777 posts tagged Science
Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark
In unseen worlds, science invariably crosses paths with fantasy.
For centuries, scientists studied light to comprehend the visible world. Why are things colored? What is a rainbow? How do our eyes work? And what is light itself? These are questions that preoccupied scientists and philosophers since the time of Aristotle, including Roger Bacon, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Thomas Young, and James Clerk Maxwell. But in the late 19th century all that changed, and it was largely Maxwell’s doing. This was the period in which the whole focus of physics—then still emerging as a distinct scientific discipline—shifted from the visible to the invisible. Light itself was instrumental to that change. Not only were the components of light invisible “fields,” but light was revealed as merely a small slice of a rainbow extending far into the unseen.
Physics has never looked back. Today its theories and concepts are concerned largely with invisible entities: not only unseen force fields and insensible rays but particles too small to see even with the most advanced microscopes. We now know that our everyday perception grants us access to only a tiny fraction of reality. Telescopes responding to radio waves, infrared radiation, and X-rays have vastly expanded our view of the universe, while electron microscopes, X-ray beams, and other fine probes of nature’s granularity have unveiled the microworld hidden beyond our visual acuity. Theories at the speculative forefront of physics flesh out this unseen universe with parallel worlds and with mysterious entities named for their very invisibility: dark matter and dark energy.
go read this..
15 Inaccuracies Found In Common Science Illustrations - mental_floss on YouTube
A weekly show where knowledge junkies get their fix of trivia-tastic information. This week we have the incredibly knowledgeable Michael Stevens, from Vsauce, to look at some common inaccuracies found in scientific illustrations.
(Ep.48) (by Mental Floss)
It’s time to build a bionic brain for smarter research
The structure of the brain reveals a network of massively interconnected electrochemically active cells. It is known that information can be represented by changes of state within this network, but that statement falls far short of revealing how the brain supports thought, feelings, memory, intention and action. How then to solve this problem? The physicist Richard Feynmann famously said “What I cannot create, I do not understand”. A report published today by the Australian Academy of Science proposes applying this approach to the study of the brain by creating a simulating the biological thought process within a new computer system. In short: build a bionic brain. The device could be truly revolutionary. A bionic brain built on biological principles could suggest entirely new approaches to artificial intelligence. It would be a new computer resource inspiring new solutions for fail-safe smart machines. Simulating thought in a bionic brain would also provide a whole new tool with which to investigate the operation of neural circuits. A bionic brain would provide a whole new approach to the study of not just normal mental function, but also mental disorder such as psychosis, addiction and anxiety. It would provide a new resource to examine the causes of these disorders and even test proposed therapies. Ultimately a bionic brain may even provide a solution for victims of brain damage or stroke by outsourcing some aspects of brain function to a prosthetic device. (via It’s time to build a bionic brain for smarter research)
We now have solid evidence that elephants are some of the most intelligent, social and empathic animals around—so how can we justify keeping them in captivity?
The human memory system is a fascinating one, and is often the subject of science fiction scenarios. But the workings of human memory are such that it can often be stranger than fiction
Quantum researchers close in on dream vacancy
(Phys.org) —Defects in microscopic diamonds caused by the presence of silicon could provide researchers with a potent basis for developing new technologies, including nanoscale sensing devices. Scientists have successfully tested a new way of using miniscule fragments of diamond to transmit information, a method which could eventually lead to the development of new computing and sensing technologies. The research, reported today (Tuesday, 18 February, 2014) in the journal Nature Communications involved exploiting atomic defects which appear in the crystal structure of a diamond, known to physicists as “vacancy centres”. These are literally vacancies – gaps in the lattice of carbon atoms which make up diamond at its most fundamental level. They usually occur around an impurity, where instead of a carbon atom, some other element has naturally found its way into the structure. For scientists, vacancy centres offer huge promise because they trap electrons which could then be manipulated to transmit information in a radically new way. Eventually, the technique could enable the development of quantum networks and quantum computing; a means of moving data far more efficiently and quickly than computers do today. Yet the perfect vacancy centre is hard to come by, because it needs to possess a combination of very precise characteristics which are rarely found together. The new study marks a breakthrough because researchers managed to access the state of the electrons around a vacancy centre based on silicon – something which had not been done before – and discovered that it has some of the crucial qualities that they have been looking for. The work was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Saarland University, in Germany. (via Quantum researchers close in on dream vacancy)
Probably the best BBC Knowledge Explainer about DNA ..
BBC Knowledge and Learning is exploring a wide variety of topics from social history to science in a series of three-minute online Explainer documentaries, and commissioned Territory (territorystudio.com) to produce an animated film on the subject of DNA.
