Wednesday, September 17, 2014

who let the raccoons out?

My latest book in German is officially released today:

Invasion der Waschbären und andere Expeditionen in die wilde Natur
Wiley-VCH 17. Sept. 2014
pp. 255, ISBN: 978-3527-33668-5,
€ 24.90, £ 22.50

Under a broad theme of "understanding what makes living beings tick", it covers lots of recent developments in ecology and functional biology, including the orientation of ants, the intelligence of corvids, the effectiveness of protected areas, and the ecology of species invasion. The raccoon of the title is an invasive species in Europe, and I love this story in particular as it is a case where a big biological problem can be traced back to a single act of stupidity, the release of a couple of raccoons in Germany, rubber-stamped with the permission of local authorities and meant to "enrich the local fauna". Plus, of course, we need a cute animal for the cover.

Here comes the German blurb, plus some links where you can order it:

Bald leben mehr als eine Million (!) Waschbären in unseren Wäldern und nicht nur da - sie kommen uns auch in den Städten »besuchen«. Die putzigen Kerlchen können nichts dafür, denn wir sind an ihrer Verbreitung Schuld, da wir das ökologische Gleichgewicht der Natur gestört haben. Doch was genau ist eigentlich Ökologie jenseits von Ökostrom und Ökolabel?

HIGHTECH-AMEISEN, HOCHINTELLIGENTE KRÄHEN UND DER URZEIT-GINKGO Alles hängt mit allem zusammen: Gerät ein ökologisches Teilsystem aus dem Gleichgewicht, löst das oft eine Kettenreaktion aus. In dem Teil >Zusammen leben< fragt Michael Groß u. a., ob Schutzgebiete wirklich die bedrohten Arten schützen, erzählt über die Wanderschaft von Pflanzenschädlingen, die sich durch weltweite Handelsnetze auch global verbreiten, oder stellt einen Überlebenden der Dinosaurierzeit vor: den Ginkgo. Warum überlebte er damals das Massensterben der Arten?

Kohlendioxidschwaden, Vibrationen, Magnetismus, Pedometer und noch vieles mehr: All das besitzt z. B. ein sehr kleines Lebewesen - die Ameise. Sie findet mit dieser »Ausstattung« sogar in der Wüste wieder zu ihrem Nest zurück. Im Teil >Aktiv leben< stellt uns Groß diese kleinen tierischen Wunderwerke vor, berichtet aber auch von den hochintelligenten Krähen oder erzählt, wie das Krokodil seine Zähne bekam. Im Abschnitt >Weiter leben< gibt er einen Ausblick auf die »Verschmelzung von Biologie und Technologie«.



Thalia (only kindle version so far)

Friday, September 12, 2014

from graphene to stanene

Graphene - a single layer of graphitic carbon - has caused some excitement in recent years, but there's always the slight inconvenience that it is an "always-on" conductor rather than a switchable material of the semiconductor type. This problem has motivated a lot of research into graphene analogues and derivatives, both on a carbon basis and on the basis of elements that share some of its properties due to being near carbon in the periodic table.

In my latest feature I have looked at graphene analogues using other elements, including carbon's neighbours boron and nitrogen, as well as its fellow group IV elements silicon, germanium, and tin (whose honeycomb layers are known as silicene, germanene and stanene, respectively). The feature appears in the September issue of Chemistry & Industry:

Stanene, the next miracle material?

Chemistry & Industry issue 9, pp 24-27.

I'm afraid it's premium content, but give me a shout if you want a PDF "reprint".

On page 51 of the same issue, there is also my review of the "Handbook of cellulosic ethanol", ditto.

A model of graphene. Image source.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

building molecules made easy

Let's have a news story for a change, here's one that just appeared in Chemistry World online, on a new combinatorial approach that is apparently so simple everybody could create new molecules. Just mix the building blocks and test if any of the resulting combinations has the properties you're looking for.

Bringing chemical synthesis to the masses

Chemistry World online 7.9.2014

Free access

By the way, I may have forgotten to mention one or two other CW news stories in the last couple of years, such as this one:

Speeding up the experiment to fit the simulation

Thankfully, the CW website keeps track of my contributions here.

Monday, September 08, 2014

deviant desires

My latest feature in Current Biology, partially inspired by the recent book Perv – the sexual deviant in all of us, by Jesse Bering, covers the biological diversity of sexual orientations in humans (and some animals) and our society's inability to deal with this serious problem in a rational manner.

Paraphilia or perversion?

Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 17, pR777–R780, 8 September 2014

Summary and restricted access to full text and PDF

Leda and the Swan, a 16th-century copy by Peter Paul Rubens, after a lost painting by Michelangelo (National Gallery, London)

Monday, August 25, 2014

three cute animals

The release of my third cute-animal themed book is only four weeks away - after platypuses and geckos I now have a raccoon serving as a mascot. I've just set up a dedicated web page for the new book, which you'll find here:

Invasion der Waschbären .

