Here’s what the world would look like if we could see the invisible forces around us

Derek Muller of the YouTube channel Veritasium uses a nifty trick to make visible the invisible air currents, temperature gradients, and differences in air pressure around us. The process is called Schlieren photography and with the right equipment and some precision alignment, you can try it at home. As Muller explains:

I first saw a Schlieren imaging setup around ten years ago in Melbourne. I was immediately fascinated by the way I could see the warm air coming off my hand. I hadn’t expected the currents to be moving that fast or to be so visible. This was a tricky setup to get right because alignment is very important and here I’m just working with what I had lying around the house mostly (plus the mirror). For the best Schlieren photography, making sure the mirror is stable is essential. I want to improve my setup so the mirror doesn't wobble back and forth too much creating the pulsing light and dark sections of this video.

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Today is the anniversary of the first woman in space

On June 16, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. She orbited the Earth 48 times over a period of three days. Inspired by Yuri Gagarin who in 1961 became the first person in space, Tereshkova applied to the Russian space program and was accepted based on her extensive background as a skydiver. It wasn't until 40 years later that Tereshkova's nearly tragic experience in orbit was made public.

An error in the spacecraft's automatic navigation software caused the ship to move away from Earth. Tereshkova noticed this and Soviet scientists quickly developed a new landing algorithm. Tereshkova landed safely but received a bruise on her face.

She landed in the Altay region near today's Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border. Villagers helped Tereshkova out of her spacesuit and asked her to join them for dinner. She accepted, and was later reprimanded for violating the rules and not undergoing medical tests first.

Valentina Tereshkova: First Woman in Space (Space.com) Read the rest

Hacking the human lifespan

Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey has said that the first person likely to live to 1,000 years-old has probably been born already. de Grey's nonprofit lab, and others, some of which are funded by Silicon Valley billionaires, are boldly focused on how science may find a cure for aging. In the new issue of Smithsonian, Elmo Keep writes about these efforts to "hack" mortality and quotes my Institute for the Future colleagues Rachel Maguire and Jake Dunagan, both of whom cast a concerned eye on the obsession with longevity. From Smithsonian:

One thing we do know is that there are more elderly people alive now than there have ever been in the history of the planet. Even if today’s life-extension researchers made meaningful breakthroughs, the therapies wouldn’t be available for many years to come. That means we’re about to face a lot of death, says Rachel Maguire, a research director focusing on health care at the Institute for the Future, in Palo Alto. “By 2025 or 2030, there will be more of a culture of dying and lots of different ways of experiencing it. There are early signs of new types of funerals and spiritual formations around this.” Maguire foresees new end-of-life plans, including assisted dying. When it comes to aging, she points out that biological research is only one piece of a puzzle that must also include economics, politics and cultural change. “I don’t think we have answers yet for how we’d do the other pieces. And the financial piece alone is huge.”

There’s already a huge disparity between the life spans of rich and poor Americans, and critics of the new longevity research worry the gap may only grow wider.

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All about gallium, the metal that melts in your hand

In this nifty YouTube video, Dave Hax talks through the properties of gallium, the metal that liquefies at just 86ºF and is safe to play with. (Just don’t eat it!)

Hax has a whole collection of videos about gallium on his YouTube channel.

If you want to give it a try yourself, you buy 20 grams of gallium for less than $10 on Amazon. Read the rest

Giving vegetables seductive names gets people to eat them

Boring vegetables need better marketing. That's the gist of a new study from Stanford university psychologists who gave cafeteria vegetables more "indulgent" names to see if students would buy them more often. Healthy labels ("wholesome," etc) didn't do well but indulgent labels ("sizzlin'", "dynamite," etc.) boosted vegetable sales by 25%. From the BBC:

The experiment took place over the whole of the autumn academic term. Each day, a vegetable dish was labelled up in one of four ways:

• basic - where the description was simply "carrots", for example

• healthy restrictive - "carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing"

• health positive - "smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots"

• indulgent - "twisted citrus-glazed carrots"

...The indulgent labels came out top and included "twisted garlic-ginger butternut squash wedges" and "dynamite chilli and tangy lime-seasoned beets".

Seductive names resulted in 25% more people selecting the vegetable compared with basic labelling, 41% more people than the healthy restrictive labelling and 35% more people than the healthy positive labelling.

"Association Between Indulgent Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets" (JAMA) Read the rest

Exploring the genius of Marie Curie

TED-Ed explores the life (and death) of Marie Skłodowska Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win one twice, and the only person to win one in two different sciences. Read the rest

Fundraising for Diego Gómez, grad student who faced criminal charges for sharing a scientific paper

Timothy from Creative Commons writes, "A few weeks ago Diego Gómez, the former Colombian student who's been prosecuted for sharing a research paper online, was acquitted of criminal charges.

