I am a science writer and independent museum consultant who is interested in the intersection of art and science. I am also fascinated by the history and philosophy of science. Check this blog for notes and updates about cool art-and-science miscellany.
Today, I flipped through a copy of the Micrographia, written by Robert Hooke and published in London in 1665. In this book, Hooke introduces the word "cell" to refer to the small bodies that make up living organisms. And, he explains the advantages of experimentation and "mechanistic philosophy." Additionally, the book contains some amazing engravings, including images of a fly, a louse, a flea, mold, and some crystals. Amazing stuff.
The Washington Post has reported that the National Air and Space Museum employs a pop culture curator, who managers a vast collection of space-related objects -- including pins, buttons, games, and toys -- that show how space exploration has affected the public consciousness. Well done, Air and Space Museum!
While perusing Refdesk (one of my favorite websites), I happened across Earth Observatory, and especially loved its image of the day site. Browsers can look at satellite images of all sorts of geographical features, and can even sort the offerings by categories like "heat," "atmosphere," and "life." Well done, NASA.
Huzzah for the 2010 Ig Nobel Awards! I am happy to report that this year's Economics Prize "was awarded jointly to the executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, AIG and Magnetar for 'creating and promoting new ways to invest money – ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof.'" Well deserved.
Did anyone else read the story about scholars at Cambridge University who have "recorded audio of Babylonian epics, poems, and even a magic spell to the Internet?" You can hear the language spoken here.
Whoah: I just came across The Galileo Project, a website based at Rice University with all sorts of information about the father of modern science. After reading this site, you'll want to find the closest cathedral and watch the to-and-fro swaying of the lamps as well.
While browsing on YouTube a few nights ago, I happened upon some clips of Richard Feynman appearing on a British television show in 1983. The show was called "Fun to Imagine," and in it, Feynman talks about the magic of everyday phenomena, like how rubber bands heat up when they stretch. He also discusses why trains stay on tracks (the reason is fascinating), and explains fire in an unusual and gripping way. I love hearing Richard Feynman talk because he explains science concepts using very down-to-earth, ordinary language. Whenever possible, he eschews abstract words in favor of concrete ones. I would have loved to have seen him walk around the Exploratorium. I heard he had visited, and liked it, but I still would have liked to have heard him talk about the exhibits with Frank Oppenheimer.
I read a story today about a beaver dam, found in Canada, that is 2,800 feet long. A Canadian ecologist stumbled upon it in Alberta's Wood Buffalo National Park, and claims that it is now the largest beaver dam in the world. Some people believe that the dam was started in the 1970's, and it has been steadily built up by generations of beavers. I have now begun wondering how many other structures in the world have been created by animals working across generations. I immediately think of all coral reefs, possibly some termite mounds, and the Great Pyramid in Egypt (as well as all human cities). Does anyone else have any ideas?
I just read a news story about Idaho's giant Palouse earthworm. Researchers at the University of Idaho have captured two live specimens: the adult is almost a foot long, and the juvenile is around seven inches long. Furthermore, they appear to be translucent, so their internal organs are clearly visible. Wow!
Last week, I read about a new discovery involving the Picts, an ancient tribe of people who lived in what is now Scotland between 300 and 843 A.D. Apparently, researchers have determined that the engravings on stones -- the Pictish stones -- may be the written language of the Picts, an "Iron-Age society." Cool.
Klein bottles are kind of like the three-dimensional equivalents of Moebius strips. Actually, they are three-dimensional representations of four-dimensional objects, which do not have an inside or an outside. Rather, those objects have one continuous surface. And now, a company exists that creates Klein bottles made out of glass! Also, buy a Klein bottle wool hat. Fantastic.
The Large Hadron Collider -- a huge machine in Switzerland and France that smashes subatomic particles together -- has begun operating. According to an article in the, protons "were whipped to more than 99 percent of the speed of light and to record-high energy levels of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece raced around a 17-mile underground magnetic track outside Geneva a little after 1 p.m. local time. They crashed together inside apartment-building-size detectors designed to capture every evanescent flash and fragment from microscopic fireballs thought to hold insights into the beginning of the universe."
Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman has won the Millennium Prize for solving the Poincare Conjecture, but he is not yet sure whether he will accept the $1 million prize. The prize is awarded by the Clay Mathematics Institute, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Poincare Conjecture is the first problem on a list of seven that the Institute thought were noteworthy. This guy already, in 2004, skipped the ceremony in Spain when he was supposed to receive the Fields Medal, one of the highest awards in theoretical mathematics. Fascinating...
(The photograph shows Perelman giving the Simons lectures at MIT, and was taken by Tom Mrowka.)
A recent story from Robert Boyd, at the McClatchy news service, reports that scientists now believe that "nearly half the living material on our planet is hidden in or beneath the ocean or in rocks, soil, tree roots, mines, oil wells, lakes and aquifers on the continents." Wow. Apparently, at the December 2009 gathering of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Katrina Edwards -- a microbiologist at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles -- claimed that "The organisms that live in this environment may collectively have a mass equivalent to that of all of Earth's surface dwellers and may provide keys to solving major environmental, agricultural and industrial problems." And, marine geologists are preparing to drill in six locations under the world's oceans to install "observatories" that will be linked to on-land research stations. Fantastic!
Last week, I read a story about evidence of pigment being found in some dinosaur fossils. Chris Sloan, at National Geographic, reported that a team led by Fucheng Zhang (of China's Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology), had found fossilized melanosomes in the "feathers and filament-like 'protofeathers' of fossil birds and dinosaurs from northeastern China." You can read more here:
I just learned that some people associated with NASA's Kepler mission have created a Lego orrery! An orrery is a device that shows the relative sizes and distances of planets in a solar system. The Lego orrery will demonstrate the transit method, the method NASA scientists will use to try to find planets outside of our solar system. (Finding extrasolar planets is Kepler's mission.) The satellite includes a telescope that will detect faint waverings of light emitted by stars, waverings that will indicate that a planet has passed in front of the star, briefly blocking its radiation.