ellestra: (cosima)
Today in bizarre American date writing system is 3.14 which makes it Pi Day (3.1416 is a rounding of Pi). It's a day to celebrate it, admire its many graphical representations, write "pi-kus" and "piems". Happy Pi Day.

Today ExoMars mission has successfully launched. It's an European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos mission to hunt for signs of alien life on the Red Planet. The mission’s 2016 phase includes a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) that’ll search for methane and other compounds of possible biological origin in Mars’ lower atmosphere, and a Schiaparelli entry, descent, and landing module, which will demonstrate complex landing technology for a larger, ground-based ExoMars rover slated to ship off in 2018. Already on Mars Curiosity is switching to a new mission. It's going to look for signs of life too.

Today is also the day when we are only month away from new Orphan Black episode (it's going to be on Thursdays now) and we have a new trailer.
ellestra: (tiger)
The biggest story this year so far is the discovery of gravitational waves. This just confirmed Einstein was right and will allow for a new ways to observe the universe. But here let Brian Greene explain it - he does it much better:

(This is official so probably geolocked - sorry :( )
ellestra: (tiger)
It's Wednesday at the beginning of October so it means all the science Nobel Prize winners have been announced. So here they are the winners of this year award for Medicine, Physics and Chemistry.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded one half jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura "for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites" and the other half to Youyou Tu "for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria". The diseases caused by parasites are still killing and maiming people. Roundworms cause disfigurements that are stuff of nightmares (and a clickbait for the countless website showing you worms in eyes and scrotum dragging behind a man - no link here you can google it if you think you can take it the BBC article is bad enough) and malaria is infecting hundreds of millions and killing hundreds of thousands every year (and those who die are mostly children). Anything that helps to fight these diseases makes our world markedly better. Ivermectin kills the first larval stage of the roundworm parasite and artemisinin is active during the stage when the parasite is located inside red blood cells. Both helped millions and continue to do so still but as always the danger of resistance looms so the research for new ways to get rid of these parasites is still crucial. Youyou Tu's discovery also shows that when something works it's no longer alternative medicine - it's just medicine.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 was awarded jointly to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald "for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass". This is for discovery that neutrinos can change flavours (this is how neutrinos types are described) and the ability to do that explained why we observed different quantity of each flavour than expected. It also meant that the baffling particles must have a mass. I always liked how they hunted for neutrinos in those underground caves and the man who had the idea how to do it and that neutrinos have flavours and can switch between them was a Cold War spy.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 was awarded jointly to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar "for mechanistic studies of DNA repair". I've been working in DNA repair most of my science career and one of the laureates work at the same university (and another one just next door) so I feel especially close to this one. This is the award for research on 3 main pathways of DNA repair - BER, NER and MMR. The first one is Base Excision Repair - if the DNA bases are damage (by for example oxydation) and change their properties the DNA cannot function properly so special enzymes remove the bad base and replace it with another. Nucleotide Excision Repair works in the very similar way but excises the whole nucleotides. The difference between base and nucleotide is that the base is just the A, T, C and G by themselves. Nucleotide includes also sugar that forms the structural skeleton of DNA. NER usually removes larger part of the DNA strand and then rebuilds it because the damage (like UV dimers) was so extensive it caused the deformation of the DNA structure. Mismatch Repair happens when the wrong type of base is incorporate into DNA. The bases always pair A with T and G with C. If the wrong base is incorporated then MMR comes to fix it which corrects polymerase errors and reduces replication errors 1000-fold. I'm not sure if I explain it simple enough. I spent so many years staring at the schematics of this pathways that everything seems to simplified to me. Sorry.
ellestra: (tiger)
The Martian crew worked pretty closely with NASA (including the interface design) and NASA now compares the science in the movie to the real thing on their tumblr. Another, more detailed look, at he science in the movie is on io9. Mika McKinnon gives grades to the different parts of movie science. Of course the big thing is the storms as with the book but some of the problems came with the changes they made for the movie. And here's the Rich Parnell manoeuvre in detail. And just saved for last here are some real pictures of Mars - straight from Curiosity.

And if you have enough of Mars here are photos from the Apollo program. Right there with Earth rising over the horizon and footsteps in the dust. Makes you wish this was something that's still happening, doesn't it?

Red globes

Sep. 28th, 2015 11:21 pm
ellestra: (sunrise)
The biggest news today is free flowing water on Mars. Google has a doodle already. And it's been on all the websites and news and late night shows. In perfect timing all of those also run the commercials for The Martian. It's almost as if that movie PR planned it for the marketing campaign.

