Stunning and weird portraits of musical note vibrations

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Artists Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown explore cymatics, the study of wave phenomena and how they are represented visually. Using black-colored water, a laptop computer, and a modified guitar amp, they captured "portraits" of the 12 notes in the chromatic scale. From my sister-in-law Heather Sparks's profile of their project in Nautilus:

In each ("portrait"), Louviere and Brown saw a distinct image: G looks like a devil, C# is the tree in the Garden of Eden, and F is something like the underbelly of a frog. If you were to repeat this experiment, you would get the same designs.

Pressing further their idea that “sight can be seen and images can be heard,” Louviere turned the 12 sound-induced patterns back into sound using Photo Sounder, a program that assigns sounds to the black and white values it scans along the x and y axes of an image. After applying the program to the 12 portraits, Louviere had 12 very distinct, “odd and bleepy” sound files, which he mixed together into a final soundscape born from the visuals of all 12 notes.

"This Is What Musical Notes Actually Look Like" (Nautili.us)

The audio is now available on a beautiful vinyl record: Louviere + Vanessa: Resonantia

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The Ice Bucket Challenge did not fund a breakthrough in ALS treatment

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Yesterday's science-by-press-release announcement that a research team had made a "breakthrough" in treating ALS thanks to funds raised in last year's viral ice-bucket challenge turns out to be vaporware: the gene identified was already known to be implicated in ALS, but only affects 3% of cases, and the new refinement in the research suggests some avenues for further work, but has no immediate therapeutic value. Read the rest

This map shows where the tallest people live

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New research on trends in adult human height over the last century confirm that, no surprise, humans are getting taller overall due to better nutrition and disease control. However according to the health science group Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC), the gain in adult height varies dramatically by country. From their paper, published in the journal eLife:

The largest gain in adult height over the past century has occurred in South Korean women and Iranian men, who became 20.2 cm (95% credible interval 17.5–22.7) and 16.5 cm (13.3–19.7) taller, respectively. In contrast, there was little change in adult height in some sub-Saharan African countries and in South Asia over the century of analysis. The tallest people over these 100 years are men born in the Netherlands in the last quarter of 20th century, whose average heights surpassed 182.5 cm, and the shortest were women born in Guatemala in 1896 (140.3 cm; 135.8–144.8).

The scientists' hope is that understanding these changes and distributions could be used "to improve nutrition and health across the world."

"It would also be valuable to understand how much becoming taller has been responsible for improved health and longevity throughout the world," they write."

"A century of trends in adult human height" (eLife)

"How humans have changed in height in the last 100 years" (CNN) Read the rest

Why did Iran's Lake Urmia just change from bright green to blood red?

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Between April and July, Iran's salty Lake Urmia changed from a bright green color to a blood red. NASA's Aqua satellite captured the image above and reported on the science behind the strange transformation. According to NASA, the periodic color change is caused by micro algae producing carotenoids that help with photosynthesis and act as antioxidants and Halobacteriaceae, a bacteria in very salty water that releases "a red pigment called bacteriorhodopsin that absorbs light and converts it into energy for the bacteria." From NASA:

The color changes have become common in the spring and early summer due to seasonal precipitation and climate patterns. Spring is the wettest season in northwestern Iran, with rainfall usually peaking in April. Snow on nearby mountains within the watershed also melts in the spring. The combination of rain and snowmelt sends a surge of fresh water into Lake Urmia in April and May. By July, the influx of fresh water has tapered off and lake levels begin to drop.

The fresh water in the spring drives salinity levels down, but the lake generally becomes saltier as summer heat and dryness take hold. That’s when the microorganisms show their colors, too. Careful sampling of the water would be required to determine which organisms transformed the lake in 2016, but scientists say there are likely two main groups of organisms involved: a family of algae called Dunaliella and an archaic family of bacteria known as Halobacteriaceae.

While Lake Urmia has shifted from green to red and back several times in recent years, trends suggest that a red Urmia could become increasingly common.

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When science intersected with the counterculture, things got wonderfully weird

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In the late 1960s and 1970s, the mind-expanding modus operandi of the counterculture spread into the realm of science, and shit got wonderfully weird. Neurophysiologist John Lilly tried to talk with dolphins. Physicist Peter Phillips launched a parapsychology lab at Washington University. Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill became an evangelist for space colonies. Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture is a new book of essays about this heady time! The book was co-edited by MIT's David Kaiser, who wrote the fantastic 2011 book How the Hippies Saved Physics, and UC Santa Barbara historian W. Patrick McCray. I can't wait to read it!

