Color illustrations of 16th C eye-diseases, including those caused by witchcraft

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16th century barber-surgeon Georg Bartisch began his barber-surgeon apprenticeship in 1548 in Saxony, and three years later, became an itinerant barber-surgeon in Saxony, Silesia, and Bohemia. Read the rest

Shocking video of an electric eel leaping from its tank

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This intense slow-motion video, depicting an electric eel jumping from a tank to zap a faux alligator head, accompanies a new scientific paper by Vanderbilt University biologist Kenneth Catania. From Nature:

Catania first spotted the behaviour during earlier laboratory experiments with electric eels (Electrophorus electricus), when they would leap upwards to attack a metal-rimmed net as he was trying to fish them out of their tanks. He analysed it by presenting the eels with carbon rods and aluminium plates at which they struck; the video’s plastic alligator, with its flashing light-emitting diodes that are powered by the eel’s electrocution, is his dramatic demonstration of the effect...

The behaviour allows eels to directly shock their opponents, rather than having their voltage dissipated by water.

It is the first time that this has been recorded in a research paper, Catania says — although he argues that his discovery supports a widely disbelieved observation made more than 200 years ago by the Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. In a paper published in 1807, von Humboldt recounted that he had seen South American native fishermen herding horses into a pool of electric eels; the eels would discharge themselves against the horses and could be fished safely when they were exhausted.

According to Catania, there are other mysteries of the electric eels left to be solved, like how it can electrocute another creature without zapping itself in the process.

"Leaping eels electrify threats, supporting Humboldt’s account of a battle with horses" (PNAS)

Read the rest

Remember Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years?

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Meet Danica McKellar who as an undergraduate in college co-published a paper titled "Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models on Z2," research that resulted in the Chayes–McKellar–Winn theorem. Oh yeah, before that, McKellar was Winnie on The Wonder Years.

(And just to confirm, Josh Saviano who played Paul Pfeiffer did not grow up to become Marilyn Manson.)

Read the rest

Elon Musk Says Humans Will Go To Mars by 2024

Elon Musk (Reuters / Stephen Lam)

In my weekly segment on KCRW's “Press Play” news program with host Madeleine Brand, we listen to Elon Musk wax poetic about artificial intelligence and whether life might be a dream--and his plans to send humans to Mars by 2025.

Read the rest

Bees can sense a flower's electric field

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New research shows that bees can recognize flowers by the plants' tiny electric field that differs between species. The electric field bends the tiny hairs on a bee's body, firing neurons located at the base of the hair. From the journal Science:

Such fields—which form from the imbalance of charge between the ground and the atmosphere—are unique to each species, based on the plant’s distance from the ground and shape. Flowers use them as an additional way to advertise themselves to pollinators...

Electric fields can only be sensed from a distance of 10 cm or so, so they’re not very useful for large animals like ourselves. But for small insects, this distance represents several body lengths, a relatively long distance.

"How bees sense a flower’s electric field" (Science)

"Mechanosensory hairs in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields" (PNAS)

Read the rest

The Science Book – The greatest hits of science

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The Science Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) DK 2014, 352 pages, 8 x 9.6 x 1 inches $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

The Science Book is DK publishing’s “greatest hits” of science. Laid out chronologically and full of diagrams and photos, it gives you a coffee table book experience but in a manageable way. No book clocking in at 350-ish pages could be totally comprehensive, yet it includes most of the major scientific milestones from 600 BCE to today without being dry or overwhelming.

I found that I was able to gain a better understanding of principles that I only marginally understood, like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which is clearly laid out in layman’s terms and with genuinely helpful visuals. Genetics is a particularly complicated topic that has always fascinated me, so I was especially drawn to the chapters that tackled it and found a diagram using bees to explain recessive traits to be one of my favorite features. The individual chapters are broken up into sections and use sidebars and trivia to keep things interesting, so no matter what topic you land on the information is always accessible. I haven’t read it cover to cover, but rather peruse whatever topic catches my eye and always find something I didn’t known before. Textbooks devoted to science have an unfortunate tendency to be dry and technical, so I am especially excited to share The Science Book with my son as he gets older, with the hope that it may help him develop a real interest in science and an appreciation of its value. Read the rest

Earth’s magnetic field is weakening

Image: ESA/ATG medialab

Satellite data from the European Space Agency have revealed that the Earth’s magnetic poles are weakening, and doing so faster than scientists previously thought.

From Mysterious Universe:

Chris Finlay, one of the researchers with the ESA, says that this new data is groundbreaking in terms of how much it reveals about Earth’s magnetic field: "Swarm data are now enabling us to map detailed changes in Earth’s magnetic field, not just at Earth’s surface but also down at the edge of its source region in the core. Unexpectedly, we are finding rapid localized field changes that seem to be a result of accelerations of liquid metal flowing within the core."

