Archive for the 'General science' category

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: cells of ice, heavy metal flowers, white dwarf v. neutron star, and the Ig Nobels!

Oct 04 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

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

  • Was Ice the Original "Cell" in Early Earth? Though scientists have a reasonably good grasp on the evolution of life on Earth, there is much less understanding of how life began. Michael Long of Phased describes an intriguing hypothesis which suggests that voids in ice crystals may have served as a cell wall, keeping primitive RNA strands together and accelerating their interaction.
  • HEAVY METAL SHIELDS FLOWERS FROM DISEASE. In what appears to be a major evolutionary win, it has been found that a certain small species of flower sucks up heavy metals, which in turn protects it from bacterial infection. Casey Rentz of Natural Selections discusses the research, and its potential practical impact.
  • What Happens When A White Dwarf Collides With A Neutron Star? It's a question you've always wanted to know the answer to, right? Now researchers have simulated the results of such a clash of the titans; Joseph Smidt of The Eternal Universe summarizes the catastrophic results.
  • The Ig Nobels have been announced! Finally, it's that time of year again: the winners of the awards for the most bizarre and entertaining research have been released! Christie Wilcox of Observations of a Nerd gives us the rundown on the prizes in all categories.

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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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 ResearchBlogging.org 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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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 ResearchBlogging.org 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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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 blogcarnival.com or directly to the host blog, as usual!

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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 ResearchBlogging.org 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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5 days until The Giant's Shoulders #27!

Sep 10 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

There’s only 11 days left before the deadline of the next edition of The Giant’s Shoulders history of science blog carnival!  It will be held at Entertaining Research, and the deadline for entries is September 15th.  Entries can be submitted through blogcarnival.com or directly to the host blog, as usual!

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Making molecular motors (video)

Sep 07 2010 Published by under General science

My friend and colleague, Dr. Charles Sykes of Tufts University, recently sent me a link to an  interesting video his research group has put together!  Dr. Sykes' group has been studying the behavior of complex molecules on surfaces at low temperatures.  They use scanning tunneling microscopy to image and interact with the molecules on the surface, with the ultimate goal of making nanoscale machines, i.e. machines consisting of a single molecule!

Their research video describes the techniques, science, and challenges in developing such molecular motors:

Let me know what you think of the video, or contact the Sykes group directly!

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: age of the Earth, hacking quantum cryptography, American camels and free kick physics

Sep 06 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

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

  • When a few million years don't mean much... Recent investigations have revised scientific estimates of the age of the Earth by several million years! Greg Fish at weird things explains the nature of the revision and reassures us that, although important, it doesn't indicate major problems in our understanding of Earth's history.
  • Hacking commercial quantum cryptography systems by illumination. "Quantum cryptography" has been much touted as a "near perfect" system for secure communications, using the laws of quantum mechanics to make any attempt to eavesdrop immediately detectable. However, recent research has shown that existing systems can be hacked by the judicious application of a bright, classical light source! Olexandr Isayev at isayev.info explains the strategy, and how its discovery will actually help produce more secure cryptographic systems in the future.
  • Dirty browsers -- determining a menu for North America's fossil camels. Starting with the fascinating history of the U.S.'s attempt to use camels as military animals, Brian Switek of his eponymous blog segues into a look at the fossil remains of America's own native camel species.
  • Free kick physics, Roberto Carlos style. The 1997 winning free kick of Roberto Carlos in soccer is legendary, but nobody knew how it was actually possible! Michael Gutbrod of A Scientific Nature explains how such amazing curved shots have been shown experimentally to be a consequence of the Magnus effect.

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: measuring gravity, measuring magnetism, antiseptic spices and Goya's bullfighting

Aug 30 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

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

  • Measuring Gravity: Ain't Nothin' but a G Thing. Gravity is one of the fundamental forces of nature, but also one of the most difficult to measure precisely; a recent experimental measurement of the gravitational constant has shown significant deviation from the accepted value. Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles looks at a variety of recent gravitational measurements, and explains the implications of the recent discrepancy.
  • Snapshots of magnetic fields. While we're talking about things that are hard to measure, let's talk about magnetic fields! Magnetic fields are extremely difficult to measure with nanoscale precision and in the time domain, in marked contrast to measurements of other quantities. Joerg Haber of All That Matters discusses recent techniques for measuring such fields.
  • Spices as antiseptics... maybe. Spices can add lots of "zing" to your food, and make some people suffer while eating it, but do they serve an even more important biological function? Thomas Kluyver at Thomas' Plant-Related Blog looks at the evidence that the use of spices has served an antiseptic purpose in food preparation, and the limitations of that evidence.
  • Tauromaquia Today. And now for something completely different! Bécquer Medak-Seguín of Hispanic Studies Forum discusses a dispute in the interpretation of artist Goya's collection of etchings on bullfighting, La Tauromaquia.

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" selections!

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: the first Englishman, the last Seismosaurus, the semantic web, hidden ruptures and E.T. life

Aug 23 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

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

  • Unmasking Eoanthropus dawsoni, The First Englishman. This post was too late for the special "fools, failures and frauds" edition of The Giant's Shoulders history of science blog carnival, but it is a perfect researchblogging post! Krystal D'Costa of Anthropology in Practice discusses the infamous discovery of "Piltdown man", and how national pride, among other things, muddled the field of anthropology for decades.
  • Cylons and Smelloscopes: False Positives and False Negatives in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. In recent years, the search for extraterrestrial life has heated up with the ability to search for Earth-like planets outside our solar system. At his eponymous blog, The Astronomist describes the techniques for searching for life on other planets, and the pitfalls of such techniques.
  • What’s the point of the semantic web? Anyone who has been around long enough to remember web searching pre-Google knows how far the quality has improved. But can it be done even better, and how? David Bradley at Sciencebase explains the limits of current search engines, and describes how the "semantic web" could fix those limitations.
  • Friday(ish) Focal Mechanisms: Samoa’s hidden rupture. Though our understanding of earthquakes has increased tremendously in modern times, there is still much to learn and many subtleties in every recorded event. Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous discusses research that indicates that last year's Samoan earthquake was much more complicated than previously appreciated.
  • Whatever Happened to Seismosaurus? Finally, Brian Switek of Dinosaur Tracking takes a look at a dinosaur that drew a lot of attention in the 1990s -- Seismosaurus -- and explains why we don't hear anything about it any more!

Check back next week for more miscellaneous suggestions!

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