Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss complexity and how it can help us understand the world around us. When living beings come together and act in a group, they do so in complicated and unpredictable ways: societies often behave very differently from the individuals within them. Complexity was a phenomenon little understood a generation ago, but research into complex systems now has important applications in many different fields, from biology to political science. Today it is being used to explain how birds flock, to predict traffic flow in cities and to study the spread of diseases.
Our knowledge of the tree of life—a phylogenetic tree summarizing the evolutionary relationships among all life on Earth—is expanding rapidly. “Mega-trees” with millions of tips (species) are expected to appear imminently ( for example, see http://www.opentree.wikispaces.com ). Unfortunately, there has so far been no practical and intuitive way to explore even the much smaller trees with thousands of tips that are now being routinely produced. Without a way to view megatrees, these wondrous objects, representing the culmination of decades of scientific effort, cannot be fully appreciated. The field really needs a solution to this problem to enable scientists to communicate important evolutionary concepts and data effectively, both to each other and to the general public. Just like Google Earth changed the way people look at geography, a sophisticated tree of life browser could really change the way we look at the life around us. Our advances in understanding evolution are moving really fast now, but the tools for looking at these big trees are lagging behind. Displaying large trees is a hard problem that has so far resisted solution. We are still waiting for the equivalent of a Google Maps. However, trees with millions of tips, richly embellished with additional data, can now be easily explored within the web browser of any modern hardware with a zooming user interface similar to that used in Google Maps.
Geoff Livingston: "Stories told across multi-platform media environments — or transmedia stories as they are commonly called on the edge — require more complex writing. A story unfolds across diverse media with readers/viewers opting in to each layer."
Astronomers spot the nearest known planet outside our Solar System, circling a star in the Alpha Centauri system just four light-years away. The planet has at minimum the same mass as Earth, but circles its star far closer than Mercury orbits our Sun.
It is therefore outside the "habitable zone" denoting the possibility of life, as the researchers report in Nature. Nice summary article from the BBC Science team, click the image or the title to learn more.
A lump of space rock that shattered the predawn calm of the Moroccan desert with a fireball and double sonic boom last year was knocked off Mars in a cosmic collision roughly 700,000 years ago. The date of the Martian impact means the rock was flung into space and began its journey to Earth when the shared ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals was still alive and well in Africa.
Scientists dated the collision through a fresh analysis of the remains of the meteorite, based on the exposure of its elements to intense cosmic rays during its journey through space. The Tissint meteorite, as it is known, is particularly valuable because it was recovered before it had suffered any weathering on Earth.
Witnesses said it split in two as it fell to Earth and landed in the desert near Tata, south-east Morocco, at 2am local time on 18 July last year. Pieces weighing between 100g and 2kg have been recovered, along with thousands of smaller fragments. The intact meteorite is estimated to have weighed 17kg.
Currently there are six potential habitable exoplanets -- four of these objects have been detected in the last year, from September 2011 to September 2012. Gliese 163c is a rock-water world of 2.4 Earth radii, however, it could be as small as 1.8 Earth radii if composed mostly of rock, like Earth.
New data suggests the confirmation of the exoplanet Gliese 581g and the best candidate so far of a potential habitable exoplanet. The nearby star Gliese 581 is well known for having four planets with the outermost planet, Gliese 581d, already suspected habitable. This will be the first time evidence for any two potential habitable exoplanets orbiting the same star. Gliese 581g will be included, together with Gliese 667Cc, Kepler-22b, HD85512, and Gliese 581d, in the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog of the PHL @ UPR Arecibo as the best five objects of interest for Earth-like exoplanets.
How do you get to know a protein? How about from the inside out? If you ask chemistry professor James Hinton, "It’s really important that scientists as well as students are able to touch, feel, see … embrace–if you like, these proteins structures”. For decades, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Hinton has used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to look at protein structure and function. But he wanted to find a way to educate and engage students about his discoveries.
