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A place of mostly science, art, writing and occasionally Chewbacca, all lovingly archived by Dave Ng. For recent highlights just scroll down, but also note the handy tag system (for finding that piece of media for your next science talk) just below. Enjoy!

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anatomy, astronomy, biochemistry, biodiversity, biology, botany, cell biology, chemistry, chewbacca, climate change, data, dinosaurs, energy, entomology, environment, evolution, food, fossil fuels, genetics, geography, geology, graphs, laboratory, marine life, math, medicine, microbiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, ornithology, paleontology, physics, planetary science, quantum physics, science careers, science history, science literacy, scientific method, scientist, solar system, space, strange paper, sustainability, technology, zoology

“Science is awesome, that is all”.

This Paper: Dung Beetles use the Milky Way to Figure Out Their Bearings

Full Title: A Snapshot-Based Mechanism for Celestial Orientation

Abstract: In order to protect their food from competitors, ball-rolling dung beetles detach a piece of dung from a pile, shape it into a ball, and roll it away along a straight path [1]. They appear to rely exclusively on celestial compass cues to maintain their bearing [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], but the mechanism that enables them to use these cues for orientation remains unknown. Here, we describe the orientation strategy that allows dung beetles to use celestial cues in a dynamic fashion. We tested the underlying orientation mechanism by presenting beetles with a combination of simulated celestial cues (sun, polarized light, and spectral cues). We show that these animals do not rely on an innate prediction of the natural geographical relationship between celestial cues, as other navigating insects seem to [9, 10]. Instead, they appear to form an internal representation of the prevailing celestial scene, a “celestial snapshot,” even if that scene represents a physical impossibility for the real sky. We also find that the beetles are able to maintain their bearing with respect to the presented cues only if the cues are visible when the snapshot is taken. This happens during the “dance,” a behavior in which the beetle climbs on top of its ball and rotates about its vertical axis [11]. This strategy for reading celestial signals is a simple but efficient mechanism for straight-line orientation.

Coolest Figure:

Hat tip to @GeneticJen

This free board game emulates bringing a medical drug to market (so hard to win!)

Full rules and printables available at the Science Creative Quarterly.

Painting numbers from 1 to infinity (or until death anyway).

From Futility Closet.

From 1965 to his death in 2011, Roman Opałka painted whole numbers starting from the number 1 and in sequential order on a series of canvases entitled “1965 / 1 – ∞.” He would declare, “All my work is a single thing, the description from number one to infinity. A single thing, a single life.” He made it to 5607249.

For more, see this link.

Voyage of the Beagle (Darwin!) Phylo Deck is now available for download and purchase.

Heads up!

The Voyage of the Beagle Phylo Deck is now available for free download, and/or for revenue neutral purchase (both as a boxed set, and a cheaper cards only option).

Many thanks to Karen James for her research work on which organisms to showcase (and where they were found), as well as the awesome artistry exhibited by:
Robert Ball (http://www.robertmball.com),
Golly Bard (http://www.gollybard.blogspot.com),
Simon Gurr (http://gurrillustration.com),
Rachel Ignotofsky (http://www.rachelignotofskydesign.com), and
Diana Sudyka (http://www.dianasudyka.com).

Note: For those, familiar with the game (note that there’s many other decks you can also download or purchase at revenue neutral prices), this game is slightly different in that the home cards are replaced by a voyage map, as well as each organism being coloured tagged according to where Darwin observed them during the voyage (i.e. in the dominoes game mechanic, you also have to make sure connections are matched geographically).

OK, now onto some images of the gorgeous cards:

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So I made a Harry Potter themed D&D campaign…

So, usually around Christmas time, my family and I play a lot of games – card games, board games, party games, and even on occasion, RPG type games. But because some of them are not that keen on the whole Dungeons and Dragons RPG thing, this year, I decided I would try to design a game based on D&D rules (5e) that would place the players in the world of Harry Potter. Partly because J.K. Rowling has done such an amazing job of world building, but also because my more D&D skeptical family members happen to be huge Harry Potter fans (i.e. maybe this “world” would better get them immersed).

Anyway, I have an edit ready to share. It’s not finished, and to be honest, I’m not sure when it will be finished, but there’s a good amount of play here (about 2 to 3 hours or a mini adventure) for those that might be interested. There’s probably a few issues with game balance (i.e. maybe some of the spells are too powerful or too easy, etc), but I think the nuts and bolts would hold up fine for a good session.

Part of the changes included modifying how spells would be cast, as well as a tweaking of the wizard character class so that it would seem a little more in line with how things are done at Hogwarts. I’ve put some of the spell card details below, just so you can get a glimpse of some of the changes I’ve incorporated (as well as where some of the details were referenced from)

Anyway, here are the links to the campaign document, as well as just the sheet containing the spells. I’m going to be playing it with my family tomorrow, but if you get a chance to try it out, let me know how it goes! It would also be cool, if there are others who would like to add to it (if so, let me know by leaving a comment – I could easily set up a google doc or something). Cheers, Dave

Link to Campaign document – Nathair’s Curse, and the Mystery of the Second Wand (25Mb pdf)

Link to Harry Potter Spell sheets – HPD&D5espells (0.2Mb pdf)

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A trip to Massachusetts and a chance to meet some great #scicomm folks…

It’s been a tough few weeks.

