Saturday, February 29, 2020

take a leap

On this leap day I am hoping to make a leap forward on the cello, studying the bourree I&II from Bach's 3rd cello suite.

The young cellist took her copy of the suites with her, but I discovered an edition at a charity shop earlier this month so now I have my own copy. And I've played JSB's only work for unaccompanied flute, the partita in A minor, a year ago, so it feels like a logical step up to tackle the cello suites. (Come to think of it, I've even played this very pair of bourrees on the flute a few years ago, but in an edition transposed to A, which I wouldn't really recommend.)

I expect the suites will keep me busy for a while. At three movements per year, this is going to take 12 years ...




Oh and here is Steven Isserlis who recorded the bourrees for his 60th birthday:



The video is also on my brand new playlist of cello repertoire.


Going through my collection of Bach CDs, I discovered I have two recordings of guitar adaptations of the third suite, one by Pepe Romero and one by John Williams. In fact it does translate quite nicely to the guitar.


Update 30.3. - just discovered a helpful video with performance notes by Inbal Segev, who seems to have done videos about most if not all of the movements of the suites. Oh and her performance of the bourrees is here. And I need to buy her CD.

Friday, February 28, 2020

science news 28.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.



astrobiology

Astronomy student discovers 17 new planets, including Earth-sized world


evolution

Early worm lost lower limbs for tube-dwelling lifestyle



Mystery has long surrounded the evolution of Facivermis, a worm-like creature that lived approximately 518 million years ago in the Cambrian period.
Credit: Franz Anthony

Rare lizard fossil preserved in amber

Anthropogenic seed dispersal: rethinking the origins of plant domestication
Over the past three millennia, selective breeding has dramatically widened the array of plant domestication traits. However, a close look at the archaeobotanical record illustrates a similar suite of linked traits emerging before humans began selectively breeding food crops. In the current study, Spengler summarizes all of these early evolutionary responses in plants, arguing that these shared traits evolved in response to human seed-dispersal services.
The authors conclude that there was "a mutualistic relationship in which plants recruited humans for seed dispersal" - as discussed in my 2013 feature on the evolution of agriculture.

Extinction resistance, not speciation, shaped ecologically diverse modern marine fauna
Ecologically diverse clades came to dominate the modern oceans because they were better buffered against the successive mass extinctions events which reshaped marine animals over evolutionary time -- not because of their higher rates of speciation, according to a new study.


light and life

Biofluorescence may be widespread among amphibians


bioinspired

The tentacle 'bot
Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Beihang University have developed an octopus-inspired soft robotic arm that can grip, move, and manipulate a wide range of objects. Its flexible, tapered design, complete with suction cups, gives the gripper a firm grasp on objects of all shapes, sizes and textures -- from eggs to iPhones to large exercise balls.


coronavirus

First-ever pathology of the early phase of lung infection with the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Study reveals how drug meant for Ebola may also work against coronaviruses

Study sheds light on how a drug being tested in COVID-19 patients works


food and drink

Extra virgin olive oil keeps healthy properties when used for cooking


humans

Using a cappella to explain speech and music specialization

Socially assistive robot helps children with autism learn



---------------


From the news media:

The biggest bang ever in the Guardian.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

science news 26.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


evolution

By gum! Scientists find new 110-million-year-old treasure
A remarkable new treasure has been found by scientists from the University of Portsmouth -- the first fossil plant gum on record. The beautiful, amber-like material has been discovered in 110-million-year-old fossilized leaves. University of Portsmouth Ph.D. student Emily Roberts, made the discovery while examining fossilized leaves of the Welwitschiophyllum plant, found in the Crato Formation, Brazil. Emily noticed thin amber-colored bands locked inside some of the fossilized leaves she was studying.



