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Archives – December, 2010

98.6 Degrees F, It’s The Perfect Temperature

98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degree Celsius), that’s the number we all have learnt right since our childhood as the normal human body temperature, and anything above or below indicates that something is wrong with our body. This particular temperature (with slight fluctuations) is our normal temperature set point which our body tries to maintain. Fahrenheit initially designed the temperature scale with human body temperature as reference point and defined it to be 100°F, but later the reference point was changed to boiling point of water (100°C). Later in 1861, Carl Reinhold measured mean temperature of a healthy human body to be 98.6°F (or 37°C). Currently, most accurate number is 98.2°F (or 36.8°C) . Our brain regulates temperature of our body and keeps it regulated at the set point, which is very important for various chemical reactions to occur inside our body. Fever is defined as that state of body when the temperature set point is raised due to different causes while hyperthermia is defined as the state of body when temperature of the body increases without any increase in set point temperature (heat-stroke).

But why 98.6 degrees, why such a high temperature which is an energy intensive and costly affair. The answer lies in the cost and benefits of having high body temperature. Recent study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have shown that per degree increase in body temperature reduces the number of fungi species which can infect the animal by about 6%. Thus by having high body temperatures, mammals have minimized the chances of getting infected and increased the survival rate at the cost of more energy intake. In a recent study, Dr. Casadevall  and Aviv Bergman have developed a simplistic first order mathematical model to estimate the optimum temperature considering the trade-off between metabolic costs incurred and benefits obtained in the form of increased resistance. The metabolic rate function is defined as B which is a function of body mass (m), while the benefit function is defined as F which is a function of rate of reduction in number of fungal species capable of infecting the animal (s~ 6% per degree rise in temperature based on earlier study).

Using these two functions, the fitness curve was plotted against body temperature and optimum T was found to be 36.7 °C or 98.06 °F!

You can access the full paper here.

Image credit: Flickr user Josh md | Used under creative commons license

Article and plot credit: Aviv Bergman and Arturo Casadevall: Mammalian Endothermy Optimally Restricts Fungi and Metabolic Costs, mBio 2010. doi:10.1128/mBio.00212-10

Leave a Comment December 29, 2010

Picture Of The Day: Hole Punch Clouds

In the picture above you can see satellite image of Hole Punch clouds formed over West Virginia clouds during Dec of 2009.  In one of my earlier post, I have discussed the mechanism of such cloud formation.

We all know water freezes at 0 degree C, but due to lack of any dust particles or any other surface in higher altitudes, water can be in liquid form even below zero degrees or in other words it can exist in supercooled state. Now any particle which can work as seed particle can trigger the formation of ice and airplanes can provide the seed particles. Exhaust of jet planes generate tiny particles which can trigger ice formation, while propeller planes causes sudden pressure drop leading to sudden cooling to about -50 degrees C resulting in formation of ice which acts as trigger. As water precipitates, it sucks humidity from surrounding area and form larger ice particles and eventually fall down as snowfall, leaving a hole in the cloud. [Read post]

Passing of airplanes, jet as well as propellers, lead to formation of such hole punch clouds and canals in the sky and they make for great sky watching. These events have also been linked to UFO sightings in the past. This image was taken by using both infra-red and ultraviolet light which makes it easy to identify and distinguish between water clouds and ice clouds. Relatively warmer water clouds appear as pale blue and pink in color which comprises of the majority of the cloud in the image. Iridescent blue color is the signature for the presence of ice which can be seen inside the hole punch cloud. In the canals also similar blue color can be seen signifying the formation of ice as the airplane passes by. People beneath hole punch clouds can experience sudden snowfall depending on the atmospheric condition, but most of the times these ice crystals sublimate directly to vapors due to lack of appropriate rainfall conditions.

