Mosquitoes, or mozzies as we would call them here in Australia, come out at night. I know this in part because I have witnessed the massacre of my good friend Donaldo Becoccini on a fateful evening in Yellow Waters Kakadu -truly one of the planet’s special places (we found this photo on the web – it [...]... Read more »
Lefèvre T, Gouagna LC, Dabiré KR, Elguero E, Fontenille D, Renaud F, Costantini C, & Thomas F. (2010) Beer consumption increases human attractiveness to malaria mosquitoes. PloS one, 5(3). PMID: 20209056
It’s well-known that many liquid metals can be cooled below their freezing point. This is, scientists assume, due to dense and symmetric, but non-periodic ordering within the liquid. This theory implies that the freezing point of supercooled metal liquids can be controlled, just like crystallization can be induced by a template – all it takes [...]... Read more »
Schülli, T., Daudin, R., Renaud, G., Vaysset, A., Geaymond, O., & Pasturel, A. (2010) Substrate-enhanced supercooling in AuSi eutectic droplets. Nature, 464(7292), 1174-1177. DOI: 10.1038/nature08986
In this post, I will continue my discussion of Philip McCann’s paper, “Economic geography, globalisation and New Zealand’s productivity paradox” . McCann argues that it is New Zealand’s economic geography that is the reason for its poor productivity performance. In this post I’ll try to sketch some of the underlying ideas from economic geography that [...]... Read more »
McCann, P. (2009) Economic geography, globalisation and New Zealand's productivity paradox. New Zealand Economic Papers, 43(3), 279-314. DOI: 10.1080/00779950903308794
Suppose you’re a caterpillar. You’ve just built yourself a nice home by sewing leaves together with silk and then some jackass invades your turf. How do you defend your home? You could walk right over to that intruder and push him, maybe smack him around a bit or even bite him. Ha! That’d teach [...]... Read more »
Scott, J., Kawahara, A., Skevington, J., Yen, S., Sami, A., Smith, M., & Yack, J. (2010) The evolutionary origins of ritualized acoustic signals in caterpillars. Nature Communications, 1(1), 1-9. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1002
Have you been suffering with some kind of sore tendon/jointy pain? Rotator cuff area, achiles, elbow, forearm, rsi etc etc? Guess what? First we're not alone, but second, just about anything that's been tried to address it has no real evidence to support it working, especially over time. Indeed, as the authors of a 2009 review study put it, "Tendinopathy is common although pathology of this ... Read more »
Rees, J., Wolman, R., & Wilson, A. (2009) Eccentric exercises; why do they work, what are the problems and how can we improve them?. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(4), 242-246. DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2008.052910
Andres, B., & Murrell, G. (2008) Treatment of Tendinopathy: What Works, What Does Not, and What is on the Horizon. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 466(7), 1539-1554. DOI: 10.1007/s11999-008-0260-1
Woodley, B., Newsham-West, R., Baxter, G., Kjaer, M., & Koehle, M. (2007) Chronic tendinopathy: effectiveness of eccentric exercise * COMMENTARY 1 * COMMENTARY 2. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(4), 188-198. DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2006.029769
Koester MC, Dunn WR, Kuhn JE, & Spindler KP. (2007) The efficacy of subacromial corticosteroid injection in the treatment of rotator cuff disease: A systematic review. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 15(1), 3-11. PMID: 17213378
The evaluation of large scale scenarios for alternative energy production are exercises in making trade-offs. If the U.S. devotes substantial resources to ethanol production then use of fossil fuels may be reduced, diminishing dependence on foreign oil, in theory. But are there other costs and benefits? Currently ethanol production in the U.S. centers around corn … Read more... Read more »
Piñeiro, G., Jobbágy, E., Baker, J., Murray, B., & Jackson, R. (2009) Set-asides can be better climate investment than corn ethanol. Ecological Applications, 19(2), 277-282. DOI: 10.1890/08-0645.1
In September of 2008, I was sitting at the controls of the McDonald Observatory 2.1-meter Struve Telescope. I was there to help some of my colleagues who work on a team associated with NASA's Kepler Mission. This team, the Kepler Astroseismic Science Consortium, isn't on the lookout for planets. They are studying the stars themselves, looking for variations in the light from stars caused by sound waves in the star. The study of these sound waves, known as asteroseismology, allows astronomers to probe the interior structure of a star, just like geologists use seismic waves from earthquakes to study the interior of the Earth.
My specific goal at the telescope was to look for pulsating white dwarfs. While around a hundred pulsating white dwarfs are known in the sky, none are known in the patch of sky where the Kepler mission stares. I had a long list of candidates, some that I chose, and some that our European collaborators selected. One of the stars selected by Viennese astronomer Gerald Handler and his collaborators, the star in the center of the picture above, had been observed with the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, and looked "interesting".
