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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Llareta in the Andes, Corn in Kaua'i, and GMOs: Slow Versus Fast Growth

     Llareta is the extremely slow-growing evergreen plant featured on yesterday's NPR Science Friday blog:

     Yes, llareta is real. The photo above is not a poorly photoshopped creation (for you bloggers resizing and reshaping your images ;-)). Azorella compacta is a perennial evergreen and grows close to rocks or soil in order to conserve heat at elevations of 14,000 to over 17,000 feet. Llareta is related to parsley and is quite slow-growing, adding only 1-1.5 centimeters per year. Some of these dense mats of llareta in the Andes Mountains of Chile, Peru, and Argentina have been carbon-dated as being over 3,000 years old. [Alternate carbon-dating definition: chemists getting together for dinner and a movie.]

     The complete article about these dense mats that have, unfortunately, been used in South America as non-renewable fuel is linked here:

               LLARETA OR YARETA

     In comparison, the fast-growing, 3-crop-per-year corn crop in Kaua'i, Hawaii, takes a mere 3-4 months for the entire life cycle. The genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) are pushed to a level of ever-faster change in growth so that modifications to the corn seeds can be made in just 3 years (or, by some accounts, 7 years) instead of at least 13 years in a one-crop-per-year acrigulture. In any case, it's rapid, push it out to market food. In between every corn cycle, the fields are sprayed with Roundup herbicide which kills every broadleaf. Seed agriculture is now Hawaii's number one agricultural business, ahead of cane sugar, pineapples, and other native plants.


     More on GMOs here from earlier this month (the photo credit is in the link below):

GMO Seed Agriculture Growth in Hawaii

     Slow-growing, ancient organisms that have been around for thousands of years or fast-growing corn that has been genetically modified every few months, treated with three rounds a year of Roundup? Which seems safer for animals, including humans, to be around or, in the case of the corn, to actually eat?

       This week's blog honors my mom, June, who has been active in getting people to understand what corporations like Monsanto and its product, Roundup, in their GMO research, are doing with our food. (Over 90 % of U.S. corn is now a GMO product).

        Her best suggestion for us? Plant our own gardens!

         And a final, favorite photo of another very old friend, the bristlecone pine (nearly 5,000 years of very slow growth in CA and other high elevations):

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the slow and the fast, the unchanged and the modified, llareta and GMOs (I can wait...),

Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tortoises, Putnisite, John Cleese, and Better Creativity Tools, According to SCIENCE!

     This week I'd like to start with an article about creativity and writing which is, according to the Fast Company title, backed up by science! It includes tortoises and John Cleese video (With this Monty Python crowd, I imagine "according to Cleese!" may have the same effect as according to Science!)

Here's the link to the full article based on SCIENCE:

          Creativity according to SCIENCE

     Science was the top word Googled, ahem, researched, on the Merriam Webster website last year:

             Top word of 2013 is science

       I imagine editors are happy to see science thrown into a title whenever possible. A quick scan of the Fast Company homepage shows 4 articles containing "according to Science" on the main page. Do not get me wrong, I am happy to see science getting so much press. Although, at times, it seems thrown in a bit gratuitously.(Gratuitous throwing is a real thing in Ultimate Frisbee, a favorite sport for my son, his friends, and dogs):

[The frisbee player and dog in the photo are not related to me though;-)]

      Back to the article...The usual things that help creativity like exercise, sleep, moving on to something else and coming back after a percolation period are well-known, even not according to science. Writing with pen and paper has always been a creative juicer for me...There is something about the physical act of making the letters that a keyboard does not do. And now, I know, according to science, it works. . .

      Mr. Cleese notes that creativity is like a tortoise in that it pokes its head out gingerly to see if it is safe to stay out.

      He speaks of writing a funny sketch, losing the paper it was written on, and then recreating it from memory. When Mr. Cleese found the old sketch, he realized the newer one was much funnier.

      I am going to set this post aside for awhile and see how that percolating works.

      Percolating results:

     Popular Science is an oxymoron these days.

     Gilda Radnor's quote about creativity percolated through: "I can always be distracted by love, but eventually I get horny for my creativity."

      Hope you are having a wonderful Earth Day enjoying science and creativity.


Word Woman (Scientific Steph)

Newsflash: Putnisite, a new, soft mineral with an interesting composition has been discovered in Western Australia

Here's the source article from Science News:


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blood Oranges, Crustaceans, and the Moon

     Wow! The lunar eclipse last night was amazing. The moon was the color of a blood orange for quite awhile after the eclipse:

     It was worth awakening for, except I am pretty tired today. I hope you were able to look up from your phone, computer, or tablet to see it:

     So, this segue to a 520-million-year-old crustacean with preserved cardiovascular, nervous, and digestive systems found in China may not be the smoothest, but it will be color-coordinated ;-). 

