Archive | Science

Honeycomb Geometry

Karunakar Rayker (CC BY 2.0)

Karunakar Rayker (CC BY 2.0)

Via Alistair Bird at A Periodical:

Bees have encouraged mathematical speculation for two millennia, since classical scholars tried to explain the geometrically appealing shape of honeycombs. How do bees tackle complex problems that humans would express mathematically? In this series we’ll explore three situations where understanding the maths could help explain the uncanny instincts of bees.

Honeycomb geometry

Honeybees collect nectar from flowers and use it to produce honey, which they then store in honeycombs made of beeswax (in turn derived from honey). A question that has puzzled many inquiring minds across the ages is: why are honeycombs made of hexagonal cells?

The Roman scholar Varro, in his 1st century BC book-long poem De Agri Cultura (“On Agriculture”), briefly states

“Does not the chamber in the comb have six angles, the same number as the bee has feet? The geometricians prove that this hexagon inscribed in a circular figure encloses the greatest amount of space1.”

This quote is the earliest known source suggesting a link between the hexagonal shape of the honeycomb and a mathematical property of the hexagon, made more explicit a few centuries later by Pappus of Alexandria (sometimes considered to be the last Ancient Greek mathematician).

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Functioning brain tissue grown in 3-D structure

Examples of mature Purkinje cells grown from human embryonic stem cells CALB and L7 are Purkinje-cell specific late markers. GRID2 is a marker for a Purkinje-specific glutamate receptor. LHX5 is a marker for the early Purkinje cells.via RIKEN

Examples of mature Purkinje cells grown from human embryonic stem cells
CALB and L7 are Purkinje-cell specific late markers. GRID2 is a marker for a Purkinje-specific glutamate receptor. LHX5 is a marker for the early Purkinje cells.
via RIKEN

Via RIKEN:

Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan have succeeded in inducing human embryonic stem cells to self-organize into a three-dimensional structure similar to the cerebellum, providing tantalizing clues in the quest to recreate neural structures in the laboratory. One of the primary goals of stem-cell research is to be able to replace damaged body parts with tissues grown from undifferentiated stem cells. For the nervous system, this is a particular challenge because not only do specific neurons need to be generated, but they must also be coaxed into connecting to each other in very specific ways.

RIKEN researchers have taken up this challenge, and the work published in Cell Reports details how sequentially applying several signaling molecules to three-dimensional cultures of human embryotic stem cells prompts the cells to differentiate into functioning cerebellar neurons that self-organize to form the proper dorsal/ventral patterning and multi-layer structure found in the natural developing cerebellum.

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Drone maker DJI will disable its units over Washington, DC, after White House crash

Michael MK Khor (CC BY 2.0)

Michael MK Khor (CC BY 2.0)

Ben Popper Via The Verge:

Following the crash of one of its Phantom drones at the White House on Monday and a response from President Obama that more regulation of drones was needed, Chinese drone maker DJI will reportedly be disabling its units from flying over the DC area. According to the FAA, it was already against federal regulations to fly in that region, not to mention the fact that the pilot told the Secret Service he was drinking.

DJI previously stated to The Verge that it programmed its drones to stop flying when they reached a certain distance from airports. Using the GPS, DJI can track a drone’s position at all time and establish which zones are off limits. But this would mark the first time DJI is preventing flight over a metro area.

“DJI will release a mandatory firmware update for the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, and Phantom 2 Vision+ to help users comply with the FAA’s Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/8326, which restricts unmanned flight around the Washington, DC metropolitan area,” the company wrote in a press release this morning.

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Office puts chips under staff’s skin

Screenshot from BBC's news coverage.

Screenshot from BBC’s news coverage.

And it begins.

Rory Cellan-Jones at BBC:

Want to gain entry to your office, get on a bus, or perhaps buy a sandwich? We’re all getting used to swiping a card to do all these things. But at Epicenter, a new hi-tech office block in Sweden, they are trying a different approach – a chip under the skin.

Felicio de Costa, whose company is one of the tenants, arrives at the front door and holds his hand against it to gain entry. Inside he does the same thing to get into the office space he rents, and he can also wave his hand to operate the photocopier.

That’s all because he has a tiny RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip, about the size of a grain of rice, implanted in his hand. Soon, others among the 700 people expected to occupy the complex will also be offered the chance to be chipped.

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Another State Fights War on Solar and Energy Efficiency

Via Mary Anne Hitt at EcoWatch

Despite poll after poll showing that Americans want more clean energy, Indiana legislators are pushing bills that would reduce energy efficiency and make it harder for Hoosier state residents to go solar, just as the solar industry is getting on its feet in the state.

