Poetry and Science. Science and Poetry March 31, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Fun, Science & Culture.
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Check out these remixes: The Symphony of Science.
Nature by Numbers March 31, 2010Posted by isotopeeffect in Biology, Math.
The math behind the movie – the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Ratio, Voronoi tilings, Delaunay triangulation.
For about 1100 pages on similar topics, see On Growth and Form, written in 1945 (2nd edition) by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a pioneering work in mathematical biology. The color PDF is a (free) 75 MB download.
Educate yourselves about your local Indy environment March 29, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Environment/Conservation, Health, Science & Culture, Science Education.
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Earth Day is coming up. April 22nd to be exact. While we will likely focus most of our attention on global climate change, fossil fuel use, and habitat destruction, I do think it is paramount to educate one’s self about the environmental pitfalls within your local community. The USA is a known culprit of spewing a major portion of the world’s air pollution. The Midwest produces the majority of the nation’s pollution. Indiana produces the most pollution in the Midwest.
While we should rightly so be worried about what this air pollution is doing…or undoing…for the Earth’s climatic balance…we should also be very worried about what this air pollution is doing to our local Indy communities. And by local, I mean neighborhood by neighborhood. Indianapolis is a heavily industrialized city with very little environmental oversight. This lack of oversight has led to markedly increased disease among Indy residents. A recent article in the Indy Star highlights some of the most disturbing facts, focusing on low-income neighborhoods in the city’s Southwest side.
Here are a few jaw-dropping statistics:
• In one of those [neighborhood] tracts, 15 of 100 deaths were attributed to lung cancer — 95 percent higher than the county rate.
• Residents of that tract were hospitalized for respiratory problems at rates more than three times the county average in 1998 and 1999.
• State and local environmental and health officials have done almost nothing to investigate documented risks from air pollution or the health problems they may cause.
Here is a link to the article. So while you celebrate Earth Day and commit to making changes in order to ameliorate changes made to our fragile global ecosystem…make sure you start at home. Educate yourself and then find out how you can take action.
MU Science Club Meeting 3/18/2010 March 16, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Science Club, Uncategorized.
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Queer Antelope and the Sex Dreams of Shrew… March 5, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Behavior, Biology, Genetics, Health, History of Science, Neuroscience.
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I found this talk to be quite informative and interesting from the construct of Kinsey’s previous work as an entomologist and animal behaviorist and how it influenced his later work on human sexual behavior.
We had just finished a segment in BIO 326-Animal Behavior, on the influence of the environment on neuroscience as well as a segment in BIO 425-Molecular Genetics, on behavioral genetics and the influence of nature vs. nurture…or more appropriately in my mind, the spectrum of nature vs. nurture on behavior.
You can find a podcast of Dr. Drucker’s seminar here.
This Will Change Everything March 4, 2010Posted by isotopeeffect in Uncategorized.
Tags: book review
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This Will Change Everything is the title of a book (subtitle: Ideas That Will Shape The Future) edited, or perhaps assembled would be a better word, by John Brockman of the Edge Foundation. Brockman posed the question “What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” to over 100 high-profile individuals drawn from fields including physics, biology, psychology, philosophy, information science, writing, and music. The book is a compilation of their responses, ranging from the gnomic (“Discovering that someone from the future has already come to visit us,” is the complete response of Stefano Boeri) to the fairly short (three pages being about the longest entry). It’s a perfect book to take along on spring break. But is it any good?
Two of the pieces (The Use of Nuclear Weapons against a Civilian Population by Lawrence Krauss and Adopting Rationality and Sustainability by Patrick Bateson) open with the same quotation, by Albert Einstein: “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking.” This proves, perhaps, that that both authors are fans of Einstein for whom the phrase “change everything” rang a bell, or perhaps that both are adept at Googling. It also serves as evidence that Einstein was good not only for explanations of relativity, the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, and mass-energy equivalence (all of this in 1905, his annus mirabilis), but could also come up with witty epigrams to rival Woody Allen’s “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”
The titles of the pieces could be the names of short stories by J. G. Ballard. Examples:
The Robotic Moment
Breaking the Species Barrier
The Ebb of Memory
The Reality of Time
The Slow-Motion Revolution
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the premise, many of the pieces do indeed read a little bit like outlines for science fiction stories.
There is some rough grouping based on content: sudden climate change, new energy sources, nuclear accidents, the interface between man and computer, synthetic life, the future of reading and learning. Some of the pieces are plausible, some less so. Some are startlingly insightful and intellectually stimulating; some, not so much.
The topic I found most interesting, curiously enough, is a biological one, represented in two pieces, one by Robert Shapiro (a chemist) and one by Paul Davies (a physicist). Davies’ piece (Shadow Biosphere) is the more striking. The “tree of life” present on Earth today is understood to consist of a single set of interrelated species all sharing a single genetic code and having a common origin. BUT… at the same time, almost all living things on Earth are microbes, and only a tiny fraction of microbial life has been studied to date. It is possible that there was a second, or even a third, origin of life, and that we share the planet with the products of this other genesis, a “shadow biosphere”. These micro-organisms would be extremely hard to detect, because detection and identification methods have been developed to study life “as we know it”. Wild speculation, perhaps, but thought-provoking, and experimentally-testable (if you can get the grant funding).
Supermassive Black Hole March 3, 2010Posted by isotopeeffect in Uncategorized.
Tags: astronomy, black hole, Sagittarius A*
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Here it is in action:
What you see in this video clip are the trajectories of stars in the vicinity of Sgr A*, plotted from observations over a period of about 15 years. (You can see the date updating in the top left-hand corner.) This is very close to the orbital period of the star S0-2, which can be seen describing an almost complete ellipse during the period of the observations. At its closest approach, S0-2 is 17 light hours from the black hole itself, and reaches a velocity of about four percent of the speed of light. (Fast!)
Sgr A* (and therefore the galactic center) is about 25,000 light years away from us. The mass of the black hole is estimated to be about 4 million solar masses.
The observations were made by a team led by Andrea Ghez at UCLA, primarily using the Keck telescopes, situated near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. The telescopes are not “just” telescopes, but are equipped with a suite of instruments including cameras and spectrometers sensitive to different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. These particular measurements use NIRC, the Near InfraRed Camera, which is “so sensitive it could detect the equivalent of a single candle flame on the moon” (according to Wikipedia), using a wavelength of 2.2 μm. Specialized adaptive optics ensure that the measurements are made with the highest resolution possible (the so-called diffraction limit). The measurements are made in this spectral region rather than the visible region because visible light is strongly attenuated by interstellar dust.
If our galaxy, which is rather inactive (fortunately for us), has a black hole at its center, goes the reasoning, so do almost all galaxies. (Here’s what the Goddard Space Flight Center has to say about active galaxies.)
Links to PDF preprints of several papers are given on Prof. Ghez’s web site.