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Posts Tagged ‘science’

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Credit: Tjflex2/Flickr
Inside the pupa (or chrysalis), the caterpillar actually turns to liquid during metamorphosis. Despite such an extreme transformation, the butterfly or moth can retain learning from its caterpillar days.

Do you remember being a newborn? I don’t think our species is capable of that kind of remembering. What about other species? Recent research suggests that butterflies have a kind of muscle memory from the good old days of their caterpillar-hood.

An article from Curious Kids — a series that gets experts to answer questions that kids send in — has the scoop. Evan, age 5, asked the question.

“We have caterpillars at home. I would like to know whether they will remember being caterpillars when they are butterflies.”

“Dear Evan,

“I think it is highly unlikely that a butterfly or moth remembers being a caterpillar. However, it may well remember some experiences it learned as a caterpillar.

“That fact in itself is especially amazing because inside the pupa (or chrysalis), the caterpillar actually turns to liquid as it transforms into a butterfly or moth (the adult stage).

“The transformation from the pupa to the adult is the most dramatic change in the life cycle of a butterfly, and scientists refer to this change as metamorphosis. During metamorphosis, the body tissues of the caterpillar are completely reorganised to produce the beautiful adult butterfly that emerges from the pupa.

“Scientists have known for a long time that caterpillars can learn and remember things when they are caterpillars, and adult butterflies can do the same when they are butterflies. However, because of metamorphosis, we were not sure if an adult butterfly could remember things it learned as a caterpillar.

“This ability to remember caterpillar experiences as an adult was tested in a study by a team of scientists at Georgetown University in the US.

“The researchers trained the caterpillars to dislike the smell of ethyl acetate, a chemical often found in nail polish remover. They did this by giving the caterpillars little electric shocks every time they smelled the chemical. Soon, these caterpillars were trained to avoid that smell because it reminded them of the electric shock.

“They let the caterpillars transform into adult moths, and then tested the moths again to see if they still remembered to stay away from the ethyl acetate smell.

“And guess what? Most of them did! The scientists had shown that the memories of avoiding the bad smell experienced as a caterpillar had been carried over into the moth stage. …

“Thank you for sending in this very interesting question.

“Yours sincerely,

“A/Prof Michael F. Braby”

More at the Conversation, here.

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Art: Mary Delany (1700-1788)
Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) paper collage.

I’m not sure how I learned about the extraordinary botanical collages of Mary Delany, but as soon as I saw photos of her work, I headed straight to Wikipedia.

There I got enraged for the umpteenth time about the helplessness of women in past centuries (Delany was forced to marry a 60-year-old when she was 17). Finally, I came to this description of her late-blooming avocation.

“In 1771, a widow in her early 70s, Mary began on decoupage, a fashion with ladies of the court. Her works were detailed and botanically accurate depictions of plants.

“She used tissue paper and hand colouration to produce these pieces. She created 985 of these works, calling them her ‘Paper Mosaiks,’ [from] the age of 71 to 88, when her eyesight failed her.

‘With the plant specimen set before her she cut minute particles of coloured paper to represent the petals, stamens, calyx, leaves, veins, stalk and other parts of the plant, and, using lighter and darker paper to form the shading, she stuck them on a black background. By placing one piece of paper upon another she sometimes built up several layers and in a complete picture there might be hundreds of pieces to form one plant. It is thought she first dissected each plant so that she might examine it carefully for accurate portrayal.’ [Hayden, Ruth. Mrs Delany: her life and her flowers] …

Frances Burney (Madame D’Arblay) was introduced to her in 1783, and frequently visited her at her London home. … She had known many of the luminaries of her day, had corresponded with Jonathan Swift [among others], and left a detailed picture of polite English society of the 18th century in her six volumes of Autobiography and Letters (ed. Lady Llanover, 1861–1862).”

More pictures at Wikipedia, here. You may also be interested in this post, about the botanical art of Peter Rabbit creator Beatrix Potter. Potter, as a woman, failed to receive the attention men in science achieved — a century after Delany.

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Photo: Don Lyman
Threatened Blanding’s turtles have been parceled out to Massachusetts teachers and students to protect until big enough for the Grassroots Wildlife Conservation to return them to the wild.

I’m increasingly impressed with the science projects that schools are pursuing these days. My kindergarten grandchild, for example, brings home interesting science kits regularly — the latest involving batteries, wires, and electricity.

In Carlisle, Massachusetts, students are giving a leg up to tiny Blanding’s turtles, as Don Lyman, of the radio show Living on Earth (LOE), reports. The edited transcript follows.