Last week, Indiana’s Senate Utilities Committee heard from a packed room about its bill that would let utilities set energy efficiency goals. Last year the state decided to end the popular Energizing Indiana efficiency program. Now some in the legislature have created Senate Bill 412, which is very one-sided in favor of utilities who sell electricity and doesn’t protect the average person from monopoly interests.

Energy efficiency is a proven tool to lower electricity bills and save money for people across the state.

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The coming food disaster

David Schubert via CNN:

One would expect that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the best interests of the public in mind, but its recent decisions have cast serious doubt upon this assumption.

One in particular could have a dramatic impact on the safety of the U.S. food supply: It is the mandate of the EPA to regulate the use of agricultural chemicals like insecticides and herbicides, as well as to determine their allowable limits in food and drinking water.

Herbicides (weed killers) are mixtures of chemicals designed to spray on weeds, where they get inside the plants and inhibit enzymes required for the plant to live. The active ingredient in the most widely used herbicide is glyphosate, while some herbicides contain 2,4D. 2,4D is best known as a component of Agent Orange, a defoliant widely employed during the Vietnam War.

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Google’s ‘Back To The Moon For Good’

For those of you who don’t believe that man ever set foot on the moon (i.e. the moon missions were a hoax), this may not be too compelling, but for those interested in Google’s space plans, this Tim Allen-narrated mini-documentary from Google is some great eye candy:

Here’s the official description:

Watch our cool movie about going back to the Moon. In case you haven’t heard, the Moon is trending again… and in a big way. Narrated by Tim Allen (voice of Buzz Lightyear), this is a complete behind-the-scenes feature on the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, the largest incentivized prize in history. Adapted from the award-winning digital planetarium show, the 24-minute movie chronicles 18 teams from around the world looking to make history by landing a privately funded robotic spacecraft on the Moon. This global competition is designed to spark imagination and inspire a renewed commitment to space exploration, not by governments or countries – but by the citizens of the world.

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The Dark Side Of Open Data: It’s Not Only How Much You Publish, But How And Why

Alexey Kljatov (CC BY 2.0)

Alexey Kljatov (CC BY 2.0)

Federico Guerrini via Forbes:

A few days ago, the World Wide Web Foundation established by Sir Tim Berners-Lee released the second edition of the Open Data Barometer, a report on the impact and prevalence of open data initiatives around the world. Turns out the UK government is the “most transparent” in the world, when it comes to public access to official data, with US and Sweden in second and third place respectively.

That’s fantastic, isn’t it? Opening the data (which already belongs to the public, as it is produced with taxpayers’ money) can expose corruption and abuse, provide new insights on sensitive topics, help engage citizens in important debates, improving, in the end, the overall quality of democracies. So, kudos to the British and God forgive the Kenyans, whose country has fallen from to 22nd to 49th in the Barometer’s rankings. Shame on them.

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Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer

"NAMA Machine d'Anticythère 1". Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Antikythera mechanism (Fragment A – front)
NAMA Machine d’Anticythère 1“. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

By Jo Marchant via Smithsonian.com:

After 2,000 years under the sea, three flat, misshapen pieces of bronze at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens are all shades of green, from emerald to forest. From a distance, they look like rocks with patches of mold. Get closer, though, and the sight is stunning. Crammed inside, obscured by corrosion, are traces of technology that appear utterly modern: gears with neat triangular teeth (just like the inside of a clock) and a ring divided into degrees (like the protractor you used in school). Nothing else like this has ever been discovered from antiquity. Nothing as sophisticated, or even close, appears again for more than a thousand years.

For decades after divers retrieved these scraps from the Antikythera wreck from 1900 to 1901, scholars were unable to make sense of them.

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We’ve Passed the Point of Peak Food

Doomsayers have gone awfully quiet on peak oil during what appears to be a global oil glut (and price crash), but according to Smithsonian Magazine we’ve gone past the point of peak food:

…[A]ccording to research recently published in Ecology and Society, production of the world’s most important food sources has maxed out and could begin dropping—even as the Earth’s human population continues to grow.

Agriculture in India tractor farming Punjab preparing field for a wheat crop without burning previous crop stalk

Ralf Seppelt, a scientist with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, and several colleagues looked at production rates for 27 renewable and nonrenewable resources. They used data collected from several international organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and analyzed yield rates and totals over a period of time—from 1961 to about 2010 in most cases. For renewable resources like crops and livestock, the team identified peak production as the point when acceleration in gains maxed out and was followed by a clear deceleration.

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