Posts tagged science
Posts tagged science
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Generally speaking, interspecies hybrids—like mules, ligers (lion-tiger hybrids), or zedonks (zebra-donkey hybrids)—are less fertile than the parents that produced them. However, as McCarthy has documented in his years of research into hybrids, many crosses produce hybrids that can produce offspring themselves. The mule, he notes, is an exceptionally sterile hybrid and not representative of hybrids as a whole. When it comes time to play the old nuclear musical chairs and produce gametes, some types of hybrids do a much better job. Liger females, for example, can produce offspring in backcrosses with both lions and tigers. McCarthy also points out that fertility can be increased through successive backcrossing with one of the parents, a common technique used by breeders. In the case of chimp - pig hybridization, the “direction of the cross” would likely have been a male boar or pig (Sus scrofa) with a female chimp (Pan troglodytes), and the offspring would have been nurtured by a chimp mother among chimpanzees (shades of Tarzan!).
Put me down as “skeptical but interested.”
Andy Marmary of the Royal Institution’s Ri Channel shows off a demonstration of superconductivity and magnets from the Institution’s 2012 Christmas Lectures.
The best few sentences in an abstract I’ve read recently come from this paper submitted to the open journal PLOS ONE in 2012:
Before lunch, half of our volunteers were shown 300 ml of soup and half were shown 500 ml. Orthogonal to this, half consumed 300 ml and half consumed 500 ml. This process yielded four separate groups (25 volunteers in each). Independent manipulation of the ‘actual’ and ‘perceived’ soup portion was achieved using a computer-controlled peristaltic pump. This was designed to either refill or draw soup from a soup bowl in a covert manner.
For ostensibly scientific purposes, we’ve invented gag soup bowls which we can remotely fill or empty on command. This is a 1930s comedy routine waiting to happen.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo have strapped a moth into a robotic exoskeleton, with the moth successfully controlling the robot to reach a specific location inside a wind tunnel.
In all, fourteen male silkmoths were tested, and they all showed a scary aptitude for steering a robot. In the tests, the moths had to guide the robot towards a source of female sex pheromone. The researchers even introduced a turning bias — where one of the robot’s motors is stronger than the other, causing it to veer to one side — and yet the moths still reached the target.
MOTHS ON TRACKBALLS WILL TAKE OVER THE PLANET