Thursday, 30 October 2008

Wildlife Photographer of the year winners!

The Wildlife Photographer of the year is now officially open. The winning images, just like the sneak peak images that were previously released, are pretty stunning (although I am not much of a fan of the overall winner).

Troublemaker. Winner of Animal Portraits, by Stefano Unterthiner.

The show. Winner of 15-17 category, by Catriona Parfitt.

Window on the ice melt. Runner up in the One Earth Award, by Ira Meyer.

Cypress Swamp. Winner of In praise of plants, by Cece Fabbro.

Polar Sunrise. Winner of Creative visions of Nature, by Miguel Lasa .

Shark nursery. Runner up in animals in their environments, by Brian Skerry.

I'll resist posting all the photos, but if you're in London, definitely go check out the exhibit (but try and do it on a weekday unless you like crowds). Otherwise, you'll have to wait for the collection to start touring or you'll have to check it out online.

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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Here comes the sun

The Boston Sun had some sizzling photos of the Sun in all it's yellow glory recent.

A six day animation of the sun, taken by NASA's Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) and filmed in June 2005.

"A sweeping prominence, a huge cloud of relatively cool dense plasma is seen suspended in the Sun's hot, thin corona. Emission in this spectral line shows the upper chromosphere at a temperature of about 60,000 degrees K (over 100,000 degrees F). The hottest areas appear almost white, while the darker red areas indicate cooler temperatures."

A closeup of magnetic structures on the Sun's surface.

A total solar eclipse, February 16, 1980, in Palem, India

A sunspot and granules on the Sun's surface.

An erupting solar filament. "Filaments are concentrated bundles of magnetic field filled with relatively cool gas, suspended in the solar corona. When they become unstable, they can erupt, triggering coronal mass ejections and solar flares. The dark material here is relatively cool, while the bright material is hotter than a million degrees. As this hot material cools, it condenses and drains down the lines of magnetic field in the corona much like beads moving along a wire, a process some scientists refer to as "coronal rain"."

A visually stunning prominence eruption, seen in extreme UV light. "It rose up and cascaded to the right over several hours, appearing something like a flag unfurling, as it broke apart and headed into space. The material observed is ionized Helium at about 60,000 degrees."

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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

David Attenborough at his best

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Thursday, 9 October 2008

Magic eye 101

While doing a recent survey on Cognitive daily about illusions, I learned an important (and apparently quite well known) lesson -- 'magic eyes' work on the computer. Turns out magic eyes were everywhere on the Internet. But there is was little (and inadequate) explanation of how they work. How do magic eyes work? This simple text-based magic eye provided the insight I needed (to make it work, you might need to view it larger here).

(Props to the first author who writes a book that also has magic eye embedded pictures.)

For how it works, and more on magic eyes on the internet, please read on.

Essentially, our brains piece together the illusion on the basis of slight differences in what our right eye sees and what our left eye sees when we look 'beyond' the image. As wiki unhelpfully explains:

The Magic Eye images have a horizontally repeating pattern which differs slightly with each repetition, therefore giving the illusion of depth when each eye focuses on a different part of the pattern.
But the text magic eye from above, with a little handy work from me, gives a more concrete idea of how it works.

When you lose focus, the repeated texts merge into one, and emerge from the otherwise random background. At least that's how I understand it. More complex, colorful, magic eyes work on the same principle, but the repeated pattern is more complex and therefore harder to pick out.

My digging also showed me that magic eyes have evolved to new levels since I remember looking at them on the internet. They are everywhere, and they can do nearly everything now:
You can make your own magic eye with words (shame about the blatant coca cola add though).
Make your own more arty/abstract magic eye (depending on your artistic predisposition).
Watch a moving magic eye (not actually an eye).
Play pong and tetris. And even allegedly Quake II, but watch out that your eyes don't start bleeding.
And, being the internet, there's even magic eye porn out there too!

I need to get rest my oh-so-tired eyes now.

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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Fast fungi

Carl Zimmer has been blogging about some seriously fast fungi -- like 180,000 g acceleration fast!

Briefly, Nicholas Money has used a 250,000 frames-a-second (ie, damn fast) camera to record fungi shooting their spores. His recordings show that spores can shoot as far as 2.5 meters, are fired at 55 miles per hour, and experience acceleration of up to 180,000 g. Money calls this “the fastest flight in nature.”

The video, which he put to opera music, is very impressive. The good stuff starts at around 19 seconds.

Money's full published PLoS One paper is available here.

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Monday, 6 October 2008

And the Nobel goes to....

