Archive for March, 2008

Brain Surgery with Power Tools: Not So Hard After All

By Lizzie Buchen | March 18, 2008 1:41 pm

Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon, became a star of today’s news by performing major brain surgery on Marian Dolishny—with a cordless $60 hand drill. And the drill ran out of batteries about halfway through, so Doc MacGyver finished the procedure by hand. And there was no anesthesiologist, so the patient only got a local painkiller. Oh, and there happened to be a television crew present—filming a documentary on Marsh and his hand-drill surgeries.

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Mix a Million Grains of Sugar With a Human Brain’s Worth of Flour

By Lizzie Buchen | March 18, 2008 1:25 pm

measuring-cup.jpgA design student at University of the Arts London created this useful work of sci-art by putting unfamiliar units—such as “as many grains of flour as people on the planet”—on a measuring cup. The piece is part of his Domestic Science collection, which aims to help people “better conceptualize certain scientific constructs”—although the designer, Harry White, noted in an e-mail that “the measurements vary from being quite accurate to almost a joke, a reflection on the nature of measurement in science.”

His other pieces include evo-cut, a “set of cutlery designed according to the principles of population genetics and natural variation,” and You’re one in a million, “containing a million dots, one of which is yellow,” to help people “feel what a million and a millionth are like.”

MORE ABOUT: art, measurement

Wait… Chimpanzees Don’t Wear Hats in the Wild?

By Lizzie Buchen | March 17, 2008 8:35 pm

anth-chimp.jpgThere’s a high probability that the last chimpanzee you saw on television was wearing suspenders and a hat or was smoking a cigar. Of course, it could also have been playing pranks in an ad for (video), or dancing in a commercial for Arby’s (video) or ETrade (video), or giving a high five to Matt LeBlanc from Friends. We’re habituated to seeing chimps anthropomorphized on television, but are there any downsides to all this alleged fun besides hackneyed, mediocre humor?

Apparently so. Last week, a group of primatologists, including the distinguished Jane Goodall, wrote a letter to Science magazine (subscription required) that criticized the entertainment and media industry for their portrayal of chimpanzees, stating that “such inappropriate portrayals are viewed by millions of people annually,” leading people to mistakenly perceive “chimpanzees as frivolous subhumans that are not in danger of extinction.”

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MORE ABOUT: chimpanzees

Google Brings You to Outer Space

By Lizzie Buchen | March 16, 2008 10:13 pm

google-sky.jpgWhen Google Street View was released less than a year ago, its 360-degree panoramic shots from ground level changed the way people explored new cities (along with providing a Web-based haven for people watching). Now, Google is taking this technology to a higher level (har) with Google Sky, an Internet tool that brings you unlimited online stargazing opportunities. Google Sky lets you traipse amongst the celestial bodies, search for planets and galaxies, and even switch to microwave and infrared views. And if you’re not having luck finding anything cool yourself (there’s a lot of nothing out there), you can head to the image galleries, which take you to some sweet shots from the Hubble, Chandra X-Ray, GALEX UV, and Spitzer infrared scopes.

The tool is a bit slow, so if you’re not the biggest fan of watching images load you can download the Google Earth application for free, which includes Google Sky as an additional feature.

Image: Google

I Think I’m Having a Stroke… Cool!

By Lizzie Buchen | March 13, 2008 3:45 pm

ted.jpgTED (Technology Entertainment Design) is an annual conference that features some fascinating lectures on a broad range of topics, including science. All the talks are videotaped and available for free (as audio or video) at their Web site, and they’re definitely worth checking out.

There’s one particularly compelling video given by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor. Taylor has a deep, visceral understanding of the brain that few neuroscientists have achieved: A blood vessel exploded in her brain in 1996. In her talk, she recounts the experience of witnessing her body and mind deteriorate, as over the course of 4 hours she lost her ability to walk, talk, read, write, and recall any memories. Well aware that she was having a stroke, she managed to study and remember every moment, thinking “Wow, this is so cool, how many brain scientists have the chance to study that from the inside?”

MORE ABOUT: stroke, ted

Dolphin Saves Beached Whales Using… Language of the Sea?

By Lizzie Buchen | March 12, 2008 4:56 pm

dolphins.jpgDolphins always seem to find the most bizarre ways to make the headlines. In their most recent adventure, it appears that a dolphin named Moko has come to the rescue of two beached pygmy whales—by “communicating with the whales and leading them to safety,” according to the BBC.

Malcolm Smith, who was at the scene, said “there was obviously something that went on because the two whales changed their attitude from being quite distressed to following the dolphin quite willingly and directly along the beach and straight out to sea.” This extraordinary tale of cetacean correspondence was also covered by CNN, The LA Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, and various Australian papers.

So what happened out there between Moko and the whales? Did she really communicate with them? If so, do these animals share a language—dolphinese perhaps?

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MORE ABOUT: dolphins, language

New Sins Are Signs of New Times

By Lizzie Buchen | March 12, 2008 1:15 pm

modern devilThe original seven deadly sins laid out by the Catholic Church—pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath, and sloth—are the classics of immorality, the same basic flaws humans have evinced since coming out of the trees (and, perhaps, even before). But in our booming, globalized, highly networked world, there are some new and very harmful errors at our disposal. And while the Vatican doesn’t have a Facebook page yet (unlike Discover), they do recognize that modern times call for modern vices.

In an interview headlined “New Forms of Social Sin,” Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, insisted that “new sins have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalization.” The list of “mortal sins,” as they have now been classified, came at the end of a week-long seminar in Rome that intended to deal with the dismal turnout at recent confessions. Seems logical: If a wider range of souls are in danger of eternal damnation, more will seek absolution. So, what are the new ways to fall from grace?

Girotti devotes some space to a familiar type of don’t-treat-your-brother-poorly admonitions—like social injustice that causes poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”—but many of the new rules concern modern science, stuff that the sixth-century pope Gregory the Great never dreamed of.

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Pretty Pictures of Tiny Things

By Lizzie Buchen | March 11, 2008 1:32 pm

The Wellcome Image Awards for 2008 have been announced, “recognising the achievements of scientists who have created bold and groundbreaking images as part of their own research and made them available for public use through the Wellcome Library’s image repository, Wellcome Images.”

The 22 winning images include red blood cells leaking from a ruptured blood vessel, the trachea of a silkworm, decrepit-looking breast cancer cells, and a fly posing on sugar crystals.

What You Need to Know About Drug Water

By Lizzie Buchen | March 10, 2008 4:57 pm

water.jpgThe dramatic thriller involving our drug-contaminated drinking water, starring a 2,500-word article by the Associated Press, has been taking over the headlines today (that is, at least, until the Feds found out how much Spitzer paid for hookers) . During the AP’s investigation, they reviewed published scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants, and interviewed hundreds of officials, academics, and scientists. The results: trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones contaminate the drinking water of 41 million Americans, including the watersheds of 28 metropolitan areas.

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A Happy Monday?!

By Lizzie Buchen | March 10, 2008 10:22 am

Hello sunshine! Unless you strolled into work an hour late today, you’re probably celebrating the commencement of daylight saving time. Here in New York City, an hour of sunshine has moved from about 6:15 am—when we shrink from it and exclude it from our bedrooms—to 6:15 pm, when we can emerge from our offices to luxuriate in its warmth and embrace the opportunities for outdoor leisure activities. Even if the “lost” hour of sleep makes you drag a bit on the first morning, the sunnier afternoons are well worth that supplementary cup of coffee.

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