But at least on the science front, I am still hopeful – although that might be because my own personal echo chamber happens to be optimistic in nature. Still, a lot of this has to do with the good work done by many of my science communication colleagues out there. Important, engaging, and often breathtaking efforts that continue to add enormous value to the knowledge ecosystem. The challenge, I suppose (as always) is how to get these pieces to reach outside the proverbial choir. This is a task that probably needs some careful thought and a degree of feistiness to power through, but that’s o.k. – science folks tend to rationalize everything and feistiness is something in high supply right now (myself included).

In any event, I thought I’d take the time to highlight a few of these excellent science communicators: specifically, folks I recently had the privilege of meeting in Massachusetts at the New England Biolab’s campus (this was under the rubric of NEB’s Passion in Science Awards). And while I’m of mind, I should mention that I was really impressed with NEB overall. It sounds like a company that has really worked out its priorities in a responsible way (not just on the work satisfaction piece, but also on the development and environmental front).

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Anyway, in this space, I’d like to focus on a couple of these award winners, specifically those that are producing some very cool science media. As this is the internet, I’m only going give you a brief taste of the awesomeness they’re creating (a soundbite really), but would really encourage everyone to explore further.

First up, we have Christine Liu at Berkeley (who, with Tera Johnson, is one half of Two Photon art). Christine is a neuroscience PhD student, who also happens to feel quite strongly about her science communication and art work with “zines.” (according to wiki: that which is most commonly associated with a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier).

You would be too, if you checked out her work, and more so, if you chat with her. She envisions it almost like a “movement,” part of the DIY sphere, and possibly even a great pedagogical tool for inquiry base learning (and I would weigh in here with full agreement – in fact, I totally need to follow up, as this dovetails perfectly with some of the hackathon work my lab has been doing). I mean, who doesn’t like zines? And who wouldn’t like zines that talk science? Anyway, do check out, and maybe even buy a few. Her passion is contagious.cliusciencezine

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Next, we have Dana Simmons, also a PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Her photography work is sort of a Venn diagram where neurons, microscopy and Andy Warhol might inhabit. Really lovely stuff and her portfolio is definitely worth checking out.

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Scott Chimileski, a post doc at Harvard, is all about the microbes. Well, in many ways, many would argue that the foundational aspects of life is itself pretty much all about the microbes, but Scott has taken this love and melded his photographic prowess in producing some awe inspiring photos. So much so, I think that these wouldn’t seem out of place, if you had Sir David Attenborough narrating about them for the BBC. Many of these photos will also be put to good use for an upcoming exhibit at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History.

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We also chatted a little bit about potential collaboration. I’m also hoping that his work could translate well as a microbe deck for the Phylo Trading Card project. Microbes are currently under-represented right now in that game system, and this would be a lovely way to bring more of this form of biodiversity into the fold. How cool would the cards look if this became a thing (see below for a few mock ups)?

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Moving on to the realm of video production, the work of the next three folks would make excellent viewing. I’ve also highlighted an example of each of their work, and I can say that watching these would be a lovely way to spend your time.

We’ll start with Sabah Ul-Hasan, another Doctoral student at UC Merced, who has spearheaded a project that creates documentaries with a mind to spotlight the symbiotic relationship between humans (especially underrepresented communities) and the environment. The project (Biota TV) received Kickstarter funding, and are set to release a few episodes in the future. Here’s a promo to check out.

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And who here remembers those Schoolhouse Rock videos? Well, if you’re in the (ahem) older demographic, you might remember them fondly, and can even sing back some of the classic lyrics. In many ways, Wilbur Ryan, from Florida State University, is betting on this infectiousness, as he adapts this flavor of educational videos for content on environmental science (and by way of ECOmotion Studios). I dare you to watch the below video (about Robert T. Paine’s famous intertidal study in 1966) and not be convinced.

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Finally, we have Chris Martine, a Botany professor at Bucknell University PA. Someone should give this man a science host gig! (seriously) His videos on botany are brilliant and fun, which I can tell you is a combination that is pretty rare. I’ve highlighted one of the episodes below, but there’s 8 in total (so far) that you can merrily watch (and in the process slowly convert into a plant nerd if you’re not one already).

Actually, Chris and I chatted a fair bit at this event – I think it was partly because we were both folks who were further along their careers than most of the other award winners. But this is what makes it all so hopeful. It was kind of outstanding to see how so many of the award recipients were so young – and already doing amazing things. It certainly makes me feel better about the future.

Anyway, do check out all the award winners (the others that I didn’t get a chance to highlight were all great and largely under the categories for research and/or environmental endeavours). You can see their short presentations by visiting this link here. The trip was really wonderful and invigorating overall (and it was a treat to finally visit Boston). Kudos to NEB for arranging this, and fostering an environment where science communication is valued. It really was much appreciated, and (I think we can all agree) something that is very much needed right now.