Image credit: NASA| Earth Space Observatory | Instrument Landsat 5

Leave a Comment December 28, 2010

Winter Solstice 2010 And Lunar Eclipse

In case you missed the opportunity to witness total lunar eclipse on winter solstice,  a very rare celestial event, you can thank hundreds and thousands of enthusiastic sky watchers all around the globe who captured the event in the form of beautiful pictures and videos. As we all know that the total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon, earth and sun are lined up perfectly and earth blocks the sun’s radiation reaching the moon. This perfect alignment also explains why total lunar eclipses always occur on a full moon day. As compared to total solar eclipses, total lunar eclipse is not that uncommon; on an average there can be about 4-5 total lunar eclipses in a decade. Additionally, lunar eclipses are visible from large portion of the earth and lasts for a long time(~3-4 hours) as compared to Solar eclipses which is visible only at a particular location and is short lived (few minutes). This year, the lunar eclipse occurred on Dec 21st which coincided with with winter solstice, also called as the first day of winter, which made the event more special. Previous such event occurred in 1638 and next such event will occur in probably after 2-3 centuries. Winter solstice occurs when Earth’s axis is tilt farthest away from the sun resulting in shortest day and longest night of the year. In Northern hemisphere this occurs on Dec 21 or 22 which also marks the beginning of winter.

Coming back to the lunar eclipse, the moon is not completely darkened during the event as compared to the complete darkening of the sun in solar eclipses. Instead you can see moon turning into a red or deep copper colored ball, the reason being that some of the sunlight is refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere and reaches the moon. Shorter wavelengths get scattered by the particulate and aerosols in the atmosphere, only the longer wavelength (red) reaches the moon and that’s why we see moon as red colored ball during lunar eclipses. More is the amount of aerosols or particulate matter in our atmosphere, more reddish moon will appear. Probably, redness of moon during lunar eclipse can tell us about the health of our atmosphere during that time.

Here is another great image taken by Francis Anderson at Tuktoyaktuk in Arctic. Here you can see the moon turning red in the sky as well as beautiful green hue from aurora borealis about which I have written in my previous posts. You can also see those pillars of light, which is basically due to reflection of surrounding lights by tiny ice crystals floating in the atmosphere, doesn’t that look awesome! To finish this post, here’s a beautiful video of the lunar eclipse as seen from Gainesville Florida. The video was taken by Univ of Florida professor William Castleman. Enjoy!

Image credits: | Image 1- JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images| Image 2- REUTERS/Aly Song Image 3- Francis Anderson / CC BY-ND

Leave a Comment December 28, 2010

Eight Year Olds Publish Bee Study In Biology Letters

It’s not everyday that you are going to come across a peer-reviewed research article published by bunch of cool and smart eight year old kids. In last week’s early online edition of Biology Letters a new study has been published by 25 eight-to-ten-year old kids from Blackawton primary school in UK.  The study reports about how bumble bees use different color and pattern identification strategies to determine which flower to choose for getting nectar and which ones to avoid. What’s unique about this study is that the kids came up with the questions they wanted to study and then they designed the experiments themselves and did the data analysis (ofcourse under supervision and guidance of their teachers and neuroscientist Dr R.B. Lotto of the lottolab). The article is fully written by children in their own language (except the abstract) and cites no references. Lack of any references made it difficult to get published in peer-reviewed journal initially but the authors of the paper insisted that the it was not the historical studies which made them do the study, rather it was their own interest, curiosity and observations which prompted them to carry out the study. The article is not only informative but fun to read. You will rarely see sentences such as “We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before” in a research article. Figures and tables are hand-drawn and one of the section title has also got some sound effects “Training phase 2 (‘the puzzle’ . . .duh duh duuuuhhh)”. But the article is not just about the cuteness but it has got some serious scientific observations.  As the authors themselves point out in the article that This experiment is important, because, as far as we know, no one in history (including adults) has done this experiment before.” The experiments are very sound, well thought of and results are well discussed and most of all after reading the paper you can get the feeling how much the kids enjoyed doing this study and how proud they are of their findings. I will summarize their findings here but I will also recommend all of you to go and read the article, I am sure it will motivate the kid inside you to ask some basic scientific questions and make you do some funful research! The article is available for free until new year eve.

