Oct
27
2014

Antler wrestling: Two young bull elk compete in Estes Park, Colorado.
Antler wrestling: Two young bull elk compete in Estes Park, Colorado.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Each autumn, Rocky Mountain elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) migrate into Estes Park valley in Colorado for their annual mating season (also known as "the rut" or "rutting period"). During our three day visit last month, my wife and I saw them everywhere - in the meadows near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP); in Lake Estes; cooling off under the pines; and all over the city golf course (which was closed due to their presence). One night, while coming out of the downtown grocery store parking lot, we nearly hit three of them standing in the middle of the street!

We were staying about two blocks up from Lake Estes, and the morning of our last day I walked down the hill to take video of any elk I could find. I wasn't disappointed. As I made my way toward the lake, a couple of large bulls were prodding a harem of about 25 females through a residential area and onto the town golf course. As the video shows, the sight of so many of these massive beasts is both fascinating and intimidating.

Except for moose, elk are the largest members of the deer family (in Europe elk are called moose). Elk harems usually consist of several females (cows) - and sometimes calves - which, during mating season, are controlled and watched over by one or two bulls. Other opportunistic males will gather around the harem's periphery waiting to challenge the dominant bull or for a chance to hook up with a stray female.

The poor dominant male - in this case, a bull with a 14-point antler rack - spent most of his time trying to find a receptive female or fending off his rivals. It's a tireless job. Males shed and regrow their antlers each year. The rack turns to solid bone by the end of the summer and can weigh up to 40 pounds.

What surprised me most was the elk's bugling call. It's a high pitch wail often followed by a series of quick chirps. Sometimes, it reminded me of squawking seagulls for some reason. Of all ungulates­, elk are definitely the noisiest.

Bull elk use bugling to attract females and to warn rivals. The bulls will display their dominance in several ways, one of which is by raising their head high to show off their antlers. This posturing is usually sufficient, but sometimes two males will engage in antler wrestling to determine who's dominant of the two. Bulls will also dig up the ground with their antlers and front hooves and roll around in their urine to add a cow-attracting scent to themselves. You can observe some of their behaviors in video.

I think what I saw and recorded took place near the end of the pre-rut. There was no mating that I witnessed (except for a calf going through the motions with its mother!). The bulls seemed eager enough but the cows weren't quite in estrus (heat), and wanted nothing to do with their suitors. The estrus cycle of a female elk is short-lived and lasts only one or two days. When it does happen, the bulls are ready to mate several times during the cycle.

Elk get agitated and dangerous during the rut. There are warnings posted around Estes Park and RMNP about getting too close or having your pets with you when observing them. I unintentionally got between two bulls which could have turned into a nasty situation. But, fortunately, it didn't.

LINKS
Elk facts
More elk rut footage shot by Estes Park news team
Elk in Estes Park story in NYT
More elk info

October 23, 2014 solar eclipse

by Anonymous on Oct. 24th, 2014

Partial solar eclipse sequence: October 23, 2014
Partial solar eclipse sequence: October 23, 2014Courtesy Mark Ryan
Setting sun in partial eclipse
Setting sun in partial eclipseCourtesy Mark ryan
Some images from Thursday's eclipse taken from the east shore of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, MN. The sequence runs from first contact to maximum eclipse. An added attraction was the large sunspots visible on the sun's surface. Click on images to view larger size.

Oct
22
2014

Partial eclipse over Lake Calhoun: Minneapolis, MN
Partial eclipse over Lake Calhoun: Minneapolis, MNCourtesy Mark Ryan
A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible over much of North America tomorrow (October 23rd, 2014), including here in the Twin Cities. Note that this won't be a total eclipse, so it won't be safe to view the eclipsed sun without protective solar filters for your eyes. I have a piece of #14 arc-welder's glass (available at welding supply stores) that I've used to view solar eclipses safely in the past. You can also purchase special eclipse glasses online or from some local retail outlets. About 51 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon but even directly viewing a 99 percent eclipsed sun can damage your eyes. So it's important that you make sure you use eye protection. Probably the safest way to view the eclipse is by poking a pinhole in a sheet of paper or piece of cardboard and projecting the sun's image though it onto another flat surface.