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Egg drop experiment fails

Soaring to a millions views in a matter of hours, this video (permalink) illustrates the trials and tribulations of science. Come for the experiment, stay for the peer review.

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Microwaved glowstick experiment goes awry

There's something magical about this 2014 video, which very suddenly goes from one YouTube genre (the intringuing at-home science experiment) to another (reality is disaster). You wonder why there aren't more of them out there! Read the rest

GOP Congressman DOES believe in climate change, thinks Christian God will fix it

Republican Congressman Tim Walberg, hailing from the great state of Michigan, knows that climate change is real! Walberg does not think humans need worry though, GOD will take care of it.

Really.

Via TPM:

“I believe there’s climate change,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) told constituents at a town hall Friday, as seen in a video of the event posted online. “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles.”

“Do I think that man has some impact? Yeah, of course,” he continued. “Can man change the entire universe? No. Why do I believe that? As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator, God, who’s much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

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Algorithmic decision-making: an arms-race between entropy, programmers and referees

Nesta's Juan Mateos-Garcia proposes that "entropic forces" make algorithmic decision-making tools worse over time, requiring that they be continuously maintained and improved (this is also a key idea from Cathy O'Neil's Weapons of Math Destruction: a machine-learning system is only honest if someone is continuously matching its predictions to reality and refining its model based on the mistakes it makes). Read the rest

Wildlife tourists who mistake aggression for kissy-faces in danger of monkey-bites

A University of Lincoln researcher on holiday in Morocco noticed that wildlife tourists were mistaking macaques' aggressive facial expressions for kissy faces and responding "by imitating the monkey's facial expression, which generally ended by either aggression by the monkey towards the tourists or the monkey leaving the interaction" -- which leads to monkey bites. Read the rest

Thinking of the history of life on Earth in terms of "energy epochs"

Olivia P. Judson's paper in Nature, The energy expansions of evolution, presents a novel, beautifully written and presented frame for looking at the history of life on Earth: as a series of five epochs in which energy became more abundant and available to lifeforms, allowing them to scale up in complexity and fecundity: geochemical energy, sunlight, oxygen, flesh and fire. Read the rest

Watch: Endoscopic video of beatboxer's larynx and throat

Beatboxer Tom Thum had ENT doctor and laryngeal surgeon Dr Matthew Broadhurst shine an endoscopic camera down his throat while beatboxing: "I wanted to find out how my larynx functioned when beatboxing compared to how it functions normally with speech, and whether or not there were any abnormalities in my laryngeal anatomy. I also had very little idea of what the inside of my throat and all my noise producing mechanisms actually looked like. The results were fascinating yet horrifyingly graphic and will probably make a few people spew in their laps." (via JWZ) Read the rest

Gastric bypass surgery radically improves subjects' gut biomes

Gastric bypass surgery is remarkably effective at promoting weight-loss (it cuts the long-term risk of early death from morbid obesity by 40%), and it's long been presumed that the major action by which it worked was that, by bypassing the parts of the gut where most food absorbtion takes place, it limited the calories that subjects' bodies could harvest from the food they ate. Read the rest

Colombian biologist won't go to jail for 8 years for sharing a scientific paper (probably)

Timothy writes, "Diego Gómez is a Colombian conservation biologist. When he was a college student, he shared a single research paper online so that others could read and learn from it, just as he did. Diego was criminally prosecuted for copyright infringement, and faced up to 8 years in prison." Read the rest

When the TSA got suspicious of a scientist's 3D-printed mouse penis

Sometimes, in the course of his work, University of Florida molecular geneticist Martin Cohn must travel with unusual items like a 3D-printed mouse penis. Similarly, University of Massachusetts biologist Diane Kelly totes around anatomical models like a mold of a dolphin vagina. They're not alone in the odd science-related items they must fly with, from bottles of monkey piss to a stash of 5,000-year-old human bones. At The Atlantic, Ed Yong explores what happens when objects of science meet airport security:

The TSA once stopped Michael Polito, an Antarctic researcher from Louisiana State University, because his bag contained 50 vials of white powder. When he explained that the powder was freeze-dried Antarctic fur seal milk, he got a mixed reaction. “Some officers just wanted to just wave me on,” he says. “Others wanted me to stay and answer their questions, like: How do you milk a fur seal? I was almost late for my flight.”

Airport security lines, it turns out, are a fantastic venue for scientists to try their hand at outreach. Various scientists are said to have claimed that you don’t really understand something if you can’t explain it to your grandmother, a barmaid, a six-year-old, and other such sexist or ageist variants. But how about this: can you successfully explain it to an TSA official—someone who not only might have no background in science, but also strongly suspects that you might be a national security threat? Can you justify your research in the face of questions like “What are you doing?” or “Why are you doing it?” or “Why are you taking that onto a plane?”

Cohn did pretty well to the four assembled TSA agents who started quizzing him about his mouse penis.

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