The picture above shows an example of the interactive visualization of proteins from the Protein Data Bank (PDB), using PDB browser software on the C-Wall (virtual reality wall) at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at the University of California, San Diego. The work was performed by Jürgen P. Schulze, project scientist, in collaboration with Jeff Milton, Philip Weber and Professor Philip Bourne of the University of California, San Diego. The software supports collaborative viewing of proteins at multiple sites on the Internet
While Pando isn’t technically the oldest individual tree, this clonal colony of Quaking Aspen in Utah is truly ancient. The 105-acre colony is made of genetically identical trees, called stems, connected by a single root system. The “trembling giant” got its start at least 80,000 years ago, when all of our human ancestors were still living in Africa. But some estimate the woodland could be as old as 1 million years, which would mean Pando predates the earliest Homo sapiens by 800,000 years. At 6,615 tons, Pando is also one of the heaviest living organism on earth.
Methuselah - The world’s oldest individual tree lives 10,000 feet above sea level in the Inyo National Forest, California. A staggering 4,765 years old, this primeval tree was already a century old when the first pyramid was built in Egypt. The tree is hidden among other millennia-old Great Basin bristlecone pines in a grove called the Forest of Ancients. To protect the tree from vandalism, the forest service keeps its exact location secret, but this one looks like it could be Methuselah.
The simple act of picking up a pencil requires the coordination of dozens of muscles: The eyes and head must turn toward the object as the hand reaches forward and the fingers grasp it. To make this job more manageable, the brain’s motor cortex has implemented a system of shortcuts. Instead of controlling each muscle independently, the cortex is believed to activate muscles in groups, known as “muscle synergies.” These synergies can be combined in different ways to achieve a wide range of movements.
A new study from MIT, Harvard Medical School and the San Camillo Hospital in Venice finds that after a stroke, these muscle synergies are activated in altered ways. Furthermore, those disruptions follow specific patterns depending on the severity of the stroke and the amount of time that has passed since the stroke.
In what is rapidly becoming one of the most anticipated games releases in the simulation community - a little more info on the forthcoming SimCity release. IN this article and interview with Ocean Quigley of EA/Maxis quicly explains how the new SimCity simulation engine combines micro and macro simulation elements with each person, building and object will be simulated by the game's engine including individual sims that now have routines and lives and respond to the local events. Click on the image or title to learn more.
Throughout North America, honeybees are abandoning their hives. The workers are often found dead, some distance away. Meanwhile, the hives are like honeycombed Marie Celestes, with honey and pollen left uneaten, and larvae still trapped in their chambers.
There are many possible causes of this “colony collapse disorder” (CCD). These include various viruses, a single-celled parasite called Nosema apis, a dramatically named mite called Varroa destructor, exposure to pesticides, or a combination of all of the above. Any or all of these factors could explain why the bees die, but why do the workers abandon the hive?
Andrew Core from San Francisco State University has a possible answer, and a new suspect for CCD. He has shown that a parasitic fly, usually known for attacking bumblebees, also targets honeybees. The fly, Apocephalus borealis, lays up to a dozen eggs in bee workers. Its grubs eventually eat the bees from the inside-out. And the infected workers, for whatever reason, abandon their hives to die.
There are hundreds of species of Apocephalus flies, and they’re best known for decapitating ants from the inside. The larvae, laid within an ant, migrate to the head and devour the tissue inside. The brainless ant wanders aimlessly for weeks, before the larvae release an enzyme that dissolves the connection between the ant’s head and body. The head falls off, and adult flies emerge from it.
A. borealis has a similar modus operandi, but it targets bees not ants. Core discovered its penchant for honeybees by sampling workers that had been stranded in the lights of his faculty building, and other locations throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The fly was everywhere. It was parasitizing bees in three-quarters of the places that Core studied, and its DNA confirmed that the species that attacked honeybees was the same one that kills bumblebees.