Gum within the fossil leaves.
Credit: University of Portsmouth


ecology

Otago researchers shed light on 'arms race' between bacteria and viruses


conservation

NUS-led study suggests mangrove forests provide cause for conservation optimism, for now

Shrinking sea ice is creating an ecological trap for polar bears


nanoworld

Synthesizing a superatom: Opening doors to their use as substitutes for elemental atoms
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and ERATO Japan Science and Technology have demonstrated how superatoms of a desired valency, stability, and volume can be synthesized in a solution medium by altering the number of atoms in a cluster structure. This is an important step in realizing the practical application of superatom clusters as substitutes for elements in chemical reactions.



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From the news media:

The weird and wonderful deep sea species at risk from sea floor mining feature in a report in The Guardian.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

science news 25.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.




evolution

1 billion-year-old green seaweed fossils identified, relative of modern land plants



A photo of a green seaweed fossil dating back 1 billion years. The image was captured using a microscope as the fossil itself is 2 millimeters long, roughly the size of a flea. The dark color of this fossil was created by adding a drop of mineral oil to the rock in which it's embedded, to create contrast.
Credit: Virginia Tech


ecology

Threatened birds and mammals have irreplaceable roles in the natural world


conservation

Solar storms may leave gray whales blind and stranded

Camera trap study captures Sumatran tigers, clouded leopards, other rare beasts

Soft robot fingers gently grasp deep-sea jellyfish


nanoworld

'Make two out of one' -- division of artificial cells


biomedical

Researchers end decade-long search for mechanical pain sensor
Researchers at McGill University have discovered that a protein found in the membrane of our sensory neurons are involved in our capacity to feel mechanical pain, laying the foundation for the development of powerful new analgesic drugs.


sustainability

Quadrupling turbines, US can meet 2030 wind-energy goals


humans

Oldest reconstructed bacterial genomes link farming, herding with emergence of new disease

Anonymous no more: combining genetics with genealogy to identify the dead in unmarked graves


dystopian futures

Research finds support for 'Trump effect'
In the years since the 2016 presidential election, many have speculated Donald Trump's racially inflammatory speech empowered people with latent prejudices to finally act on them -- a phenomenon known as the 'Trump effect.' Now, a new study from a team of political scientists at the University of California, Riverside, has found empirical support that suggests Trump's inflammatory remarks on the campaign trail emboldened particular members of the American public to express deeply held prejudices.

---------------


From the news media:

As Covid-19 is on the verge of spreading uncontrollably in Europe and becoming an official pandemic, today's infection hotspot is a hotel in Tenerife.

Oh, and here is where the problem came from.


Monday, February 24, 2020

degradable or not?

As the world is beginning to try and do something against the avalanche of plastic pollution, we are increasingly confronted with packaging that claims to be biodegradable, but is it really? Will it decay if we put it on the compost, if it ends up in landfill, or if some litterbug drops it on a beach? We still have to think quite carefully what biodegradable means and what we should do with this new wastestream. In related news, scientists are looking for microbial and enzymatic helpers to degrade even those plastic materials that are thus far considered not biodegradable, including, most importantly, PET.

Although I have covered the impact of plastic pollution on the biosphere in two previous features, the accelerating crisis as well as the initial, biology-assisted attempts at fixing it have yielded more than enough material for another one, which is out now:

Biology versus plastic pollution

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 4, 24 February 2020, Pages R135-R137

Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)




Plastic waste is accumulating in ocean gyres and on certain coastlines. (Photo: Adege/Pixabay.)

Sunday, February 23, 2020

what shall I play?

I hear youtube turned 15 this month, and although I haven't been using it excessively, the list of my "liked videos" is approaching 1000 items, so it's no longer a way of quickly finding something that I earmarked a while ago. So I had to create some playlists, most importantly for the repertoire / inspiration videos concerning the various instruments I am attempting to play.

I started with a playlist for my classical flute repertoire pieces I've been playing over the last few years. See the flute tag on this blog for further info on the pieces, eg which editions I used. Then I added a more modest list for cello, then I got carried away and also started one for alto recorder and one for singing. These two still need some work.

