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Your brain is all squishy: An anatomical demonstration

This video was made by the University of Utah Brain Institute to teach medical students about what a brain looks and feels like before it gets preserved in formalin and takes on the texture of a hard rubber ball.

The big takeaway message: Your brain is seriously squishy. So squishy, in fact, that a finger can dent it. As professor Suzanne Stensaas explains, this is one of the reasons why cerebrospinal fluid is so important. Your brain has to float in that fluid. If it didn't, it would come to rest against the side of your hard skull and quickly end up deformed.

Seriously, this is a fascinating (if extremely graphic) video. (Hilariously, given that fact, it opens with an image of a student eating.) Definitely worth watching!

NASA has a plan to just tow an asteroid around space like it's an old car

The crazy part about NASA's Asteroid Initiative isn't so much the part where we land human beings on an asteroid. That's cool and all, sure. But the bit that precedes it is actually a little bit more mindblowing. To make that landing work, we'll first have to send out robotic spacecraft to essentially capture an asteroid and tow it into a stable orbit around the Moon. Yeah. Seriously. Welcome to living in the future, dudes. Maggie 21

Why letting a pregnant woman's heart stop could save both her and her baby

I've been describing this Slate piece as the most awesome thing I really should not have read at 38 weeks pregnant. For decades, doctors thought that a pregnant woman whose heart stopped had pretty much no chance of survival. After trying to resuscitate her, attention would shift to rescuing the baby. But recent research suggests a better solution: Spend less time trying to get the mother's heart pumping again. Not only does it give the infants a better shot at survival, it also, insanely enough, saves more mothers. Turns out, once somebody removes the other human from your body, your failed heart will often just start pumping again on its own. Maggie 7

Amazing snail facts

This snail's shell is not green.

Instead, the shell is semi-transparent. It's the snail that's green.

Thanks, Nick Crumpton!

Get your tickets of the Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses

"The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAH!) is a celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory" — in other words, it's a festival dedicated to the ability to bullshit in a plausibly scientific way. And it sounds fantastic. If you're in Boston October 6th, you should totally go. But you'll need a ticket. They're $5 for MIT students, $10 for non-students. Maggie 9

Massive canyon hidden below Greenland's ice

Scientists using radio waves to estimate the thickness of the ice sheet that covers Greenland found a canyon — more than 2600 feet deep and almost 500 miles long — buried under the ice. Longer than the Grand Canyon, the Greenland canyon hasn't ever been seen by humans. It was probably last completely uncovered 4 million years ago. Maggie 12

Linotype machines are awesome

Last night, my husband and I went to the Minnesota State Fair and stumbled upon a demonstration of a linotype machine, a semi-automated, mechanical printing system that was used by newspapers and magazines (and basically everything else) from the end of the 19th century through the 1970s. It's a completely mesmerizing piece of equipment. An operator types out a line of text and the machine responds by collecting molds that match each letter and fitting them together. Then, it fills the mold with molten metal and dumps out the freshly minted block, ready for the printer ... before automatically re-racking all the letter molds so they're ready for the next line of text.

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Genetics: Not a "miracle", but still pretty damn strange

Besides magnetism, there's another thing that the Insane Clown Posse was on-track in categorizing as a mind-blowing mystery — Why do Shaggy 2 Dope's kids look just like him? As with the magnets, this is another situation where the obvious answer (it's genetics!) masks a much more complicated issue that science hasn't totally figured out yet. At Pacific Standard, Michael White explains why genetics is still messing with our heads, almost 150 years after Mendel:

The problem: most of the genetic differences discovered have only a very small effect. And when you add up all those effects, the result can’t possibly explain the full influence of our genes on those traits. For example, researchers have identified hundreds of DNA differences between people that influence the very strongly heritable trait of human height, but the total effect of those differences added together explains only about 10 percent of the genetic influence on height. In other words, we still can’t explain why tall parents have tall children.

Scientists have named this discrepancy the “missing heritability,” and they’ve spent the last half-decade trying to find it.

See a star explode with your bare eyes

Now, to temper this awesome news with a bit of harsh reality: Nova Delphini is not a supernova and it's not going to be as bright an object as you're probably imagining. Discover's Corey Powell has instructions for how to spot it (it probably won't be super obvious, especially if you're in a city) and galleries of photos, just in case you can't see it yourself. Maggie 4

Aevin Dugas has the world's largest afro

Four foot, four inches in circumference. "She believes her voluminous hair may have grown even bigger, but she cannot reveal its size until Guinness take an official measurement." [Video Link, Daily Mail]

Disgustingly beautiful housefly art

Behold, the common housefly — Musca domestica. You know it as a connoisseur of both sugar water and disgusting crap (literally), but this animal is also, deep inside, a sensitive arteest. Human artist John Knuth figured out how to help M. domestica express its passionate, aesthetic side in a series of paintings that exploit basic housefly behavior.

Houseflies "taste" with their feet. Their appendages are covered with chemically sensitive hairs, called chemoreceptors, which means that houseflies spend a lot of time walking around on top of their food. In addition, they can only eat liquids. If they encounter something delicious-but-solid they must first liquify it by slathering it in digestive juices. Finally, because they have to not-exactly-vomit on solid food so often, houseflies also need a lot of liquid in their diet to remain sufficiently hydrated. And that, as this pregnant lady can tell you, means the flies are also using the bathroom fairly frequently.

Knuth puts these rather disgusting traits to work in the name of art by supplying his flies with ample quantities of colored sugar water and lining their cages with canvas. The flies track the colors all over the canvas, in the form of brightly hued footprints, digestive juices, and excrement. The results are much more attractive than you might guess.

Video link

Marshmallows roasting on an open lava pit

Syracuse University makes its own lava by melting down hunks of basalt. Then, they give school kids the opportunity to toast marshmallows over the top of the fiery goo. Maggie 1

Cool-looking science book I am ordering immediately

Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler, published in 2010 and written by Duane Nickel, promises to be a tour guide to chemistry and physics points of interest all across the United States. (Thanks Tim Heffernan!) Maggie

Life imitates "Fringe" with development of brain-to-brain interface

Scientists managed to link the brains of a conscious human and an anesthetized rat, allowing the human to wiggle the rat's tail with his thoughts. And all God's creatures said, "Holy shitballs!" Maggie

World's largest tunnel boring machine lands in Seattle

Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.

I feel this warrants your attention for two reasons:
1) If you live near Seattle, you can actually go get a look at this massive beast before it starts chewing its way through the city. If you like looking at giant machines (or know someone who does) now's your chance. She's coming into the Port of Seattle, Terminal 46, as you read this and there will be ample opportunities to get a look as the pieces are assembled and moved into the nearby launch pit. The Washington State Department of Transportation has suggestions on places to go to get a good view.
2) If, for some reason, you were looking for a new way to lose massive amounts of time on YouTube, Bertha (and boring machines, in general) can help with that. Here's a cutaway animation explaining how boring machines work. Here's a video of Big Becky, another boring machine, breaking through to the other side of a tunnel at Niagara Falls, Canada. (In fact, boring machine breakthrough videos are, in and of themselves, a mesmerizing genre.) And in this video, you can watch the massively long line of support equipment go by in the wake of a boring machine.