It was suspected before with a photos that looked like a streams but we needed to be sure.
This time we knew where and when to look and here it is. Multiple photos and spectral analysis. Just like previously suspected it is very high in salt which is why it stays liquid in Mars cold atmosphere.

And for those of you who like me couldn't see it or were just asleep last night here are photos of the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse. It's pretty in red (although the previous ones I remember and in my dads description from Poland it's more brown in real life) but all I could see through clouds was this:
ellestra: (tiger)
It's this time again for the second most important awards in science or at least the most entertaining ones. Kissing, peeing, chicken dinosaurs and pain measuring - all the best the science has to offer. The winners of this year IgNoble Awards are:

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Callum Ormonde and Colin Raston, and Tom Yuan, Stephan Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N. Smith, William A. Brown, Kaitlin Pugliese, Tivoli Olsen, Mariam Iftikhar, Gregory Weiss, for inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
Accepted by: Callum Ormonde, Tivoli Olsen, Colin Raston, Greg Weis

PHYSICS PRIZE: Patricia Yang, David Hu, and Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).
Accepted by: Patricia Yang, David Hu, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo

LITERATURE PRIZE: Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira, and Nick J. Enfield, for discovering that the word "huh?" (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being quite sure why.
Accepted by: The authors were unable to attend the ceremony; they sent a video acceptance speech. They will receive their prize at an at a special event in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on October 3: The European Ig Nobel Show

MANAGEMENT PRIZE: Gennaro Bernile, Vineet Bhagwat, and P. Raghavendra Rau, for discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) that — for them — had no dire personal consequences.
Accepted by: Gennaro Bernile and P. Raghavendra Rau

ECONOMICS PRIZE: The Bangkok Metropolitan Police, for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Awarded jointly to two groups: Hajime Kimata; and to Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Natália Kamodyová, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and Gabriel Minárik, for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities).
Accepted by: Jaroslava Durdiaková and Peter Celec will be at the ceremony. Hajime Kimata will be at the Ig Informal Lectures, on Saturday, Sept 19 (a prior commitment prevented him from attending the Thursday ceremony); he sent a video acceptance speech which was played at the Thursday night ceremony.

MATHEMATICS PRIZE: Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer, for trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
Accepted by: Elisabeth Oberzaucher

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez, José Iriarte-Díaz , for observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.
Accepted by: Bruno Grossi, José Iriarte-Díaz, Omar Larach, Rodrigo A. Vásquez

DIAGNOSTIC MEDICINE PRIZE: Diallah Karim, Anthony Harnden, Nigel D'Souza, Andrew Huang, Abdel Kader Allouni, Helen Ashdown, Richard J. Stevens, and Simon Kreckler, for determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.
Accepted by: Diallah Karim, Anthony Harnden, Helen Ashdown, Nigel D'Souza, Abdel Kader Allouni

PHYSIOLOGY and ENTOMOLOGY PRIZE: Awarded jointly to two individuals: Justin Schmidt, for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and to Michael L. Smith, for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm). and which are the most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).
Accepted by: Justin Schmidt and Michael Smith
ellestra: (big gun)
I hate some foods - like mushrooms and tongues for their spongy texture. I avoid others - like (yellow) cheese because they just seem to bland to me. But there is a group that I just simply can't stand the taste. They just destroy the taste of any food they are in - cilantro, cinnamon, coffee, alcohol. I know all the things you love and everything I will try to avoid.

There was a lot of talk recently about why some people hate the taste of cilantro. One of the things that seems to be important is the cluster of smell receptor genes including OR6A2, which encodes a receptor that makes people sensitive to the aldehydes and the bitter taste gene TAS2R50, as well as the genes TRPA1 (this might be also be involved in caffeine detection - see my problem with coffee) and basic taste gene GNAT3. Aldehydes are chemicals responsible for the smell/taste of a lot of food - including cinnamon and coffee - so that could be an explanation why I hate all of those. Of course they are in a lot of other food - including the stuff I like (I like vanilla for example) - but there might be a specific group of aldehydes that is just not acceptable to me or their combination with a bitter taste (although the bitter taste alone is OK - I like grapefruits and non-boiled Brussels sprouts - bitterness makes them just taste more spicy). And if you are wondering about alcohol - well, that's just aldeyde before dehydrogenation. In fact the first step in alcohol metabolism is alcohol dehydrogenase turning it into aldehyde.

So here is my aldehyde problem. I dislike the smell. And I hate the taste experience.


