hundreds of millions of light-years. Dark matter, which emits no light, forms the backbone of this web, which is also suffused with primordial hydrogen gas left over from the Big Bang. Galaxies like our own Milky Way are embedded inside this web, but fill only a tiny fraction of its volume.

Now a team of astronomers led by Khee-Gan Lee, a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, has created a map of hydrogen absorption revealing a three-dimensional section of the universe 11 billions light years away – the first time the cosmic web has been mapped at such a vast distance. Since observing to such immense distances is also looking back in time, the map reveals the early stages of cosmic structure formation when the Universe was only a quarter of its current age, during an era when the galaxies were undergoing a major ‘growth spurt’. Via Scientists build first map of hidden universe.

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Apple Pay in action

If there ever comes a day I can ditch my wallet and use my phone to pay for everything, I’ll look back to my first purchase through Apple Pay: a Big Mac and medium fries for $5.44. That wallet-free day won’t be coming for a while, if ever, but Apple’s new payments system brings us much closer.

There were a few unexpected steps setting up Apple Pay on Monday, and the employee at a local McDonald’s looked befuddled as I stood there after waving an iPhone 6 over the wireless reader in front of the cash register. The transaction hadn’t gone through, so she was waiting for me to pay. I thought I had, but I had pressed the phone’s fingerprint ID sensor too hard, getting me out of the transaction instead of authorizing it.

Apple Pay will take getting used to—for consumers and merchants alike. These aren’t insurmountable hurdles. The biggest difficulty is general acceptance, and Apple has managed to boost interest in mobile payments in a way Google and other rivals haven’t been able to for years. Via Review: Apple Pay in action.

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