Map for Oct. 23, 2014 partial eclipse
Map for Oct. 23, 2014 partial eclipseCourtesy F. Espenak, NASA
Solar eclipses can take place two to five times each year but since the Earth's surface is covered mostly by water, they're often viewable only from obscure and hard-to-get-to locations. Solar eclipses occur three ways: partial, total, and annular. During a partial eclipse only a fraction of the Sun's surface is covered by the Moon; during a total eclipse the Moon covers the full face of the Sun; during an annular eclipse the Moon is farther from Earth and relatively too small to completely block out the solar disk thus creating a ring of sunlight around the Moon's limbs. It's rare, but sometimes all three types can occur during a single event called a hybrid eclipse.

In the Twin Cities, the eclipse will start at 4:23pm and hit maximum eclipse at 5:35pm. About 51 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon. The weather forecast calls for possibility of rain in the morning, with slow clearing and a high of around 64°F. If we're lucky, the clouds will scatter by eclipse time and provide some excellent viewing opportunities of the eclipsed sun low in the western sky. One of the interesting phenomenons to look for during a partial eclipse is the pinhole effect leaves and other objects make with their shadows - fringing the edges with miniature crescents. I'll try to get some good photos if weather permits.

Coming up in the summer of 2017, the first total eclipse of the sun visible in the lower 48 states in nearly 40 years will will sweep across the US along a line from Oregon to South Carolina. Don't miss it if you can - it's one of the greatest natural events you'll ever witness in your life. But in the meantime, get outside and enjoy a partial warm-up tomorrow.

SOURCES and LINKS
Eclipse info at Space.com
How to safely watch a partial eclipse
Eclipse visibility map

Oct
17
2014

For some poor devils suffering from tinnitus can feel like this
For some poor devils suffering from tinnitus can feel like thisCourtesy merrick brown via Flickr
About fourteen years ago, I began noticing pops and crackles in my left ear. When I went to the doctor, I was given an audiology exam and was told those odd noises were typical of what is heard as auditory nerves die. Later, I began hearing them in my right ear. Those initial noises eventually did go away, but it was obvious that my hearing wasn't as sharp as it used to be. I learned to accept the loss as just one of the inevitable effects of getting older. My dad, too, suffered from age-related hearing loss, so it wasn't totally unexpected. But what I wasn't expecting was tinnitus. It's bad enough when your hearing begins to fade, but for some unfortunate people - like myself - tinnitus means it's not going to go away quietly.

Tinnitus is sometimes referred to as "ringing in the ear". But ringing isn't it's only manifestation. You can have popping, crackling, zinging, or any of the 50 different sounds that have been noted. or as in my case, hissing. And you'd think it originates in the ears because that's where the annoying sound is, but you'd be wrong.

"Tinnitus is a sound that is actually being generated in the brain,’ said Ross McKeown, president of the Tinnitus Association of Victoria in Australia. ‘We thought for a long time it was being generated in the ear, we now know that's not the case."

The brain, it seems, is over-compensating, trying hard to detect sound with fewer auditory nerves, which means with less amplification. So it's the old gray matter cranking the level up to 11 in hopes of compensating for that loss that causes all the extraneous noise.

This is the price I now pay for not taking care of myself in my younger years. I can pinpoint three events in my life that probably affected my hearing: working at a steel mill for a year, listening to a friend's band play in a tight, closed space at an ear-piercing volume, and shooting photos of a Harrier jet getting ready to take-off at a local air show. In each case I wasn't wearing ear protections. I was too cool for that.

Back then, like many people, I thought myself invincible. I was strong and alert and felt like my body could do no wrong. I put little thought into the future nor could I imagine my body or senses ever changing. But unfortunately, as we age, our bodies - like any other machine - starts to wear out and just doesn't respond or operate the same way it used to. As if almost on schedule, I noticed some distinct changes right around my 40th birthday, when suddenly my eyesight seemed poorer, my hearing duller, and for a two week stretch the skin on my face felt tingly and strangely wet but wasn't.

Eventually, you learn to accept these unwanted alterations - mostly because your generational peers are experiencing the same things you are - and you adapt to them as best you can. You begin buying drugstore eyeglasses so you can read the newspaper, you use sunscreen to keep skin cancer at bay, you consider buying hearing aids (or downloading smartphone apps) so you can understand what your friends are babbling about when you're all dining together in a crowded restaurant. It sucks.

