Archive for: September, 2010

Weird science facts, July 18-July 31

Sep 29 2010 Published by under Weirdscifacts

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from July 18 – July 31 are below the fold!

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: WEIRD evolution, pelican's beak, and rainforest reactors

Sep 27 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Reflections on the WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology. There are lots of psychology studies out there with interesting conclusions, but how universal are the results? Eric Michael Johnson of The Primate Diaries in Exile looks at recent research that shows that many of these supposedly universal results are really, well, WEIRD!
  • The Pelican’s Beak: Success and Evolutionary Stasis. We tend to look at species (such as the coelacanth and the horseshoe crab) that have remained unchanged over great stretches of time as "primitive" compared to us; in reality, though, the opposite is in a real sense the case. Using the pelican as an example, Brian Switek of Laelaps investigates concepts of "evolutionary progress" and "evolutionary stasis".
  • The Amazon Rainforest Reactor – A Rain Factory. Over at A Scientific Nature, Michael Gutbrod describes research showing that the Amazon rainforest acts as a biogeochemical reactor to sustain itself!

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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Weird science facts, July 04-July 17

Sep 22 2010 Published by under Weirdscifacts

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from June 20 – July 03 are below the fold!

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Optics basics: surface plasmons

Sep 21 2010 Published by under Optics basics

My goal in my "basics" series of posts is not just to introduce the most elementary topics in optical science, but also to give background on some of the more advanced concepts for future reference. Much of my own research, and consequently my blog interests, center on nano-optics -- the study of the behavior of light on scales much smaller than the wavelength of light -- and one specific aspect of nano-optics that has grown tremendously in importance over the past ten years is the concept of a surface plasmon.

Broadly speaking, a surface plasmon is a traveling wave oscillation of electrons that can be excited in the surface of certain metals with the right material properties. Because a plasmon consists of oscillating electric charges, they also have an electromagnetic field associated with them which also carries energy. There's a lot of terminology to explain in that short definition, and in this post I'll explain what a surface plasmon is, the properties of surface plasmons, and how those properties make them useful in nano-optical applications.

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: the Peruvian coffee paradox, galactic positioning, going green, the Alpine Fault, and hurricane plankton

Sep 20 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Peruvian Coffee: Matching Consumption With Production. Though Peru makes and exports awesome coffee around the world, locals primarily drink Nescafé! Krystal at Anthropology in Practice looks at this seeming cultural disconnect, and draws an analogy with Soviet sausages to help explain what is possibly going on.
  • How do we know…? Where we are in the Galaxy. Astronomers seem to have a pretty clear idea of the Sun's location within the Milky Way galaxy, but how do they know? Niall at we are all in the gutter gives a concise introduction to the science behind our galactic positioning.
  • Going green… literally. Though human beings have devoted a lot of effort to drawing energy from sunlight as a renewable energy source, we're just amateurs in the process compared to plants! Brian at the Berkeley Science Review Blog describes two recent innovations in the understanding and implementation of plant-like photosynthesis.
  • All quiet on the Alpine Fault? A couple of weeks ago, New Zealand was shaken up by a very strong earthquake. This wasn't necessarily a surprised, as it is a seismically active area, but what is surprising is how quiet the nearby Alpine Fault has been. Is it "due" for a massive earthquake? Chris of Highly Allochthonous looks at the history of the region and the inevitability of an Alpine Fault earthquake.
  • Can tiny marine plants steer some of the world’s biggest storms? Finally, Vivienne of Outdoor Science looks at a surprising hypothesis -- that tiny phytoplankton that permeate regions of the ocean actually have an influence on the location and severity of hurricanes in the region!

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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Henry Kuttner's The Well of the Worlds

Sep 16 2010 Published by under Science fiction

Have I mentioned how much I love Henry Kuttner's writing? I've reviewed quite a few of his books here -- Elak of Atlantis, Thunder Jim Wade, The Time Axis, Destination Infinity -- and have greatly enjoyed all of them. Kuttner (1915-1958) was a versatile writer of the pulp era who could easily jump between styles. He wrote fantasy, horror, science fiction and adventure stories and managed to compose classics in each genre, though some of his greatest work was written in collaboration with his wife, C.L. Moore. His science fiction is what he is most remembered for, and the stories are a joy to read, often employing mathematical and scientific concepts in clever, even poetic ways. Though I've been sidetracked by other things of late, I've been eager to read all of his novels.

The most recent book of his I've gone through is The Well of the Worlds (1952):

(Picture of early edition via Fantastic Fiction.)

So what can I say about 'Well? I actually had a hard time getting through the first few chapters, because I found it initially somewhat erratic and unsatisfying, but it picks up significant speed about halfway through (it's only 125 pages) and I enjoyed it much from then on. It isn't quite the same caliber as The Time Axis or Destination: Infinity, but it is still an enjoyable book.

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The Giant's Shoulders #27 is out!

Sep 16 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

The Giant’s Shoulders #27 is up over at Entertaining Research, the third year in a row that Guru has hosted it there!  He has put together a delectable assortment of tasty history of science posts; go check them out!  (And thanks to Guru for being a great and consistent host!)

The deadline for the next edition is October 15th, and it will be held at From the Hands of Quacks.  It will be yet another special edition: the broad theme of the carnival will be on visuals and representation in the history and philosophy of science, technology, and medicine. Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

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Weird science facts, June 20-July 03

Sep 15 2010 Published by under Weirdscifacts

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from June 20 – July 03 are below the fold!

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Vote for kitty Sasha!

Sep 14 2010 Published by under Animals, Personal

I can't resist doing a mini-bleg: vote for our kitty Sasha as cutest pet in the American Express Cutest Pet Photo Contest! The pic you're looking for is:

Voting runs to 10/1/2010, and you can vote every day for Sasha! We're way behind (I'm pretty sure folks are gaming the system), but the benefits of winning aren't trivial -- we could win a $2000 gift card.

The only catch is that they ask for an email on first voting. They aren't verifying emails, however, so you can put pretty much anything in to thwart future correspondence. You will lose out on a chance for a $375 gift card if you don't use your own email, though.

At this point, it's partly about pride for me -- Sasha is way cuter than some of those other animals, and deserves more votes!

(Okay, I'm done begging -- back to science blogging!)

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: wee beer beasties, war mathematics, guillotines for snow, and nematode bomb sniffers

Sep 13 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Spontaneous fermentation: the role of microorganisms in beer. The brewing of beer by necessity employs the action of microorganisms, specifically yeast. In the past, however, when the concoctions were not prepared in a sterile environment, other wee beasties could infiltrate the mix, including antibiotic-forming bacteria! In a fascinating post, Katie Kline of EcoTone discusses early brewing processes and their contaminants, both good and bad.
  • The mathematics of war. War might seem like the last place for a mathematician, but Aimee of misc.ience discusses recent research done using "open source intelligence" -- and some counter-intuitive conclusions that are drawn from it!
  • Snow, water, digital imaging, metamorphism…and a guillotine! How does a geoscientist measure the dissolution/melting and precipitation/freezing of water in a thick layer of snow? By using a guillotine, of course! Anne Jefferson of Highly Allochtonous discusses this unusual-sounding technique.
  • Detecting explosives with nematodes. Nematodes -- which include the creatures that cause heartworm in dogs -- are just plain icky. As Michael Long of Phased explains, however, they may play a future role in bomb detection technology!

Check back next week for more miscellaneous suggestions!

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