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Posts tagged science

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Stem cell scientist Haruko Obokata found guilty of misconduct

Ian Sample, The Guardian:

A young researcher who shot to fame in scientific circles when she published an apparently radical and simple way to create stem cells has been found guilty of misconduct by a committee charged with investigating her work.

Haruko Obokata, at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe, announced the breakthrough in January in two articles published in the scientific journal Nature, but the discovery was thrown into doubt after researchers elsewhere failed to replicate her work.

The ruling has not settled the debate over whether her breakthrough was real, though. In a bizarre twist in an already convoluted story, the committee’s ruling against Obokata came moments before an independent researcher claimed to have succeeded in making the cells using a slightly different procedure.

Never heard of her or her research before now. This is weird as heck.

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Mugshots built from DNA data

Sara Reardon, Nature:

Leaving a hair at a crime scene could one day be as damning as leaving a photograph of your face. Researchers have developed a computer program that can create a crude three-dimensional (3D) model of a face from a DNA sample.

There’s still a whole lot we don’t know about how our genes end up making us who we are, so the team went about it the only way we know how: with a mountain of statistics applied to genomes and facial scans.

Reardon also talks about a Chinese team doing much the same work.

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The Creation Museum Wants Some Airtime on Neil deGrasse Tyson's 'Cosmos'

Abby Ohlheiser on The Wire:

Answers in Genesis (the organization that brought you the Creation Museum) is demanding some airtime on Cosmos, the Neil deGrasse Tyson reboot of the classic Carl Sagan science series currently airing on Fox. Their argument? Basically, it’s that the science program is not balanced without the inclusion of their religious beliefs. Although this will never happen — Tyson has personally ruled out debating Creationists on the issue of evolution — it’s just the latest example of how the show is worrying a particular set of evangelical Christians in the US.

"Do they do any interviews with scientists themselves," Janet Mefferd asked Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis on Thursday, "and do they ever give creationists some time?" Faulkner responded that "Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all."

Colin and I have watched the first two episodes together and are tentatively enjoying the show, the second episode more than the first, but we both have some major reservations about the production (especially the sound design).

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The Town That's Building Life Around Sleep

Julie Beck, The Atlantic:

[University of Groningen researcher Dr. Thomas] Kantermann is a chronobiologist, meaning he studies the differences in people’s circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. A person’s preferred sleep pattern is his or her “chronotype.” This is what we’re talking about when we say someone is a morning person or a night owl. Research has shown that living outside your chronotype, which most of us do—waking ourselves up early with an alarm clock for school or work, or staying out too late at the bars—can lead to all kinds of problems other than just being tired: poor memory, depression, obesity, even a greater risk for some kinds of cancer.

… in July 2013, he, [business developer Michael] Wieden, Bad Kissingen’s mayor and town council, and other researchers from the University of Groningen and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich signed a letter of intent. In that letter, they pledged to promote chronobiology research in the town, to “gather results that are directly applicable to living, education, work, well-being, health, mobility, rehabilitation, and sleep.” It goes on to claim that “the city of Bad Kissingen will be the first in the world realizing scientific field studies in a wider context.”

Kantermann says that this project might result in Bad Kissingen abolishing daylight saving time, which clearly makes it one of the most worthwhile endeavors known to man.

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Court documents reveal DOE-backed Envia isn’t the breakthrough battery startup it appeared

Katie Fehrenbacher on Gigaom:

Silicon Valley battery startup Envia Systems once claimed that its next-generation lithium ion battery tech was such a breakthrough that it could bring electric vehicles to the masses. Those claims brought in millions of dollars of funds from the Department of Energy’s APRA-E program, Valley venture capitalists, and a deal with car giant GM, which makes the Volt electric car. But according to information revealed in two lawsuits against Envia, the company is alleged to have used other companies’ technology in its battery tech (one part allegedly stolen, one part purchased and used as if it was their own), and hasn’t been able to recreate the breakthrough battery results for its GM deal, leading to that deal allegedly being cancelled.

I’ve never heard of these guys before, but the tech sounds like it’d be pretty cool if it actually worked. Envia has denied the allegations.

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Why it's time for brain science to ditch the 'Venus and Mars' cliche

Robin McKie, science editor at The Observer:

Yes, men and women probably do have differently wired brains, but there is little convincing evidence to suggest these variations are caused by anything other than cultural factors. Males develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing. Similarly, it is anticipated that girls will be more emotional and talkative, and so their verbal skills are emphasised by teachers and parents. As the years pass, these different lifestyles produce variations in brain wiring – which is a lot more plastic than most biological determinists realise.