From an MIT News interview with Kaiser:

We want to address a common stereotype that dates from the time period itself, which is that the American youth movement, the hippies or counterculture, was reacting strongly against science and technology, or even the entire Western intellectual tradition of reason, as a symbol of all that should be overturned. In fact, many of them were enamored of science and technology, some of them were working scientists, and some were patrons of science. This picture of fear and revulsion is wrong.

We also see things that have a surprisingly psychedelic past. This includes certain strains of sustainability, design, and manufacture, notions of socially responsible engineering, and artisanal food. This stuff didn’t start from scratch in 1968 and didn’t end on a dime in 1982...

These folks were rejecting not science itself but what many had come to consider a depersonalized, militarized approach to the control of nature.

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Our public health data is being ingested into Silicon Valley's gaping, proprietary maw

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In a lead editorial in the current Nature, John Wilbanks (formerly head of Science Commons, now "Chief Commons Officer" for Sage Bionetworks) and Eric Topol (professor of genomics at the Scripps Institute) decry the mass privatization of health data by tech startups, who're using a combination of side-deals with health authorities/insurers and technological lockups to amass huge databases of vital health information that is not copyrighted or copyrightable, but is nevertheless walled off from open research, investigation and replication. Read the rest

Storytellers are more attractive, are happier and more satisfied with life

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The Wall Street Journal reports that storytellers—people with a natural inclination to craft concise yet compelling narratives without rambling—were found to be hot by science. Feels good to be a writa.

The results were the same across all three studies: Women rated men who were good storytellers as more attractive and desirable as potential long-term partners. Psychologists believe this is because the man is showing that he knows how to connect, to share emotions and, possibly, to be vulnerable. He also is indicating that he is interesting and articulate and can gain resources and provide support.

“Storytelling is linked to the ability to be a good provider,” because a man is explaining what he can offer, says Melanie Green, an associate professor in the department of communication at the University at Buffalo and a researcher on the study. The men didn’t care whether the women were good storytellers, the research showed.

There is also a "how to" guide for nascent storytellers: master the technical basics, set aside time to practice, build a repertoire of basics, develop a relationship to tense, and get emotional.

Spotted via the sneering Gilfoyles of Hacker News, who seem fabulously angry about this for some reason. Read the rest

Advances in transparent, brain-revealing skull-windows

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Researchers at UC Riverside and Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada have published a paper describing their ongoing success in setting a "transparent nanocrystalline yttria-stabilized-zirconia" into patients' skulls, which reveal the patients' brains so that the patients' brains can be zapped with therapeutic lasers. Read the rest

Video of one year on Earth, from one million miles away

One million miles from Earth, hanging in space between Earth's gravitational pull and the sun's, is the DSCOVR satellite and NASA's incredible EPIC camera. Every two hours, EPIC takes a photo of Earth "to monitor ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere, cloud height, vegetation properties and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth." The above video combines one year of those images.

From the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center:

The primary objective of DSCOVR, a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force, is to maintain the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA.

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Why are scientists drawing eyes on cows' asses?

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In Botswana, conservation scientists from the University of New South Wales are painting eyes on the rear ends of cattle in an effort to deter lions from eating them. As the lions' protected habitats shrink, they move closer to human settlements. In Botswana, the lions attack the livestock that the subsistence farmers count on. That leads the farmers to kill the African lions, further endangering the species.

(UNSW conservation biologist Neil Jordan’s idea of painting eyes onto cattle rumps came about after two lionesses were killed near the village in Botswana where he was based. While watching a lion hunt an impala, he noticed something interesting: “Lions are ambush hunters, so they creep up on their prey, get close and jump on them unseen. But in this case, the impala noticed the lion. And when the lion realised it had been spotted, it gave up on the hunt,” he says.

In nature, being ‘seen’ can deter predation. For example, patterns resembling eyes on butterfly wings are known to deter birds. In India, woodcutters in the forest have long worn masks on the back of their heads to ward-off man-eating tigers.

Jordan’s idea was to “hijack this mechanism” of psychological trickery. Last year, he collaborated with the BPCT and a local farmer to trial the innovative strategy, which he’s dubbed “iCow”.

