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Weird Science
Cool and fascinating tidbits from the world of science
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Scientists Unveil 'Google Maps' For Human Genome

Scientists Unveil 'Google Maps' For Human Genome | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Scientists unveiled the results of a massive international project Wednesday that they say debunks the notion that most of our genetic code is made up of so-called junk DNA.

 

The ENCODE project, which involved hundreds of researchers in dozens of labs, also produced what some scientists are saying is like Google Maps for the human genome.

 

"We like to think about the ENCODE maps similarly," said Elise Feingold at the National Human Genome Research Institute."It allows researchers to look at the chromosomes and then zoom into genes and even down to individual nucleotides in the human genome in much the same way that someone interested in using Google Maps can do so."

 

For decades, scientists thought that most of our genetic code was essentially useless — basically filler between our genes. Only a tiny fraction — the part that has genes in it — really mattered, according to this thinking.

 

"The phrase that was thrown around was junk DNA," said Michael Snyder, a geneticist at Stanford University who participated in the project. "I think all of us would agree that really wasn't a good term because it was simply something that we didn't know what it did."

So in 2003, the National Institutes of Health launched the ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA elements) project, at a cost of $288 million. The researchers conducted more than 1,600 experiments to understand what is going on in this supposed genetic wasteland.

The results appear in more than 30 papers published in a slew of leading scientific journals, including Science, Nature and Genome Research.

 

 

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Oldest Arthropods Preserved in Amber: Specimens are 100 Million Years Older Than Previous Amber Inclusions

Oldest Arthropods Preserved in Amber: Specimens are 100 Million Years Older Than Previous Amber Inclusions | Weird Science | Scoop.it

An international team of scientists has discovered the oldest record of arthropods -- invertebrate animals that include insects, arachnids, and crustaceans -- preserved in amber. The specimens, one fly and two mites found in millimeter-scale droplets of amber from northeastern Italy, are about 100 million years older than any other amber arthropod ever collected.

 

"Amber is an extremely valuable tool for paleontologists because it preserves specimens with microscopic fidelity, allowing uniquely accurate estimates of the amount of evolutionary change over millions of years," said corresponding author David Grimaldi, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology and a world authority on amber and fossil arthropods.


Globules of fossilized resin are typically called amber. Amber ranges in age from the Carboniferous (about 340 million years ago) to about 40,000 years ago, and has been produced by myriad plants, from tree ferns to flowering trees, but predominantly by conifers. Even though arthropods are more than 400 million years old, until now, the oldest record of the animals in amber dates to about 130 million years. The newly discovered arthropods break that mold with an age of 230 million years. They are the first arthropods to be found in amber from the Triassic Period.

 

The amber droplets, most between 2-6 millimeters long, were buried in outcrops high in the Dolomite Alps of northeastern Italy and excavated by Eugenio Ragazzi and Guido Roghi of the University of Padova. About 70,000 of the miniscule droplets were screened for inclusions -- encased animal and plant material -- by a team of German scientists led by Alexander Schmidt, of Georg-August University, Göttingen, resulting in the discovery of the three arthropods. The tiny arthropods were studied by Grimaldi and Evert Lindquist, an expert on gall mites at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa.

 


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Can You Learn While You're Asleep?

Can You Learn While You're Asleep? | Weird Science | Scoop.it

An experiment that paired sounds with smells suggests basic forms of learning are possible while snoozing. The key seems to be a phenomenon known as conditioning — a form of simple learning made famous by Ivan Pavlov and his dog.

 

The researchers sprayed volunteers with pleasant and unpleasant smells while they were fast asleep. Exactly like people who are awake, the sleeping volunteers took bigger breaths when there was a pleasant smell and a smaller breath when there was an unpleasant smell.

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How the Wet-Dog Shake Gets Mammals Dry in No Time Flat

How the Wet-Dog Shake Gets Mammals Dry in No Time Flat | Weird Science | Scoop.it

There’s a certain expression a wet dog wears as it trots up to you, a kind of gleam in the eye that says, “I’m about to shake so vigorously that in a mere 4 seconds, 70 percent of the water in my fur will fly off of my coat and on to you.

 

But the wet-dog shake, though it’s an annoyance to us, may be a survival technique to dogs. The water that sticks to a mammal’s fur can lower its body temperature, causing hypothermia, so it behooves wild animals to get rid of all that water as quickly and efficiently as possible.