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thereconstructionists:

Not only did Scottish mathematician, science writer, and polymath Mary Fairfax Somerville (December 26, 1780—November 28, 1872) defy the era’s deep-seated bias against women in science, she was the very reason the word “scientist” was coined: When reviewing her seminal second book, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, which Somerville wrote at the age of 54, English polymath and Trinity College master William Whewell was so impressed that he thought it rendered the term “men of science” obsolete and warranted a new, more inclusive descriptor to honor Somerville’s contribution to the field.
Reconstructionist Maria Mitchell, herself a pioneer who paved the way for women in science, captured Somerville’s singular genius in a May 1860 article for The Atlantic:

To read mathematical works is an easy task; the formulae can be learned and their meaning apprehended: to read the most profound of them, with such appreciation that one stands side by side with the great minds who originated them, requires a higher order of intellect; and far-reaching indeed is that which, pondering in the study on a few phenomena known by observation, develops the theory of worlds, traces back for ages their history, and sketches the outline of their future destiny.

Somerville came to science by way of the arts, the era’s traditional domain for young girls. When her art teacher made a passing reference to Euclid and his theories of geometry to explain perspective in painting, noting that they also illuminated the foundations of astronomy and physics, young Mary found herself mesmerized by the promise of a science so expansive and dimensional. So she pleaded with her brother’s science tutor to help her learn about Euclid. But her ascent to science was far from smooth — this early initiative was met with adamant resistance by her father, who found mathematics not only unsuitable but also sanity-jeopardizing for his daughter. Somerville recalls in her journals:

My father came home for a short time, and, somehow or other, finding out what I was about, said to my mother, ‘Peg, we must put a stop to this, or we shall have Mary in a strait jacket one of these days. There was X., who went raving mad about the longitude!’

To correct young Mary’s intellectual aberrations, her parents put her on a steady diet of illustrated ladies’ journals. But those happened to contain puzzles and logical riddles, many of which required mathematical solutions. It was in them that Mary discovered the curious symbols of algebraic equations and was once again enthralled.
Rather than thwarting her budding crush on mathematics, her parents had inadvertently turned it into a lifelong love.
Even so, however, they were bent on sending their daughter down the traditional path destined for women of the era. When she was twenty-four, Mary was married to her distant cousin, Samuel Grieg — a severe man with little faith in women’s capacities beyond their childbearing ability, who forbad Mary from pursuing her studies.
When Grieg died three years later, he left Somerville with two young children, but also with an inheritance and a freedom that opened a new horizon for learning. She soon began corresponding with the mathematician William Wallace at the University of Edinburgh, who mentored her studies in math and astronomy as she at last indulged her intellectual calling.
In 1832, Somerville married another cousin, Dr. William Somerville — a bright and gentle man who thought the world of her, encouraged her studies, and relentlessly helped her master the physical sciences. After the couple moved to London, along with their four children and the two boys from the previous marriage, Somerville met some of the era’s greatest scientific minds, from legendary astronomer William Herschel to computing pioneer Charles Babbage. It was there she became the first mathematical tutor of reconstructionist Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, thus illustrating the beautiful daisy chain of brilliance that unfolds when the hunger for knowledge is set free from the shackles of stereotypes and cultural norms.
In 1835, Somerville and Caroline Herschel, sister of William Herschel and a trailblazing astronomer in her own right, became the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Above all, however, Somerville embodied the richness of mind and spirit that marks out the true scientist. Maria Mitchell, who had met her in 1858, poignantly observes in her Atlantic essay:

No one can make the acquaintance of this remarkable woman without increased admiration for her. The ascent of the steep and rugged path of science has not unfitted her for the drawing-room circle; the hours of devotion to close study have not been incompatible with the duties of the wife and the mother; the mind that has turned to rigid demonstration has not thereby lost its faith in the truths which figures will not prove.

Learn more: Personal Recollections, from Early Life to Old Age, of Mary Somerville | Wikipedia

The Reconstructionists is a very cool art/biography project that you should totally check out right this second.

thereconstructionists:

Not only did Scottish mathematician, science writer, and polymath Mary Fairfax Somerville (December 26, 1780—November 28, 1872) defy the era’s deep-seated bias against women in science, she was the very reason the word “scientist” was coined: When reviewing her seminal second book, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, which Somerville wrote at the age of 54, English polymath and Trinity College master William Whewell was so impressed that he thought it rendered the term “men of science” obsolete and warranted a new, more inclusive descriptor to honor Somerville’s contribution to the field.

Reconstructionist Maria Mitchell, herself a pioneer who paved the way for women in science, captured Somerville’s singular genius in a May 1860 article for The Atlantic:

To read mathematical works is an easy task; the formulae can be learned and their meaning apprehended: to read the most profound of them, with such appreciation that one stands side by side with the great minds who originated them, requires a higher order of intellect; and far-reaching indeed is that which, pondering in the study on a few phenomena known by observation, develops the theory of worlds, traces back for ages their history, and sketches the outline of their future destiny.