So, my job was to follow up on the interesting star. I pointed the telescope and started taking pictures, measuring how bright the star was every 10 seconds. The pulsating white dwarfs we look for vary their brightness in a very regular fashion, getting brighter and fainter by a few percent every few minutes. At first, this star looked like it was doing exactly that, and then, in a space of just a couple of minutes, the star got a whopping 20% brighter. I could actually see on the computer screen that the star had brightened relative to the other stars (this is very rare; we need computers to tell us about the few percent variations).
I knew then that this was not a pulsating white dwarf, and I suspected it was a cataclysmic variable, or CV, where a white dwarf is pulling material off of another star. I suspected this because CVs often show this behavior of getting suddenly brighter and fainter. The rest of that night, and some of the following night, I saw this variability of the star. I notified our European contacts, who looked with a telescope in Bologna and verified the variability. At this point I also started to blog about it, but was then asked not to say much. If we had found something new, we wanted to make sure we got the data we needed to publish a paper and not be scooped by someone else.
Our next step was to make sure that we had actually discovered something new, so we scoured journal articles, online databases, and various catalogs, and while we found the star listed in some basic catalogs, nobody had ever studied it or determined that the star was a CV. What we needed, though, was a spectrum of the object. Spectroscopy, the analysis of the different colors of light coming from an object, allows us to identify uniquely each object, as well as garner a lot of additional information.
None of us had time on a telescope with a spectrograph before the star went behind the sun for the winter. But two of my friends and colleagues were using the MMT and its spectrograph later that month, so I asked them if they might look at it. The first of them didn't have much time but grabbed a quick spectrum, which he misinterpreted as a "normal" white dwarf star, so he went on with his program. That's fine, these things happen. But we got lucky with my other colleague, Patrick Dufour (who has made some very interesting discoveries on his own). When he got on the telescope, the wind was coming out of the east so fast that he could not safely point the telescope any direction but west, and all of his targets were in the east. Our star was in the west. So, Patrick very kindly pointed the telescope west and took about 90 minutes of spectral data. (He could just as easily closed the dome and gone to bed, and we would have been none the wiser).
Patrick's high-quality data proved that this star is a cataclysmic variable, and even allowed us to start to classify what kind of CV it is. CVs come in many flavors, so one of the most basic bits of analysis for a new CV is to fit it into the existing classification scheme, if possible. So, we managed to narrow down its class somewhat, though there is still more work that needs to be done. This star is definitely a nova-like variable of the UX Uma class, and it may belong to the SW Sextantis subclass. (To compare to a topic that may be more familiar, this is like saying we found a creature that we know is a mammal, we know is a primate, and we know is a great ape, but we're not yet sure if it is a gorilla or a chimpanzee.) To make a better classification, we need better data. But since this star is outside my area of expertise, we published the information that we have so other people can go and dig deeper.
To me, the exciting thing about this discovery is that the CV is in the field of view of the Kepler mission (I think four or five others are known in the Kepler field). Kepler is just a phenomenal instrument, and its ability to stare at an object for months on end and to obtain very high precision measurements mean that people who study CVs can try new avenues of analysis that have never been done before. This is illustrated by the recent discovery by Kepler of Doppler boosting, a brightening of light from an object due to its motion toward you (like a Doppler shift). This boosting effect is very tiny for the majority of objects in the Universe, but Kepler can measure it. In fact, Kepler has already looked at this system for about a month, and those data should be available for download very soon.
So, in short, we found an interesting cataclysmic variable in the same region of the sky that the Kepler mission is looking. We don't have more than a basic description, and some of the important parameters and classification of the system remain to be done. However, since I only dabble in the field of cataclysmic variables, I probably won't be doing much more with this star. Some of my collaborators may well be working on it, and because we've published it other researchers can feel free to follow up on it, too. All of them can do a better and more efficient job studying this star than I can as a newbie. So, friends, have at it!
