In the shadow of the atom

For once, "shadow of the atom" is not just a poetic metaphor for the nuclear age. The black dot at the center of this image is, literally, the shadow cast by a single atom of ytterbium, magnified 6500 times.

Via Discover magazine

Jello shot orange slices

I am currently mesmerized by these mimosa jello shots, served in the peels of the oranges juiced to make them. They are absolutely ridiculous and I love them. A little something for New Year's Day?

Scenes from a heart surgery

This is absolutely wonderful, and absolutely not for the squeamish.

Defective Heart Girl Problems is a blog where physicist Summer Ash has blogged her experience with finding out that she has a defective heart valve and getting treatment to deal with that defect. The image above shows her scar from her recent surgery.

Ash went through surgery to repair her heart on July 18th. Here's how she explains the problem:

I recently discovered that I was born with a congenital heart defect known as bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD). It’s not a disease, per se, so much as a defect. Most people (roughly 99% of them) are born with a tricuspid aortic valve. I am the lucky 1% born with a bicuspid valve. (I am the 1%!)

As a bonus, being born with this genetic mutation also means the lower part of my aorta, the part that connects to the aortic valve and helps channel the flow of oxygenated blood into the arteries, has less fibrillin-1 – a protein that helps to maintain the structural integrity of the aortic wall. This means that my aorta is prone to “stretching out” and even the normal stress of blood flow coming out of the heart and being channelled to the rest of the body is enough to cause it to start ballooning outward.

The nominal course of BAVD usually entails the aortic valve calcifying and stiffening later in life (60s – 70s), ending in valve replacement surgery. Some people will also need the root of their aortas replaced at this time, some may not. My problem is that my aorta is jumping the gun; it’s already stretched out to the point where it’s considered an aortic aneurysm. I like to imagine it as a hipster, dilating before it’s cool to do so.

On July 29, she posted the full story of her surgery, including photos of her visible heart and really clear, well-written explanations that describe what her surgeon's did while they were rooting around in her chest cavity. It's graphic. And it's not for everybody. But it's also extremely powerful storytelling about both medical science, and the experience of having something go wrong with your body that you can't control. Highly recommended.

Read Summer Ash's description of her surgery

(Via Jennifer Ouellette)

Watch a spider molt

Spider molting from Karli Larson on Vimeo.

Spiders don't have an internal skeleton like we do. Instead, their muscles are anchored to an exoskeleton—a sort of hard, semi-flexible shell that encases a spider's whole body. In order to grow bigger, spiders have to grow new exoskeletons and shed old ones.

Karli Larson found a spider on her window frame in the process of shedding its exoskeleton. Naturally, she filmed it and set the whole thing to music. She says:

The entire molting process took about 30 minutes to fully complete. This is the interesting part, sped up.

The camera is a little shakey, so if that bothers you, well, sorry. But I think this is still way fascinating.

Read more about spiders, their exoskeletons, and the molting process at HowStuffWorks

Thanks, Maggie Ryan Sandford!

What's inside an elephant?

Sometimes, I get so jealous of British television. Apparently, there's a whole series over there called Inside Nature's Giants. It's basically a zoology dissection show, where scientists break down large, exotic animals in ways that help teach viewers about evolution, biology, and the science of animal locomotion.

John Hutchinson is an American zoologist who works as a professor of evolutionary biomechanics in the UK. He's one of the scientists who works behind the scenes on Inside Nature's Giants. He also blogs at What's in John's Freezer?. It's a great title and it gets right to the point: Hutchinson has a job that is centered around the frozen carcasses of all manner of strange (and usually rather large) creatures. His research is all about the evolution and mechanics of motion. He studies living animals, both through dissection and 3D modeling, and he tries to use that data to better understand how extinct animals—including dinosaurs—might have moved around.

It's fascinating stuff. And the photos are nigh-on mind blowing. Right now, at John Hutchinson's blog, you can see a collection of shots from dissections and CT scans done for Inside Nature's Giants—including the dissection of an elephant.

Because I know that some of you are delicate and it is almost lunchtime, I've opted to not post my favorite photo from that dissection on the main page. But you should check it out below the cut.

Read the rest

Volcanic vent surprise

What are all those frothy bubbles rising from the sea floor and coating the submersible craft in this video? Why, it's liquid carbon dioxide, venting off an underwater hot spring connected to Eifuku volcano in Japan's Volcano Islands.

Better yet, life can still survive, even in an environment this extreme. Check out what blogger Caleb Scharf spotted:

... pay attention at 38 seconds into the show. With utter disregard for the extraordinary environment a shrimp-like creature swims purposefully under the robot and exits stage lower right. It may not live in liquid CO2, but it doesn’t seem bothered by it in the slightest. We must also assume that it’s finding plenty of food within this bubbling environment.

Video Link

Via Ed Yong