"The scientists who discovered HIV will share the Nobel prize for medicine with the expert who linked human papilloma virus (HPV) to cervical cancer", The BBC reports.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier get 1/4 of the prize each for their HIV findings, while Harald zur Hausen gets the other 1/2 for his work on HPV.

Last week, the Ig Nobels were also awarded, for "science that makes you laugh, and then think".
Among the winners were:
-Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, for showing that stale chips taste as good as fresh chips, so long as the stale chips sound like fresh chips. (This reminds me of work be Heston Blumenthal, of the fat duck (one of 'the worlds best restaurants'), who has examined how sound affects taste, with the crunch carrots and also by designing a sound track to accompany a tasting menu.)
-Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith, who showed mathematically that if it can tangle, it will tangle.
-Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan, who showed that lap dancers make more money in tips when they are ovulating.

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Thursday, 2 October 2008

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 - highly commended images

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, now in its 44th year, is opening on Oct 31st at the Natural History Museum in London. To get all us nature lovers excited, they have released a sneak peak of some highly commended images:

Angry Queen, by Piotr Naskrecki, shows a Cambodian armoured ant ready to strike. Stand back, unless you enjoy being sprayed by acid.

Treetop Jigsaw, by Brittany Fried. Not only is this photo of the Malasian rainforest really cool, it is in the 10 years and under category.

Spider Crabs in the canary islands, by Jordi Chias Pujol.

A lonely Baobab blowing in the wind. Photographer unknown.

Sterling genie. A swirl of starlings, captured by Baris Koca over Lake Morgan in Turkey.

A hoopoe, sporting a Mohican crest, caught on film by Ramon Navarro Blazquez near Seville.

A hunting vixen, by Patrick Centurioni.

Safieí Al Khaffaf spotted this Griffon vulture on the Russian side of the Caucus mountains. Entered into the 15-17 category.

Namibian bee-eater, by Chris van Rooyen

Some 6,000 sandpipers on a sand bar in Cordova, Alaska. Taken by Arthur Morris.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by 2007s offerings, but so far I like what I see! Looking forward to the winners being announced on the 29th of Oct, two days before the exhibit opens.

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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Spiders on drugs

An oldie but a goodie.

Seriously though, there is a long history of scientists pushing drugs on innocent unsuspecting spiders, dating back at least as far as 1954. NASA scientists had a go in the in 1995, with wacky results.

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Sunday, 28 September 2008

It's a bird, it's a plane...

No, it's a man with wings and jetpack! The future has finally arrived! Yves Rossy (a.k.a. Fusion man), a (presumably somewhat crazy) Swiss 49 year old, flew across the channel on Friday with a rocket pack in under 10 minutes.

About a previous flight, he said "I'm really pleased it went well." Attached to heavy metal home made wings, and with 4 kerosene-burning turbines only centimeters from his body, "really pleased" is somewhat of an understatement, I think. Try "alive". It doesn't even have proper steering. He controls it with his body. Nutter. Gotta love it.

Watch his previous flight here:

Meanwhile, Stephane Rousson, a 39-year-old French nutter, failed
in his attempt to cross the channel in a pedal-powered airship this weekend. Although his craft, essentially a bicycle attached to a blimp, may be less futuristic looking, I'm guessing it is more environmentally friendly. I hope this is not the solution for sustainable flying though... I'd rather have my own jetpack.

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Thursday, 25 September 2008

And the (scientific) photo winners are...

The winners of the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge have been announced, and are definitely worth checking out:

Glass forest. Taken by Mario De Stefano with a scanning electron microscope, this image took the first place in the Photography section. It shows diatoms, tiny algae, attached to a marine hydroid, another tiny plant-like creature. According to Stefano:
“This is the study of a community, … the same community as you would find in a rainforest.”

Squid suckers. Honourable mention in the Photography section, Jessica D. Schiffman and Caroline show the 400 micrometer diameter suckers that Loligo pealei squid use to latch on to prey. False colour scheme inspired by Little Shop of Horrors.

Visualizing the bible. Honourable mention in the Illustration section, Chris Harrison and Christoph Römhild show that science and religion needn't always disagree. Bar along the bottom represent the different chapters from the bible, and the length of the bars represent the number of verses in the chapter. The arcs represent the 63,779 cross references in the bible, with different colours representing the distances between connected chapters.