On the folk front, the Oxford Slow Session, where I learned many folk tunes that I play on any or all of the instruments mentioned above, now also has a playlist with 64 tunes in alphabetical order.


PS Compiling these playlists and generally obsessing about music I played a lot more classical music videos on youtube than before - the immediate effect seems to be that in the suggestions youtube allegedly tailors to my interests, I now find videos from the Sun, Sky news and the torygraph, many of which feature Nigel Garbage or Bojo. I don't quite see the connection ...

Friday, February 21, 2020

science news 21.02.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

How newborn stars prepare for the birth of planets
An international team of astronomers used two of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world to create more than three hundred images of planet-forming disks around very young stars in the Orion Clouds. These images reveal new details about the birthplaces of planets and the earliest stages of star formation.

Sub-Neptune sized planet validated with the habitable-zone planet finder

18-hour year planet on edge of destruction

The Earth formed much faster than previously thought
By measuring iron isotopes, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have shown that our planet originally formed much faster than previously thought. This finding provides new insights on both planetary formation and the likelihood of water and life elsewhere in the universe.


evolution

Paleontology: Tiny prehistoric lizard sheds light on reptile evolution

DNA from ancient packrat nests helps unpack Earth's past


ecology

How transient invaders can transform an ecosystem

Diversifying traditional forest management to protect forest arthropods

Watching TV helps birds make better food choices
Until the advertising industry discovers this niche ...

Social networks reveal dating in blue tits
Blue tits that are already associated in winter are more likely to have young together in the spring.


conservation

A better pregnancy test for whales



Humpback Whale Breaching - but how can you tell if she's pregnant?
Credit: Sally Mizroch (NOAA)


light and life

Let there be 'circadian' light
Researchers publishing in Current Biology describe the science behind creating lighting to make us all happy and productive indoors. A company is using the technology to create commercial lightbulbs available later this year.


biomedical

Artificial intelligence yields new antibiotic

On the trail of cancer stem cells


sustainability

Newly found species of bacteria fights climate change, soil pollutants


---------------


From the news media:


Coronavirus impact on air travel - if humans can't curb carbon emissions, viruses can ...


Thursday, February 20, 2020

science news 20.02.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


evolution

Himalayan wolf discovered to be a unique wolf adapted to harsh high altitude life



This is the Himalayan Wolf - Geraldine Werhahn.
Credit: Geraldine Werhahn



ecology

Researchers discover new mechanism for the coexistence of species
Researchers from AMOLF (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and Harvard University (USA) show how the ability of organisms to move around plays a role in stabilizing ecosystems. In their paper published Feb. 19, 2020, in Nature, they describe how the competition between 'movers' and 'growers' leads to a balance in which both types of bacteria can continue to exist alongside each other.

Global relationships that determine bird diversity on islands uncovered


nanoworld

New 3D chirality discovered and synthetically assembled
Multi-layer 3D chirality of C2-symmetry has been revealed and enantioselectively synthesized. This chirality is a new addition to the family of known chirality consisting of element central, axial/helical, spiro and double planar types. In this 3D chiral framework, the top and bottom layers restrict each other from free bond rotation. These chiral 3D molecules showed strong luminescence of various colors under UV irradiation in both solution and solid phases, and displayed strong aggregation-induced emission (AIE).


coronavirus

Breakthrough in coronavirus research results in new map to support vaccine design
Researchers have made a critical breakthrough toward developing a vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus by creating the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the virus that attaches to and infects human cells. Mapping this part, called the spike protein, is an essential step so researchers around the world can develop vaccines and antiviral drugs to combat the virus. The paper is publishing Wednesday, Feb. 19 in the journal Science.