Somerville came to science by way of the arts, the era’s traditional domain for young girls. When her art teacher made a passing reference to Euclid and his theories of geometry to explain perspective in painting, noting that they also illuminated the foundations of astronomy and physics, young Mary found herself mesmerized by the promise of a science so expansive and dimensional. So she pleaded with her brother’s science tutor to help her learn about Euclid. But her ascent to science was far from smooth — this early initiative was met with adamant resistance by her father, who found mathematics not only unsuitable but also sanity-jeopardizing for his daughter. Somerville recalls in her journals:

My father came home for a short time, and, somehow or other, finding out what I was about, said to my mother, ‘Peg, we must put a stop to this, or we shall have Mary in a strait jacket one of these days. There was X., who went raving mad about the longitude!’

To correct young Mary’s intellectual aberrations, her parents put her on a steady diet of illustrated ladies’ journals. But those happened to contain puzzles and logical riddles, many of which required mathematical solutions. It was in them that Mary discovered the curious symbols of algebraic equations and was once again enthralled.

Rather than thwarting her budding crush on mathematics, her parents had inadvertently turned it into a lifelong love.

Even so, however, they were bent on sending their daughter down the traditional path destined for women of the era. When she was twenty-four, Mary was married to her distant cousin, Samuel Grieg — a severe man with little faith in women’s capacities beyond their childbearing ability, who forbad Mary from pursuing her studies.

When Grieg died three years later, he left Somerville with two young children, but also with an inheritance and a freedom that opened a new horizon for learning. She soon began corresponding with the mathematician William Wallace at the University of Edinburgh, who mentored her studies in math and astronomy as she at last indulged her intellectual calling.

In 1832, Somerville married another cousin, Dr. William Somerville — a bright and gentle man who thought the world of her, encouraged her studies, and relentlessly helped her master the physical sciences. After the couple moved to London, along with their four children and the two boys from the previous marriage, Somerville met some of the era’s greatest scientific minds, from legendary astronomer William Herschel to computing pioneer Charles Babbage. It was there she became the first mathematical tutor of reconstructionist Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, thus illustrating the beautiful daisy chain of brilliance that unfolds when the hunger for knowledge is set free from the shackles of stereotypes and cultural norms.

In 1835, Somerville and Caroline Herschel, sister of William Herschel and a trailblazing astronomer in her own right, became the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Above all, however, Somerville embodied the richness of mind and spirit that marks out the true scientist. Maria Mitchell, who had met her in 1858, poignantly observes in her Atlantic essay:

No one can make the acquaintance of this remarkable woman without increased admiration for her. The ascent of the steep and rugged path of science has not unfitted her for the drawing-room circle; the hours of devotion to close study have not been incompatible with the duties of the wife and the mother; the mind that has turned to rigid demonstration has not thereby lost its faith in the truths which figures will not prove.

The Reconstructionists is a very cool art/biography project that you should totally check out right this second.

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How human language could have evolved from birdsong

Peter Dizikes, MIT News:

The balance of evidence, [MIT and University of Tokyo researchers] believe, suggests that human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: first, the elaborate songs of birds, and second, the more utilitarian, information-bearing types of expression seen in a diversity of other animals. […]

The idea builds upon [MIT professor Shigeru] Miyagawa’s conclusion, detailed in his previous work, that there are two “layers” in all human languages: an “expression” layer, which involves the changeable organization of sentences, and a “lexical” layer, which relates to the core content of a sentence. His conclusion is based on earlier work by linguists including Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser.

Based on an analysis of animal communication, and using Miyagawa’s framework, the authors say that birdsong closely resembles the expression layer of human sentences — whereas the communicative waggles of bees, or the short, audible messages of primates, are more like the lexical layer. At some point, between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, humans may have merged these two types of expression into a uniquely sophisticated form of language.

The article goes into a bunch more detail, some really interesting conclusions.

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Investigational malaria vaccine found safe and protective

The National Institute of Health:

An investigational malaria vaccine has been found to be safe, to generate an immune system response, and to offer protection against malaria infection in healthy adults, according to the results of an early-stage clinical trial published Aug. 8 in the journal Science.

The vaccine, known as PfSPZ Vaccine, was developed by scientists at Sanaria Inc., of Rockville, Md. The clinical evaluation was conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and their collaborators at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Md., and the Naval Medical Research Center, Bethesda, Md.

If this pans out, this could be a huge deal. Scientists estimate malaria killed as many as 1.2 million people in 2010 alone.

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Mysterious radio bursts in far parts of universe hint at cataclysm

Amina Khan blogging for the Los Angeles Times:

Strange bursts of radio waves from billions of light-years across the universe have puzzled astronomers for more than half a decade, making them question if the signal was even real. Now, in a paper published by the journal Science, researchers say they think they’ve figured out a potential explanation: Something cataclysmic.

What exact cataclysm is causing them, however – merging stars, dying stars, stars being eaten alive – is still up for serious debate.

Outer space is screaming.