Sep. 9th, 2015 11:27 pm
ellestra: (aeryn)
Both LHC and KEK got some weird results in two different experiments that suggest possibility of new particles outside standard model. They also don't fit into the Supersymetry theory. Right now the best guesses are some new type of Higgs boson or leptoquark.

Queen Elizabeth II has become the longest reigning British monarch in history today (she just beat Victoria). It's been just over 63 years, seven months and two days since the coronation and her rule is almost at the retirement age itself.

The 10 best experiments of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's according to blastr. They use the word scientific accuracy there but we can all agree that it only works in Muppet Labs. Science is universe specific unfortunately which is why we can't just adapt the technology that put pigs in space.

I wondered what could match Miss Piggy cameo but then I saw Team SHIELD effort and I lost it at the last one. Dubsmash battle continues.

Unfortunately only one of these isn't true. Which reminds me to have my existential crisis this week - "why am I even doing this?"
ellestra: (sunrise)
So I'm back in US after two extra hours spent in Toronto due to storm delays. Poland was beautiful as this is the time of year when everything is blooming (I went from lilacs and lily of the valley through the whole azalea and rhododendron blooming season all the way to pseudoacacia) and the weather was behaving perfectly. I got new visa. I met family. I replanted plants. And I (traditionally) got sick. I was too busy to write. Now I'm hiding from the heat as I came back straight into 35C (95F) and above weather (it's supposed to be 37 (99F) for the next 4 days straight). I resent the thought of going outside. I thought the 29-31C (84-89F) weather I was leaving in Poland was bad enough.

Also back - Philae lander. It just contacted Rosetta and the mission control. After 7 months of hibernation due to cold and lack of sunlight it's awake again. Just in time for the summer. It's just like a bear. Everyone's excited. It's been trending on twitter and xkcd has updated the Landing strip.


May. 19th, 2015 11:51 pm
ellestra: (sunrise)
On May 20 Planetary Society is sending the first test solar sail into Earth's orbit. You can watch the launch here tomorrow.

This first one is destined to burn in the atmosphere but this is the prototype for a actual launch next year. But they still need to secure additional founding so they have their own Kickstarter. They already almost 3x their goal but when both Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are asking nicely how can you not donate. Especially for something this awesome. It's like making science fiction happen yourself.

ellestra: (tiger)
Remember that "impossible" drive that everyone agreed cannot work but few labs made it work? Sceptics said that it wasn't really working. That thrust was just natural thermal convection currents arising from microwave heating or some other environmental conditions external to the drive. So NASA used it in vacuum and it still works. The physicist are very aggravated as noone understands how it works. It's like something out of an sf novel. I hope it's really true. Not just because space travel but also because there a whole new branch of physics that will need to explain this. And maybe other impossible things are possible too - like wormholes at reasonable energy levels.

After all there are other planets out there. We discover more and more everyday and now you can name them. The International Astronomical Union started a NameExoWorlds contest were you can propose popular names for 15 stars and 32 planets. Just remember you need to explain your choices.

So if we are getting ready to space travel maybe also same better power storage system. Tesla just made new batteries. Not just for cars - for houses. Right now if you generate your own power (solar, wind, etc.) you cannot really store it. You can sell it back to the grid but it's usually at the times when it's least necessary (solar) or it's unpredictable (wind). But if you could store it for the night and cloudy days it wouldn't go to waste. That's what these are supposed to accomplish. And they come in different colours.

And something needs to run the calculations for all that space travel and new physics. Good thing that IBM just made a crucial breakthrough in quantum computing. They found a new method for correcting errors on a quantum circuit. Unfortunately quantum bits are prone to spontaneous flipping between 0 and 1 or changing the sign of the phase relationship. Those two types of quantum error (called bit-flip and phase-flip) that will occur in any real quantum computer. IBM found a way to detect them both at the same time which should allow for greater reliability of quantum computers which should finally make them usable.
ellestra: (charlie jade)
LHC was supposed to be back in operation after two years of upgrades but it short-circuited during booting so we'll still have to wait for that dark matter explanation a little longer. They need to opposite of vacuum it first by flushing it out with high-pressure helium gas.

For the first time since MIR there will be someone living in space for a year. Or rather two someones. One is Russian and the other is American and a part of real life re-enactment of the famous identical twins experiment. The one when one stays on Earth while the other is in space. Identical twins and space. No near relativistic speeds this time so age difference will be unnoticeable but there are plenty of other things to learn. The last cosmonaut in this mission crew will be only staying for standard 6 months but that will allow him to become the person who spent the most days in space ever nevertheless.

