Theories of evolution

For as long as there have been archeologists there has been debate about how fire was first created, however watching Charlotte rubbing and banging things together it all seems pretty obvious to me.
Currently she really just starting to get highly mobile and highly curious, and her scientific repertoire of investigative methods currently contains:
1. Lick it or chew on it
2. Shake it vigorously
3. Drop it
4. Rub it againt something else, or try and smack it and something else together.
This last one provides me with amusing parallels to the scientific process in the game evil genius, where your science minions wander around trying to find things that they can combine to make a new thing out of. Although the depicted process is slightly more involved, it still in essence boils down to smack two things together (and shoot them with your giant laser) and see if they make something new.
So I can completely understand how kids could have rubbed two things together and discovered fire, in every aspect apart from their 7 second attention span…


Ever wanted to know if you could use a blender to chop up such things as golf balls, alarm clocks, skis, or glow sticks, and if you could, what would happen?

Well now you need wonder no more

Ah, the Apocalypse (I always thought I’d have a hand in it)

(With appropriate acknowledgements to Prof. H. Farnsworth)

I recently came across an interesting interview on a Canadian radio science show, where a group of scientists shared their visions of how the world might end.

You can hear the interview here. Interesting stuff, but not a Zombie scenario anywhere, which makes me wonder what kind of serious “Scientists” they thing they are…

Science update

Recent things of note:

  • We’re going to have to wait until 2016 for our next lot of Space porn starring Jupiter. NASA will be launching the Juno mission in 2011, with the probe skimming above the cloud tops. It’s sure to make for some really pretty storm pictures.
  • Guys at Harvard have found a group of genes which seem to be involved in cellular aging in organisms from yeast to mice. Additionally, genetically engineering more copies, or providing drugs that activated the genes and the mice lives 24-46 percent longer. (Cue Morgan quoting “Of course I plan to live forever, but failing that a few thousand years would be fine…”).

And finally a nice little lamentation piece over at the daily galaxy, entitled “What Color’s Your Spaceship?” The problem with science education, from which I gathered the following very good quote:

For a new generation of graduate students the internet is an invaluable resource, a telephone, newsreel and the biggest reference in the world all in one.  But in many schools, where the internet is acknowledged at all it is painted as an evil source of cheating and laziness.  The problem is that kids are smart: for all its problems the internet is the greatest informational archive ever created, and if you tell a kid that using it is wrong then that kid is going to file you under “lying or stupid” and ignore everything you say.

Relative impossibility

I have recently taken to listening to podcasts via my ipod on the drive to and from work (depending on whether there is anything actually worth listening to on the radio).

This evening on my way back from the Gym I was listening to a podcast that I quite like called Futures in Biotech, and they had a physicist as the quest and he raised quite a cool concept.

He described there being three classes of Impossibility

  1. Things currently impossible, but probably achievable in decades to centuries, with the examples of molecular teleportation, invisibility, antimatter drives, ray gun, Starships, and telepathy (via technology).
  2. The currently impossible, but probably achievable in centuries to millenia, with the perceivable limitation being mainly due to the exorbitant energies required (and he was talking about projects requiring percentages of the energy output of a star) such as wormhole travel.
  3. Those things that are truely impossible due to them requiring violations of universal laws, such as precognition (seeing the future).

Overall I like the idea, mainly I think because of the number of really cool things that fall into the “Possible provided enough money/energy” basket. Be honest. Who wouldn’t want an invisibility cloak…

Tricks with light

One of the nifty ideas I ran into when I was doing my science degree all those years ago was that of creating synthetic (and thus mass producible) versions of the plant molecule chlorophyll.

The reason this is cool is that the chlorophyll molecule is able to catch light and use the energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. This in turn is useful for us, because if we can build synthetic systems to harness this process we can use the sun to directly produce hydrogen, which we can later burn to power cars, and run power plants, and possibly in the future create electricity directly via fuel cells, thus bypassing the thermal energy losses of combustion systems. And it would be completely green and renewable, because it would use only water, and when eventually use, the hydrogen would create only water.

So it was cool to read the other day that Aussie scientists had taken another step towards getting this up and going.


Well it turns out that what we all suspected is in fact true: Bad boys get more girls. Rather amusing really given that at the pub on friday I got to watch one such individual involved in discussion of this very topic with a bunch of girls who were all vehemently denying that they were looking for a bad boys to give them hot lovin’ and then discard them like a used and crumpled tissue (well perhaps I’m embellishing a little on that last description).


Another collection of links to things of a (mainly) scientific bent:

A californian scientist has developed a photonic laser thruster for shifting small satellites around to maintain their orbits,, and which might, if scaled up, greatly reduce the time to get to other planets.

Google has teamed up with the X-Prize foundation (which offers large cash prizes to private individuals or organisations who complete certain space related challenges) to offer a $30 million prize for putting a robotic lander on the moon. So if you’re good with electronics and have some rocketeering mates, you can make yourself a few bob.

The computer hardware company MSI has developed a rather clever little CPU fan which powers itself with the heat from the CPU. So you don’t have to use more electricity to run the fan to dissipate the plentiful thermal energy that’s already there… (well I think it’s nifty anyway).

Wired has a page with what they think are 10 of the coolest chemistry experiment videos on the web. I like burning magnesium in a block of carbon dioxide.

Slashdot had a link to an article on Scientific American about mapping out which parts of the brain are active in the sensation of religious euphoria, and using this knowledge to simulate the experience in the lab. Interesting stuff and very controversial fuel for the argument between atheists and the faith.

Good news ladies, bad news ladies

First the good news (possibly). Boffins (to use the appropriate official top gear nomenclature) have figured out how to create sperm from female bone marrow cells. Now, in theory at least, women can reproduce without the aid of men, although as the page points out, we’re still useful to keep around for mowing the lawn and fixing cars. The technique sounds pretty high risk (from the stand point of the proportion of the sperm that have cellular structural (and thus presumably chromosomal or genetic) defects, but as with all science once the concept has been proven the wrinkles usually get ironed out pretty quickly).

The bad news is that even if they can reproduce sans men, they are still going to get forgetful when it happens. Ozzie scientists have proven that so called pregnancy brain is a real phenomenon, although they have not tried to speculate on what the actual cause is. This is all quite funny because I’ve been listening to Simone complain for a few months now about how she keeps on forgetting things and feels generally somewhat more wooley brained than usual. One of her old bosses said that she didn’t realise how bad it was until after she had had her baby and her memory came back. Perhaps it is supposed to serve an evolutionary purpose, helping women forget just how unpleasant pregnancy can be so that they can do it multiple times and advance the species…