Stories tagged Scientific Inquiry

Aug
06
2014

Bison painting at Altamira cave in Spain: Is it not amazing that we can instantly view on our computers this digital image of a bison painted 22,000 years ago by some unknown Paleolithic artist in a Spanish cave located 4300 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota? Just an observation.
Bison painting at Altamira cave in Spain: Is it not amazing that we can instantly view on our computers this digital image of a bison painted 22,000 years ago by some unknown Paleolithic artist in a Spanish cave located 4300 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota? Just an observation.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
After being closed for a dozen years, officials at the famous cave at Altamira in Spain - known for its wonderful prehistoric paintings - have once again been allowing the public to view its fantastic painted images of bison, horses, and other imagery created by unknown artists some 22,000 years ago.

The state-owned Altamira is subsidized by Spain's Culture Ministry, and testing has been in the works to determine whether limited visitors would have damaging effects on the rare prehistoric art. Random visitors to the site are selected by lottery and suited up in protective clothing before entering the cave. Test-run entries has been going on regularly since February.

The cave was discovered in 1879 by amateur archaeologist, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. Visitors swarmed to view the discovery until officials closed it a hundred years later so scientists could study the effects of exposure to human traffic. It reopened for a while but only with limited access. It closed again in 2002 after mold was spotted forming on some of the walls and paintings.

A museum containing exact replicas of parts of the chamber and artwork were built near the cave entrance where visitors could experience the wonders of the paintings without fear of damaging them. The replicated experience has been popular with tourists (a quarter-million visitors per year) but, as some complain, the experience just isn't the same as seeing the real thing.

“It is the kind of difference in emotions that we might feel when we look at a painting of Rembrandt or the sunflowers of van Gogh but are then told that the paintings are in fact fakes,” said Altamira museum director, José Antonio Lasheras.
The last group of lucky participants will be allowed into the cave later this month and results of the testing is scheduled to be published in September.

SOURCES and LINKS
NYT story
UNESCO's Altamira information
Guardian story on cave reopening

Jul
06
2014

Indication of massive injury on Allosaurus foot bones: ; University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Laramie, WY.
Indication of massive injury on Allosaurus foot bones: ; University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Laramie, WY.Courtesy Mark Ryan
British paleontologist Phil Manning from Manchester University has been using 21st century technology to study prehistoric injuries on dinosaur bones.

Cathartes aura: archosaurian descendent of Allosaurus.
Cathartes aura: archosaurian descendent of Allosaurus.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Manning and his team of researchers employed a particle accelerator called a synchrotron rapid scanning X-ray fluorescence (SRS-XRF) to analyze and compare the chemical compositions of both healed and healthy bone of a 150 million-year-old Allosaurus fragilis, and those of a modern turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). Both animals are members of a group known as archosaurs that includes pterosaurs, and alligators and other crocodilians. The SRS-XRF directed intense beams of light ten billion times brighter than our sun onto areas of fossilized dinosaur bone that showed signs of injuries (pathologies) and healing that had occurred while the creature was alive. The same instrument was used previously to analyze the remains of both Archaeopteryx and Green River Formation fossils, revealing organic traces not detectible in visible light.

In the current study. thin sections made from the toe bones of Allosaurus fragilis unearthed from the Cleveland-Lloyd quarry in Utah were prepared at a Temple University facility in Pennsylvania, and then sent to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in California for scanning. The Allosaurus sample was also analyzed at the Diamond Light Source (DLS) in Oxford, England.

During the analysis, a suite of trace-metal enzymes - copper, zinc, and strontium- all integral to the process of healing bone were detected. Copper plays a role in the strengthening the structure of collagen, zinc aids in ossification (the creation of new bone material), while strontium inhibits the break-down of bone cells. Enzymes composed from the same three elements are used for growth and repair in our own bones.
Normally when a bone suffers some kind of trauma, such as a fracture, the body repairs it by rebuilding new bone in much the same way it did when the skeleton first formed. Manning's fossil bone sections exhibited chemical ghosts of these essential elements in elevated amounts in the injured bone section than seen in the healthy bone surrounding it.