Curiosity discovered another compound that's connected to life as we know it - nitric oxide. Most people think about it as laughing gas but it only has that effect because it's an important signalling molecule that triggers a lot of metabolic pathways. It can also be the result of lightning or meteor impact so it doesn't mean much by itself but might be also another clue in Curiosity's search for life. Meanwhile her landing marks fade.

While Curiosity is still only beginning her journey Opportunity has just finished a marathon. It's been more than 10 years and 42km and it's still going. Maybe xkcd is right. Maybe she's marking what hers. Unless amnesia gets her first.

I thought that starfish ripping themselves apart were horrific enough but now octopodes are eating their own arms. In next Syfy movie this will be an alien virus that just goes up the animal kingdom all the way to humans. The trick is to invent even more horrific form of self mutilation than those already described.

Graphene light bulbs because what is leaving in the future worth without it being made of science fiction materials.

Artificial ants working together just like the real ones
ellestra: (cosima)
It's March - the month of Cage Matches. I was to write about them earlier but I had a lot of work and bad things kept happening so I'm left with just reporting the results for two of them.

[livejournal.com profile] f_march_madness had its final vote today and the winner of 2015 Fandom Steel Cage Match March Madness is once again new - brand fresh to TV at least - Agent Carter has only premiered this year and Peggy has already won (by over 2/3 of votes).

I'm super happy about this next winner. Not only she was woman and scientist but she was also Polish. In Ultimate Genius Showdown run by 92Y and MSNBC the ultimate champion is Marie Curie. Or as she is known in her home country Maria Skłodowska-Curie. I don't do patriotism very often but in this case I couldn't even pretend to be objective. Good that there is no doubt she deserves this.

This last one you can still vote in. Suvudu Cage Match theme this year is Women Warriors. The stage 2 has just closed but there is still plenty of voting left. I have to admit I don't know many of the contestants kicked out in Stage 1 but now decisions became much easier. Although I'm bummed there is no one form Malazan. Sorry would be great. Laseen could probably kill them all before they notice. And Lady Envy would just level the place. But as it is I really want Susan Sto Helit to win. Because she's awesome. But also because Pterry. Still right now I'm happy she's off to the next round and so is Sabriel.
ellestra: (slingers)
It turns out the strangest thing about black holes isn't the event horizon that nothing, not even light, can escape. It's not their mass. It's their density. It turns out that adding mass to a black whole doesn't work the same as normal matter. When you add mass to black holes the radius of the black hole grows at the same rate and that means the volume gets bigger to the 3rd power which means the density become less by the cubic root. A black hole with the mass of 387 million of our suns would have the average density of water. So Interstellar was right to pick a gargantuan black hole. Not only you don't get spagettified (pulled apart when you are falling into it) but you may also find inside like a big swimming pool.

The first flexible brain implants are being developed to replace metal ones. They will not only be able to deliver electric impulses but also drugs and record brain activity at the same time. This is how the Matrix starts.

What makes biology work is sequence - just like DNA's ATGC - that codes the information and structure - the 3D folding. It's important for DNA as it influences whether the information in it can be used or not (the inactive parts are folded and inaccessible) but it's most important for the enzymatic activity. Ribosomal and transfer RNA can only produce proteins when they are folded into right shapes. Proteins can work the same even with sequence change (amino acid substitutions) if the shape (and catalytic centre) stay the same. Temperature destroys that shape and many proteins cannot go back to the same shape. This is why fever above 42oC is so dangerous. This is what happens to boiled eggs. But now a way to unboil egg whites has been developed by liquefying the whites with urea (main ingredient of pee) and then use vortex fluid device to make them fold back to right shape. The most important part is that it can be used for many other proteins. Like the ones used in medicine.

Disneyland became a ground zero for a measles outbreak in California and it's due to the rising numbers of unvaccinated children that serve as repositories of the disease. It can than spread to people with lowered immunity, too young to be vaccinated and the ones who lost their immunity - like elderly as it lowers with time. A lot of those populations are particularly susceptible to complications. There is certain level of disgust I feel for people who are wilfully ignorant and defend their ignorance even at the cost of other people health and lives. And they defend it as a safe choice and protecting their children. Even though they really endanger them. But if it was just them and their children it'd be just wrong. The despicable thing is the part there they also endanger others - all the people who would otherwise never got sick. This is one thing I wish people who do this could be sued for endangering society and costs of healthcare.

