In this 1960 photograph, the seven original Mercury astronauts participate in U.S. Air Force survival training exercises at Stead Air Force Base in Nevada. Pictured from left to right are: L. Gordon Cooper, M. Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter Schirra and Donald K. Slayton. Portions of their clothing have been fashioned from parachute material, and all have grown beards from their time in the wilderness. The purpose of this training was to prepare astronauts in the event of an emergency or faulty landing in a remote area. Forty-five years ago today on May 24, 1962, Scott Carpenter went on to fly the second American manned orbital flight. He piloted his Aurora 7 spacecraft through three revolutions of the Earth, reaching a maximum altitude of 164 miles. The spacecraft landed in the Atlantic Ocean about 1,000 miles, about 1,609 kilometers, southeast of Cape Canaveral after the 4 hour, 54 minute flight. Image credit: NASA
Last Tuesday evening, my article on Nabokov and butterflies went live on the New York Times web site. My editor and I decided on that timing to coincide with the lifting of the embargo on a new paper providing genetic support to a hypothesis Nabokov had about butterfly evolution. But that left a few days before it would appear in print in tomorrow’s Science Times. So my editor provided me the opportunity to add to the piece in the intervening time.
I rarely get two bites at the journalistic apple, so this was a welcome surprise. I beefed up my account of Nabokov’s lepidopteran revival, which started with the work of Kurt Johnson and others–which Johnson recounts in Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius. (Johnson is a co-author on the new study, too.)
And I also added a section about an amazing coincidence: another group of scientists recently published a molecular study backing another hypothesis of Nabokov’s–that Karner’s Blue Butterfly is a separate species. The man knew his butterflies.
If you don’t get the Times in print, you can read the version 2.0 online now. The print story is accompanied by some lovely photos; the Times has turned them into a slide show on their site.
The response to the story has been quite delightful. It was the most emailed article on the Times web site on Wednesday. I ended up talking about it on the John Batchelor Show, (starting at around 18:00 here). A co-author of the study, Naomi Pierce, went on NPR over the weekend to describe it. (Listen here.)
It’s always satisfying to see one of my articles serve as fertilizer for blog blossoms, and this time around a bountiful garden has sprouted. Here’s a by-n0-means-exhaustive list of my favorites:
I don’t usually make pleas on the Loom. It doesn’t suit my journalistic nature, and if I make a plug for one cause, it may seem like I am cruelly indifferent to all the other good causes out there. In this case, I’ll just fall back on self-interest! A few weeks back two young film-makers, Sam Gaty and George Costakis, stopped by my house to interview me about synthetic biology for a documentary they’re making on the subject. They’ve been filming across the country for the movie, but it won’t finished in time for next year’s Sundance unless they can raise a little scratch to get them through the summer. Over at the fund-raising site Kickstarter, Gaty makes the case–and offers a clip about goats making spider silk. If this movie doesn’t get made, I end up on the cutting room floor. Oh, the humanity! (Actually, I think the film would be pretty cool without me–but judge for yourself.)
Happy New Year to one and all. 2010 has been a busy one here, full of tattoos, duck privates, and cannibal Neanderthals. Here are the top posts of the year at the Loom…[P.S.–These are top posts as measured by readership]
Last month I wrote a piece for the New York Times about what ten scientists are looking forward to in 2011. One of the scientists, Rob Carlson, saw garage stem-cell research in our near future:
“It seems pretty likely within this year someone will show how to go from an adult peripheral blood draw to pluripotent stem cells. It means anyone who wants to try to make stem cells will be able to give it a whirl.”
Carlson took to his own blog to write at more length about what exactly he meant. For one thing, stem cell biohackers may want to think twice before sticking stem cells in their own bodies. They could end up with what Carlson calls DIY tumors. Check it out.
With so much attention given to one problematic study this week, astrobiology is getting an awful lot of attention–and probably not the sort that astrobiologists would like. If you want to broaden your view of this intriguing area of research, get thee to Itunes! Lynn Rothschild teaches a class on astrobiology at Stanford, and the winter 2010 edition of the course is available FOR FREE on Itunes. (I just started watching a couple classes and then decided to download the whole thing.) Also, check out the snazzy class web site for more on the study of life in the universe.
Ed Yong has written a great post on a new paper on how blue whales snarf up half a million calories in every gulp. The paper is the latest in a series put out by Jeremy Goldbogen of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his colleagues. If you want to dig back into the earlier research, check out my 2007 New York Times article and this Loom post on how a physicist who studies parachutes helped solve the mystery of big gulps.
Every now and then I take a moment at the Loom to marvel anew at the sophistication of a certain microbe. Today, I direct your attention to a report in New Scientist on E. coli that has been engineered to solve Sudoku puzzles. Frank Swain, the author, makes a good point: if E. coli is allowed to spread out the task among millions of individual microbes, it can tackle bigger problems. Let’s just hope that all the E. coli in our guts don’t figure this out on their own…