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A Trillion Frames Per Second

Visualizing Photons in Motion at
a Trillion Frames Per Second


MIT Media Lab

We have built an imaging solution that allows us to visualize propagation of light. The effective exposure time of each frame is two trillionth of a second and the resultant visualization depicts the movement of light at roughly half a trillion frames per second. Direct recording of reflected or scattered light at such a frame rate with sufficient brightness is nearly impossible. We use an indirect ‘stroboscopic’ method that records millions of repeated measurements by careful scanning in time and viewpoints. Then we rearrange the data to create a ‘movie’ of a nano-second long event.


Rodent Altruism

I raised Rattus rattus for quite a few years as a child, so I was pleased to find this article link posted by a fellow redditor:

Empathetic Rats Help Each Other Out

The researchers began their study by housing rats in pairs for two weeks, allowing the rodents to create a bond with one another. In each test session, they placed a rat pair into a walled arena; one rat was allowed to roam free while the other was locked in a closed, transparent tube that could only be opened from the outside.

The free rat was initially wary of the container in the middle of the arena, but once it got over the fear it picked up from its cage-mate, it slowly began to test out the cage. After an average seven days of daily experiments, the free rat learned it could release its friend by nudging the container door open. Over time, the rat began releasing its cage-mate almost immediately after being placed into the arena.

The article goes on to note that the free rat would do this for its caged companion even when the caged rat was released into a separate space, where the free rat could not interact with the previously caged one.


Good News On The Insect Front

We takes what we can get.

Cockerell’s bumblebee rediscovered in New Mexico

Christian Science Monitor

The last Cockerell’s bumblebee sample was collected in 1956. No other specimens had been recorded until Aug. 31, when a team of scientists from the University of California, Riverside, found three more samples of the bee species in weeds along a highway north of Cloudcroft.

We are happy to report that even though these little people have a range of only 300 square miles or so, that range is “largely composed of National Forest and Apache tribal land.” Go bees.


Arsenic in Rice

Scientists warn of arsenic in rice

Chicago Sun Times, Dec 6

Currently, there are no limits on the amount of allowable arsenic in rice in the United States. But the Environmental Protection Agency has set arsenic limits in water of 10 parts per billion. In a paper in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report that women who ate the national average of half a cup of cooked rice a day in the two days prior to urine collection, ingested an amount of arsenic equivalent to drinking four and a quarter cups of water a day containing arsenic at the maximum allowable level set by the EPA.

This is related to rice being grown in flooded fields. Perhaps dry rice farming will catch on more.


GMO Mosquitoes Secretly Released!

The Wipeout Gene

Scientific American, this month

To kill female mosquitoes—the ones that suck blood and spread disease—James needed to hijack a genetic region that only females make use of. In 2002 James and Alphey identified a naturally occurring switch that controls flight-muscle development in females. Turn it off, and flight muscles won’t develop. Female mosquitoes emerging from the pupal stage just squat on the water’s surface, flightless, unable to attract mates. It was the perfect target.

Long complicated article. Gist is these GMO animals have been released quite a bit. The female offspring can’t survive to breed but the males can keep on going to find new mates, and they pass on the gene that messes up the females.

tl;dr: Technology (not science) is currently working on eradicating mosquitoes of disease-vector-bearing sorts, and whether this might genetically spread to other mosquitoes is not known, and the potential effect on the food chain is not known.

What I haven’t yet worked out is who is going to get rich off of all of this.


Landscapes Without Light

This is the 2011 National Speleological Society Multimedia Salon Award Winner. It was the only entry, but in any case it’s a nicely done collection of professionally done still shots with an audio track that involves a lot of pleasant dripping noises.


Australian Peacock Jumping Spider

This is footage of mating behaviors of this species. I knew about the semaphoring but I’ve never seen anything like *this.* Truly extraordinary.


World’s Lightest Material Invented

Scientists Invent ‘World’s Lightest’ Material

11/18, PC Magazine, by Damon Poeter

Researchers have created a material that’s so light it can rest comfortably on a dandelion seed head without disturbing the fluffy, delicate structure of the plant. The “ultralight metallic microlattice” invented by scientists at UC Irvine, HRL Laboratories, and Caltech is described in the Nov. 18 issue of Science.

You can see an image of a piece of this stuff sitting on a dandelion seed head and read a description of how this stuff is made, at the PC Magazine link.


A Venue of Vultures


Photo by Don DeBold, licensed under Creative Commons

(link) to the site where I found the photo, which purports to actually be about everything. Always good to know.


I was thinking about turkey vultures this evening for some reason…partly because here in Carlsbad, New Mexico, we are not long past the date of their annual departure. It’s like with the bats, or the swallows and Capistrano. These repetitive migrations start wearing paths in at least some of our souls after awhile.

The vultures leave here around my birthday, October 14, so it’s easy to remember.

I’ve noticed they seem to be leaving a little later these last few years, as they seem to be arriving a little earlier (usually around St. Patrick’s day). A day here and there, so do migrations of migrations begin.

But, back to the fun facts.

The first page I hit when I searched for turkey vultures was because I was first wondering whether they have any natural enemies, and thus searched for “turkey vulture natural enemies.”

Found this, a nice piece on Adirondackwildlife.org

Beautifully written and well worth reading in full. It’s not that long. Excerpt:

We often see them overhead, their broad v-shaped, five to six foot wingspan teetering effortlessly from side-to-side on rising thermals, like a kite in a gentle breeze, using their keen eyesight and highly developed sense of smell to locate the carcasses of recently deceased animals. Turkey vultures are related to black vultures, yellow-headed vultures and condors, and received their name, by the resemblance of their feather free heads and dark-feathered bodies to wild turkeys. Turkey vultures are also more closely related to storks and ibises than raptors


We are also told that circling vultures are often looking for thermal air currents, not dead stuff, because that’s how they fly; searching for and working the warm air masses, and then using them as platforms for their soaring dances of travel.

A group of circling vultures is called a “kettle,” as if the folks involved were bubbling.

More nomenclature and fascinating explanations:

Large groups of vultures, called “venues”, are often seen roosting on the bare limbs of dead trees, spreading their wings to dry them after rain, or absorbing heat, baking off the bacteria picked up during days spent with their heads in, and their bodies moving around, carcasses. Or, we may see them circling high over an area where the gases, most notably ethyl mercaptan, emitted from decaying carcasses, signal the presence of food.

Kettles and venues both! Are these not fun facts? Not to mention the stuff about how their heads are bald because they have evolved that way because they spend so much time with their heads stuck inside decaying carcasses. Much easier to do clean-up later that way.

In any case; no, they don’t have much in the way of natural predators as adults. Sometimes the kids get taken out by large raptors.

I’ve long thought that I’d like to be reincarnated as one, if that really works. Not much in the way of natural enemies, easy food supply, you are a critical component of any ecosystem of which you are a part – and for extra points; you get to fly.

Oh, and there is that bit about how the circling vultures who aren’t actually looking for dead stuff, are considered by some vulture researchers to actually be playing with each other…

I’m in.


Peru Bans GMO’s

Peru’s Congress approves 10-year GMO ban

Capital News, Kenya

by Agence France Presse

Peru’s Congress announced Friday it overwhelmingly approved a 10-year moratorium on imports of genetically modified organisms in order to safeguard the country’s biodiversity.

This article goes on to note that Peru is one of the world’s leading exporters of organic food, with “$3 billion a year in revenues and 40,000 certified producers.”

Their President is behind this, and also the country’s leading agrarian group. This is a recent development with the previous President and Congress being more favorable towards GMO’s.