Saturday, December 26, 2020

a city destroyed

#lostcities episode 6: Königsberg

The cities in the series were generally “lost” by the time I started school inasmuch as my family lost the habit of living in cities, like my grandparents and their parents had done between 1900 and the 1960s. Incidentally, there are also a couple of cities that were lost in a territorial sense in the wars of the 20th century, including Strasbourg, and in a more profound sense, Königsberg.

We learned at school that Königsberg is now called Kaliningrad, but from the pictures I have seen, my impression is that the centre of Königsberg was largely destroyed and the Russians built a new city called Kaliningrad instead. There was no population continuity either. The 20.000 survivors (out of more than 350,000 population in 1939) were deported to the Soviet occupied zone at the end of 1945, and the city was resettled as well as rebuilt.

Königsberg castle in 1936. I believe the houses on the right of the picture are the beginning of Münzstr., so no. 10 would have been a bit further to the right of this frame. Source.

Unlike the families who lost their roots with the territorial losses, mine only spent a decade at Königsberg, so it is not a deep trauma but more like a dream that went up in smoke. What happened was that in 1935 my very enterprising great-grandfather started working as a salesman for the clothes manufacturer C. Brühl in Rheydt, and the company sent him to Eastern Prussia to open up new markets for their clothes there. I have no idea what Julius did or said to bewitch the East Prussians, but his sales tour went so well that his employers allowed him to set up a spin-out factory in Königsberg. This was a joint venture at first, but he managed to buy out C. Brühl after a few years, so for a very fleeting moment in history he had a factory with 150 employees to his name, the Kleiderfabrik Ostland in Kantstr. 10 / Koggenstr. 9-10 and was living in a grand apartment in Münzstraße 10, just around the corner from the Königsberg Castle and on the bank of the castle’s lake. The lake came in very handy when the city was firebombed just a few years later.

Julius lost his only son in the war but the rest of the family saw what was coming and moved to safety on time (which was illegal of course as it was regarded as defeatism, but my grandmother had an elderly aunt in the West who quite suddenly needed her assistance), and he himself got out on one of the last ship that got through. So, well, it was a nice dream while it lasted, but I suspect there are no traces left to visit.

Two pictures from Wikipedia:

Promenade am Münzplatz, undated, I assume No. 10 must be included in this view (depends on whether the row has even numbers only or consecutive numbers).
Postcard, author unknown, source.

What's left of the castle: Archaeological excavation on old Palace Square near the House of Soviets in Kaliningrad
Source. What scares me most, however, is the vast empty space around the ruins. A look at Google Satellite images reveals that much of the area seems to serve as a vast car park now. The viewing direction in the photo above, from the excavation site towards the House of Soviets, is towards East-Southeast, roughly orthogonal to the long axis of the castle lake which is to the left of the frame. There appear to be post-war houses along the lake promenade, a block of three and then a block of four, ironically numbered with odd numbers only, 1 to 13.

PS: If anybody is confused about the history of the city, here's the quick runthrough copied over from Wikipedia, this will confuse you even more:
Old Prussians (until 1255)
Teutonic Order 1255–1466
Kingdom of Poland 1454-1455
Teutonic Order (fief of Poland) 1466–1525
Duchy of Prussia (fief of Poland) 1525–1656
Sweden 1656-1657
Duchy of Prussia 1657–1701
Kingdom of Prussia 1701–1758
Russian Empire 1758–1764
Kingdom of Prussia 1764–1871
German Empire 1871–1918
Weimar Germany 1918–1933
Nazi Germany 1933–1945
Soviet Union 1945–1991
Russia 1991–present

#lostcities series so far:

  1. Elberfeld / Wuppertal 1919 - 1961
  2. Strasbourg 1901 - 1908
  3. Minden 1903 - 1952
  4. Tangermünde 1888 - 1916
  5. Rheydt 1923 - 1935
  6. Königsberg 1935-1945

Friday, December 25, 2020

prisoners of climate change

book review:

Prisoners of geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics

Tim Marshall

Elliott and Thompson paperback edition last updated 2019

If you’ve always wondered why Russia, China and the USA are so large, while other parts of the world present a patchwork of smaller countries, or why some areas seem to have permanent conflicts while others don’t, Tim Marshall has some very simple geographic answers for you, based on where the mountains and the plains are, how the rivers are navigable, and whether the coasts have natural harbours.

