Departing Scientopia...

(by drskyskull) Oct 06 2010

So I've finally come to making a decision that I've been agonizing over for the past few weeks: I've decided to leave Scientopia and return to my WordPress blog at skullsinthestars.com.

Suffice to say that this isn't due to any problems with the Scientopia crowd, who are awesome; I really just feel that I'm not that comfortable at this time being part of a collective.

Thanks to everyone in the Scientopia crowd for their camaraderie during the past couple of months, and I'll see everyone on the internet and twitter!

As I've noted, you can find me back at skullsinthestars.com, starting more or less immediately, with the usual RSS feed.

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Kitty fostering: Mango and Mandarin!

(by drskyskull) Oct 04 2010

We've had a new pair of foster kitties in our house for over a week, but I haven't been able to get pictures of them because they've been hiding under the bed! On Sunday, Terry of F.U.R.R. (whose rescue kitties we're fostering) came to our rescue and helped us move them to another room with fewer hiding spots.

Tonight we had our first real one-on-one (without Terry) interaction with the cats. These two -- sister and brother Mango and Mandarin -- are much less acclimated to people than our previous fosters and take much more effort to work with at this stage. They were hiding under a dresser when we came in and we had to gently pull them out -- with much hissing -- and make them interact. In short, as trained by Terry, you calmly follow them around until they get bored and allow you to pet them.

And don't you know it, it worked! We got both kitties out and purring and being generally okay with us petting them. They were calm enough for us to get some pictures. Here's Mandarin:

And here's Mango:

They're beautiful kitties, and actually quite docile once they've calmed down! If you know anyone in the vicinity of Charlotte interested in adopting these two, please point them towards Terry at F.U.R.R.! You can also donate to F.U.R.R. here.

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: cells of ice, heavy metal flowers, white dwarf v. neutron star, and the Ig Nobels!

(by drskyskull) Oct 04 2010

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of ResearchBlogging.org categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Was Ice the Original "Cell" in Early Earth? Though scientists have a reasonably good grasp on the evolution of life on Earth, there is much less understanding of how life began. Michael Long of Phased describes an intriguing hypothesis which suggests that voids in ice crystals may have served as a cell wall, keeping primitive RNA strands together and accelerating their interaction.
  • HEAVY METAL SHIELDS FLOWERS FROM DISEASE. In what appears to be a major evolutionary win, it has been found that a certain small species of flower sucks up heavy metals, which in turn protects it from bacterial infection. Casey Rentz of Natural Selections discusses the research, and its potential practical impact.
  • What Happens When A White Dwarf Collides With A Neutron Star? It's a question you've always wanted to know the answer to, right? Now researchers have simulated the results of such a clash of the titans; Joseph Smidt of The Eternal Universe summarizes the catastrophic results.
  • The Ig Nobels have been announced! Finally, it's that time of year again: the winners of the awards for the most bizarre and entertaining research have been released! Christie Wilcox of Observations of a Nerd gives us the rundown on the prizes in all categories.

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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Weird science facts, July 18-July 31

(by drskyskull) Sep 29 2010

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from July 18 – July 31 are below the fold!

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: WEIRD evolution, pelican's beak, and rainforest reactors

(by drskyskull) Sep 27 2010

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of ResearchBlogging.org categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Reflections on the WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology. There are lots of psychology studies out there with interesting conclusions, but how universal are the results? Eric Michael Johnson of The Primate Diaries in Exile looks at recent research that shows that many of these supposedly universal results are really, well, WEIRD!
  • The Pelican’s Beak: Success and Evolutionary Stasis. We tend to look at species (such as the coelacanth and the horseshoe crab) that have remained unchanged over great stretches of time as "primitive" compared to us; in reality, though, the opposite is in a real sense the case. Using the pelican as an example, Brian Switek of Laelaps investigates concepts of "evolutionary progress" and "evolutionary stasis".
  • The Amazon Rainforest Reactor – A Rain Factory. Over at A Scientific Nature, Michael Gutbrod describes research showing that the Amazon rainforest acts as a biogeochemical reactor to sustain itself!

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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Weird science facts, July 04-July 17

(by drskyskull) Sep 22 2010

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from June 20 – July 03 are below the fold!