The Lancet: Egypt, Algeria and South Africa estimated to be at highest risk of new coronavirus cases in Africa


neuroscience

What birdsong tells us about brain cells and learning


sustainability

Methane emitted by humans vastly underestimated, researchers find


humans

Ancient gut microbiomes shed light on human evolution

Communicating science can benefit from scientists 'being human'


dystopian futures

How to deflect an asteroid


---------------


From the news media:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

science news 19.02.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.



astrobiology

Scientists pioneer new way to study exoplanets
A team of scientists using the Low Frequency Array radio telescope in the Netherlands has observed radio waves that carry the distinct signatures of aurorae, caused by the interaction between a star's magnetic field and a planet in orbit around it.

First research results on the 'spectacular meteorite fall' of Flensburg
A fireball in the sky, accompanied by a bang, amazed hundreds of eyewitnesses in northern Germany in mid-September last year. The reason for the spectacle was a meteoroid entering the Earth's atmosphere and partially burning up. Planetologists at Münster University have been studying a part of the meteorite. They found out that the meteorite contains minerals that formed under the presence of water on small planetesimals in the early history of our solar system.



The meteorite 'Flensburg' in close-up view.
Credit: WWU - Markus Patzek


evolution

USask study reveals origin of endangered Colombian poison frog hybrids

Fruit flies have a radical strategy for dealing with free radicals


ecology

A real global player: Previously unrecognised bacteria as a key group in marine sediments
From the shoreline to the deep sea, one group of bacteria is particularly widespread in our planet's seabed: The so-called Woeseiales, which may be feeding on the protein remnants of dead cells. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research NIOZ now describe the distribution, diversity and lifestyle of these bacteria in The ISME Journal.

Amazon forest disturbance is changing how plants are dispersed

Warming oceans are getting louder (audio available)
this is about snapping shrimp


biomedical

Tulane math professor leads effort to map spread of coronavirus

How malaria detects and shields itself from approaching immune cells


humans

Discovery at 'flower burial' site could unravel mystery of Neanderthal death rites
The claim that this is the first articulated Neanderthal skeleton to be unearthed in more than 20 years is false, see these finds from Sima de las Palomas, Murcia district, Spain.

Archaeologists receive letter from biblical era
Hebrew University team unearths Canaanite temple at Lachish; find gold artifacts, cultic figurines, and oldest known etching of Hebrew letter 'Samech.'

Hubble turns lens towards gender bias, yielding lessons for Earthlings
Researchers used 'dual-anonymization' techniques to close the gender gap around who gets time on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Scientists pinpoint brain coordinates for face blindness

How language proficiency correlates with cognitive skills


dystopian futures


Areas near concentration camps give more electoral support to the far right

Cyber researchers at Ben-Gurion University fool autonomous vehicle systems with phantom images


---------------


From the news media:

Saturday, February 15, 2020

catching up with 2020

I do still publish stuff in German magazines, I only forget to blog about the pieces. (Note also that the publications list on my website got stuck at the end of 2018!) So here's another attempt to catch up, covering November 2019 till January (nothing out in Feb), chronologically backwards:



Ausgeforscht: Die Stunde der Wahrheit
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 68, Issue 1, Jan. 2020, Page 114
FREE Access via Wiley Online Library
2020 was the future once and now it is here ... what happened to all the advances we were promised?

So eine Schwärmerei
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 68, Issue 1, Jan. 2020, Page 78-79
Access via Wiley Online Library
Feature about research at the MPI for collective biology in Konstanz. Related content in English.

Die Theorie der "intensiven Welt"

Gehirn und Geist Jan. 2020, 70-75.

Chemie: Der Herr des Kohlenstoffrings
Spektrum der Wissenschaft Jan. 2020, 29-31
Bending polyynes to form large carbon rings. Related content in English.


2019


Ausgeforscht: Hühner zur Sonne, zur Freiheit
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 12, 2019, Page 98
Access via Wiley Online Library

Am Anfang war das Narrengold
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 12, 2019, Page 68-69
Access via Wiley Online Library
The role of pyrite (fool's gold) in the early days of life on Earth.