“Lyman: On a clear but cold February day, snow from a recent storm blanketed the outdoor basketball courts at the Carlisle School. But inside the tank where two young turtles lived [Tsunami and Squirtle], it was a balmy 80 degrees or so, and the classroom itself teemed with excitement. I found myself among perhaps the only people with more questions than journalists: fifth graders. …

“Chris Denaro’s students grilled Emilie Schuler, the Director of Programs and Operations at Grassroots Wildlife Conservation, about everything from how many turtles are left in the world, to potential hazards the littlest ones face. …

“The kids were in the midst of a yearlong project to take care of two baby turtles, to give the hatchlings a head start in life, so they’d have a much better chance of surviving to adulthood and boosting the threatened species’ numbers when they’re released in the spring. … The kids were pros at feeding the turtles, giving them fresh water and weighing them, but they still had lots to learn about some amazing things the hatchlings – which they’d named Tsunami and Squirtle — could do. …

“Schuler: Can a turtle’s body – is it okay for a turtle, for its body to be 33 degrees? … That’s the really cool thing. It’s like kind of a superpower of turtles and of reptiles that they can have their body so, so cold. They can drop their body temperature like that and still be fine.

“Lyman: In order to still be okay with such a low body temperature, Blanding’s turtles have to slow down. Wa-a-ay down.

“Schuler: They’ve measured turtles that are this cold, and their heart was beating only one time every ten minutes. … Turtles have the ability to hold their breath for a really, really, really long time. Scientists have even done studies where they’ve purposely put turtles in water where they’ve bubbled out all the oxygen. Those turtles stayed under the water super-chilled for five months. …

“Your Blanding’s turtle cousins that are outside … in the winter right now … even if they were the same age as Tsunami, come April or May, when it starts getting warmer and they come out – what’s the size difference gonna be between Tsunami and their cousins?

“Lyman: The answer: around 7 or 8 times the weight! That’s the main reason why the headstart program is proving so valuable for boosting Blanding’s turtle population numbers. In just eight months, the kids make the baby turtles look like four-year olds. So they’re less attractive to predators like raccoons, herons, and bullfrogs, and much more likely to make it out in the wild.”

When I was in fifth grade, the teacher let a praying mantis egg case hatch in the classroom (and all over the school). That was certainly memorable, but I think the contemporary science projects involve more learning.

More at Living on Earth, here.

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When I was a child, the great blue whale was the attraction I most looked forward to seeing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Now my grandchildren look forward to it.

But in an article on the website called Seeker about how the whale gets cleaned every year, I learned that the model I saw was not anatomically correct.

“The original model was based on measurements taken by American Museum of Natural History scientists in the 1920s. The measurements were of a dead female blue whale captured by a whaling station in the southern Atlantic, and although the artists who crafted the whale followed the original records, there were anatomical inaccuracies, likely because the whale that the scientists examined was already decaying. …

” ‘It was the wrong color. It had bulging eyes, probably due to decomposition,’ [Melanie Stiassny, curator for the Department of Ichthyology] said. In 2001, artists adjusted the body color and flattened the whale’s eyes, also adding a navel that had originally been omitted.

“Today, the [whale] resembles living blue whales more closely than before. However, while scientists’ knowledge of blue whales has certainly improved, there is still much about these giants that remains elusive.

” ‘We still don’t know how many blue whales are out there,’ Stiassny said. ‘We don’t know exactly where they go to breed. They still remain one of the great mysteries of the ocean.’ ”

More at Seeker.

Art: Richard Ellis

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Our friend Mika is back in Hokkaido these days, after several years in New York working in restaurants and perfecting her “house” dancing. But every once in a while she ventures out to help on a street art project. Here is her friend Florence Blanchard’s mural for CBM Network (Crossing Biological Membranes) at the University of Sheffield in England.

At her WordPress site, Florence explains what the art represents, “I am delighted to present my newest mural here – a collaboration with CBMNet at the University Of Sheffield, in conjunction with Festival Of The Mind 2016 / Fear of the Unseen: Engineering Good Bacteria.

“The ‘Crossing Biological Membranes Network’ is composed of scientists working to understand the mechanisms by which substances are transported into, within, and out of cells. Their ultimate aim is to produce knowledge which will enable the development of new technologies in the Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy sector (eg: producing biofuels using E coli bacteria).

“My role in this collaboration has been to translate the CBMNet area of work into a large outdoor mural located within the university campus. For this occasion I have presented my interpretation of a detail of a cell membrane as seen under an electron microscope, having undergone a cryofracture.