From ESA:

Although invisible, the magnetic field and electric currents in and around Earth generate complex forces that have immeasurable effects on our everyday lives.

The field can be thought of as a huge bubble, protecting us from cosmic radiation and electrically charged atomic particles that bombard Earth in solar winds. However, it is in a permanent state of flux.

Read the rest

How an engineer/public health whistleblower led the citizen scientists who busted Flint's water crisis

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When Marc Edwards was a young Virginia tech engineer, he landed a job with Cadmus Group, an EPA subcontractor who'd been hired to investigate problems with the DC water-supply, but when he discovered a lead contamination crisis and refused to stop talking about it, he was fired. Read the rest

Bumblebees sense electricity with their fine hairs

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In 2013, Gregory Sutton from the University of Bristol published an important paper demonstrating that bumblebees can sense electricity (his experiment trained bees to associate current in fake flowers with nutrients, and showed that bees preferentially sought out electrified flowers), but now how they sensed it. Read the rest

NASA telescopes spot clues for how Giant Black Holes formed so quickly

NASA Illustration of evidence that the direct collapse of a gas cloud produced supermassive black holes in the early Universe.
NASA today announced that astronomers studying data from NASA’s Great Observatories have found the best evidence yet for “cosmic seeds in the early universe that should grow into supermassive black holes.”

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Optography: retrieving a dead person's last sight from their retina

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Could you recover a murder victim's last sight of their killer by extracting it from the retina? Little more than a century ago, forensic scientists thought it might be possible. After all, in 1877 physiologist Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne was able to develop a simple image from an albino rabbit's dissected eyeball. (Above, the two images on the right come from rabbits who stared at two different windows. The left shows just nerves and blood vessels.) From Smithsonian:

The College of Optometrists in the U.K. reports that police photographed the eye of a murdered man in April 1877, "only partly aware of what optography involved," and that investigators on the trail of Jack the Ripper may have considered a proposal to use the technique.

Faith in optography was misplaced, however, as Kühne's experiments showed that only simple, high-contrast surroundings were able to produce interpretable optograms, Douglas J. Lanska writes in Progress in Brain Research. Furthermore, the retina needs to be removed very quickly from the recently deceased.

"How Forensic Scientists Once Tried to "See" a Dead Person's Last Sight" Read the rest

Big Vitamin bankrolls naturopaths' attempts to go legit and get public money

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Backed by huge donations from vitamin companies, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians is pushing to get naturopathic medicine recognized and regulated in all 50 US states, paving the way to receiving public funds in the form of Medicare reimbursements. Read the rest

Texas oil firm indicted in massive 2015 oil spill off coast of Santa Barbara, CA

A brown pelican being cleaned of oil by a bird rescue volunteer on May 22, 2015, after thousands of gallons of oil leaked on to San Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific. REUTERS

In California today, a grand jury indicted the Plains All-American Pipeline and one of the oil company's employees on criminal charges over the massive 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara County.

Read the rest

Doctors perform first penis transplant in U.S.

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Thomas Manning, 64, is recovering after receiving the first penis transplant in the United States. Manning had his penis amputated in 2012 due to penile cancer. It took 15 hours for surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital to complete the transplant, medically known as a "gentitourinary vascularized composite allograft." The surgery involved "grafting the complex microscopic vascular and neural structures of a donor organ onto the comparable structures of the recipient." According to the surgeons, the procedure could someday be used for gender reconstruction. From CNN:

Dr. Dicken Ko, director of the hospital's Regional Urology Program, said the objectives of the surgery were primarily to reconstruct the genitalia so that it appeared natural, followed by urinary function and hopefully sexual function. However, Ko added that while sexual function is a goal, reproduction is not, because of a concern surrounding the ethical issues of who the potential father may be.

Read the rest

The mind-blowing neuroscience of hacking your dreams

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Moran Cerf, a pen-testing bank-robber turned horribly misunderstood neuroscientist (previously, previously) gets to do consensual, cutting-edge science on the exposed brains of people with epilepsy while they're having brain surgery. Read the rest

Transport for London blames Tube delays on "wrong type of sun"

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The agency says that the angle of the sunlight that strikes its tracks creates glare that blinds the CCTVs that train-drivers use to ensure that the platform is clear before pulling out of the station. Read the rest

Infested: an itchy, fascinating natural history of the bed bug

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The resurgence of the bed bug caught modern civilization flatfooted: an ancient pestilence dating back to the Pharoahs, gone for two generations, has returned with a vengeance, infesting fancy hotels and slums alike, lining our streets with mattresses spraypainted with the warning BEDBUGS. Infested, science writer Brooke Borel's natural history of the bed bug, looks at the bug's insurgency as a scientific, cultural, and economic phenomenon, and will leave you itching with delight.

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