Ausgeforscht: Absorbierende Kunst
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 67, Issue 11, 2019, Page 114
Access via Wiley Online Library



Friday, February 14, 2020

science news 14.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

A close-up of Kuiper Belt Object Arrokoth reveals how planetary building blocks were constructed


ecology

Nitrogen-fixing trees help tropical forests grow faster and store more carbon

When frogs die off, snake diversity plummets



Frogs and their eggs are an important source of nutrition for many snakes. This tiny blunt-headed tree snake (Imantodes) snags a meal from of frog eggs in the Panamanian forest.
Credit: Karen Warkentin


conservation

Caribbean sharks in need of large marine protected areas

I spy with my digital eye ... a tiger's breathing, a lion's pulse
A pilot study undertaken by researchers from the University of South Australia at Adelaide Zoo, has developed a new way to undertake basic health checks of exotic wildlife using a digital camera, saving them the stress of an anaesthetic.


biomedical

Remdesivir prevents MERS coronavirus disease in monkeys


humans

Smelling your lover's shirt could improve your sleep
Have some seasonal science for Valentine's Day

Shale drilling activity linked to increased sexually transmitted infections in Texas, Yale study
Some people appear to be fracking around a bit.

Can bilingualism protect the brain even with early stages of dementia?



---------------


From the news media:

20 deg C in Antarctica, reports the Guardian.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

science news 13.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


evolution

Huge bacteria-eating viruses close gap between life and non-life
I was almost going to read this headline literally, until I realised they just translated bacteriophages.

Extinct giant turtle had horned shell of up to three meters


ecology

How roots find their way to water

Predators to spare
This is about the impact of the sea star wasting disease off the coast of California.


Pollinating opossums confirm decades-old theory


How bird flocks with multiple species behave like K-pop groups
Peer into a forest canopy, and you will likely spot multiple bird species flying and feeding together. But are birds in these flocks cooperating with one another or competing? A new study suggests both.



Species that pick insects off live leaves and nab them in the air - the most common foraging techniques - are relatively abundant in Florida;s mixed flocks. One example is the blue-gray gnatcatcher, Polioptila caerulea.
Credit: Mitchell Walters


conservation

Small marsupials in Australia may struggle to adjust to a warming climate


environment

Microplastics are new homes for microbes in the Caribbean

New study shows Deepwater Horizon oil spill larger than previously thought


humans

Human language most likely evolved gradually

'Ghost' of mysterious hominin found in West African genomes

Sleep problems in children, teens with autism are focus of new AAN guideline



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From the news media:

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

science news 12.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


evolution

Disease found in fossilized dinosaur tail afflicts humans to this day


ecology

Live imaging of flowers reveals hidden secrets of plant reproduction

Orb-weaver spiders' yellow and black pattern helps them lure prey

How some butterflies developed the ability to change their eyespot size



This image shows the striking contrast in the size of the eyespots of two Bicyclus anynana butterflies that developed during different seasons.
Credit: William Piel and Antónia Monteiro (CC BY 4.0)


biomedical
How the brain's immune system could be harnessed to improve memory


sustainability

Blasting 'forever' chemicals out of water with a vortex of cold plasma


---------------


From the news media:

Puberty in cattle mooted in the Guardian.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

science news 11.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


earth

Simulations identify missing link to determine carbon in deep Earth reservoirs

Acid-loving microbe can improve understanding of past climate


ecology

Scientists warn humanity about worldwide insect decline

Dolphins gather in female family groups
Social clusters including mothers' groups play an important role in the life of southern Australian bottlenose dolphins, a new study shows. Like giraffes, lions, hyenas and grey kangaroos, bottlenose dolphins appear to form social bonds with kin and other females in similar reproductive condition, while maintaining moderate and loose social bonds with some same-sex individuals.