The vast North East European plain, for instance, where both Napoleon and Hitler sent their troops towards Moscow, explains why Russia had to grow big to find safety in strategic depth, and why it sought additional layers of shielding in the shape of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. It is also why Russians don’t like the idea of a westernised Ukraine. Marshall explains similar geographic drivers behind China’s obsession with Tibet, or Israel’s problems with Gaza and the West Bank.

Elsewhere, it’s not so much the geography that drives conflict, but the colonialists’ complete recklessness at ignoring it and just drawing lines on their maps of Africa and the Middle East to create states that have no rhyme or reason to exist. Thus, people in Iraq or the DRC are not only prisoners of geography but also of the fallout from colonialism.

This is all good and well and does a good job at giving a round-the-globe overview for a globalised time, bringing together issues that many people will have only registered separately or partially. Marshall published the original version in 2015, and has done some patching up to fit in developments like Brexit and the fall-out from the Trump presidency.

What he fails to include adequately, however, is climate change. While he dedicates a chapter to the changing reality of the Arctic and also mentions elsewhere that Bangladesh is at risk of disappearing under rising sea levels, his discussion of the strategic importance of energy resources such as new gas and oil reserves in the Arctic never once mentions the fact that humanity cannot afford to use these resources if we are hoping to keep warming under the Paris goal of 2 degrees. Heck, if we do use the fossil fuels in the Arctic, we’re probably going to go over 4 degrees in my lifetime.

Unless we’re going to live in a world run by a cynically operating Russia – standing to benefit from climate change and not giving a damn about the rest of the world – the whole geopolitical reasoning explained in the book will have to change fundamentally, because we are not only prisoners of geography, but also prisoners of the man-made climate catastrophe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

high capacity

When the limitations of current battery technology is discussed, super capacitors always come up as an alternative with potential. In my latest feature for Chemistry & Industry I have had a closer look at that potential and the important question whether super capacitors can also be produced super sustainably:

Super-power capacitors

Chemistry & Industry Volume 84, Issue 12 December 2020 Pages 22-26

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI - appears to be on open access right now

The same issue (page 35) also contains my review of Paul Halpern's new book, Synchronicity, which is about acausal connections in physics, especially quantum physics, represented by Wolfgang Pauli, and in psychology, represented by Pauli's therapist, a certain C. G. Jung.

access via:

Wiley Online Library

SCI (premium content)

Monday, December 21, 2020

viral variants

Four weeks ago I prepared the last Curr. Biol. feature for this year, about Covid-19 related sequencing work and the mutations and variants observed. (Even longer ago I planned this topic as a way of drawing a line under this plague year. Didn't quite work out that way.) It has been online as a preprint for a couple of weeks, but the proper version just came out today, as the whole world is debating this new UK variant of the virus. Oh well.

Pandemic genomics

Current Biology Volume 30, issue 24, pages R1455-R1457, December 21, 2020

access to full text and PDF download

This is currently on open access as part of the general Covid-19 info policy from Cell Press. Should that change, it will become open access again one year after publication

Any problems with the link above, try the:
Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has spread globally and caused a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 flu pandemic. The rapid elucidation of its structural biology and genomics, however, offers opportunities to better understand its spread and to develop vaccines and treatments. (Photo: used with permission of Sai Li, Tsinghua University (Cell (2020) 183, 730–738).)

Saturday, December 19, 2020

a Hauptbahnhof without a city

#lostcities, episode 5

Here comes a mysterious city that doesn’t exist any more and was even wiped off the map twice, but it still has a Hauptbahnhof (main station). And my grandmother went to school there, so it definitely did exist about a century ago.

Rheydt was a city in the lower Rhine flatlands, and its misfortune was that it was too close to the slightly bigger Mönchengladbach (famous mainly for its football team). Both cities were merged to form Gladbach-Rheydt in August 1929, but it so happened that Joseph Goebbels was from Rheydt and objected to the merger, so after the Nazis came to power they swiftly reversed it.

The second takeover came in 1975, and this time the combined city kept the name of Mönchengladbach, so the patriots of the old Rheydt only find consolation in the railway station which remains Rheydt Hbf.

Rheydt 1927
Source.