Dr. Seuss taxidermy pieces by way of Dr. Seuss himself

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“Zoo animals that had met their demise lived on as their bills, horns, and antlers were shipped to Ted’s New York apartment to become exotic beaks and headdresses on his bizarre taxidermy sculptures. The result was an astounding 17 sculptures—created during the 1930s—which remain today as some of the finest examples of his inventive and multidimensional creativity.”

By Dr. Seuss (many pieces for sale too), via NotCot

Art plus gravity (or lack thereof)

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By Pejac, photos by Gary Van Handley. Via Colossal.

Rings of the kingdom: Animalia, Metazoa

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By Michael Tatom, via Colossal

A lovely poem. About math. And two end lines that every academic can appreciate.

I’ve copied-pasted this for archival purposes (under “math” and “academic”), but please visit Futility Closet where this was found. It’s awesome.

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Stopping by Euclid’s Proof of the Infinitude of Primes,” by Presbyterian College mathematician Brian D. Beasley, “with apologies to Robert Frost”:

Whose proof this is I think I know.
I can’t improve upon it, though;
You will not see me trying here
To offer up a better show.

His demonstration is quite clear:
For contradiction, take the mere
n primes (no more), then multiply;
Add one to that … the end is near.

In vain one seeks a prime to try
To split this number — thus, a lie!
The first assumption was a leap;
Instead, the primes will reach the sky.

This proof is lovely, sharp, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And tests to grade before I sleep,
And tests to grade before I sleep.

(From Mathematics Magazine 78:2 [April 2005], 171.)

This. A skeleton sculpture carved from found coral.

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By Gregory Halili, via Colossal.

I want this rocket themed table.

A little out of my price range, but still…

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By Stelios Mousarris, via NOTCOT. Buy here.

I so want to make one of these! Cellular miniature golf.

Specifically, what if a bunch of us sciencegeeks at UBC agree to make a few. AND THEN WE WOULD HAVE A WHOLE SCIENCEGEEK MINIGOLF COURSE!

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Also this:

By NYC Resistor, via Thinx

Whoa: Amazing edible lollipops inspired by biodiversity.

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By Shinri Tezuka, via My Modern Met.

Beautiful entomology: made from computer and video game parts.

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By Julie Alice Chappell, via Colossal

This remarkable visualization by @ed_hawkins on climate change is pretty convincing.

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By Ed Hawkins.

In which watching Enigma the jellyfish is very very relaxing.

Makes me calm just watching this…

“This stunningly beautiful jellyfish was seen during Dive 4 of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition on April 24, 2016, while exploring the informally named “Enigma Seamount” at a depth of ~3,700 meters.

Scientists identified this hydromedusa as belonging to the genus Crossota. Note the two sets of tentacles — short and long. At the beginning of the video, you’ll see that the long tentacles are even and extended outward and the bell is motionless. This suggests an ambush predation mode. Within the bell, the radial canals in red are connecting points for what looks like the gonads in bright yellow.”

Text and video via the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

That time we made kids think they had Jedi powers. #maythe4thbewithyou

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Since it’s May the 4th, I figured I’d re-share what we did many years ago at my son’s 5th birthday party. Specifically, it was a Star Wars themed birthday party, which we foolishly held in our house (also, if you can believe it, Kate made a Jedi robe for every kid!). What we did was modify the game, “pass the parcel.”

We had saw online that there were Star Wars versions of this, which primarily involved wrapping something up like a ball, and calling it a Death Star. However, we thought that it would be way more fun if we could convince the kids that if they used the “force” they could get the stereo to stop the music (and therefore entitling them to the act of unwrapping). This, of course, is easy to do since pretty much every stereo these days comes with a remote. Note that, obviously, the Star Wars theme was the music being played during the game.

I tell you: it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – here you had a group of 5 year olds “concentrating” so hard, and doing the classic Jedi hand gesture at the stereo trying to make the music stop. For a Star Wars fan like myself, it was a brilliant sight to see. And just so that everyone had a chance to do it, we would also consistently get them to use the “force” all together to start the music up again (“On the count of 3: one… two… three!!).

I should note that if you plan on doing this, be prepared to get a few phone calls from parents. After our party, we had quite a few of them calling, saying that their children were now trying to make their stereos, televisions, and other assorted appliances turn on by sheer will of thought. Anyway, it might be just me, but I thought this was hilarious.

Beautiful animation on what working might be like in the future (by @mothcollective)

By the Moth Collective, Via Vimeo, from the Guardian.

Remember that time when NASA received a parking ticket for landing on an asteroid?

Yes, this happened.

In 2001, when its NEAR Shoemaker space probe landed on asteroid 433 Eros, NASA received a $20 parking ticket from Gregory W. Nemitz, who had claimed ownership of the asteroid 11 months earlier.

Spoiler alert: Nemitz took this to court, where it was finally dismissed in 2005.

Text from Futility Closet. Read more here. Image via wikipedia.

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