Archive for: March, 2010

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: molding stem cells, lightning, dogs at play, and a heritage of honey

Mar 29 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

  • Shaping a stem cell's future. Most of us are familiar with the idea of stem cells (and the political controversies associated with them): cells which can be chemically manipulated into different types of functionality.  Rob Mitchum at ScienceLife describes research that has shown that this functionality can be controlled by manipulating the shape of the cell!
  • On the phenomena of lightning. How much do you know about lightning?  In the course of his radio astronomy work, Alexander at The Astronomist did some investigating and discusses some interesting facts about lightning and its generation.
  • Is My Dog Playing or Fighting With That Other Dog? Ever wonder how to tell the difference between rough dog play and a dog fight?  Jason at The Thoughtful Animal describes how dogs work it out.
  • Preserving a culture in wild honey. Finally, Alun at AlunSalt provides a thoughtful look at the disappearance of an Aboriginal tribes' honey-gathering heritage.

As a bonus, if you were intrigued by last week's description of macroscopic quantum-mechanical objects, Chad at Uncertain Principles provides more details on the experiment and what it actually demonstrated.

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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Some more women in science, and their appreciators

Mar 28 2010 Published by under History of science, Women in science

I thought, before this past week, that I appreciated quite well the important but often unacknowledged role that women have played in the history of science and mathematics.  It turns out that I've hardly scratched the surface of their contributions, which go back even further than I imagined.  Perhaps even more fascinating is the fact that a number of truly great male researchers realized the brilliance of these women, even if the bulk of the academic community did not.  As a supplement to my Ada Lovelace day post, I thought I'd present a little more musing on the role of women in science from the point of view of some of these researchers.

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Graham Masterton's Blind Panic

Mar 27 2010 Published by under Horror

About a month ago, I picked up the most recent novel by horror author Graham Masterton, Blind Panic (2010):

Buying this novel was a no-brainer for me, because the back cover description completely intrigued me:

It began without warning.  Across the country, people were struck suddenly and totally blind.  At first it was just a few, but gradually more and more fell victim to the spreading darkness. Hospital emergency rooms filled to overflowing as highway pileups and airplane crashes were everywhere.  But now the true horror has arrived.  Silent, spectral hunters have begun to stalk their now-helpless prey.  The blind can only grope in frantic fear as the ghostly marauders prowl the streets, leaving nothing but death in their wake.

Sounds neat, eh?  I'm a very big fan of Graham Masterton's work, as can be seen from my old "Horror Masters" post about him.  I've enjoyed pretty much everything I've read of his, and this novel is no exception, though I should point out that the back cover description is a little deceptive!  (Mild spoiler follows.)

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Women published in the Royal Society, 1890-1930

I've been struggling to think of a woman scientist to profile for Ada Lovelace Day!  Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was a brilliant woman mathematician and arguably the first computer programmer, designing a program for Charles Babbage's (never constructed) Analytical Engine.  Ada Lovelace Day was started in 2009 to commemorate the accomplishments of women in science, and bloggers pledge to post on a science or tech heroine.

The trouble is that I don't know enough about any particular female scientist to comfortably blog about her!  I'm very eager to blog about Sofia Kovalevskaya, an amazing Russian mathematician, but don't know enough to add value beyond her Wikipedia article!  (That will be rectified next year, as I've ordered three books on Sofia: a biography, her memoirs, and her novel!)

I do read a lot of journals, however, and I've noticed that a lot of women make an appearance as authors starting in the late 1800s.  I've been downloading the papers of these authors from the Royal Society, and I thought it would be nice to briefly describe the women and the work of the era from roughly 1890 to 1930.  The list puts the lie to the misogynistic claim that women have no interest in science or have made no significant contributions -- especially since these papers appear before women even had equal voting rights to men in the U.K.! (Women's suffrage was fully granted in 1928.)

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Pwned by a historian of science!

Mar 22 2010 Published by under History of science

I knew this moment would come eventually!  As an amateur scholar of the history of science, I've dreaded the day that I get my facts screwed up enough to bring commentary from an actual historian.  Well, that day has come -- after reading my talk on "Forgotten milestones in the history of science", ThonyC of The Renaissance Mathematicus sent me a nice email pointing out how I'd bungled my discussion of the significance of Ibn al-Haytham's work.

I knew I was on shaky ground while I was working on that section of the talk, which was the hardest to prepare.  I was working from a limited amount of sources against a deadline to complete the talk, but I really wanted to include al-Haytham as perhaps the most significant optics researcher of his era.  Most of my colleagues in optics are unaware of the history of optics before Newton, and this was a great opportunity to bring a little attention to that era and the interesting philosophical questions pondered.