Between 1900 and 1960, my direct ancestors (parents to great-grandparents = 14 people) always lived in towns or cities, with one exception. In 1918, my great-grandparents of the Düsselmann clan acquired an orchard farm in Mennrath, near Rheydt, hoping to live off their savings and 200 apple trees. Obviously, the 1923 hyperinflation wiped out the savings and old Julius had to find a regular job again, which he did first in Mönchengladbach, then in Rheydt, so the family ended up moving to Rheydt. (To me the moral is, don’t move to the countryside, it will end in tears!)

In Rheydt, Julius started working for a new(ish) textile manufacturer, C. Brühl und co., founded in Rheydt in 1923. It never ceases to amaze me, but this company still exists, although it moved to a different town, and it still makes clothes to this day. Not exactly the price range that I normally buy (i.e. second hand from Oxfam), but if they make it to their centenary, I’ll buy a pair of C. Brühl trousers so I can say my great-grandfather worked for this company 100 years ago. This connection is kind of important in shaping the course of my family history, because it was C. Brühl which sent old Julius to Königsberg, which will be the next stop in our series.

#lostcities series so far:

  1. Elberfeld / Wuppertal 1919 - 1961
  2. Strasbourg 1901 - 1908
  3. Minden 1903 - 1952
  4. Tangermünde 1888 - 1916
  5. Rheydt 1923 - 1935

Saturday, December 12, 2020

once there were emperors

#lostcities, episode 4

Tangermünde is a small town with a big history. First mentioned in 1009, it was an important centre of trade and power in the times of the Hanse (14th and 15th century, mainly) and was a residence for Emperor Charles IV for a while, but then curiously fell by the wayside. For instance, the Berlin-Lehrte railway line, opened in 1871, might have had a station serving that town, but in the end the neighbouring town of Stendal (where the French novelist Marie-Henri Beyle found his pseudonym) got the station and thus easy rail links to Berlin and Hannover.

Tangermünde 1905, view across the river Elbe
Source.

The picturesque city fortification seen in the classic view from the river also has something to do with it – although it no longer protects the city from invading armies, it does protect it from the floods of the river Elbe, so pulling down the walls and expanding the city into the floodplain wasn’t a workable idea. This way, the town retained much of its historic appearance and size. In 1903, it had 11,500 residents (now it has even fewer, just over 10,000)

The railway did arrive eventually in the shape of a branch line of just 10 km length, between Tangermünde and Stendal, built in the 1880s mainly for the sugar factory, but passenger trains are also available. Richard the railway man was presumably involved in that project, as he moved his family (including young Heinrich the future cellist) to Tangermünde at that time. After a brief spell in Stendal, Heinrich went to school (Bürgerschule) there and later married in the historic church of St. Stephan, although by that time he was an army musician based far away in Lorraine. At the same time, his sister married there as well, and her family stayed in the area. One of her descendants got married in the same church more than a century later.

All of which means I really should go and visit that place, I’ve never been.

#lostcities series so far:

  1. Elberfeld / Wuppertal 1919 - 1961
  2. Strasbourg 1901 - 1908
  3. Minden 1903 - 1952
  4. Tangermünde 1888 - 1916

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

following Nansen's drift

The polar research vessel Polarstern recently returned from a year-long expedition into the Arctic, essentially retracing the voyage of Fridtjof Nansen with the Fram in the 19th century. The comparison of observations and measurements made by both expeditions is troubling. What was a slowly drifting but largely solid ice cap in the 19th century is now turning into a puddle.

I've rounded up Fram, Polarstern and some other Arctic news in my latest feature which is out now:

Arctic meltdown

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 23, 07 December 2020, Pages R1391-R1393

Restricted access to full text and PDF download (will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access (first seven weeks only)

Researchers onboard RV Polarstern experienced a “dying Arctic” with temperatures 10 degrees warmer than what Fridtjof Nansen recorded 125 years earlier. (Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute/Stefanie Arndt (CC-BY 4.0).)

In other news, the last feature of the year is about Covid-19 genomics, due out December 21, but you can read a preprint here (open access).

PS only after my feature came out I discovered that the expedition leader, Markus Rex, has published a book about the expedition, which has turned up in the Spiegel bestsellers chart this month:

Saturday, December 05, 2020

finding Minden

In the course of my project concerning Heinrich the cello (and Frieda the piano) it dawned on me that in the 1960s, my family not only lost the musical tradition, but also the habit of living in civilised cities (as opposed to in the middle of a field which is where I grew up).