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Optics basics: surface plasmons

(by drskyskull) Sep 21 2010

My goal in my "basics" series of posts is not just to introduce the most elementary topics in optical science, but also to give background on some of the more advanced concepts for future reference. Much of my own research, and consequently my blog interests, center on nano-optics -- the study of the behavior of light on scales much smaller than the wavelength of light -- and one specific aspect of nano-optics that has grown tremendously in importance over the past ten years is the concept of a surface plasmon.

Broadly speaking, a surface plasmon is a traveling wave oscillation of electrons that can be excited in the surface of certain metals with the right material properties. Because a plasmon consists of oscillating electric charges, they also have an electromagnetic field associated with them which also carries energy. There's a lot of terminology to explain in that short definition, and in this post I'll explain what a surface plasmon is, the properties of surface plasmons, and how those properties make them useful in nano-optical applications.

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ResearchBlogging editor's selections: the Peruvian coffee paradox, galactic positioning, going green, the Alpine Fault, and hurricane plankton

(by drskyskull) Sep 20 2010

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of ResearchBlogging.org categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Peruvian Coffee: Matching Consumption With Production. Though Peru makes and exports awesome coffee around the world, locals primarily drink Nescafé! Krystal at Anthropology in Practice looks at this seeming cultural disconnect, and draws an analogy with Soviet sausages to help explain what is possibly going on.
  • How do we know…? Where we are in the Galaxy. Astronomers seem to have a pretty clear idea of the Sun's location within the Milky Way galaxy, but how do they know? Niall at we are all in the gutter gives a concise introduction to the science behind our galactic positioning.
  • Going green… literally. Though human beings have devoted a lot of effort to drawing energy from sunlight as a renewable energy source, we're just amateurs in the process compared to plants! Brian at the Berkeley Science Review Blog describes two recent innovations in the understanding and implementation of plant-like photosynthesis.
  • All quiet on the Alpine Fault? A couple of weeks ago, New Zealand was shaken up by a very strong earthquake. This wasn't necessarily a surprised, as it is a seismically active area, but what is surprising is how quiet the nearby Alpine Fault has been. Is it "due" for a massive earthquake? Chris of Highly Allochthonous looks at the history of the region and the inevitability of an Alpine Fault earthquake.
  • Can tiny marine plants steer some of the world’s biggest storms? Finally, Vivienne of Outdoor Science looks at a surprising hypothesis -- that tiny phytoplankton that permeate regions of the ocean actually have an influence on the location and severity of hurricanes in the region!

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

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Henry Kuttner's The Well of the Worlds

(by drskyskull) Sep 16 2010

Have I mentioned how much I love Henry Kuttner's writing? I've reviewed quite a few of his books here -- Elak of Atlantis, Thunder Jim Wade, The Time Axis, Destination Infinity -- and have greatly enjoyed all of them. Kuttner (1915-1958) was a versatile writer of the pulp era who could easily jump between styles. He wrote fantasy, horror, science fiction and adventure stories and managed to compose classics in each genre, though some of his greatest work was written in collaboration with his wife, C.L. Moore. His science fiction is what he is most remembered for, and the stories are a joy to read, often employing mathematical and scientific concepts in clever, even poetic ways. Though I've been sidetracked by other things of late, I've been eager to read all of his novels.

The most recent book of his I've gone through is The Well of the Worlds (1952):

(Picture of early edition via Fantastic Fiction.)

So what can I say about 'Well? I actually had a hard time getting through the first few chapters, because I found it initially somewhat erratic and unsatisfying, but it picks up significant speed about halfway through (it's only 125 pages) and I enjoyed it much from then on. It isn't quite the same caliber as The Time Axis or Destination: Infinity, but it is still an enjoyable book.

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The Giant's Shoulders #27 is out!

(by drskyskull) Sep 16 2010

The Giant’s Shoulders #27 is up over at Entertaining Research, the third year in a row that Guru has hosted it there!  He has put together a delectable assortment of tasty history of science posts; go check them out!  (And thanks to Guru for being a great and consistent host!)

The deadline for the next edition is October 15th, and it will be held at From the Hands of Quacks.  It will be yet another special edition: the broad theme of the carnival will be on visuals and representation in the history and philosophy of science, technology, and medicine. Entries can be submitted through blogcarnival.com or directly to the host blog, as usual!

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