Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 22, 2009

Health Beat: Dancing pond scum, Einstein’s brain, x-ray lasers and a new Earth

Pond scum recorded dancing!

Physicist Raymond Goldstein conducted an observational study on the interaction between colony species Volvox carteri f. nagariensis and found two colonies of the common algae Volvox whirling around each other as if dancing. This observation is not only novel but also exciting in starting the analysis of primitive organisms’ ability to interact, and the evolution of single cells’ ability to mass organize. Check out the amazing video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD7HQLhy_IY&feature=player_embedded

Einstein’s brain: parietal king?

After he died in 1955, Einstein’s brain was preserved, photographed, measured, and then cut into 240 blocks and put on microscope slides. The bits that weren’t used were saved in a cardboard box. All of which now belong to the University Medical Center of Princeton. 1999 studies have identified Einstein’s brain as small compared to modern humans (at a modest 1230 grams), but that his parietal lobes were 15 percent wider than normal. Recent studies done by Dean Falk identified unusual knoblike structures in the motor cortex controlling the left hand. They confirmed that his parietal lobes were larger. It is hypothesized that the rare pattern of grooves and ridges in the parietal regions of the brain may be related to his excellence and ability to manipulate physics problems. Though fun research, there certainly are critics, considering researchers are working mostly with old photographs.

Not just Sci-Fi: world’s first x-ray laser!

Physicists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California have finally succeeded in producing test beams from their first laser to make “hard” x-ray wavelengths. The new machine would be fantastically useful for determining protein structures by only needing to blast one molecule instead of the lengthy process scientists currently rely on. If all goes well, the first real experiments will be done this September. Researchers in Germany and Japan are racing to build similar machines.

Searching for the next Earth

The search for life continues! A group of astronomers from the Observatory of Geneva in Switzerland announced the discovery of the least massive planet, so far anyway, outside of our solar system. On the plus side, planet “Gliese 581 e” is close to Earth’s size and rocky instead of gaseous. Its orbit makes it possible to sustain water without immediately boiling it. Unfortunately the planet is still too hot to support life. Its neighbor, “Gliese 581 d”, may have the potential to harbor large oceans. This planet won’t be Earth’s replica, but it does give scientists hope that there are small, Earth sized planets out there.

New respectfully from http://www.sciencemag.org.

Sara Koehnke


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