The main question which young scientists wanted to investigate was if bumblebees can solve the complex puzzle of identifying color or spatial patterns in a complex scenario and if they can learn to find the “good flower” based on these cues. “It is interesting to ask this question, because in their habitat there may be flowers that are bad for them, or flowers from which they might already have collected nectar. This would mean that it is important for bees to learn which flower to go to or to avoid” (quoted from the article).

They designed a Plexiglass bee arena (1 m cube) with four panels as shown above. Each panel consisted of two color patterns and at the center of each colored-circle, there was a tube feeder which either consisted of sugar water, salty water or no water. The bees were first trained with the above pattern where sugar water was present all the time in the 4-center colors (either blue or yellow), while salty water  was present in the surrounding colors. This pattern kind of crudely represented a two color flower pattern. If the bees chose a random strategy, then 50% of times , they will encounter salty or sugary water; same will happen if they chose to follow a particular color. But if they were able to learn the color pattern to identify the sugar water, they will be more successful in getting the sweet water. In order to eliminate any bias due to any odor preference or contamination, the trained bees were let to choose the circles without any salt or sugar water in the feeders.

You can see from the tabulated results that about 90% of bees learnt the color patterns and chose to go to center feeders. The notations O,Y,B/Y, B etc are for identifying the individual bees which were marked as Orange, yellow, Blue Yellow and so on. As the article reports, somehow the yellow marked bee never came out of the bee arena and that explains why there is no data for the Y bee!

In second set of experiments, they maintained the two color pattern, but changed the central four colors to be green while the surrounding colors were changed to either yellow or blue. The purpose of this was to see if bees went to the central circles due to spatial preference or due to pattern learning process. When the central colors were changed to green, only 30.9% of the bees went to the central circles, implying that the pattern cues also play an important role for bees in identifying the right flower, not just the spatial cues. It also showed that it was not just the color or the spatial location, but the overall pattern cues which bees utilize in making decisions. Some of the bees also preferred to go to their favorite colors. Overall, the findings suggest that bumblebees employ a complex strategy of pattern and spatial cues in identifying the right flowers and they can memorize these patterns which helps them in deciding between the “right” vs “wrong” flower. Young researchers in this paper also say that ” bees have personality and have their personal ‘likings’.” The article concludes with the following paragraph:

Before doing these experiments we did not really think a lot about bees and how they are as smart as us. We also did not think about the fact that without bees we would not survive, because bees keep the flowers going. So it is important to understand bees. We discovered how fun it was to train bees. This is also cool because you do not get to train bees everyday. We like bees. Science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before. (Bees—seem to—think!)

Well done kids and along with your bee study results, I agree with one of your other important discovery– Science is cool and fun— Yes it is for sure!

Image credit: 1) Flickr user Ian Kirk, 2) Pattern, Data table: Biology Letters and Authors of the article.

Article: Blackawton bees; Blackawton, P. S. et al. Biol. Lett. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1056

Also read commentary on the article by Laurence T. Maloney, and Natalie Hempel de Ibarra

Leave a Comment December 27, 2010

Weekend Video Marathon

How about a video marathon this weekend. Along with sharing stories from the scientific world,  sharing creative videos and high quality pictures have also been an important theme of this blog since it’s inception. More than 50 videos have been shared during the course of past 10 months and each video has some story behind it’s making. Let’s sit back and watch these videos play one after the other. You can also visit Science is Beautiful channel at vimeo where all the videos (in HD) have been archived.

PS: If somehow the player starts giving error, just reload the page and it should be good to go.

Leave a Comment December 25, 2010

Santa Is Coming To Town… Merry Christmas!

