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An interesting debate about the state of higher education in the US, from the New York Times.  The topic stems from the publication of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, University of Chicago Press).  And, one of the contributors is a dean and professor from my alma mater, Oberlin College!

Mammoth clones? Ya right!

Dr. Akira Iritani has stated that wooly mammoth clones are likely in our future, based on research conducted on frozen mouse carcasses.  He plans to hit the siberian tundra this summer in search of ancient mammoth meat, which he will then clone and use to impregnate an African elephant.  If all goes to plan, we should have our first wooly mammoth since the Pleistocene…

That is, only if all goes to plan.  I’ll believe it when I see it, and I won’t be impressed until I can have my own pet ground sloth.

What's your favorite science news of 2010?


Though not the most flashy or well-reported science news of 2010, my favorite is the discovery of Cambrian bryozoans.  Bryozoa, which are small colonial filter feeders, are one of the most common yet least considered organisms in our modern oceans and until the discovery of Pywackia baileyi by Landing et al. (2010), bryozoa were believed to be the only skeletalized metazoan phylum to have originated after the Cambrian.  This discovery is exciting because it proves that the Cambrian Explosion truly was an evolutionary revolution and forms a more parsimonious story of early metazoan evolution.

Landing, E., A. English and J. D. Keppie, 2010.  Cambrian origin of all skeletalized metazoan phyla — Discovery of Earth’s oldest bryozoans (Upper Cambrian, southern Mexico).  Geology 36(6):547-550.

Check Out This Triple Solar Explosion Awesomeness!


A surge in solar activity on Sunday, Dec. 12th, resulted in the sun erupting three times in quick succession, hurling a trio of bright coronal mass ejections (CMEs) into space. Coronagraphs onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded the action.  To see the explosions click on the link -

Slow-motion footage of shuttle launches

Photographic documentation of a Space Shuttle launch plays a critical role in the engineering analysis and evaluation process that takes place during each and every mission. Motion and Still images enable Shuttle engineers to visually identify off-nominal events and conditions requiring corrective action to ensure mission safety and success. This imagery also provides highly inspirational and educational insight to those outside the NASA family.

"This compilation of film and video presents the best of the best ground-based Shuttle motion imagery from STS-114, STS-117, and STS-124 missions. Rendered in the highest definition possible, this production is a tribute to the dozens of men and women of the Shuttle imaging team and the 30yrs of achievement of the Space Shuttle Program.

"The video was produced by Matt Melis at the Glenn Research Center."

Mercury Turns Retrograde - The Science Behind Your Bad Luck

Mercury took a u-turn last night and began another one of its infamous retrograde periods.  Astrology predicts three tumultuous weeks of miscommunication, travels gone awry and general bad luck until our smallest planet straightens up and flies right.  This month’s retrograde period is predicted to especially mischievous, as it is the fourth time Mercury has turned retrograde this year, which is one time more than usual.  As a geoscientist and a woman who generally scoffs at pseudosciences like astrology, I thought it would be fun and useful to explain the science behind the retrograde movement of planets and the apparent spike in misfortune that accompanies these events.

The movement of all celestial bodies – the stars, the Sun, the Moon and the planets – that we observe is governed by our point of view as Earthlings standing on the surface of a rapidly spinning planet within a rapidly spinning solar system.  The movements we observe are actually all optical illusions.  For example, we all know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, yet every day we observe what appears to be the exact opposite.  The Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, and this effect caused by the rotation of the Earth on its axis and our stationary point of view on its surface.  The slow movement of the stars across the night sky is a result of this same process – the stars are essentially stationary, yet appear to follow long, arcuate paths because the Earth is spinning.  Indeed, nearly every celestial object observable with the naked eye slowly trails from East to West across the sky, and the planets are the only objects that “misbehave.”

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Episode #101 - Interview with Dr. Phoebe Cohen

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In this episode of Explorations, I got the chance to sit down with Dr. Phoebe Cohen and chat about her research and her work in public outreach.  Phoebe is a paleobiologist and the coordinator of Education and Public Outreach for the NASA Astrobiology MIT node: The Advent of Complex Life.  She has also done work with The Encyclopedia of Life, an online database of Earth’s biodiversity.

Music in this episode was provided by Norse Horse.

Sea Horses & Shrimp at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Though not a terribly scientific or informative film, it is fun to watch.  My labmate Lidya and I shot this last spring.

The Encyclopedia of Life is an ambitious online project that aims to document the diversity of life on Earth.  The website integrates its own database with other online media like podcasts, flickr and twitter with user- and scientist-generated information to slowly catalogue each and every described species on the planet.  It’s taxonomically based, so you can browse from Kingdom Animalia right down to Crematogaster schencki, a species of ant from northern Mexico.  

The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is an unprecedented global partnership between the scientific community and the general public. Our goal is to make freely available to anyone knowledge about all the world’s organisms. Anybody can register as an EOL member and add text, images, videos, comments or tags to EOL pages. Expert curators ensure quality of the core collection by authenticating materials submitted by diverse projects and individual contributors. Together we can make EOL the best, most comprehensive source for biodiversity information.”

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