Total Pageviews

Monday, June 19, 2017

Celebrate Cephalopod Week: Squid, Octopuses, Cuttlefish, and Nautiluses

       It's the second annual Cephalopod Week.  How can you not love a creature whose name means head-foot? Cue the "open mouth/insert foot jokes."

        How will you celebrate?!

      Cuddle a cuddlefish with its 'W'-shaped eyes?

      Ogle an octopus, like this one from the Maldives? 

      Swim with a squid, like this technicolored fellow?

       Net with a nautilus?

      Come on out of your shell and join the Cephalopod Party. Cephalo off to Buffalo?

Do you have a favorite cephalopod. . .and why? {I like them all; off to celebrate!}

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Let's Make This Post go Chiral: From Amino Acids to Zwitterions

      A recent RadioLab story inspired this week's post on chirality; we certainly hope this Partial Ellipsis of the Sun post goes chiral

      Chirality is the property of having a structure that is non-superimposable on its mirror image. The term chirality is derived from the Greek word for hand, χειρ (kheir).

      The mirror images of a chiral molecule/ion are called enantiomers or optical isomers.

     Most DNA (B-DNA) double-helix molecules are right-handed, though there are some DNA molecules called Z-DNA that are left-handed. Thus, the labels on the following diagram are correct for most DNA.

     The chirality of molecules has much importance in biomolecules and in pharmaceuticals where left-handed molecules are more often the norm; the toxic version in right-handed molecules (like thalidomide) are the abnormal and destructive ones. Ironic that the handedness of molecules caused so much hand/arm (and foot/leg) deformities in thalidomide babies.

      On earth, amino acids characteristic of life are all left-handed in shape (Levo), and cannot be exchanged for their right-handed (Dextro) counterparts.  However, all sugars characteristic of life on Earth are right-handed, hence, dextrose. The opposite hands for both amino acids and sugars exist in the universe, but they just aren’t utilized by any known biological life form.

      A zwitterion is a neutral molecule with both positive and negative electrical charges. The image on the right (above) is a zwitterion.

     Thus, amino acids in earth's life forms go left, sugars go right, DNA double helixes go right. What's the Chirality Winner? ;-)

Please hand in your Chiral thoughts. . .

(And here's Telluride, CO, this weekend to clear your head and hands from all those chiral molecules):

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Track Lighting: Dinosaur "Dance Floor" in Bolivia -- Over 5,500 Footprints

       These late Cretaceous dinosaur footprint fossils on a near-vertical outcrop in Bolivia represent at least 294 different dinosaurs (and, at least 8 species) with over 5,500 footprints.

       The paleontological site, known as Cal Orck'o, is located a few kilometers south of Bolivia's Sucre city center.

       Although, I imagine there was more chasing than dancing on this "Dinosaur Dance Floor," it is an exquisite find, uncovered in 1994, in a cement quarry. Both carnivores and herbivores are represented. This longest set of tracks is over 350 footprints! Parco Cretacio is now open to the public; 68 million years in the making!

     The tracks were likely created by a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, nicknamed Johnny Walker ;-).

     And these footprints were likely made by an Iguanodon.

      The extent of dinosaur footprints on over 25,000 square meters is being studied by Christian Myer and Martin Lockley (of Colorado Morrison Dinosaur Ridge footprint fame). The largest prints are 3 feet long.

     Tectonic uplift moved these fossil footprints to a 70 degree plus angle. Pretty wild dance party ;-).

Have you been to see the Bolivian dinosaur footprints? Have you seen dino tracks in the Connecticut River Valley or elsewhere?


{The Colorado Dinosaur Ridge footprints are quite spectacular, but are not nearly as extensive as the Bolivian tracks.}

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Angling Mathematics: Fishing For Complementary Angles

      Our late-spring trip along the North Platte River from Waterton Canyon to Deckers, Colorado, and on to Wellington Lake, was filled with angles and anglers. According to the link cited above, 

  "There are physical properties associated with the bending (refraction of light) which have significant effects on what a trout could possibly see.  The trout’s world consists of a window, the diameter of which is determined by a thing called the Snell’s equation."

    "In simple terms the window is 2.26 times as wide as the trout is deep. So it can clearly see things on the surface over a wider area the deeper the fish is. At one meter the fish can clearly see things on the film in a 2.26 meter wide circle above its head."