Santa Claus is coming to town but not necessarily on his sleigh driven by Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer but instead he can be seen skiing, snowboarding, skate-boarding, wake-boarding or even running. Whatever means of transport he has chosen this time, one thing is for sure that he is going to bring lots of gifts for everyone in the form of smile, happiness and gift-wrapped packets from Amazon. Merry Christmas to all of you!! If you have cool Christmas pictures from your city, you can let me know and I will upload them here.

Picture credit: |(image1) AP Photo/Joel Page | (image2) PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images | (image3) AP Images for Macy’s/Don Heupel

Leave a Comment December 24, 2010

Songs For The Weekend

Being a long weekend, I thought I would be writing 3-4 posts tonight about stories I have been postponing for a while, but instead I ended up just listening to music. If you are also not doing anything and would like to listen to some of the songs from my playlist, here you go. I have listed a few of my favorite songs here. The playlist might take few seconds to load.  Just click on the playlist and then it will continuously play in shuffle mode.

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Source: None of the Audio files are hosted on the server of this site. The audio links are provided from third party servers.

Leave a Comment December 24, 2010

A Conversation With Dr. Lammert de Jong: Author of “Being Dutch, More or Less…”

As promised, here is the first interview of Science is Beautiful blog. In this interview I got an opportunity to discuss with Dr Lammert de Jong about his new book ” Being Dutch, more or less” which focuses on the issue of Dutch identity crisis and the politics involved. Dr. Jong received his PhD in Social Sciences from Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam in 1972, following that he worked at University of Zambia and the National Institute of Public Administration in Lusaka, Zambia from 1972-1976. He then worked as Director of the Netherlands Development Aid Organisation from 1980-1984. From 1985-1998, he served as Resident Representative of the Netherlands Government in the Netherlands Antilles. Currently, he resides in New York and Amsterdam and has been a freelance scholar, his latest work being the book ” Being Dutch, more or less” published by Rozenbergps Publications.

Science Is Beautiful: Hello Dr Lammert, thanks a lot for taking time out to talk about your new book titled “Being Dutch, more or less…”. How and when did you start thinking about writing a book on Dutch identity crisis? Can you also elaborate about your Frisian heritage? Is it still relevant in Dutch society?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: My interest in Dutch identity goes way back. During my formative years, especially the university years, it felt very comfortable  to be Dutch: lots of freedom, a civil society blessed with a safety welfare net for people who couldn’t make it on their own, prosperous etc. Read the chapter on Dutch Wonderland (Rozenberg Quarterly). I felt privileged. After my university education, I spend many years in Africa and the Dutch Caribbean. In Zambia and Benin I was representing the rich Western world that wanted to fight poverty in the Third world, while in the Dutch Caribbean I was – literally- a representative of a former colonial power. Very different roles.

Especially in the Dutch Caribbean I was struck by how strong people feel about their island identity, or manipulated that identity to define themselves independently from the Netherlands, though being Dutch citizens, nourishing the island’s Patrimonio Nashonal, occasionally against their economic interests.

In particular the language issue I could grasp, as part of my Frisian background, coming from Friesland, a Dutch province with around 650.000 people. In the Netherlands the Frisian language had been recognized, after a lengthy battle, in primary education, on condition that when entering secondary education pupils had to be bi-lingual: Dutch and Frisian. This model worked well there. I have tried to showcase this model in the Dutch Caribbean where on Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire Papiamentu and Papiamento is spoken. For many years the unresolved conflicts about the language of instruction -Dutch or Papiamentu- had a destructive impact on the quality of education. Especially in the Dutch Caribbean I have learned that identity issues are rather insensitive to intellectual reason and better wisdom. That is now also demonstrated in the Netherlands.

So at the end of my career (I am retired), disparate experiences in different place of the world came together in a strong interest to tackle the variations of Dutch identity; something to write about.