In the process, I also found that Yahoo had shut down my website for the last three weeks, as I forgot to update my payment info (and naively assumed they would just revert to the old trick of displaying ads on my site rather than shutting it off). Apologies to anyone who got frustrated looking for the site it should now be back to normal.

The new book covers ecology and functional biology. Expect more raccoon-related ravings soon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

bees to birds

I have covered the threats to bees and other pollinators a few times since the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in the noughties (see the label bees, although this blog doesn't quite go back to the very beginning of the problem). Gradually, the emphasis shifted to the question of if and how systemic pesticides and in particular the neonicotinoids, could through indirect or subtle sublethal effects cause pollinator problems.

Ecologists have now compiled evidence suggesting that it's not just the pollinators that suffer from systemic pesticides accumulating in soil and surface water. Collateral damage ranges from annelid worms to birds, and valuable ecosystem services (beyond pollination) are under threat. I've written a feature about all this which is now out in Current Biology (restricted access):

Systemic pesticide concerns extend beyond the bees
Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 16, pR717–R720, 18 August 2014
Summary and restricted access to full text and PDF file

Bumblebees in a garden in Germany. Own photo.

Friday, August 15, 2014

capturing carbon

I've reviewed a lovely textbook:

Introduction to Carbon Capture and Sequestration
(The Berkeley Lectures on Energy, Vol. 1)
Berend Smit, Jeffrey A. Reimer, Curtis M. Oldenburg, Ian C. Bourg
Imperial College Press, ISBN 978-1-78326-327-1

Shame that - for all the brilliant engineering that goes into it - carbon capture and sequestration is a rather dumb way of addressing the problem that we've now known for 25 years and done nothing to fix. Surely, as a civilisation, we should be able to recycle the carbon dioxide using artificial photosynthesis and thus close the carbon cycle (see my recent feature)? Anyhow, my long essay review is out in the August edition of Chemistry & Industry, pages 50-51, it's premium content, but do give me a shout if you want a PDF file.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

photosynthesis and pH sensor

just two German publications to round up for July/August, a long one on artificial photosynthesis and the quest to make solar fuel, and a short one on the catfish that uses pH sensors to find its prey:

Photosynthese unter Kontrolle?
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2014, 62, No. 7/8, pp 769-770
recent feature in English covering the same area

Ein Fisch mit pH-Meter
Chemie in unserer Zeit 2014, 48 No 4, p245
abstract and restricted access to PDF file

Friday, August 01, 2014

three months of street music

My street music blog on tumblr, which is three months old today, is beginning to find an audience. Going slowly, but six times faster than my main blog on tumblr, which was at a comparable stage after 18 months ...

I'm mixing up my own photos and videos of Oxford buskers with reblogs from around the world, which results in a colourful mix of open-air music-making:

So do drop by if you can.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ecology all plugged in

Field workers in ecology and technology are increasingly turning to modern technology in their quest to monitor and protect wildlife. Discarded smartphones now serve as listening stations to spot illegal logging, while affordable drones help with the conservation efforts for large species, and satellite imaging provides valuable data on the ecosystems level.

I have rounded up a few surprising examples of such new applications of technology in ecology and conservation in my latest feature:

Connecting with the natural world

Today’s technology, from smartphones to drones, provides researchers and conservation workers with many new and improved ways of observing and protecting wildlife.

Current Biology
Volume 24, Issue 14, pR629–R632, 21 July 2014
abstract page and restricted access to full text / pdf file

It will remain on restricted access until this time next year, but do drop me a line if you have problems with access, I can send PDF reprints.

Topher White from Rainforest Connection demonstrates a listening device built from a discarded smartphone. In real-life application the devices are installed invisibly, however, camouflaged and higher up in the trees. Photo: Rainforest Connection.

Friday, July 18, 2014

analytical about art

The July issue of Chemistry & Industry contains my feature on the use of analytical methods such as SERS (surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy) in art conservation:

Fading pictures
Chemistry & Industry July 2014, pp32-35

One of the recent examples covered is the colour change through light damage in the painting Portrait de Madame Léon Clapisson by Auguste Renoir:

shown in a reconstruction of the original colours (left) in comparison to the faded original. (images: The Art Institute of Chicago).

Also in the same issue (p50-51) is my long essay review on fracking, the excuse being the book:

Hydrofracking: what everyone needs to know
by Alex Prud'homme

I'm afraid both pieces are premium content, but I have PDF files, so drop me a line if you want one.

Oh, and the art feature made the cover:

I'm loving the cover design by the way - I have often stood in front of the new(ish) C&I logo in the cropped circle and wondered: "Is it art?"

Monday, July 07, 2014

solar fuel

My latest feature in Current Biology discusses artificial photosynthesis and the quest to produce transport fuel from renewable energies:

Closing the carbon cycle

Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 13, pR583–R585, 7 July 2014

Free access to full text and PDF link
(free for 2 weeks after publication, and again after one year)

own photo

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