 

To find out just how efficient the wet-dog method is, researchers from the Hu lab at Georgia Tech filmed 33 different wet zoo mammals from rats to kangaroos to lions and tigers and bears (oh yes) with high-speed cameras and analyzed the motion of their bodies, skin, and fur. Their research was first published back in 2010, but their latest study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, improves their mathematical model of the wet-dog shake and reveals how much force the furballs can generate. (The paper is not yet online; we will provide a link when it becomes available.)

 

Dogs shake with a characteristic oscillation, twisting their bodies from side to side at a set frequency to generate so much centripetal force that water droplets go flying. The shaking animals observed in this study generated forces 10 to 70 times greater than gravity, a feat that was easier for the larger mammals.

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Why a rat's whiskers are a lot like human hands

Why a rat's whiskers are a lot like human hands | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Rats, like humans, can deduce an impressive amount of information about their physical surroundings with their sense of touch. Humans do this most effectively with their hands and fingertips, while a rat experiences a significant portion of its tactile sensation via its whiskers. What's intriguing about this parallel is that whiskers and hands are not only similar on a functional level, but a neurological one, as well.

 

"Rats are a really wonderful model system to try to understand sensory perception, and specifically the sense of touch," explains neurobiologist and biological engineer Mitra Hartmann. "Even though whiskers and hands might seem to be very different, the pathways that carry the information from the whiskers to the rats brain and from the hand to the human brain are actually very similar."

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Use Your Body's Electrical Field To Uniquely Identify Yourself

Use Your Body's Electrical Field To Uniquely Identify Yourself | Weird Science | Scoop.it

You are unique. This is one of the more obscure ways you're unique: An alternating current of different frequencies running through you causes a reaction that's noticeably different from anyone else's. Researchers from Dartmouth University are trying to put this difference to use by creating wearable electronics that respond to--and only to--their intended user.

 

The design they're discussing is called "Amulet," a device "not unlike a watch" that could take a measurement like this, confirming the identity of a person. The device would use small electrodes to measure how the body's tissue react to the alternating current, which changes from person to person. It's a lock that's keyed into your biology; when it's set up with the device, it only unlocks it for you.

 

After that, it gets even better: once that connection has been established, researchers say, that device can coordinate with others. Those devices would join the party through physical contact--maybe as easily as being slipped into a pocket, and staying securely rooted in your unique biology.

 

A system like that could be used to better monitora person's health; a single device attached directly to the body could monitor that person from anywhere, without causing wireless security concerns. But researchers are conceding that a better way of reliably interpreting the data coming from the sensor will still take time, and reliability is more than a little important for something like this.

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Play with all 786 Confirmed Planets in one Interactive Infographic

Play with all 786 Confirmed Planets in one Interactive Infographic | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Remember a few weeks ago when XKCD put out that killer infographic depicting all 786 of our galaxy's confirmed exoplanets in one convenient visualization? Well, thanks to some data from Planetary Habitability Laboratory and some handy codework by Lane Harrison, that infographic just got even cooler.

 

You'll have to click through to tinker with it for yourself, but it's definitely worth the visit. Douglas Adams fans will appreciate the hidden easter egg. See if you can find it. (Hint: try doing some highlighting.)

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Feeding 9 Billion People by Mid-Century in the Face of Rapidly Worsening Climate Change Will be Huge Problem

Feeding 9 Billion People by Mid-Century in the Face of Rapidly Worsening Climate Change Will be Huge Problem | Weird Science | Scoop.it

“Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.

 

A basic prediction of climate science is that many parts of the world will experience longer and deeper droughts, thanks to the synergistic effects of drying, warming and the melting of snow and ice.

 

Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will probably come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun’s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temp- erature. That is why, for instance, so many temperature records were set for the United States in the 1930s Dust Bowl; and why, in 2011, drought-stricken Texas saw the hottest summer ever recorded for a US state. Finally, many regions are expected to see earlier snowmelt, so less water will be stored on mountain tops for the summer dry season. Added to natural climatic variation, such as the El Niño–La Niña cycle, these factors will intensify seasonal or decade-long droughts. Although the models don’t all agree on the specifics, the overall drying trends are clear.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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What Space Smells Like

What Space Smells Like | Weird Science | Scoop.it
When astronauts return from space walks and remove their helmets, they are welcomed back with a peculiar smell. An odor that is distinct and weird: something, astronauts have described it, like "seared steak." And also: "hot metal." And also: "welding fumes."