Mad hatter's tea, from Alice's adventures in a microscopic wonderland. Colleen Champ and Dennis Kunkel won first place in Informational Graphics for this whimsical science drawing. The Mad Hatter, March Hare and sleepy Dormouse (beetles) sit at a table (of butterfly wings), surrounded by a field (of crystallized vitamin C), under a flock of flying geese (a.k.a. aphids), atop a colourful explosion (of mold spores).

I like this one too, but have no idea what it is. Something to do with a worm, perhaps?

There's lots of other c
ool entries, including some science websites, such as Exploring Life's Origins, that are worth a gander too.

The full details seem to be at the NSF website, with links to past winners too, and Science also has a spread on the competition.

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Step towards safer stem cells

Researchers have turned adult cells into stem cells using a virus that doesn't fuse with the cell's genome, providing a potentially safer way to generate stem cells, Konrad Hochedlinger and colleagues reported in Science.

Scientists have made huge advances in stem cell biology of late, and can reprogramme adult human cells into induced so-called pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by overexpressing a set of proteins. Although these reprogrammed cells provide great promise for stem cell therapy — they can alleviate symptoms of Parkinson's and sickle cell anemia in mouse models, for example — there are still many barriers to their safe therapeutic use. For one thing, scientists have had to reprogramme target cells with a virus that fuses with the host genome, and this fusion process increases the risk of tumour development.

To address this considerable limitation, Hochedlinger and colleagues used adenoviruses, which don't fuse with the host genome, to reprogramme adult mouse cells. These so-called adeno-iPS cells are similar to conventional iPS cells — they can differentiate into various tissue, including lung, brain and heart — but do not increase the risk of tumour formation or fuse with the host's genome.

If these findings can be replicated in human cells, adeno-iPS cells may represent a source of safe stem cells, that can be tailored to individual patients' needs, with broad implications for stem-cell therapy.

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Friday, 19 September 2008

Ejaculation - 1, sudafed - 0?

Or, Put away that tissue, and grab a tissue?

The title of this recent Medical Hypotheses article pretty much says it all: "Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males."

Sina Zarritan makes the logical (?) argument that as ejaculation stimulates adrenergic receptors, and as stimulation of adrenergic receptors relieves cold symptoms, masturbation/sex can be used to treat a stuffed nose.

A more in-depth analysis of the article is available at Neurotopia.

Not every one is having it though. In "Ejaculation as a treatment for nasal congestion in men is inconvenient, unreliable and potentially hazardous", also published in Medical Hypotheses, Mohammad Fakhree disagrees. Again the title says it all really. His insightful arguments include:

" some males there are limitations in the number of ejaculation per day..."


"Furthermore there are some limitations in using of ejaculation or masturbation as treatment of nasal congestion such as not being applicable out of home and not having any sex partner."

Brilliant!! More on Fakhree's disagreement is available at The Lay Scientist.

Sudafed sales set to fall?

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Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Fruit - up close and personal

Fruit, a new book by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy, provides an amazingly up close examination of the colourful fruits and seeds that make our world so tasty. Kesseler and Stuppy use electron microscopy to showcase seeds, sometimes providing insight into the ingenious ways in which fruits make sure their seeds get spread. The photos are beautiful.

Scarlet pimpernel. When an animal brushes past the scarlet pimpernell, it knocks the outer casing open so that the seeds can escape. Seeds that fall onto the animal catch a free ride to distant fields.

Creeping carrot. This seed has wings, which allow it to fly in the wind, and spikes, which allow it to attach to passing animals. In either case, it can go far.

Strawberries. Mmmmmmmmm.

Peach skin. The short and long hairs make up the peach fuzz. The interspersed spots are fruits the breathing pores.

Poppy. When the wind blows the poppy, its tiny little seeds are thrown out of the open holes at the top of the capsule, like salt from salt shaker.

Three corner jack (Emex australis). Now matter how this seed falls, it always has a sharp spike that will stick up into the air, so that it can lodge itself into the foot of a passing animal and hitch a ride.

A fig. You will never see flowers on fig trees - oddly, the fig flowers are closely packed together inside the fruit, as is shown above.

Japanese wineberry.

Mulberry. Unlike blackberries and raspberries, which form from a single flower, the mulberry forms from a cluster of flowers, with each flower creating a single tasty segment of fruit.

Kiwi skin.

This seed has lots of hooks, which allows it to cling to the outside of animals. Apparently many herbs use this technique to ensure the dispersal of their seeds.

And some others that you need to buy the book to find out more about:

An interesting slideshow of some of these photos is available here. Time to go make a fruit salad now.

PS: Thanks to Hackosphere for helping me to use selective expandable posts.

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