There's nothing that bugs me more than incorrect information, and spreading said information, so I thought I'd try and correct at least some of my mistakes with the help of Thony's comments via email!

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6 responses so far

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: the Irish-Caribbean, Earth's early years, wound-healing and nest-building, and large quantum objects

Mar 22 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

  • The Irish Diaspora: Why Even Trinidadians Are a Little Irish. On the heels of St. Patrick's Day, Krystal at Anthropology in Practice tells the fascinating and little-known tale of why there is an Irish influence in the British Caribbean.
  • Earth's forgotten youth - and beyond. Though we know some things about Earth's early history, geological data from that period is extraordinarily rare.  Chris at Highly Allochthonous looks at and explains a recent attempt to develop a better timeline of events before and after the Earth's formation.
  • Nest making, oxytocin, and social bonding. At her eponymously-titled blog, The Dog Zombie looks at an intriguing paper connecting wound healing, nest building, and oxytocin in rats -- and gives some strong criticism of the results.
  • Rethinking quantum states and computers. Finally, Greg Fish at weird things discusses an experiment that has put an object large enough to be seen with the naked eye into a quantum-mechanical state!

That's it for this week -- check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" selections!

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My talk on "Forgotten milestones in the history of optics"

Mar 18 2010 Published by under History of science, Optics

I just got finished giving a talk to the graduate students of my department on "Forgotten milestones in the history of optics".  The talk seemed to be very well-received, and I've already had faculty suggesting that I should give it again in the engineering department.

The talk was scheduled at 1 hour, and I prepared 45 slides.  My only miscalculation was that I didn't take into account how long-winded I get when I'm talking about a subject I'm really passionate about -- I ended up speaking for 1h10m!

Here is the presentation:  2010_historyofoptics

Three of the four topics are essentially adapted from history of science posts I've put on this blog before, though the first one -- on Ibn al-Haytham -- is new.

If any departments are interested, I could be coaxed into coming to give a presentation... 🙂

12 responses so far

The Giant's Shoulders #21 is up!

Mar 17 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

The twenty-first edition of The Giant’s Shoulders is up at PACHSmörgåsbord, just in time to commemorate the birthday of   Caroline Herschel!  Many thanks to Darin for assembling it!

The deadline for the next edition is April 15th, and it will be held at The Lay Scientist.  Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

Incidentally, we still desperately need hosts to fill in over the next few months; if you’re interested in hosting, please leave a comment or send me an email.  You don’t have to be a historian of science to host — just someone with a passion for science and its roots.

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: corporate water abuse, vanishing audiophiles, artificial coffee smelling and 60k-year-old canteens

Mar 15 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

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Jeff Rice's The Kolchak Papers

Mar 12 2010 Published by under Horror

On Saturday, April 25, at about 2:30 A.M., Cheryl Ann Hughes was tapping her foot angrily as she waited at the corner of Second and Fremont streets.  She glanced repeatedly at her watch.  The young man she was currently living with, Robert Lee Harmer, was supposed to be picking her up for "breakfast," and then a ride home.  Harmer was nowhere in sight.  He was at that moment quietly puffing away at a joint with some members of a local rock group, oblivious to the time.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: twenty-three, five feet five and a half inches tall, one hundred and eighteen shapely pounds, Clairol blond hair and light-brown eyes.  Swing-shift change-girl at the classic Gold Dust Saloon, a gaudy western-styled casino built when Vegas was younger, smaller, and-- some say -- friendlier.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: Tired. Hungry.  Disgusted at having waited twenty-five minutes for a ride, was now mad enough to walk the eight blocks to the small frame house she shared with Harmer just off the corner of Ninth and Bridger.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: now walking East on Fremont Street, past Schwartz Brothers' Men's Shop, determined to make it home in time for the 3 A.M. movie and a bowl of chili, but still keeping an eye out for Harmer.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: alone with her irritation, now crossing Las Vegas Boulevard having just passed the white-plastic dazzle of the latest Orange Julius stand, its three male customers giving her a brief appraising glance.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: a girl with less than fifteen minutes to live.

The passage catches one's attention, doesn't it?  It comes from the book The Kolchak Papers, finished by author Jeff Rice on October 31, 1970.  The odds are very good that you've never read the novel, but you are very likely to have seen, or at least heard of, its television adaptation, The Night Stalker (1972).  The television series is so firmly ingrained in my mind that I cannot read the text above without hearing the voice of the awesome Darren McGavin narrating as streetwise reporter Carl Kolchak.

Rice's novel was unpublished when it was optioned for television, and only had a brief print run when the series grew in popularity.  In 2007, however, Moonstone Books released a new edition which also includes the sequel, The Night Strangler:

I got this book as a Christmas book, and was very eager to read it: would the original novel live up to the fond memories I had of the television movies and subsequent series?

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