The trick to living with tinnitus is to ignore it. Easy for me to say since my tinnitus is fairly moderate and unnerving compared to the level from which others suffer. The hissing at this point in my life is intermittent. Sometimes I wake up with it, sometimes it fades in during the day (or night), and sometimes I don't have it at all. Any of these can last days at a time. I haven't been able to figure out exactly what (if anything) triggers it. I know I'm more susceptible to it from lack of sleep, or if I'm feeling down. Sometimes I think too much coffee or taking pain relievers (ibuprofen in my case) may exacerbate it, but whatever the catalyst, it's just not fair. But I shouldn't complain - for some poor devils, the annoying noise can be constant and excruciating, and even induce suicidal thoughts.

Tinnitus affects about 6 percent of the general public. Not surprisingly, with professional musicians it's more like 50 percent. In that faction, I share the affliction with Beethoven, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Phil Collins and Chris Martin of Coldplay. Other notable sufferers include Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, Steve Martin, Howard Hughes, and the pointy-eared Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

Although I've never personally tried any, there are plenty of "treatments" for tinnitus on the market but not much scientific evidence backing up their claims. None are cure-alls for the ailment, and it's hard to tell if any of them really do anything other than create a 'placebo' effect for sufferers. According to my doctor it's just something you have to learn to live with (same with the floaters in my eyes, and my lousy skin). In my case I've learned to simply ignore it and not obsess over it. If I get lost in thought about something else, it just disappears into the background. I also try to get enough sleep, keep my spirits up, and avoid subjecting my ears to loud noises.

McKeown suggests four key steps to help deal with the nuisance of tinnitus: First thing, don't worry about it. Secondly, change your perception of the noise from something dangerous to simply background noise. Third, don't think about it. And fourth, live your normal life. Sitting home fretting about may only make it worse.

SOURCE and LINKS
American Tinnitus Association
Celebrities and Musicians with Tinnitus/Hearing Damage
A sound of hope for tinnitus victims

Oct
13
2014

Nobel Prize
Nobel PrizeCourtesy Photograph: Jonathunder Medal: Erik Lindberg (1873-1966)
This past week a Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for finding ways to use fluorescent molecules that glow on demand to allow scientists to peer into living cells. Using beams of laser light, an area is scanned multiple times making the molecules glow; images are then super-imposed to yield an image at the nanoscale.

The ground-breaking work by these three scientists brought optical microscopy into the nano dimension. Previously, the limit of optical microscopes was presumed to be roughly half the wavelength of light (0.2 micrometers).

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences when announcing the award, stated,

"In what has become known as nanoscopy, scientists visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells. They can see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain; they can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.

Two separate principles are rewarded. One enables the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, developed by Stefan Hell in 2000. Two laser beams are utilized; one stimulates fluorescent molecules to glow, another cancels out all fluorescence except for that in a nanometre-sized volume. Scanning over the sample, nanometre for nanometre, yields an image with a resolution better than Abbe’s stipulated limit.

Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Scientists image the same area multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel. In 2006 Eric Betzig utilized this method for the first time.

Today, nanoscopy is used world-wide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis."

The three winners are:
1) Eric Betzig, U.S. citizen. Born 1960 in Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Ph.D. 1988 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Group Leader at Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA.
http://janelia.org/lab/betzig-lab

2) Stefan W. Hell, German citizen. Born 1962 in Arad, Romania.
Ph.D. 1990 from the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and Division head at the German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany.
http://www3.mpibpc.mpg.de/groups/hell

3) William E. Moerner, U.S. citizen. Born 1953 in Pleasanton, CA, USA.
Ph.D. 1982 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Harry S. Mosher Professor in Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Applied Physics at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.
http://web.stanford.edu/group/moerner

To learn more about this research visit:

2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry - Periodic Table of Videos

See video

The Nobel Prize announcement:
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/

Background about the limit of optical microscopes known as Abbes' Diffraction Limit (0.2 μm)
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2014/popular-...

To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:
www.whatisnano.org

To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:
http://www.sciencebuzz.org/buzz_tags/nano

Want to give your brain a really good workout? Learn to play a musical instrument. Educator Anita Collins explains why in this short but instructive TedEd video.

I had never heard the term polyphonic overtone singing before seeing this video showcasing German muscician/singer/teacher Anna-Maria Hefele's vocal skill. It's very strange and fascinating to watch. Polyphonic overtone singing is the ability to sing more than one note at a time and is practiced by several cultures, such as the Tuvans in Russia and nomads in Mongolia.