"Eye-opening conservation strategy could save African lions" (UNSW) Read the rest

Twinkly, LED-studded bracelet featuring the Hubble's "celestial fireworks"

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Thinkgeek's $60 Star Spangled Bangle is skinned with the Hubble's amazing "celestial fireworks" image, with 15 recessed USB-charged LEDs run for 8 hours and recharge in an hour. (via Ohgizmo) Read the rest

Fashion student simulates couture collection made from Alexander McQueen's cloned skin

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Alexander McQueen's first collection after graduating from Central Saint Martins was Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims which included locks of his hair; for her own grad project, called "Pure Human," Central Saint Martins student Tina Gorjanc created a line of clothes and accessories that asks the audience to imagine that it was made from pelts cloned from DNA retrieved from McQueen's hair strands. Read the rest

First case of female-to-male sexually-transmitted Zika reported, in NYC

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The Centers for Disease Control and Infection reported the first confirmed case of Zika transmitted from a woman to a man during sex. Previously, they thought that the disease was only likely to be sexually-transmitted from a male to female or male to male. The CDC will soon update their advisory "for sexually active people in which the couple is not pregnant or concerned about pregnancy and for people who want to reduce personal risk of Zika infection through sex." From CNN:

A non-pregnant woman in her 20s had unprotected vaginal sex with a male partner on the day she returned from travel to a country where Zika is circulating. The next day, she came down with Zika-like symptoms, including fever, rash, fatigue and muscle pain, along with numbness and tingling in her fingers and toes. On day three, she visited her primary care doctor, who took blood and urine samples, and sent them off to the NYC health department. Both tested positive for the virus.

On day seven after intercourse, her male partner, also in his 20s, began to show the same typical signs of Zika, such as fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, despite the fact that he had not traveled outside the United States for more than a year...

While this is the first documented case of female to male sexual transmission, it's not the first clue that the Zika virus might be hiding in the female genital tract. A case report published this week in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal tells the story of a 27-year old Guadeloupean woman who came down with Zika in May.

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What's the likelihood that you have a doppelgänger?

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Teghan Lucas, a comparative anatomy researcher at the University of Adelaide, was fascinated with the idea of doppelgängers, that every person has a look-alike out there in the world. So Teghan analyzed thousands of photos of people, for example measuring the distance between features, to determine the probability that two people would have matching faces. According to Teghan, there's only a one in a trillion chance that you share even eight measurements with someone else. Of course, people can still look very similar even if their eyes and ears aren't separated by precisely the same distance. From the BBC:

"It depends whether we mean ‘lookalike to a human’ or ‘lookalike to facial recognition software’,” says David Aldous, a statistician at U.C. Berkeley...

When you bump into a friend on the street, the brain immediately sets to work recognising their features – such as hairline and skin tone – individually, like recognising Italy by its shape alone. But what if they’ve just had a haircut? Or they’re wearing makeup?

To ensure they can be recognised in any context, the brain employs an area known as the fusiform gyrus to tie all the pieces together. If you compare it to finding a country on a map, this is like checking it has a border with France and a coast. This holistic ‘sum of the parts’ perception is thought to make recognising friends a lot more accurate than it would be if their features were assessed in isolation. Crucially, it also fudges the importance of some of the subtler details.

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Watch 32 out-of-sync metronomes magically synchronize

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The magic of physics.

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Einstein's stinky leather jacket sold for $144,000

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Albert Einstein's very cool leather jacket sold at auction today for £110,500 ($144,424). The coat came complete with the pungent odor of the scientist's pipe. Also on the block were Einstein's pocket watch and toy blocks from his childhood. From Christie's:

‘The jacket first appears in a number of photographs of Einstein, taken at the height of his fame in the mid-1930s,’ (said Christie's specialist Thomas Venning). A shot from 1935 shows the scientist wearing it upon his arrival for a holiday in the Bahamas — ‘improbably paired,’ adds Venning, ‘with a rather natty wing collar’...

Over several years, the jacket aged visibly. ‘Einstein wore it all the time — a fact mentioned in the memoirs of fellow scientist Leopold Infeld, who worked with him at Princeton. Infeld explained that Einstein tried to keep material restrictions to a minimum. Long hair reduced the need for a barber and, he wrote, “one leather jacket solved the coat problem for years.”’

"5 minutes with… Einstein’s leather jacket" (Christie's)

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China bans mentions of newly discovered species of beetle from social media

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The Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii is a newly classified species of beetle, indigenous to China's Hainan Island, whose name is a tribute to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Read the rest

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