 

Our extraterrestrial explorers are remarkably consistent in describing Space Scent in meaty-metallic terms. "Space," astronaut Tony Antonelli has said, "definitely has a smell that's different than anything else." Space, three-time spacewalker Thomas Jones has put it, "carries a distinct odor of ozone, a faint acrid smell."

 

Space, Jones elaborated, smells a little like gunpowder. It is "sulfurous."

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The Most Astounding Fact - Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked by a reader of TIME magazine, "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?" This is his answer.

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Acid-wielding worms drill through bones at the bottom of the sea

Acid-wielding worms drill through bones at the bottom of the sea | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Tiny 'bone-devouring worms', known to both eat and inhabit dead whale skeletons and other bones on the sea floor, have a unique ability to release bone-melting acid, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego have recently discovered.

 

Dr Sigrid Katz, a postdoctoral researcher working with Greg Rouse and Martin Tresguerres, said: "These worms are unique in using bone as a habitat and nutrient source. We have learned a lot about these worms in the past 10 years, but one of the most intriguing questions has been how they penetrate bone and take up nutrients."
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Magnetic Tornadoes Rage on the Sun

Magnetic Tornadoes Rage on the Sun | Weird Science | Scoop.it

The discovery of "super-tornadoes" rising above the surface of the sun may help solve the mystery of how our home star heats it wispy outer atmosphere to a million degrees. There is plenty of energy below the 5780° visible surface to do the job, but solar physicists have long argued about how that energy heats the corona, seen as an encircling crown of light that emerges during a total solar eclipse. Now a group reports online today in Nature that, using both spaceborne and ground-based telescopes, it has detected 1500-kilometer-wide swirls of solar atmosphere rising from the surface into the corona. Each lasts 10 to 15 minutes, and there are about 11,000 of them on the sun at a time. Computer simulations (picture) show how similar-looking the twisting magnetic field lines of a solar tornado are to real tornadoes. Now solar physicists must figure out how much energy super-tornadoes deliver compared with other proposed energy sources.

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Infographic: Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench

Infographic: Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench | Weird Science | Scoop.it
Scaled infographic showing the features of Earth's land surface and oceans.

 

SCROLL DOWN WITH MOUSE ON RIGHT SIDE OF GRAPHIC!


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Elliott Belardo's comment, June 27, 2012 9:26 AM
36,000 feet is how tall the Earth is?
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New Method Found for Reading Your Body's Clock

New Method Found for Reading Your Body's Clock | Weird Science | Scoop.it

A  Japanese group has come up with an alternative method of determining internal body time by constructing what it calls a molecular timetable based on levels in blood samples of more than 50 metabolites — hormones and amino acids — that result from biological activity. The researchers established a molecular timetable based on samples from three subjects and validated it using the conventional melatonin measurement. They then used that timetable to determine the internal body times of other subjects by checking the levels of the metabolites in just two blood samples from each subject per day.

 

Having such a timetable could allow doctors to synchronize drug delivery to internal body time, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Usually personalized medicine is focusing on genetic differences, but there are also temporal differences [among patients]. That will be the next step in personalized medicine,” says systems biologist Hiroki Ueda of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, who heads the research group.

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Complete MSL Curiosity Descent Interpolated (HD)

This is the Curiosity Mars Rover descent footage interpolated from ~4 frames per second to 25 frames per second. It is playing back in real time. This took me 4 days straight to put together, so I hope you enjoy it! Let me know if you want me to make a video on how I did it.

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Both Ends of the Leash — The Human Links to Good Dogs with Bad Genes

Both Ends of the Leash — The Human Links to Good Dogs with Bad Genes | Weird Science | Scoop.it

In 2001, two independent draft versions of the human genome sequence and the concomitant identification of approximately 30,000 genes were the seminal events that defined completion of the Human Genome Project.The genome was officially declared to be finished in 2004, with sequencing reported to include 99% of transcribing DNA. By comparison, the genome of the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris, was sequenced twice, once to 1.5× density (i.e., covering the genome, in theory, 1.5 times) and once to 7.8× density (providing sequencing for more than 95% of base pairs) in the standard poodle and boxer, respectively. Subsequent contributions to the canine genome have focused on better annotation to locate missing genes, understanding chromosome structure, studying linkage disequilibrium,

identifying copy-number variants, and mapping the transcriptome.