Southern Australian bottlenose dolphin and newborn calf. Photo Dr Fernando Diaz-Aguirre
Photo: Dr Fernando Diaz-Aguirre


light and life

Novel melatonin receptor molecules make possible therapies to adjust biological clock


environment

Himalayan glacier shows evidence of start of Industrial Revolution



---------------


From the news media:

Monday, February 10, 2020

evolution's rocky cradle

Open Archive Day

A year ago I learned about very early (Permian) plants and the theory saying that the tropics may have acted as a cradle of evolution, spreading biodiversity to higher latitudes.

The details are already lost in the mist of time, so I really should do some more palaeobotany some time soon.

Last year's feature is in the open archives now:


Finding the cradles of evolution





Well-preserved waxy surface layers of plant tissues, known as cuticles, have helped palaeobotanists to unambiguously classify ancient species found at the Umm Irna Formation in Jordan. (Photo: © Patrick Blomenkemper.)

Sunday, February 09, 2020

big fusion

Two years ago, I visited the start-up company First Light Fusion up the road in Yarnton, which aims to develop small fusion reactors quickly enough to make a difference for climate change, and wrote a feature about it.

A year later I got to compare and contrast the other side of fusion research, reading a book by two young physicists about the multibillion dollar enterprise that is big fusion, based on the tokamak concept, which requires massive magnetic fields to contain the plasma:

The future of fusion energy
by Jason Parisi and Justin Ball
World Scientific 2019


My book review is out now in the first issue of CI of this year:

Faith in Fusion
C&I 2020, 84, No. 1, p 39
Restricted access via the Wiley Online Library

Here's a snippet:

"the authors place all their bets on the next generation tokamak, Iter, which is currently under construction in France. Run as an international collaboration, Iter is currently scheduled to create its first plasma in 2025 – although this target was originally set for 2018. The scale and costs of the project are eye-watering, but to these young physicists this is where the future of sustainable energy lies."



The baked goods on the cover represent different types of fusion reactors, the donut being a tokamak, the cronut a stellarator, and the small spherical thing represents inertial confinement fusion.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

bed bug

review of

bed bug

Katherine Pancol
Albin Michel 2019

A few years ago I discovered Pancol’s novel Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles (2006), which featured a scholar of mediaeval romances struggling with her own 21st century romantic life. I really enjoyed that one, although it appears that I forgot to review it.

So I was thrilled to see that her latest work seems to be doing something similar to biosciences. A biochemist studying insects and knowing all about their weird and wonderful love life, but finding her own more weird than wonderful.

Rose studies the firefly Lamprohiza splendidula in Paris and discovers that it produces a molecule that is very efficient at killing tumour cells. Her molecule may also be of interest to the cosmetics industry, which could lead to much faster profits for the start-up she’s planning to launch. Decisions, decisions. Meanwhile her mental health also needs attention due to traumatic events that are being dug up in the course of the novel. All being made more global by professional transplantation to New York.

I found the novel interesting as an example of science in fiction (with a few references to actual research papers listed at the end), although I’m slightly spooked when it travels too close to our dystopian present. We are clearly in the present day with Drumpf and all the rest of it.

The science remains a bit superficial, and one of Pancol’s contacts should have told her that there is no such thing as a Nobel prize for biology. Also, the dilution series that Rose performed to prove the miraculous effect of her compound reminded me of homeopathy and the “memory of water” claimed by some real-life Parisian researchers more than of any real science.

Scientists in the book have only two possible motivations – get rich quick by launching a start-up (allegedly the driver of all the researchers at the lab in New York), or curing disease. The actual quest for knowledge and understanding – so important for Rose in her private life as she struggles with her past trauma – doesn’t get a mention as motivator of scientific ambition.

Pancol is hugely successful in the French market, but as far as I can make out her work hasn’t been translated into English. Even the English title and the setting in New York didn’t help. Of course, the same book written in English by an author based in New York, with the converse excursion to Paris, would be translated into 30 languages within a year.