Science Is Beautiful: According to you, what are the main reasons for the current situation of identity crisis in Netherlands?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: I think a major reason is the contrast between the reality of Dutch well-being and a growing doubt about the endurance of Dutch Wonderland. In many ways the Netherlands is one of the best places in the world, in terms of freedoms (speech, religion, end of life, sexual preference, abortion, soft drugs) and securities (income, welfare, unemployment benefits, healthcare, pensions and old age provisions etc.). The Dutch have been for years proud carriers of this Wonderland. Nowadays the Dutch realize that they have lots to lose in a world without borders because of globalisation, represented by immigration, supra-national governance and free -uncontrolled- financial and economic markets. The paradox is that Dutch well-being has been built on their very productive interactions with the outside world, going back for centuries, which now is perceived as a threat to True Dutch identity. In a way, the outside world has now penetrated the Dutch home, while before the Dutch actively navigated large stretches of this world. This changeover has made them realize how small the country actually is, and induced a True Dutch and  Take Back the Netherlands sentiment, expressed in a No vote against the Constitution of the European Union, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim movement. Where once personal freedoms blossomed, a ‘let it be’ for everyone, now the Dutch try to keep their homeland clean: “no non-western foreigners in our (Nether-) land.” On such moments the Dutch are loud people, very different for instance from the Portuguese who, as Antonio Labisa proclaimed during our walk and talk in Lisbon in the summer of 2010: “we are modest people.”

Science Is Beautiful: What do you think are the possible measures which Dutch leadership and public in general can take to overcome these turbulent times and move in right direction? What is the role of Dutch youth in identifying the Dutch identity which seems to be lost?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: It’s easy to say that the Dutch should come to their senses again. But how to achieve that? The prevalent uncertainty has become the playing field for a politics that promises to restore the old order, denying the irreversible changes in the world. The uncertainty agenda is addressed by what people want hear, resulting in a populist political take-over, silencing any agency that aims to strengthen Netherlands’ participation in this new world. This carries over to most supra-national (or global and European) dimensions of Dutch well-being: development co-operation, global warming, resource exploitation, sustainable live-style and development. Those who aim for political platforms that incorporate these dimensions into the definition of Dutch citizenship are nowadays disqualified as global frequent flyers who are out of touch with True Dutch sentiments. This global agenda requires that the out-dated fragmented political party system of the Netherlands must be overhauled. The traditional political clustering of left and right, liberal and socialist, and christian-democrats-in-between, does not fit the supra-national challenges. That’s why a charter for Dutch-European citizenship, or the cause of European Union democracy are not addressed as primary challenges in Dutch politics.

Yes, youngsters tend to be more globally oriented and connected, yet without the necessary clout to make a political difference in the Netherlands. That day will arrive, just as  in bygone days universal voting right, women’s rights, free education and welfare provisions were realized against the odds of a surely by class and religion divided nation.

Science Is Beautiful: What parallels or differences you draw in immigration issues when comparing Dutch issue as compared to other countries in the world, say USA or other European countries?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: When I discussed in the process of writing this book the Dutch identity crisis with friends and colleagues, quite a few people came up with a rather lame statement: it’s all over the same, so why bother. Even if this would be the case (which it isn’t), that does not justify taking this crisis as a matter of course. The Dutch identity must be still probed and analyzed in order to find out what is going on. In the book’s introduction I’ve made it clear: this book is about being Dutch; it is not a comparative study. Obviously the Netherlands does not stand alone in Europe having issues with immigration and national identity. Also in France, the United Kingdom and Germany red flags have been raised over these matters.

Sarkozy, President of France, initiated in 2009 in the French Republic a discourse on French identity. Apparently the iron-clad certainty of what it meant to be French and the solidity of the French Heritage have been shaken by immigration tremors and Muslim believers. France’s early exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was blamed on a lack of patriotism, shared values and national honor of a French soccer team with many members who are black or brown and descended from immigrants. The National Front, a persistent far-right party, preaches French purity and exceptionalism, and opposes immigration and the European Union: “Like the Soviet empire in its time, this E.U. empire will collapse.” Debating French identity, newcomers appear to be the real patriots, referring to the gift France bestowed on immigrants: the grandeur of France.