Allosaurus: ; University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Laramie, WY.
Allosaurus: ; University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Laramie, WY.Courtesy Mark Ryan
“It seems dinosaurs evolved a splendid suite of defense mechanisms to help regulate the healing and repair of injuries," Manning said. "It is quite possible you've got a reptilian-style repair mechanism combined with elevated metabolism, like that you'd find in alligators and birds respectively. So you've got a double whammy in a good way. If you suffer massive trauma, you've got the perfect set-up to survive it."

The SRS-XRF provides scientists with a superior method in analyzing and comparing the chemical processes involved with bone-building and healing that weren't discernible in the older histological examination methods used in studying thin sections, and could lead to further knowledge of how not only dinosaur bones - but our own - grow and repair themselves.

“The chemistry of life leaves clues throughout our bodies in the course of our lives that can help us diagnose, treat and heal a multitude of modern-day ailments. It’s remarkable that the very same chemistry that initiates the healing of bone in humans also seems to have followed a similar pathway in dinosaurs,” Manning said.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

SOURCES and LINKS
Science News story
Mother Nature Network story
Planet Earth Online story
Phil Manning research profile

Jun
27
2014

Why not dig a dinosaur this summer?
Why not dig a dinosaur this summer?Courtesy Mark Ryan
After exploring the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, you might say to yourself, "Gee, I wish I could be on one of those swell dinosaur digs."

Of course, the movies and other media have created the impression that working on a dinosaur dig is a romantic and thrilling endeavor full of excitement and constant discovery. In reality, it most likely involves long, sweaty hours with a shovel, removing tons of overburden, walking for miles and finding nothing or lying in the dirt, under a boiling hot sun, carefully uncovering crumbling fossil bones or wrapping them in a sticky concoction of burlap strips dipped in plaster. Afterwards you get to help lift several 3/4-ton blocks of encased bones and rock onto the back of a flatbed truck. If it happens to rain during your time in the field, you'll spend hours, maybe days, stuck inside a humid tent getting to know all about Larry from Cedar Rapids' chronic hip pain, and eating hard tack. Sounds like a blast, doesn't it?

So, if you're still interested, then you'll be happy to learn that there are lots of opportunities available out there to join an actual dinosaur dig. Here's a list of several organizations that will be more than happy to let you pay them to do their manual labor for them. Most are located out West where conditions and rock exposures are most ideal for dinosaur fossils but some digs originate with a museum or fossil related organizations in the East or Midwest.

Now that I think of it, it does sound like a blast. And who knows? Maybe, if you're lucky enough, you'll stumble upon something completely unknown like a Haplocanthosaurus skull or even the next, great "largest dinosaur ever found" (there seems to be a new one each month).

SOURCE
io9 story

Additional Digs
(PLEASE NOTE: Neither I nor the Science Museum of Minnesota endorse the above or following field trips. The links are offered only as a service. Readers are responsible in ascertaining that each organization listed is reputable before sending any money for deposit or downpayment.)
Judith River Dinosaur Institute
Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs, LLC
ZRS Fossils Field Trip
Frommer's suggested digs
Paleo World Research Foundation
Wild West Vacations & Travel
The Hideout in Shell, Wyoming
Prehisoric Planet
And for all the homebodies out there.

Jun
13
2014

Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.
Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.Courtesy Margret Flinsch
So these young dudes at a bachelor party earlier this week in New Mexico suddenly discovered something really old. And it wasn't Bill Murray (who's been known to pop up unannounced at bachelor parties these days).

Cavorting about the sand mounds of Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the guys found something odd sticking up a few inches above the surface. And of course they did what most young guys would do, they started digging.

Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor party
Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor partyCourtesy Christopher William Adach
What they discovered was a near fully-intact skull and tusks of a stegomastodon, a species which dates back about 3 million years. They contacted the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, which then set up a more organized system of unearthing the skull. (The link above shows photos of the excavation work taking place.)

Stegomastodons were forerunners to the Ice Age mastodons and today's elephants. And according to paleontologists working on the project, the newly-discovered skull is one of the best skulls to be unearthed. Stegomastodons stood about nine feet tall and had curling tusks that extended up to 11 feet. Bill Murray, on the other hand, stands about six feet tall, has no protruding tusks and is believed to be somewhat younger than 3 million years old.

Apr
13
2014

Tiktaalik roseae: Field Museum of Natural History
Tiktaalik roseae: Field Museum of Natural HistoryCourtesy Eduard Solà via Wikipedia
If you missed last week's PBS broadcast of Your Inner Fish, the documentary based on paleontologist-anatomist Neil Shubin's book by the same name, you have another chance to catch up on the first of three segments on the web. It's an excellent opening segment of the 3-part series, but is only available (for free!) right here through April 23, 2014.

The series deals with Shubin's search for the connections we all have with our fishy and reptilian ancestors. His discovery of the remarkable transitional fossil named Tiktaalik roseae on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic has added great evidence of our ties with our distant piscean relatives. The flat-headed, 375 million year-old Tiktaalik possessed the exact features - such as both lungs and gills, a wrist and neck - that you'd hope to find in a transitional form between swimming fish and land-walking tetrapods.

The next episode, titled Your Inner Reptile airs Wednesday, April 16th on your local PBS station. It's on here in the Twin Cities at 9pm but check your local listing for times in your area.

In the meantime, watch the first episode, and read about some of the reaction to Shubin's find here, here, and here.

LINKS
University of Chicago Tiktaalik roseae page

Apr
09
2014

Contributed by Haley Harada

We see headlines, newspaper articles, and television specials almost everyday—“Oil Spill in South America”, “Bird Species Endangered”, and “Temperatures At All Time High Due to Global Warming”. Environmental catastrophes and problems are undoubtedly a major world issue. While we are likely aware of some of the various environmental challenges global citizens face, preserving and restoring Earth’s delicate environment often leaves us with more questions than answers. Mahatma Gandhi once advised, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. But progress is impossible if we do not understand or realize what those changes should be.

After participating in an environmental outreach program between ‘Iolani School and Ala Wai Elementary, I’ve begun to see the importance of environmental education. Awareness is the first step towards action. Children especially, should be taught about their surroundings in order to become educated voters, innovative scientists, and productive members of an environmentally conscious society. Teaching children about anything, from the trees in their backyards to the earth’s atmosphere, can broaden their perspectives of organisms and the systems in which they operate. Although the saying is cliché, it is undoubtably true: children are the future. Ultimately, they are the ones who will propagate change and answer our questions.

When we first started introducing ourselves to the students at Ala Wai Elementary, they seemed nervous and a bit confused about the purpose of the outreach project. One concept that we really wanted the students to understand was the connectivity of all living and non-living things, from animals and plants to water and weather. Although in the allotted time period it was impossible to go in depth about each subject, it was most important for the students to see the connection between the concepts. We also brought up ideas that the students were already familiar with and tried to get them to think about each in a new way. As the project continued, the students became more comfortable and seemed to gain at least some environmental insight. It filled me with joy to watch them playing with fish and looking through microscopes at things that they had never seen or paid attention to before.

The most rewarding part of the project was bringing the Ala Wai surroundings, often taken for granted, to life. Showing students that experiments can be interesting and fun might encourage them to seek environmental learning opportunities in the future. My hope is that students realized that there is an endless amount of things to see and learn about in their world. In the process of trying to teach younger students, I myself became more aware of the importance of bringing the outside world into the classroom. Children need to put down their iPads and cell phones once in a while to understand and appreciate the world around them. In the future, they'll be thankful they did.