So catch the bed bug en français if you can.




Thursday, February 06, 2020

science news 6.2.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.



earth

Global ocean circulation is accelerating from the surface to the abyss


ecology

Bumble bees prefer a low-fat diet

Bumblebees carry heavy loads in economy mode

Faster than a speeding bullet: Asian hornet invasion spreads to Northern Germany

Scientists document collapse of key Central American forest engineer
White-lipped peccaries have declined by as much as 87% to 90% from their historical range in Central America, signaling a population collapse of a key species in the region. The pig-like animal is an important food source for large animal predators and humans alike and plays a critical ecological role by dispersing seeds and creating water holes that benefit other animals.



The white-lipped peccary plays an important ecological role in Central American tropical forests.
Credit: Apolinar Basora


conservation

Save the giants, save the planet
Protecting large animals such as elephants and whales, and large plants like the sequoias, has a disproportionate positive impact on the health of the planet and resilience to climate change.

New global biodiversity study provides unified map of life on land and in the ocean


food and drink
A 3D study of a tiny beetle that attacks the fruits of coffee reveals details of its anatomy and secret life that can help fight this pest

NYU scientists sequence the genome of basmati rice


sustainability

Treating wastewater with ozone could convert pharmaceuticals into toxic compounds


humans

9,900-year-old Mexican female skeleton distinct from other early American settlers


dystopian futures

Study reveals global breast size dissatisfaction
Because fashion fascism tells them their size is the wrong size, more than 2/3 unhappy, with implications on physical and mental health. Very scary.



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From the news media:

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

aromatics go extra large

A news story I had published in Chemistry World in January and forgot to brag about:

Harry Anderson's group stitched together porphyrin rings in very clever ways to create aromatic molecules with up to 162 pi electrons, which still obey Hückel's rule. Considering that Erich Hückel developed his concept of aromaticity based on benzene with 6 pi electrons, I find this quite mindboggling. And it also looks stunning.

Largest molecular wheel ever made pushes limits of aromaticity rules

Chemistry World, 22.1.2020
Open Access (Chemistry World allow you to read a few articles for free each month, so as long as you haven't used up your quota this one should be free)



Artist's impression.

Monday, February 03, 2020

ancient art

Prehistoric cave art has been found on all continents inhabited by humans, and it tells us not only about the early forms of artistic expression and the thinking of our distant ancestors, but also about their place in nature. I wrote a feature focusing on the biological and psychological aspects of this art, of which new and spectacular examples are still being discovered, described and dated to this day.

My feature is out now:


Cave art reveals human nature


Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 3, 03 February 2020, Pages R95-R98

Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)

Magic link for free access

(first seven weeks only)




In a recently investigated cave painting from Sulawesi Island, Indonesia, minuscule stick figures armed with spears and ropes appear to be hunting anoas (Bubalus sp.). (Photo: Ratno Sardi, from Nature (2019) 576, 442–445.)

Sunday, February 02, 2020

poly-oc

All our instruments series, episode 21


So, well, a year ago I started this series thinking with just under 50 instruments and 52 weeks to a year, I should get through in a year or so. In the event, I got 20 done and the total number of instruments in the house went up by a dozen, so give me another four years and I may have caught up.

Anyhow, we're still stuck in the 00s, which is when the young musician was at primary school and learned to play a plastic ocarina called poly-oc (TM). I think the school handed out both the instruments and the instruction book, as I don't recall buying either. They were produced from 1988-2004 according to this website, so we just caught the tail end of them.



It irritates me that I don't really understand the physics of the ocarina - so wouldn't be able without the fingering table to tell you which combination of open holes might produce which note. (The Ocarina Workshop website says the location of the holes doesn't matter, and they are all different sizes, so is it just the combined size of the open holes that determines the pitch?)

Still, the book has a little diagram for each note, so even I can play a tune with that help. So for the video I tried Au clair de la lune.


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