 

The use of the canine genome to understand the genetic underpinning of disorders that are difficult to disentangle in humans has been on the rise for nearly two decades. The reason relates back to the domestication of dogs from gray wolves (C. lupus), an event that began at least 30,000 years ago. Since their domestication, dogs have undergone continual artificial selection at varying levels of intensity, leading to the development of isolated populations or breeds. Many breeds were developed during Victorian times and have been in existence for only a few hundred years, a drop in the evolutionary bucket. Most breeds are descended from small numbers of founders and feature so-called popular sires (dogs that have performed well at dog shows and therefore sire a large number of litters). Thus, the genetic character of such founders is overrepresented in the population. These facts, coupled with breeding programs that exert strong selection for particular physical traits, mean that recessive diseases are common in purebred dogs, and many breeds are at increased risk for specific disorders. We, and others, have chosen to take advantage of this fact in order to identify genes of interest for human and canine health.

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Scientists Convert a 53,000-Word Book Into DNA

Scientists Convert a 53,000-Word Book Into DNA | Weird Science | Scoop.it

In a scientific first, Harvard University researches successfully transformed a 53,426-word book into DNA, the same substance that provides the genetic template for all living things. The achievement could eventually lead to the mass adoption of DNA as a long-term storage medium.

 

Published Thursday in the journal Science, the experiment aimed to demonstrate the viability of storing large amounts of data on DNA molecules. Since the data is recorded on individual nucleobase pairs in the DNA strand (those adenine-guanine/cytosine-thymine pairs you may be straining to remember from high school biology), DNA can actually store more information per cubic millimeter than flash memory or even some experimental storage techs

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Were Two Pyramids Just Discovered in Egypt Using Google Earth?

Were Two Pyramids Just Discovered in Egypt Using Google Earth? | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Two possible pyramid complexes might have been found in Egypt, according to a Google Earth satellite imagery survey.

 

Located about 90 miles apart, the sites contain unusual grouping of mounds with intriguing features and orientations, said satellite archaeology researcher Angela Micol of Maiden, N.C.

 

One site in Upper Egypt, just 12 miles from the city of Abu Sidhum along the Nile, features four mounds each with a larger, triangular-shaped plateau.

 

The two larger mounds at this site are approximately 250 feet in width, with two smaller mounds approximately 100 feet in width.

 

The site complex is arranged in a very clear formation with the large mound extending a width of approximately 620 feet -- almost three times the size of the Great Pyramid.

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Two separate extinctions brought end to dinosaur era

Two separate extinctions brought end to dinosaur era | Weird Science | Scoop.it

The mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was almost unprecedented in its size. There may be a simple reason why three-quarters of Earth's species disappeared during the event – there were actually two extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous, each devastating species in distinct environments. Famously, the dinosaurs met their end when a massive meteorite crashed into Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula around 65 million years ago. The extinction paved the way for the rapid evolutionary diversification of mammals.

 

Tom Tobin from the University of Washington in Seattle found two layers in the rocks, which formed in a shallow sea, where several species of shelled animals went extinct. One of the layers dates to the time of the impact, but the other layer is 40 metres below. Dating showed that the lower extinction occurred some 150,000 years before the meteorite hit – at the peak of the Indian eruptions. Tobin's team looked at isotopic ratios in the rock to work out the temperatures at the time: the first extinction followed a 7 °C rise in polar ocean temperatures – probably a result of global warming triggered by the Indian volcanism. Comparable numbers of species in the region went extinct in each event. Surprisingly, though, the types of animals affected differed strikingly.

 

The case for multiple factors contributing to the extinction is adding up, says David Archibald, a vertebrate palaeontologist recently retired from San Diego State University, California, who was not involved in either study. "I'm not suggesting the [meteorite] impact didn't have tremendous effects, and it probably was necessary for the extinctions, but there were other things leading up to it," he says.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Natures Neurons: Do Early Experiences in the Natural World Help Shape Children’s Brain Architecture?

Natures Neurons: Do Early Experiences in the Natural World Help Shape Children’s Brain Architecture? | Weird Science | Scoop.it
What role do early childhood experiences in nearby nature play in the formation of brain architecture? It’s time for science to ask that question.

 

In January, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “landmark warning that toxic stress can harm children for life.” This was, he wrote, a “’policy statement’ from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research,” and he added that the statement “has revolutionary implications for medicine and for how we can more effectively chip away at poverty and crime.”

