How World War I brought women into science

Fascinating history at Nature, about the way war began the still-unfinished process of integrating female minds into the scientific world.

A history of Down Syndrome


From their inclusion in 16th-century paintings to their roles in famous families (including, probably, Darwin's), people with Down Syndrome are part of history.

At the Down Wit Dat blog, there's a 8-part (with more on the way) feature that provides some much-needed inclusion to people who are usually just a footnote to somebody else's history. Naturally, the series delves into ideas like eugenics and the institutionalization of differently abled Americans. But, even there, the story is centered on people with Down Syndrome and, as such, it offers a perspective and information that you likely haven't heard before. Great stuff.


Here's an excerpt about the short life of Charles Waring Darwin, the youngest child of the Charles Darwin you know. Based off historical records and the surviving photograph that you can see here, historians suspect that he had Down Syndrome.

Henrietta, one of his daughters, had this to say about Charles Waring in her book "Emma Darwin, A century of family letters...":

"The poor little baby was born without its full share of intelligence. Both my father and mother were infinitely tender towards him..."

Charles Darwin himself had this to say about his youngest child:

“He was small for his age and backward in walking and talking.... He was of a remarkable sweet, placid and joyful disposition, but had not high spirits.... He often made strange grimaces and shivered, when excited.... He would lie for a long time placidly on my lap looking with a steady and pleased expression at my face... making nice little bubbling noises as I moved his chin.”

Looking at the photograph of the then 45 year old Emma and her newborn son, it is not hard to see what appears to be a "weakened" bridge to the nose and quite possibly be epicanthal folds. However, the photo is extremely grainy and we will never know for sure. Charles Waring Darwin passed away from Scarlet fever at 19 months of age, never having learned to walk or talk. Darwin Sr. recorded in his journal that day: "Poor Dear Baby Died." He was unable to attend the first reading and publication of his theory of Natural Selection due to the illness and death of his youngest son.

What happens to forests when invasive insects win?

A 2011 photograph from Wisconsin shows what damage the larvae of the emerald ash borer are doing to ash trees in the United States. Credit John Ehlke/The West Bend Daily News

A 2011 photograph from Wisconsin shows what damage the larvae of the emerald ash borer are doing to ash trees in the United States. Credit John Ehlke/The West Bend Daily News

Emerald Ash Borer will likely kill 99% of the ash trees in North America. We can't stop it. So what happens next?

At The New York Times, you can read a story I wrote about why we will lose the battle against the Asian beetle Emerald Ash Borer and what that loss is teaching scientists about the complicated ecological networks that make up forests.

A 2009 study in the journal Biological Invasions listed 43 native insect species that rely on ash trees for food or breeding. Those insects are the food supply for birds, including woodpeckers.

“You end up with a different ecosystem that different species prefer and where the old ones can’t do as well,” said Kathleen Knight, a research ecologist with the Forest Service.

Agnes Clerke: Victorian astronomer

Besides bucking tradition to study the stars, proper English lady Agnes Clerke was also a historian of the mafia.

When your heart really beats like a hammer

Summer Ash survived open-heart surgery. Now she's dealing with the side-effects, including the strange sensation of an overly loud, strong heartbeat.

At first I was told that a “hyper-dynamic heartbeat” is a normal side-effect of open heart surgery and it usually calms down within six to nine months. Nine months came and went, no change. Then I was told that the scar tissue beneath my sternum must be thick enough that it’s fully filling the gap between my heart sac and my sternum, therefore transmitting the vibrations of each heartbeat directly to my rib cage which then acts like an amplifier. In theory, scar tissue thins over time and the sensation should dissipate. Having been a mechanical engineer, this makes sense to me. However, no one can say on what time scale this will happen.

It started off as a novelty, a bit of a party trick. I used to make everyone feel how strong it was. When I would hug people, they’d feel their body rock to the beat. And when I went out to eat, if I was at a small, less sturdy, table for two, I could lean my chest on the edge of the table and make the water glasses do that thing from Jurassic Park.

I highly recommend reading the series of posts she's writing about living with the after-effects of life-saving surgery. Although she's happy to be alive, Ash provides a perspective on serious surgical interventions that we don't often hear.

Foremost narwhal expert also practicing dentist


Who wouldn't want to get their teeth cleaned by Martin Nweeia, a dentist/expert in one of the most ridiculous and Internet-beloved animals on the planet.

The two interests make sense together, writes Erin Biba at Tested, because the narwhal's spiraling "tusk" is actually a tooth. But it's not really that tooth that made Nweeia interested in the animal to begin with. Instead, it's the fact that a narwhal lacks other teeth.

This is a whale that eats pretty big fish and when you look inside its mouth it has no teeth. If i’m eating large fish, that might require chewing and biting, why give up all those teeth and put all of the energy into growing one giant tusk?

But there are also lots of the little things that don’t make sense. When you think of teeth, on both sides of a mammal's bite you’d expect them to be the same size and have a mirror image morphology or shape. In narwhals it couldn’t be more opposite. It doesn’t even fall within any parameter of any creature ever known on the planet.

If you look at the narwhal’s, its tusk comes out of the left side. When you see photos of them, they angle their body so the tusk appears straight in alignment with the horizontal axis. But if you look at them still, clearly the tusk is coming from the left side. The tooth on the right side often stays embedded in the skull.

You’ve got a tooth on one side that’s between a foot and a foot and a half and on the other side it’s 9 feet. Even in the rare instance when the narwhal has two tusks, the right is usually less in length from the left. The erupted tusk is on the left side or on both sides, or none. Never on the right by itself.

Image: Some rights reserved by protohiro

Why mountain climbers lose weight

It's more than just a good workout. High-altitude climbers (paradoxically) don't eat as much as they do at sea level. Here's why.

Underwater view of polar bears swimming

Fat and fluffy, simultaneously stumbly-bumbly and graceful, polar bears are lovely to watch as they swim through frigid waters.

Radiation can be used to date wine

Probably every bottle of wine made since 1945 contains trace amounts of Cesium-137, from nuclear weapons fallout.

Study: People prefer electric shocks to being alone with their thoughts

Matthew writes, "A new paper in Science reports that when people are asked to entertain themselves with their own thoughts for 15 minutes, many resort to giving themselves painful electric shocks they'd previously said they'd pay to avoid."

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Map: Which states' governors are climate deniers?

Thinking of moving and wondering whether your new state's chief executive is a climate-denier?

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British Airways' "Happiness Blanket" sensor detects the totally obvious

British Airways is trialling an in-flight sensor blanket called the "Happiness Blanket" to determine what makes first class passengers happy.

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DIY alchemy



Written by three science instructors, The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged" is a combination weird science history and DIY projects book.

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Nadia Drake on her dad's equation for finding ET


In 1961 just a few days before a meeting of scientists interested in the search for ET, pioneering astronomer Frank Drake came up with a powerful provocation: an equation to estimate the number of worlds likely to harbor extraterrestrial civilizations; over at National Geographic, his science writer daughter Nadia looks at her dad's impact.


More than 50 years after it was written, the Drake equation still guides ways of thinking about how to find E.T. As the years have passed and instruments sharpened, astronomers have started to refine and fill in numbers for the equation's variables. But the variables themselves have stayed the same. My dad is repeatedly asked whether any factors are missing, he tells me, but "as far I know, they're not." He says that even when suggested missing factors seem "reasonable," they can already be found in one of the seven factors he came up with in 1961.
"How My Dad's Equation Sparked the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence"

FDA approves robotic exoskeleton for paraplegics

The FDA has approved Rewalk Robotics' personal exoskeleton for personal use by paraplegics.

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