Kurtis A. Williams, Domitilla de Martino, Roberto Silvotti, Ivan Bruni, Patrick Dufour, Thomas S. Riecken, Martin Kronberg, Anjum Mukadam, & G. Handler (2010). Discovery of a Nova-Like Cataclysmic Variable in the Kepler Mission
Field The Astronomical Journal, in press, (arXiv: 1004.3743v1)... Read more »
Kurtis A. Williams, Domitilla de Martino, Roberto Silvotti, Ivan Bruni, Patrick Dufour, Thomas S. Riecken, Martin Kronberg, Anjum Mukadam, & G. Handler. (2010) Discovery of a Nova-Like Cataclysmic Variable in the Kepler Mission Field. The Astronomical Journal. arXiv: 1004.3743v1
Two papers in Nature this month leverage the power of second-generation sequencing technologies to investigate gene expression variation in human cell lines. By performing RNA-Seq in HapMap cell lines, the authors generated the most extensive gene expression data to date for these samples, and were able to use publicly available HapMap genotypes to associate expression [...]... Read more »
Pickrell JK, Marioni JC, Pai AA, Degner JF, Engelhardt BE, Nkadori E, Veyrieras JB, Stephens M, Gilad Y, & Pritchard JK. (2010) Understanding mechanisms underlying human gene expression variation with RNA sequencing. Nature, 464(7289), 768-72. PMID: 20220758
Montgomery SB, Sammeth M, Gutierrez-Arcelus M, Lach RP, Ingle C, Nisbett J, Guigo R, & Dermitzakis ET. (2010) Transcriptome genetics using second generation sequencing in a Caucasian population. Nature, 464(7289), 773-7. PMID: 20220756
Yesterday I discussed two studies on school lunches in California — one showing that students bring lunches from home tended to eat healthier foods, and one showing that kids will keep buying food at school even when the only option is healthy foods.
But both of these studies had flaws. The first study was conducted before [...]... Read more »
Cullen, K., Watson, K., & Zakeri, I. (2007) Improvements in Middle School Student Dietary Intake After Implementation of the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy. American Journal of Public Health, 98(1), 111-117. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.111765
Schwartz MB. (2007) The influence of a verbal prompt on school lunch fruit consumption: a pilot study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 6. PMID: 17338812
A new study shows that chimps sacrifice their own advantage if they earned it unfairly.Image: Owen Booth / Creative Commons
Fairness is the basis of the social contract. As citizens we expect that when we contribute our fair share we should receive our just reward. When social benefits are handed out unequally or when prior agreements are not honored it represents a breach of trust. Based on this, Americans were justifiably outraged when, not just one, but two administrations bailed out the wealthiest institutions in the country while tens of thousands of homeowners (many of whom were victims of these same institutions) were evicted and left stranded. It smacked of favoritism, the corruption of politics by corporate money, and it was also just plain unfair. But isn't that the way the world works? Isn't it true, as we were so often told as children, that life is unfair?
The American financial tycoon Andrew Carnegie certainly thought so and today's economic elite have followed his example. In 1889 he used a perverted form of Darwinism to argue for a "law of competition" that became the cornerstone of his economic vision. His was a world in which might made right and where being too big to fail wasn't a liability, it was the key to success. In his Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie wrote that this natural law might be hard for the least among us but "it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department."
We accept and welcome therefore, as conditions to which we must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few, and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial, but essential for the future progress of the race.
In other words, his answer was yes. Life is unfair and we'd better get used to it, social contract or no social contract.
While this perspective may be common among those primates who live in the concrete jungle of Wall Street, it doesn't hold true for the natural world more generally. Darwin understood that competition was an important factor in evolution, but it wasn't the only factor. Cooperation, sympathy, and fairness were equally important features in his vision for the evolution of life. In The Descent of Man he wrote that "Those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring." By working cooperatively, by sharing resources fairly, and by ensuring that all members of society benefited, Darwin argued that early human societies would be more "fit" than those societies where members only cared about themselves. The Russian naturalist Peter Kropotkin championed this aspect of Darwin's work and argued that mutual aid was essential for understanding the evolution of social mammals as a whole. In the time of Darwin and Kropotkin the research needed to verify these claims was in its infancy, but recent work has supported this vision of the natural world. Now, a new study has added one more plank to this growing edifice of knowledge, and the view from on top suggests that life, in contrast to what Carnegie believed, may not be so unfair after all. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Brosnan, S., Talbot, C., Ahlgren, M., Lambeth, S., & Schapiro, S. (2010) Mechanisms underlying responses to inequitable outcomes in chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes. Animal Behaviour. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.02.019
A Madagascar sucker-footed bat (Myzopoda aurita).
In the tropical forests of Madagascar, there lives a very peculiar kind of bat. While most bats roost by hanging upside-down from cave ceilings or tree branches, the Madagascar sucker-footed bat (Myzopoda aurita) holds itself head-up thanks to a set of adhesive pads on its wings. Nor is it the only bat to do so. Thousands of miles away in the jungles of Central and South America, Spix's disk-winged bat (Thyroptera tricolor) does the same thing, but how do their sucker pads work, and why do they choose to roost in a different way from all other bats?