      "Many angling writers have made much of this, because a relatively small increase in depth radically changes the size of the window. At 0.5 meters the window has a diameter of 1.13 meters, but at a depth of a meter that window grows enormously to 2.26 meters across. If you take the area of the window the results are all the more dramatic. At 0.5 meters depth the area of the window is 1 square meter, at one meter in depth that window jumps to 4 square meters. Double the depth and you effectively quadruple the size of the window."

      Ah, look at this sky window near Wellington Lake.

       The term angler derives from one who uses an "angle, or, originally "angel," i.e., fishhook for fishing with a line.

     A bit of both angles and angels might be involved in angling mathematics.

       Much better angling earlier in the week than on May 18 during the intense Colorado snowstorm. . .

      Big flakes abound in Colorado this month ;-).

      Are you an angler?

Fishing for complementary angles,

Monday, May 8, 2017

Birdsong and Creativity: Songbirds Name Their Offspring!

      The vocal learning of songbirds is the subject of much ornithological research. Did you know songbirds name their offspring, who are called by that specific sound all their lives? (I wonder if they have middle names, for when they're in trouble. . .)

      Nearly half of bird species are songbirds. They learn songs from a mentor, like humans, and then practice the melodies.

      The baby songbirds learn "grammar and syntax" from these mentors, who are often, but not always, their parents. The songbirds' use of different tweets (the original, non-140-character kind) is more complex than the signals (or typings) of monkeys. 

       According to this bird-brained article, "New neurons grow in breeding and singing season and then die back to save energy. A signal of the dying cells stimulates the new cells."

       "Songbirds prefer singing in harmonic series similar to humans even though anatomically they could sing many other ways. They choose to sing in a particular key and with consonant intervals, octaves, fifths, and fourths like humans. Songs are used for mating and defending territory."

       The study of birdsong is a delicate balancing act. And the study of bird brains (especially songbirds vs. birds like chickens) compared to humans and monkeys is even more complicated.

       Songbirds have more interconnectedness and feedback loops comparable to the parts of the human brain, especially the striatum. Study of songbird chromosomes adds both to the complexity and understanding.

       Zebra finches are useful in understanding how birdsong phrases are learned and how they can be changed and analyzed.

        Of course, you can just listen and enjoy Birdsong, too. This recording was made at daybreak along the Mississippi River near Birdsong, Arkansas, population 41. Temporarily 42. . .

      Be glad and sing out if someone calls you a Songbird Brain! Tweet about it ;-). 

     And this goes right here. . .

"Ah" would be better. . .but close enough.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Gaiman, A Fun Guy, on Beatrix Potter, Science, and Art: You Can't Have One Without the . . . Others

         The scientific illustration of mushrooms and other fungi by Beatrix Potter, children's book writer and mycologist, is part of the inspiration for a poem by Neil Gaiman, "The Mushroom Hunters."

        The blending of science and art is described in Gaiman's poem, which begins:

      "Science, as you know, my little one,
is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe.

      It’s based on observation, 
on experiment, 
and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed."

     "The Mushroom Hunters" is read by Amanda Palmer in its entirety here.

      Mushrooms, which are closer to animals than plants in their origins, are both mysterious and mundane. The poem continues (after a break):

      "Before the flint club, or flint butcher’s tools,
The first tool of all was a sling for the baby
to keep our hands free
and something to put the berries and the mushrooms in,
the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers.

      Then a flint pestle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.

      Some mushrooms will kill you,
while some will show you gods
and some will feed the hunger in our bellies.


      Others will kill us if we eat them raw,
and kill us again if we cook them once,
but if we boil them up in spring water, and pour the water away,
and then boil them once more, and pour the water away,
only then can we eat them safely. 


Observe childbirth, 
measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,
and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.

Observe everything.

And the mushroom hunters walk the ways they walk
and watch the world, and see what they observe.

And some of them would thrive and lick their lips,
While others clutched their stomachs and expired.
So laws are made and handed down on what is safe.


The tools we make to build our lives:
our clothes, our food, our path home…
all these things we base on observation,
on experiment, on measurement, on truth.

And science, you remember, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe,
based on observation, experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.

The race continues. An early scientist
drew beasts upon the walls of caves
to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms
and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.

      The men go running on after beasts.

      The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.

     They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms."


Have you hunted for mushrooms? My friend described finding some 'shrooms that helped him see the earth breathing. . .