It's not only El Niños that is going to happen more frequently now but also La Niña. The Pacific hot/cold water oscillation leads to extreme weather patterns all over the Pacific basin and influences global weather patterns so they are going to become even more unpredictable than they already are.
ellestra: (slingers)
It's the end of the year and it's time to sum up this year in science and that's a much better story than news. Multiple sites have than their pick of th best and most important science and technology stories this year - from weird to futuristic, from space to new element and quark combinations, from new biological organs to synthetic chromosomes and from Nature to Science. And Wired. And New Scientist. And Scientific American.

There are things that only just happened so I didn't get a chance to write about them yet and they didn't land on any list - like the strange fish that lives 8 km deep in the ocean and looks more alien than most science fiction creatures ever will (although it kind of reminds me of Falkor). Scientists learning how to speak monkey. Venus is hell (hot, hot, hot and full of sulphur) but NASA Research Center has plans to put cloud cities on it high in the Venus atmosphere where it's not too bad - apparently living just above hell is doable just as long as you don't fall. And you can name a crater on Mercury.

For me the two most important things that happened in science was - one - all the progress at organ replacement and prosthetic - from new ways to create stem cells and 3D printing organs and growing replacement ones in a vat - like vaginas to creating new, better fitted, cheaper and cooler, prettier 3D printed prosthetics and reconecting nerves in paralysed to advances in cybernetics that allows for mind-controlling the artificial limbs and feeling the objects you touch (bionics is real and cyborgs are no longer sf). Two - all the comet stuff - the Rosetta mission most of all - from the Philae drama to water that's different from the one we know (so comets are not the source of our oceans) - but also the Siding Spring pass of Mars.
ellestra: (slingers)
The last week in life of Philae lander was full of danger and excitement. I was waiting with this post until we know more about its ultimate fate and not as good as we hoped but not as bad as it seemed for a while. It did land, it's still on the comet and it sent a lot of useful data but for now it's in hibernation and it may never wake up.

It all started very well - perfectly documented in the xkcd comic of the day (here's frame by frame version). Philae landed perfectly on the chosen spot. I managed to time my day perfectly to be able to see the moment of landing. I wasn't the only one watching - comet landing was trending everywhere and people were pretty positive about it. I remember how happy and relieved they were in mission control - dropping the mike and everything - when it turned out the Philae landed. Then I returned to work and when I looked at it again the news weren't as good. But the harpoons didn't fire and Philae jumped and then jumped again. For next day everyone was worrying if it'd even be able to stick to the comet. This is how its jumps looked from Rosetta.

Eventually it stopped moving and was still on the comet. Unfortunately, it stopped in the shadow of a cliff and only gets 1.5 hours of sunlight per 12 hour comet day. This meant its batteries weren't able to recharge and the scientists scrambled to get it to sent as much data as possible before the battery died. They also risked detaching from the comet just before battery run out to get at least result from one drilling (hoping that if it make it jump again the next site might get more sunshine). That didn't happen but they managed to rotate the bigger solar panel to the sunny spot. Maybe once the comet gets closer the sun the battery would get enough charge again. But for now Philae sleeps.

But we did land on a comet in a mission that took 10 years and were only off by few tiny jumps. And we have stunning pictures from the surface of the comet and Philae sent the results from the landing and subsequent test. Just today it was announced that there is proof of carry organic compounds and they could've seeded Earth with them. And of course Rosetta mission continues as the probe travels with the comet towards the sun it will sample and analyse the gases and dust coming out of 67P.

ellestra: (slingers)
Today everyone celebrated the end of a war that started 100 years ago. My family back home is just finishing a 4 day weekend. They saw light show yesterday but today, on the actual holiday, they obviously stayed home. There is nothing like "patriots" celebrating Independence Day by destroying the capitol to want to avoid celebrating.

So let's concentrate on something better. Middle of the night for me and early morning in Europe Philae will detach from Rosetta and start his descent towards the comet. The whole thing will take about 7 hours and will be transmitted on the web so, if you can, you can have it play in the background at work. He can't wait. Let's hope he succeeds.
ellestra: (tiger)
Every year Science organises the Dance Your PhD contest. Here are all the finalist from Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Social Sciences categories. And this is the winner:

Science isn't always easy to portray in art and it's rarely accurate but Interstellar had it's own science advisor Kip Thorne is Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena design some of it's special effects. New Scientist has spoiler-free guide to the science of Interstellar. Space ships and science - two things I really like together.

And here is first teaser trailer for season 3 of Orphan Black - just in time for Orphan Black Friday

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