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
RISKIN, D., & RACEY, P. (2010) How do sucker-footed bats hold on, and why do they roost head-up?. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 99(2), 233-240. DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.2009.01362.x
Recently, I read a statement by the American Heart Association about Alcohol, saying that although moderate alcohol reduces your risk of stroke, if you don't already drink you should not begin drinking because drinking raises your risk of cancer. This is an interesting statement, because I think it is incorrect. Cancer is rare, Stroke is common. Even though alcohol increases the probability of ... Read more »
Fig. 5. Boundary of the Hopf bifurcation of the endemic steady state … 1
I don’t pretend to be a mathematician or to understand the more complex disease models that are out there, but I do think modeling is an essential way of understanding how to effectively deal with diseases. A recent paper1 looks at epidemic [...]... Read more »
Blyuss, K., & Kyrychko, Y. (2009) Stability and Bifurcations in an Epidemic Model with Varying Immunity Period. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, 72(2), 490-505. DOI: 10.1007/s11538-009-9458-y
Around 160 million years ago, an enormous sauropod dinosaur trudged across an ancient marsh in what is now Xinjiang, China. It was not easy going. The eruption of a nearby volcano coated the area in a layer of ash which formed a thin surface over a morass of mud and volcanic debris, and as it [...]... Read more »
It is no secret that I am not a big fan of stretching the shoulder behind the back to gain internal rotation. I have written about this in the past and even included it in my list of the 5 least favorite exercises. I received a lot of feedback for this opinion, both positively and negatively.
Many people agree with me that this is an aggressive stretch and puts the rotator cuff in an extremely disadvantageous position while...
... Read more »
Wakabayashi, I., Itoi, E., Minagawa, H., Kobayashi, M., Seki, N., Shimada, Y., & Okada, K. (2006) Does reaching the back reflect the actual internal rotation of the shoulder?. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 15(3), 306-310. DOI: 10.1016/j.jse.2005.08.022
Researchers from Queensland University have discovered a new way to administer vaccines, a Nanopatch. Smaller than a postage stamp, the patch puts the vaccine through your skin. No need for an injection.
So how does it work?
The Nanopatch is full of micro-nanoprojections containing antigen – part of the bacteria or virus you are immunising [...]... Read more »
Crichton, M., Ansaldo, A., Chen, X., Prow, T., Fernando, G., & Kendall, M. (2010) The effect of strain rate on the precision of penetration of short densely-packed microprojection array patches coated with vaccine. Biomaterials, 31(16), 4562-4572. DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2010.02.022
10 years ago a disruption affected the supply chain at Ericsson, luckily the effects of this event on Ericsson have been published. Its about the so called "Albuquerque accident" in 2000, which was documented by Norrman and Jansson (2004).... Read more »
Norrman, A., & Jansson, U. (2004) Ericsson's proactive supply chain risk management approach after a serious sub-supplier accident. International Journal of Physical Distribution , 34(5), 434-456. DOI: 10.1108/09600030410545463
I am deeply saddened by the passing of Erwin Koller, one of my teachers and mentors, in Lisbon this weekend. It’s a special gift when teacher and student become friends and form a lasting relationship and I will be forever grateful to Professor Koller for his teaching and his friendship.
During the three years I studied [...]... Read more »
Cristina Flores, & Orlando Grossegesse (Eds.). (2007) Wildern in luso-austro-deutschen Sprach- und Textgefilden: Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Erwin Koller [Roughing it in the linguistic and textual wilds of Portuguese, Austrian and German: Festschrift for Erwin Koller on the occasion of his 60th birthd. Braga, PT: Cehum - Centro de Estudos Humanísticos. info:/
A new study by Australian scientists indicates that cutting water pollution in rivers that drain into the ocean may provide a significant health benefit to large parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
The researchers found that a fifth of the Great Barrier Reef suffers from low water quality, which reduces the diversity of corals living on the reef and favors a takeover by seaweeds.... Read more »
De'ath, G., & Fabricius, K. (2010) Water quality as a regional driver of coral biodiversity and macroalgae on the Great Barrier Reef. Ecological Applications, 20(3), 840-850. DOI: 10.1890/08-2023.1
Shyness is a unique trait and all of us experience it in various degrees when faced with performance situations or new social surroundings. However, many people go through life dreading such encounters and exposure to the feared social situation provokes anxiety, or possibly a panic attack. Social anxiety disorder (SAD) or social phobia is a [...]... Read more »
Strug, L., Suresh, R., Fyer, A., Talati, A., Adams, P., Li, W., Hodge, S., Gilliam, T., & Weissman, M. (2008) Panic disorder is associated with the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) but not the promoter region (5-HTTLPR). Molecular Psychiatry, 15(2), 166-176. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2008.79
Smoller, J., Paulus, M., Fagerness, J., Purcell, S., Yamaki, L., Hirshfeld-Becker, D., Biederman, J., Rosenbaum, J., Gelernter, J., & Stein, M. (2008) Influence of RGS2 on Anxiety-Related Temperament, Personality, and Brain Function. Archives of General Psychiatry, 65(3), 298-308. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2007.48
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