Haley Harada is a high school senior at 'Iolani School. She wrote this blog post as part of a final project for AP Biology.

Mar
20
2014

NanoDays is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future.

Most events will be taking place between March 29 - April 6, 2014.
NanoDays 2008-2014 map
NanoDays 2008-2014 mapCourtesy NISE Network

NanoDays events are organized by participants in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Network) and take place at more than 250 science and children's museums, research centers and universities across the country from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. NanoDays engages people of all ages in learning about this emerging field of science, which holds the promise of developing revolutionary materials and technologies.

To read more about NanoDays visit:
http://www.whatisnano.org/nanodays

To see a full list of organizations hosting 2014 events visit:
http://www.nisenet.org/nanodays/participants-2014

2014 Events in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN: http://www.smm.org/nanodays

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

Mar
18
2014

BICEP2 Telescope and B-mode signal
BICEP2 Telescope and B-mode signalCourtesy BICEP2 Collaboration, NSF, Steffen Richter (Harvard)
Einstein predicted their existence nearly a hundred years ago as part of his theory of general relativity, then in the 1980s theorists honed them into inflation theory, and now astronomers working at a radio telescope near the South Pole have proof of their existence.

John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his collaborators (including co-leader Clem Pryke, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota) have reported detecting gravity waves from the very beginnings of the known universe. These space-time ripples are remnants from the very earliest moments of the Big Bang - when it was just a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old!

The elusive waves were detected by a telescope located at the South Pole at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station using 250 dime-sized detectors to scan the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the weak radiation remnant of the Big Bang found throughout the known universe. For two years, from January 2010 to December, the experiment known as BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization2), searched for distortions in the CMB.

Einstein general theory of relativity predicted that gravitational waves accelerated by the Big Bang would have produced ruffles across the fabric of space-time. Inflation theory predicted that the very first of these waves, composed of hypothetical quantum particles that carry gravity (gravitons), would have been stretched in the very earliest moments of the Big Bang from imperceptible sized wavelengths into ones large enough to be detectable in the CMB. The cosmic microwave background radiation becomes polarized by scattering off electrons in space, and subtle changes in that polarization pattern, twists the fabric of the CMB into swirls called B-mode polarization.

If these primitive distortions in the CMB fabric stand up to future scrutiny (and preliminary reports indicate they will) then not only will they constitute the first direct evidence of Einstein's predicted gravity waves but they'll also strongly confirm the inflationary theory first developed by physicist Alan Guth in the early 1980s.

"Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today," Dr. Kovac said in a statement. He also said the chance it was a fluke was only one in 3.5 million, ranking it as a "5-sigma level of certainty", which, in the vernacular of discovery, is statistically about as good as you can get.

"It is absolutely mind-boggling that we've actually found it," said Clement Pryke.

Dr. Kovac personally delivered news of the discovery to a number of colleagues, including Dr. Alan Guth, now a professor at M.I.T, who said he was bowled over by the news and hadn't expected confirmation of his theory during his lifetime.

Chao-Lin Juo, a member of Dr. Kovac's BICEP2 team, and one of the experiment's developers, recorded his visit to the house of Dr. Andrei Linde as he surprised him with the discovery. Back in 1983, Linde described a variety of inflation theory called chaotic theory.

The discovery is considered "huge" in astrophysics and cosmology circles, and could lead to solving other cosmological riddles such as dark matter and dark energy. It could very well be a contender for the Nobel Prize.

Theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krause, wrote this for the New Yorker:

"If the discovery announced this morning holds up, it will allow us to peer back to the very beginning of time—a million billion billion billion billion billion times closer to the Big Bang than any previous direct observation—and will allow us to explore the fundamental forces of nature on a scale ten thousand billion times smaller than can be probed at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator. Moreover, it will allow us to test some of the most ambitious theoretical speculations about the origin of our observed universe that have ever been made by humans—speculations that may first appear to verge on metaphysics. It might seem like an esoteric finding, so far removed from everyday life as to be of almost no interest. But, if confirmed, it will have increased our empirical window on the origins of the universe by a margin comparable to the amount it has grown in all of the rest of human history. Where this may lead, no one knows, but it should be cause for great excitement.“

Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, agrees.
""It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe," he said. "To me this is as Nobel Prize–worthy as it gets.”

SOURCES
Wired magazine
New York Times
New Scientist
Scientific American

Mar
17
2014

Science education for the masses: World Science U offers online courses in physic-related topics.
Science education for the masses: World Science U offers online courses in physic-related topics.Courtesy Kyle McDonald
World Science U is a new platform for teaching science to the masses. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, has launched a new online website open to anyone. All you have to do is register and start learning. Participants can get questions answered, enroll in short or long (8-10 weeks) courses covering everything from basic physics to quantum entanglement to black holes and parallel universes.

Professor Greene has written several books on physics and cosmology such as The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe and will be involved in teaching the initial topics.

The World Science U website allows users to post questions, or (if they think they know more than professor Greene) post their own topics and hypotheses.

Signing up is easy so you can get started learning right away. Plus there's no homework or prerequisites and it's free! You can take a quick tour here if you'd like.

I watched one of the short courses that were available right now (The Special Theory of Relativity) and found it fascinating and relatively (pun!) easy to understand. Each module is comprised of a lecture followed by an "office hours" session for questions with Professor Greene (this part confused me) and a discussion period with other students. Versions of the courses with more emphasis on mathematics are also available. The site is in the process of being launched so none of the longer university-level courses were available yet - but should be soon. When they do go live, students will be able to earn World Science U certification upon their successful course completion. Greene will also participate in occasional live discussions on the site.

If you have an interest in physics, I'd say it's well worth your time to enroll in World Science U.

SOURCE
World Science U

Feb
21
2014

Is obesity in this baby's future?: It could depend on the yogurt's fat content.
Is obesity in this baby's future?: It could depend on the yogurt's fat content.Courtesy Clover_1
Last Christmas, my son's girlfriend introduced me to honey-flavored yogurt, a delicious concoction of creamy sweetness. I've never been a fan of yogurt, but I immediately fell in love with this stuff, and try to keep a container of it on-hand in the fridge at all times. I can't seem to get enough of it.

One of the reasons it's so tasty is because it's made with whole milk which makes it high in fat, and therefore will make anyone who ingests it high in fat, too. Right? Maybe not.

Two new studies seem to point to just the opposite. Several middle-aged men who participated in a Swedish study and consumed high-fat dairy products, were tracked over a 12 year period and showed much less propensity of becoming obese when compared to men who followed a low or no high-fat diet in the same study. The research appeared in the journal Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care.

In the second study involving the meta-analysis of 16 empirical studies showed that - despite working under the hypothesis that a diet of high-fat foods leads to higher heart disease risk and contributes to obesity - no evidence supporting the claim was found. Actually, according to the study which appeared in the European Journal of Nutrition, consumption of high-fat dairy products were instead associated with a lower obesity risk.

Non-fat and low-fat yogurts still command a larger portion of the market but on the organic side of the things products with higher saturated fat content is, surprisingly, on the upswing. It's unclear why that is. A previous study involving children also showed that a low-fat diet was more likely to lead to obesity.

"There may be bio-active substances in the milk fat that may be altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilize the fat and burn it for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies," said Greg Miller, of the National Dairy Council.

Besides the newly associated weight benefits, whole organic milk also contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It's also speculated that consumption of higher fat content may lead to a greater and faster feeling of being satisfied and full, and lead to a sooner cessation of the urge to eat.

For purely scientific reasons I'll be heading for the refrigerator in a moment to see if that's the case.

SOURCE
NPR story