 

From conception through early childhood, brain architecture is particularly malleable and influenced by environment and relationships with primary caregivers, including toxic stress caused by abuse or chronic neglect. By interfering with healthy brain development, such stress can undermine the cognitive skills and health of a child, leading to learning difficulty and behavior problems, as well as psychological and behavior problems, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments later in life.

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Tools for Crushing Diatoms – Opal Teeth in Copepods Feature a Rubber-Like Bearing

Tools for Crushing Diatoms – Opal Teeth in Copepods Feature a Rubber-Like Bearing | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Diatoms are generally known for superior mechanical properties of their mineralised shells. Nevertheless, many copepod crustaceans are able to crush such shells using their mandibles. This ability very likely requires feeding tools with specific material compositions and properties. For mandibles of several copepod species silica-containing parts called opal teeth have been described. The present study reveals the existence of complex composite structures, which contain, in addition to silica, the soft and elastic protein resilin and form opal teeth with a rubber-like bearing in the mandibles of the copepod Centropages hamatus. These composite structures likely increase the efficiency of the opal teeth while simultaneously reducing the risk of mechanical damage. They are supposed to have coevolved with the diatom shells in the evolutionary arms race, and their development might have been the basis for the dominance of the copepods within today's marine zooplankton.

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How HIV Hijacks The Immune System

How HIV Hijacks The Immune System | Weird Science | Scoop.it
The road to a cure for AIDS is in sight, even if every step on the journey isn't clear yet.

 

One of the most promising avenues is a kind of gene therapy that would block HIV's entry into cells of the immune system. A genetic tweak could make these key cells resistant to the virus's attack.

"HIV is like a jack-in-the-box," says Sriram Subramaniam, a biophysicist at the National Cancer Institute who peers at HIV with electron microscopes.

 

The virus's genetic material sits inside a shell that is studded with spikes. To infect a cell, the shell has to pop open and release the virus's genes into the cell.

 

That's what happens when HIV bumps into T cells, the white blood cells that are the virus's prime targets.

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Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe

Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe | Weird Science | Scoop.it
Higgs boson, a key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe.

 

 

Like Omar Sharif materializing out of the shimmering desert as a man on a camel in “Lawrence of Arabia,” the elusive boson has been coming slowly into view since last winter, as the first signals of its existence grew until they practically jumped off the chart.
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Daniel Tammet - The Boy With The Incredible Brain [Video]

Tammet has been "studied repeatedly" by researchers in Britain and the United States, and has been the subject of several peer-reviewed scientific papers.Professor Allan Snyder at the Australian National University has said of Tammet: "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do. It just comes to them. Daniel can describe what he sees in his head. That's why he's exciting. He could be the 'Rosetta Stone'

to science." In his mind, he says, each positive integer up to 10,000 has its own unique shape, colour, texture and feel. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and pi as beautiful. The number 6 apparently has no distinct image yet what he describes as an almost small nothingness, opposite to the number 9 which he calls large and towering. Tammet has described 25 as energetic and the "kind of number you would invite to a party". In his memoir, Tammet states experiencing a synaesthetic and emotional response for words and numbers, but not letters in algebraic contexts.

 

Tammet holds the European record for reciting pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes on 14 March 2004. Tammet has reportedly learned 10 languages, including Romanian, Gaelic, Welsh, and Icelandic which he learned in a week for a TV documentary.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald, ABroaderView
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Mario Livio:  Wallpaper Patterns, Music, and the Laws of Physics

Mario Livio:  Wallpaper Patterns, Music, and the Laws of Physics | Weird Science | Scoop.it

When mathematicians talk about symmetry, they mean immunity to possible change. In the words of the great mathematician Hermann Weyl: “A thing is symmetrical if there is something you can do to it so that after you have finished doing it, it looks the same as before.” For instance, the phrase: “Madam I’m Adam” reads the same backward or forward. In this case, we say that the sentence is symmetric under the operation of back-to-front reading. One of the most familiar of all symmetric patterns is that of a repeating, recurring motif. From the friezes of classical temples to carpets, the symmetry of repeating patterns has always produced a comforting familiarity and a reassuring effect. The symmetry transformation in this case is called translation, meaning a displacement by a certain distance along a line. The pattern is considered symmetric if it looks the same after we have displaced our view. The Victorian artist, poet, and printer William Morris, for instance, has produced many sumptuous wallpaper designs that are the embodiment of translational symmetry

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