“A cryofracture is a procedure in which the sample is frozen quickly and then  broken with a sharp blow so you are able to study its structure in very close detail – Imagine breaking a bar of chocolate with hazelnuts, this way you can see how hazelnuts are positioned inside the bar.”

“For an online animation of a biomembrane cryofracture follow this link: http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/530082/view.”

Check out the WordPress post.

Photo: Florence Ema Blanchard
Blanchard’s street art is tied to a scientific quest: “Engineering Good Bacteria.”

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Art: Maurice Sendak
From
Kenny’s Window, Sendak’s first children’s book

Maria Popova recently posted about the importance of play, commencing her review of Diane Ackerman’s book Deep Play with an anecdote from her own life.

“One July morning during a research trip to the small New England island of Nantucket, home to pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell, I had a most unusual experience.

“Midway through my daily swim in the ocean, my peripheral vision was drawn to what at first appeared to be a snorkel. But as I looked directly at the curious protrusion, I realized it was the long glistening neck of a stately bird, gliding over the nearly waveless surface a few away.

“By some irresistible instinct, I began swimming gently toward the bird, assuming it would fly away whenever my proximity became too uncomfortable.

“But it didn’t. Instead, it allowed my approach — for it was deliberate permission that this majestic bird gave me, first assessing me with a calm but cautious eye, then choosing not to lift off or even change course as this large ungraceful mammal drew near. I came so close that I could see my own reflection in the bird’s eye, now regarding me with what I took to be — or, perhaps, projected to be — a silent benevolence. …

“In this small act ablaze with absolute presence, I felt I had been granted access to something enormous and eternal.

“The experience was so intensely invigorating in part because it was wholly new to me, but it is far from uncommon. It belongs to the spectrum of experience which Diane Ackerman, one of the greatest science storytellers of our time, describes in Deep Play … a bewitching inquiry into those moods colored by ‘a combination of clarity, wild enthusiasm, saturation in the moment, and wonder,’ which render us in a state of ‘waking trance.’ …

The more an animal needs to learn in order to survive, the more it needs to play … What we call intelligence … may not be life’s pinnacle at all, but simply one mode of knowing, one we happen to master and cherish. Play is widespread among animals because it invites problem-solving, allowing a creature to test its limits and develop strategies. In a dangerous world, where dramas change daily, survival belongs to the agile not the idle. We may think of play as optional, a casual activity. But play is fundamental to evolution. Without play, humans and many other animals would perish. …

“It is hardly happenstance,” adds Popova, “that the word ‘play’ was central to how Einstein thought of the secret to his genius — he used the term ‘combinatory play’ to describe how his mind works. Ackerman considers what it is that makes play so psychologically fruitful and alluring to us …

Above all, play requires freedom. One chooses to play. Play’s rules may be enforced, but play is not like life’s other dramas. It happens outside ordinary life, and it requires freedom.

More.

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You never know what you will pick up from twitter. I started following Ferguson Library tweets after the death of Michael Brown. The library has wonderful tidbits about books, among other topics.

A tweeted tidbit on the antiquity of fairy tales is from Science magazine.

David Shultz writes, “A new study, which treats these fables like an evolving species, finds that some may have originated as long as 6000 years ago.

“The basis for the new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, is a massive online repository of more than 2000 distinct tales from different Indo-European cultures known as the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, which was compiled in 2004. Although not all researchers agree on the specifics, all modern Indo-European cultures (encompassing all of Europe and much of Asia) descended from the Proto-Indo-European people who lived during the Neolithic Period (10,200 B.C.E.–2000 B.C.E.) in Eastern Europe. Much of the world’s modern language is thought to have evolved from them.

“To conduct the study, Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, and colleagues scanned the repository. They limited their analysis to tales that contained magic and supernatural elements because this category contained nearly all the famous tales people are familiar with. This narrowed the sample size to 275 stories, including classics such as Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast. …

“Tehrani says that the successful fairy tales may persist because they’re ‘minimally counterintuitive narratives.’ That means they all contain some cognitively dissonant elements—like fantastic creatures or magic—but are mostly easy to comprehend.

“Beauty and the Beast, for example contains a man who has been magically transformed into a hideous creature, but it also tells a simple story about family, romance, and not judging people based on appearance. The fantasy makes these tales stand out, but the ordinary elements make them easy to understand and remember. This combination of strange, but not too strange, Tehrani says, may be the key to their persistence across millennia.”

More.

(from a Ferguson Library tweet)

An illustration of Beauty and the Beast from 1913.

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