Posts tagged science
The insides of a tardigrade — also known as a water bear, or moss piglet (!) — imaged by a confocal laser scanning microscope. German researchers stacked several photographs, each in a different color, to get this picture of the inner workings of our planet’s toughest tiny little creature. Geez, this is just so, so cool. I mean, these little guys are less than a millimeter long, so until now we haven’t had a good look at their nervous system or musculature. And look at the confetti-like stuff in its bowel! (Maybe that’s not its bowel…I know nothing about tardigrade anatomy.) Also, because tardigrades can survive almost anything, it’s pretty apt that this one’s little fingers are making a sort of Live Long And Prosper sign. Right on, rainbow moss piglet. Right on.
Last month, Brookhaven Lab was part of Apple’s 1.24.14 video, which was shot at 15 locations around the globe in one day, including right here at our Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Keep an eye out during the video (at 00:47) for a shot of Brookhaven physicists working at our stunning atom smasher. We’re proud to be repping Big Science in this groundbreaking video.
January 24, 2014 was one of my favorite days since I’ve been at Brookhaven. It is so cool to be part of this Apple ad. Go check us out!
“ In a first for laser-driven fusion, scientists at a US lab say they have reached a key milestone called fuel gain: they are producing more energy than the fuel absorbed to start the reaction.”
Okay, okay, okay, okay, guys. Scientists at the National Ignition Facility have taken the first itty bitty baby steps towards fusion and I’m having trouble containing my excitement.
First of all, they’re using 192 laser beams, which are pointed at a gold chamber that converts the lasers into X-ray pulses, which then squeeze a small fuel pellet and make it implode and undergo fusion. That anyone ever figured out even how to do this is completely nutso.
Secondly, the lead researcher is named Omar Hurricane. I have never in my life heard a better name. He sounds like a comic book character. Please someone write a comic starring Omar Hurricane and his band of laser-wielding scientists.
And then there’s what it actually means. So far, they’ve been able to get 15 kilojoules of energy out of a fuel pellet that was blasted with 10 kilojoules. But, as The Guardian points out, much more energy is delivered by the lasers (and lost in the conversion to X-rays): “The lasers unleash nearly two megajoules of energy on their target, the equivalent, roughly, of two standard sticks of dynamite.”
Even so, this is a hugely significant tiny step forward toward recreating the clean energy production that happens in the heart of stars.
"The red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) lives all over Central America and the Caribbean. In the day, when the frog is asleep, a gold membrane creeps over its eyes. It lets in a small amount of light, enough so that if a predator approaches, the non-poisonous frog can wake up, show its bulging red eyes and present its yellow feet in a bid to make the would-be attacker think twice.”
Super cool. Super creepy. Way to go frogs. You win the Weirdest Body Part of the Week award. (I can’t wait to continue that series from here to eternity.)
There is beauty and wonder in places you might never think to look. This video of leafcutter ants was shot in Panama by artist Catherine Chalmers, who captures the stunning and balletic moves of these amazing insects. Pause at almost any moment and you’ve got an incredible picture.
I can’t stop marveling at how strong their little legs must be to latch onto the leaves while they’re cutting and hold them up while they grab pieces larger than their own bodies.
Take a minute to marvel with me, eh?
My latest piece for New Scientist is such a cliffhanger of a piece of research. Duck-billed dinosaurs, those large, gentle herbivores, were always thought to be flat-headed. But a new fossil of an Edmontosaurus regalis with mummified skin on the top of its head shows that they had this fleshy rooster-like crest between their eyes. This is pretty huge news, guys. Not only does one of the dinosaurs we have the most fossils for not look the way we thought it did, it could mean that other dinosaurs have features like this that we don’t yet know about. As one of the researchers put it, it’d be like finding out an elephant has a trunk after only seeing its skeleton, where there’s no indication of that kind of body part. The discovery also tells us something about these dinosaurs’ social behavior, considering that we think it was used for communication in sexual encounters, much like a rooster or condor uses its comb to signal strength in combat or attract females. That’s a pretty rare find when it comes to fossils.
My favorite thing I heard while I was reporting this piece came from a paleontologist named Terry Gates. His quote didn’t end up in the final version of the piece, but thank goodness I have a blog so I can share it:
"Like every really good scientific discovery, it answers one tiny question, but it creates a hundred more questions, which is the really cool part of the discovery. It’s not closing a chapter, it’s opening a whole new book of things that we can discover.”
That’s the cool thing about science. Just when you think you’ve found the corner piece to a puzzle, you find out there’s a whole other box of pieces you didn’t even know about.
I wrote about chameleons at New Scientist, and per usual, I learned so much about them that I am now completely fascinated and sort of obsessed with these creatures.
I mean, first of all, they are aliens. Check out their crazy hands, which look like they’re inside mittens! Look at their super bright colors! Watch them get all weird and flat! And look how frightening they are when they attack!
But the really cool thing I learned is that they don’t just use their colors to blend in. They evolved super bright colors that they use to impress the ladies or scare off competitors, and a new study — which pitted chameleons against each other in a round-robin tournament of battles — found that the brighter their side stripes are and the faster they change their head color, the more likely they are to win a fight. If there were some crazy underground chameleon fighting ring (which, for the record, I do not support), I’d make a fortune because I’d know who to bet on.
Yesterday at the new Light Source, I checked out this crazy piece of equipment that was just installed at the end of an x-ray beamline. The scientists tell me it’s a diffractometer, but I can’t be sure it’s not a Star Gate.
This isn’t quite the whole thing, yet. All those holes are places for instruments to be mounted, and those different instruments will measure how x-rays bounce off a sample material, held in the middle where that large circular knob is. Super cool.