      [One of my favorite memories is of shopping with my four-year-old son. He noticed that everything in our grocery cart was orange when we started shopping.  He suggested we only buy orange things that day. Totally impractical but totally fun! We came home with orange popsicles, pumpkins, carrots, yams, oranges, and other assorted orange things. It was worth needing to go back the next day to get other essentials ;-)].

     In what researchers from the University of Arizona, UK, and China are calling an "invertebrate version of Pompeii," evidence of an especially well-developed cardiovascular system in a three-inch crustacean named Fuxianhuia was discovered in Yunnan Province, China. The system is outlined in carbon and surrounded by mineralized deposits.

         The computer generated model above shows the heart and blood vessels in red, brain and nervous system in dark blue, and digestive system in teal. (Image credit: Nicholas Strausfeld). Eyes and antennae were also preserved.

           The depositional environment is a bit unclear in these half-billion-year-old deposits. The fine dust-like particles are referred to as mudstone with a possible connection to a tsunami (so the volcanic Pompeii analogy doesn't quite work for me.)

             The article was published on April 7, 2014 in Nature Communications:

             And, yes, one more orange-red thing, for geologic-times sake (This is a crawdad, not a lobstah. . .)

      Looking forward to your lunar eclipse, crusty crustacean, and other comments this April Tuesday.


Word Woman (Scientific Steph)

Updated P.S.: Natural dyes for eggs made with turmeric, beets, and red cabbage. Kindergarteners and I had a colorful day.

     Look what I found this morning at our grocery store, prominently featured in a large display at the front of the store! They do have a wonderful blend of sweet and tart, jan. Someone had placed a shinier, less wrinkled, similar-shaped orange variety on top of the Sumos. I was not swayed. Thanks for the recommendation.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

M & M: Mercury & Mars: Erupting and Aligning

      Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system (sorry, Pluto), is the site for numerous pyroclastic or volcanic eruptions:

      Volcanos need volatiles (with their low boiling points) like water and carbon dioxide. (Remember: V's need V's.) Thus, this finding was a bit of a shock to some researchers who published research in late March of this year looking at the ages of craters on the planet:


       These eruptions occurred from 3.0 to 1.5 billion years ago, relatively recently compared to the 4.5 billion year old planet. Investigators had thought Mercury was dry as a fossilized bone (I never liked the expression dry as a bone since living bone has all that smooth, relatively juicy marrow in the middle). Plus, it's a good excuse, IMHO, to post a photo of fossilized bone on this April Tuesday:

      The relatively large iron core of Mercury has also puzzled investigators. Some thought this large core may have been the result of an outer layer of Mercury being burned up so close to the Sun or blasted away by a meteorite hitting the planet. But, the presence of volatiles tends to negate these ideas. Back to the drawing board.

       And, it is back to the drawing board of the night sky this Tuesday evening to see the brilliant burnt orange Mars rising in the eastern sky at sunset:

      Mars will be in opposition (aligning) to the Earth in its orbit so will rise in the eastern sky at only 57 million miles away, move through that night drawing board and set in the western sky as our Sun rises tomorrow morning. Definitely worth a look with binoculars tonight!

       How to tie together fleet-footed Mercury which shares its name with the fast-moving element mercury (Hg) and Mars, named after the fiery god of War? A birthday party for the Sun: they had to planet of course. ;-)

      Here's hoping that pun got you right in your solar plexus (plexus being from the Latin for braid--see triple braid below) 

and that it will make you laugh to your non-iron core. 

     I created today's PEOTS as a bit of a haven of wonder at things happening elsewhere ;-) Oh, the third M of the braid to go with Mercury and Mars? I will leave that up to you creative, fellow bloggers. What do you suggest?

       Look up tonight! 

Non volatile-ly,

Word Woman (Scientific Steph)

P.S. And remember: My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nothing (Oh, Pluto, we miss those Nine Pizzas!)      


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Happy April Fuels Day or There's no Fuel like an Old Fuel

    Yeah, everyone talks about April Fools today but no one talks about April Fuels. 

     To you, Garamond font-savvy crew, I imagine you won't fall for new research about a flat earth:

      Or act like Florida residents who were upset about reports of dihydrogen monoxide leaking from local faucets:

      But, some beautiful fossil ferns in coal might rev your April jets:

 Or perhaps some petrified wood:

         Because, of course, there's no fuel like an old fuel:

      Unless it's a new way to use April fuel:

     Happy April Fool's Day to our energetic, epic bunch.

      Bonus: Enjoy this map from 1877 as my April Fuels Day gift to you. Here's hoping it will keep you octo-pied for at least (8)(3.14) seconds:

     Hope you were privvy to some great April fuels and fools. Love to hear about any pranks, jokes, etc. from today.


Word Woman (Scientific Steph)