In the United Kingdom a ban on the Muslim veil has been in the making since 2006. Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary until 2005, tabled this garment as “a visible statement of separation and of difference.” According to the Dutch press, close to a majority of the Britons wants to leave their island, which they see as having been flooded with scores of immigrants. Most Britons want job-less immigrants to be asked to leave. Interestingly, the large immigrant population originating from countries that were once part of the former British Empire now declares that Britain is full when counting the large numbers of Eastern European immigrants.

Germany witnessed in the last decade of the 20th Century serious incidents of violence against immigrants and Muslims. At the same time Germany’s second-generation “foreigners” achieved significantly higher levels of employment and experienced less segregation in schools, less dependency on welfare, and being less often convicted of crimes than their counterparts in multicultural Netherlands, a study by Koopmans pointed out. Meanwhile Thilo Sarrazin stood up in 2010 with his book Deutschland schafft sich ab, which translates as Germany does away with itself. He claims that the country is on the road to ruin because of the influx of immigrants from the Middle East, which will overwhelm the indigenous population and create a nation of ‘dunces’. In particular he singles out Muslims for failing to integrate and having low IQs: ‘Germany is becoming more stupid.’ Sarrazin was a leading member of Germany’s central bank.

The USA is of course a special case as a very young state, with  -out of necessity- a permanent stream of immigrants to fill the land of the Amerindians. The American Way enforces immigrants to Americanize. In a recent study, Caldwell argues that it is a European myth to imagine the USA as an open immigration country: ‘America may be open in theory, but in practice it exerts Procrustean pressures on its immigrants to conform, and it is its pressures, not its openness, that have bound America’s diverse citizens together as one people.’ These pressures to Americanize are never stated; they are embedded in the social and economic systems through which immigrants must move in order to survive.

There are many parallels, but differences as well. A comparative study would have taken me many more years to complete. Yet I wanted to “out” the Dutch identity crisis against its specific Dutch background. In my book the Dutch stand out; it is their story, by a Dutch author, but in English so that people other than the Dutch can also share this narrative. Being Dutch, more or less explores the critical stage of Dutch national identity due to changes in the Dutch social habitat at home, and by intrusions of immigration, globalization and free marketeers.

Tentatively I would say that the Dutch stand out for being their country being very small and very prosperous in combination with their iconic reputation of tolerance (which may just as well be a modus operandi for a strongly divided people). Now that the Dutch are being tested by globalisation and immigration, they are not able to accept foreign intrusions. Muslim compatriots, who ask what they must do to become accepted, heard in a debate in December 2010 in Amsterdam: apostasy!

Science Is Beautiful: What suggestions would you like to give to new budding writers? Where should they begin with if they have some topics and ideas on which they would like to write?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: Some ten years ago I followed an online Skilled Writing course, offered by Charlotte Balfour, a friend of mine. Brainstorming, one of the best instructions, advised you to close doors and curtains, telephone and internet, and just type in the wild what you want to write about for ½ hour, without care for grammar, typos or spelling. Repeat this a few times in the course of a month, and start streamlining the purpose of your writing in an Umbrella Statement. That is a statement of about ½ page (or more, but not much more) that contains the core of what you want to write about. The Umbrella Statement may change during the course of you writing, but principally must govern the argument that follows in your subsequent text. In such a way you protect yourself (and your reader) against digressions that have nothing to do with the subject you have set to explore. Each and every chapter should also open with an Umbrella Statement.

Science Is Beautiful: Where can readers get a copy of your book in US?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: At Amazon. But that may still take some time. In the meantime you could order it from the Netherlands, from the publisher’s website or send me an email at lammertdejong AT gmail DOT com

Science Is Beautiful: Thanks again for answering my questions. All the best for success of your book “Being Dutch, more or less”. Further details of the book:

Title: Being Dutch, more or less: In a Comparative Perspective of USA and Caribbean Practices

ISBN 978 90 3610 210 0

Author: Dr. Lammert de Jong

4 Comments December 21, 2010

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