As Will Samuel, lead designer and animator on the project explains, the approach taken wasn’t just to look into a scientific future. “We needed to find a graphic style to communicate the beauty and intricacy of DNA. We wanted to create nostalgia; taking the audience back to the days of textbook diagrams and old science documentaries, such as Carl Sagan’s COSMOS and IBM’s POWER OF TEN (1977). Using the double helix circular theme as a core design we focused on form, movement and colour to create a consistent flow to the animation, drawing on references from nature, illustrating how DNA is the core to everything around us.”
Three minutes is a short time to explore a subject where most doctorates only scratch the surface, so writer Andrew S. Walsh teamed up with molecular biologist Dr Matthew Adams to distil the script down to the most fundamental elements required to understand not only DNA’s form and function but how our understanding of these discoveries has affected the wider world. While this length may feel restrictive, the team found that this limitation acted as a lens, focusing the piece on the essentials.
The Explainer series is designed to intrigue and inform, encouraging those who discover the documentaries to further explore through links to additional information found on the BBC website.
University of Vienna app uses your phone for research while you sleep
Our mobile phones generally lie dormant while we’re asleep, which means that millions of powerful processors are going unused for hours at a time. Samsung Austria and the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Life Sciences have teamed up to try and tap the potential of all that unused processing power. Power Sleep is a new Android app that allows mobile phone users to donate the processing power of their devices to scientific research while they are asleep. The Power Sleep app provides users with a simple alarm clock function. When the alarm is set and the user’s phone is plugged in, fully charged and connected to a Wi-Fi network, the app begins to process data sent from the Similarity Matrix of Proteins (SIMAP) database. The research is focused on deciphering protein sequences in order to help with medical advancements in disciplines such as genetics and heredity, biochemistry, molecular biology and cancer research. “In order to fight diseases like cancer and Alzheimers, we need to know how proteins are arranged,” says Thomas Rattei, professor of bioinformatics at the University of Vienna. “This requires trials that need a tremendous amount of processing power. Power Sleep is a bridge between science and society. It promotes not only our research, but allows people in Austria to become part of the project and, at the same time, to do good in their sleep.” (via University of Vienna app uses your phone for research while you sleep)
For Nicholas Hud, a chemist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the turning point came in July of 2012 when two of his students rushed into his office with a tiny tube of gel. The contents, which looked like a blob of lemon Jell-O, represented the fruits of a 20-year effort to construct something that looked like life from the cacophony of chemicals that were available on the early Earth. To some biochemists, Hud’s attempts to find an evolutionary precursor to ribonucleic acid may have seemed a fool’s errand. The dominant theory to explain the origins of life — known as the RNA world hypothesis — regards ribonucleic acid as the first biological molecule. Its allure comes from the molecule’s dual nature. Unlike DNA, the molecule that provides the blueprint for all living things, RNA acts as both an information carrier and an enzyme, catalyzing reactions. That means the molecule has the potential to copy itself and to pass along its genetic code, two essential components for Darwinian evolution. If RNA was indeed the first biological molecule, discovering how it first formed would illuminate the birth of life. The basic building blocks of RNA were available on prebiotic Earth, but chemists, including Hud, have spent years trying to assemble them into an RNA molecule with little success. About 15 years ago, Hud grew frustrated with that search and decided to explore an alternative idea: Perhaps the first biological molecule was not RNA, but a precursor that possessed similar characteristics and could more easily assemble itself from prebiotic ingredients. Perhaps RNA evolved from this more ancient molecule, just as DNA evolved from RNA.
UNESCO has declared 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography. But why? Quite simply because the science of crystallography has revolutionised how we live – and yet few people know about it. Crystallography is the study of crystalline solids to understand how the atoms inside the solids are arranged. Normally this involves firing a beam of X-rays at a sample and recording the pattern of those scattered X-rays. From the interpretation of these patterns we can deduce information about the way atoms are arranged in a solid. By understanding the atomic arrangement we can interpret the properties these solids display and hopefully improve upon them. Single crystals (like a single grain of salt or sugar) scatter a single beam of X-rays as many well-divided beams that can be recorded as a series of spots on an X-ray sensitive plate. Powdered samples, for example, icing sugar or cement, scatter X-rays in cones that appear as rings on an X-ray sensitive plate. Interpretation of the X-ray scattering patterns from single crystals and powders is the realm of crystallography. We may not recognise it but crystallography is fundamental to many branches of science and technology that we take for granted in our daily lives.