Also known as throat or harmonic singing, the technique involves manipulating the resonances created as air from the lungs travels past the vocal folds, producing a melody as it flows out of the lips.

When it's put that way, it sounds pretty easy but I don't think that's the case.

LINKS
Story on io9.com
Amazing Mongolian singer Bukhchuluun Ganburged

Oct
05
2014

Yes, that’s a whale skull! Whale skulls and solar panels – things you don’t normally see together.
Yes, that’s a whale skull! Whale skulls and solar panels – things you don’t normally see together.Courtesy OMSI
Researcher Nick Day checking on the solar panels.
Researcher Nick Day checking on the solar panels.Courtesy OMSI
You don’t really smell the whale bones drying in the sun, unless you’re close to them. I’m on the roof of Science Building 2 at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. I’m not here to check out the whale bones (which are pretty cool!) but to see the PSU Photovoltaic Test Facility.

Plants and solar cells both need sunlight. Roofs can be great places for capturing sunlight if they aren’t shaded by tall trees or buildings. PSU professors Carl Wamser, David Sailor, and Todd Rosentiel wondered if putting green roofs and solar panels together could increase the effectiveness of both. Researchers from the Wamser, Sailor, Rosentiel, and Erik Johansson labs have been experimenting with different plants in the green roofs, irrigating the plants, and different roofing materials to see how they affect the power produced by the solar panels and how much energy the building uses.

As it gets hotter, photovoltaic solar panels become a little less effective. About 80% - 90% of the solar panels in use today in the US are crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels. Over temperatures of 25°C (77°F), these solar panels drop 0.4-0.5% in power for every 1°C that the temperature rises. How can green roofs help solar panels? Plants and soil give off water in a process called evapotranspiration. As the water evaporates, it cools the air. The PSU researchers wondered if that temperature drop is enough to cool solar panels. They are still analyzing the results, but the plants do cool the solar panels a little, with sedum plants doing a better job than a mix of sedums and grasses.

While analyzing the data, researchers Matt Smith and Hanny Selbak noticed that there was an unexplained power spike in the solar panels one day. After trying to figure out what caused that increase in power, they traced it to biologists in the Rosentiel lab irrigating the plants. The water ran over the solar panels on the way to the plants. The solar panels cooled, and their power went up. Serendipity!

From that observation, researchers from the labs devised an experiment where they pumped water continuously over a solar panel using a 7 watt aquarium pump. This cooled the panel from about 55°C (131°F) to 40°C (104°F). After subtracting the power used by the pump, the average net gain in power was around 5%. The cooling system cost about $15 in materials per panel. If a home owner with an average 3 kilowatt solar panel system used a similar cooling system, she could generate an additional 150 watts of power. That’s enough to run most televisions or computers.

Find out more about the green roof and solar panel project here: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/topics/green-roofs-solar-panels-better-together

Meet some of the researchers and find out why they do what they do here: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/topics/meet-scientist

Sources and Links:
To read this article click here:

Smith, Matthew K., H. Selbak, C.C. Wamser, N.U. Day, M. Krieske, D.J. Sailor, T.N. Rosentiel. Water Cooling Method to Improve the Performance of Field-Mounted, Insulated, and Concentrating Photovoltaic Modules. Journal of Solar Energy Engineering 2014; 136(3).

New seafloor map: the red dots represents earthquake occurrences
New seafloor map: the red dots represents earthquake occurrencesCourtesy David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have used archived satellite data to develop new, detailed maps of the ocean floor, giving scientists new insights into earthquakes, spreading seafloors, and plate tectonics. The maps are the latest to be compiled in over two decades and provide a higher resolution picture of the ocean bottom revealing features not seen in previous versions. The study appears in the journal Science.

SOURCE
Scripps Institution of Oceanography report

Mt. Ontake, a volcano in central Japan erupted unexpectedly yesterday surprising scientists and some 200 hikers on its slopes. So far, more than two dozen bodies of victims have been recovered by rescuers. Volcanoes in Japan are monitored closely and checked for signs of imminent eruption such as increased earthquake activity. But Mt. Ontake came alive yesterday without any warning whatsoever, blanketing its slopes - and everything on them - under a thick layer of ash.

SOURCES and LINKS
The Guardian report
The science behind Mt. Ontake's eruption
BBC report (with add'l video)