When Core exposed honeybees to the flies in his lab, he saw the same events that befall unfortunate ants. The flies lay eggs in a bee’s body and weeks later, larvae burst out from behind the insect’s head. It’s no surprise that the infected bees, with up to 13 larvae feasting on their brains, seem a little disoriented. They walk round like zombies, pacing in circles and often unable to stand up.
They also abandon their hives. Core found that the dying insects literally head towards the light. Large numbers of them become stranded within bright lights. Many flying insects show a similar attraction, but the stranded bees were stock still rather than buzzing about. They would also head towards lights on cold, rainy nights when other insects seek shelter.
Lewis Wallace: "In the campy new video, titled An Unexpected Briefing, a pointy-eared flight crew explains all the boring stuff — how to buckle your seatbelt, when to turn off your electronic devices, etc. — on a plane loaded with characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world."
The very first building in the world with a shading system consisting of live micro-algae is being built in the suburb of Wilhemsburg in Hamburg. The “algae house” will be complete in 2013 and will comprise approximately 200 square meters of such elements.
Designed for the International Building Exhibition in Hamburg, the zero-energy house will be the first real-life test for the new façade system. Algae in the bio-reactor façades grow faster in bright sunlight to provide more shade. The bio-reactors power the building by capturing solar thermal heat and producing biomass that can be harvested.
The BIQ house was designed by Splitterwerk Architects, in collaboration with Colt International, Arup, and SSC. Arup’s Europe Research Leader, Jan Wurm, said: To use bio-chemical processes for adaptive shading is a really innovative and sustainable solution so it is great to see it being tested in a real-life scenario. As well as generating renewable energy and providing shade to keep the inside of the building cooler on sunny days, it also creates a visually interesting look that architects and building owners will like. The building is due to be completed in March 2013, and it will allow scientists, engineers, and builders the opportunity to assess the full potential of the system as a green alternative.
Scientists have discovered why the 'broken world' following the worst extinction of all time lasted so long – it was simply too hot to survive. A paleogeographic reconstruction of the Early Triassic world (Smithian substage) around 252-247 million years ago, showing a ‘dead zone’ in the tropics. Marine reptiles (ichthyosaurs), terrestrial tetrapods and fish almost exclusively occurred in higher latitudes (>30 °N and >40 °S) with rare exceptions.
The end-Permian mass extinction, which occurred around 250 million years ago in the pre-dinosaur era, wiped out nearly all the world's species. Typically, a mass extinction is followed by a 'dead zone' during which new species are not seen for tens of thousands of years. In this case, the dead zone, during the Early Triassic period which followed, lasted for a perplexingly long period: five million years. A study jointly led by the University of Leeds and China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), in collaboration with the University of Erlangen-Nurnburg (Germany), shows the cause of this lengthy devastation was a temperature rise to lethal levels in the tropics: around 50-60°C on land, and 40°C at the sea-surface. Lead author Yadong Sun, who is based in Leeds while completing a joint PhD in geology, says: "Global warming has long been linked to the end-Permian mass extinction, but this study is the first to show extreme temperatures kept life from re-starting in Equatorial latitudes for millions of years."
There are natural parallels between the Smart Grid and smart cities in terms of concepts and deployments. Both rely on ICT technologies and M2M (machine to machine) communications applications to enable devices and systems to be remotely monitored...
Leading on from the piece posted on visualizing.org. These are the winners of the Seed media and Ars Electronica: The Big Picture competition for data visualisation and info communication. Some great pieces of design. Worth reading if you are looking for inspiration (will have to add a new inspiration tag me thinks). Click on the image or the title to learn more.
"Because ancient giant Posidonia oceanica reproduces asexually generating clones of itself, a single organism has been found to span up to 15 kilometers wide, reaching more than 6,000 metric tonnes in mass and may well be more than 100,000 years old."
WIll Wright and Jill Tarter - two personal hero's of mine. Stumbled upon this on the seed.com site (a great science website and magazine if you do not know it). Who ever had the idea to put these two across from one another at a dinner table and have them talk on Spore, evolution and the evolution of AI - thank you. Watch and enjoy. Click the image or the title for more information.