Having obsessed about Elberfeld and Strasbourg already, I have now decided to make this a series, called #lostcities and using period postcards for illustration. I’ll pick a few nice examples out of the around 20 places where the three generations before me (i.e. 14 people with their offspring) lived, basically, the places where I wouldn’t mind moving in myself.

Minden in 1907. The Fishers' district and the canal crossing are to the right of this frame.
Source.

Number 3 in the series is Minden, where my grandmother Frieda, the pianist, grew up. Her mother died relatively young but her father stayed in Minden half a century, from his marriage to his death, so this may be a record for the longest stay in the same town in this generation of otherwise quite mobile people.

There is a geography board game using the tag line “Finden Sie Minden?” (Can you find Minden?) which seems to suggest that it is so obscure many people don’t know where to find it. In fact, the reason why it remained small when other cities grew in the 19th century is linked to its special location. Let me explain.

Minden is located on the river Weser just downstream of where it cuts through a mountain range, so it’s presiding over the most convenient place to travel North-South without having to cross those mountains. Accordingly it has always been militarised and fortified, and the city walls strangled its growth in the 19th century when other cities that had been less significant, started to industrialise and grow rapidly, including eg Elberfeld. The walls only came down in 1879, by which time industrialists had set up their industries elsewhere.

On the other hand, this location also made Minden a transport hub. One of the earliest long-distance railway lines in Germany connected Cologne with Minden, and the town also had early rail links to Berlin and Hannover, so it was an important rail hub in the 19th century and it still is, to an extent There are still direct trains running Cologne to Minden, and even some ICE trains stop there. They are a bit hard to find but I checked and, for instance, on Monday at 23:47h you can catch ICE102 from Minden to Hannover.

It is also a central crossing of water ways, as the major East-West canal (Mittellandkanal) crosses the river Weser just to the North of the city. The canal stretch connecting the rivers Ems and Weser as well as the spectacular river crossing were completed in 1915. At that time, Frieda and her parents lived just a short walk away from the canal bridge, in the picturesque fisher’s quarter (Fischerstadt) in the corner between the former city wall and the river bank. Frieda’s parents stayed their for the rest of their lives and looking at the old photos I can see the attraction (although Minden fails my official residence criteria for not having a university).

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

movements in tiers

Nine months into the plague year Bach project, I have stuck with the plan of studying one movement each month, but I have also accumulated a backlog of movements that I haven't quite managed to memorise. Therefore, I'll take the tenth month to fix some of the gaps before I move on with the front half of the third suite. Specifically, reorganising my revision list by the degree of success so far, I get three tiers (reminds me of something?!):

1) movements memorised in their entirety
1.4 Sarabande
1.5 Minuet I&II
1.6 Gigue

2) movements memorised in a significant part
1.3 Courante (2/3)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)
3.5 Bourree I&II (1/2)
3.6. Gigue (2/3)

3) movements I've put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

Re the movements and fractions of movements listed as "memorised": these I play at least once a week to check I still have them in my head and fix little problems here and there.

So for this month the main goal will be to shift some of the movements from tier 2 to tier 1. Starting with the bourrees, which should be no problem, and then I may also have time to complete the Gigue in C, which is great fun but quite long.

The Sarabande in C, last month's movement, may be hard to shift - while it is very short, there are far too many chords and shifts in this one. Took me all of November to memorise the first repeat, all of 8 bars long. Not a good sign. It also caused trouble with the Sarabande in G, as it uses some of the same chords in different sequence, so easy to get confused or to overwrite the memory of the first sarabande while trying to memorise the new one.

A freshly restored Heinrich in Regensburg, back in 1991.

PS To get the hang of the second bourree, I've been revisiting Inbal Segev's performance of the bourrees, which even has a christmas tree in it:

Saturday, November 28, 2020

a whole new city

It only occurred to me recently that the generations from my grandparents back to their grandparents lived in towns and cities most of the time. One of those who lived all their lives in cities was Heinrich the cellist, and I am beginning to realise that his biography lines up some amazing places, including several where I wouldn't mind living myself. As I raved about Elberfeld/Wuppertal recently, I am now also going to introduce some of the other places he lived, beginning with Strasbourg. He arrived there in April 1901 when he joined the army, and he stayed until April 1906, when his regiment was moved to a smaller town as a punishment (Strafversetzung), although I don’t know what crime they were being punished for. He also met his future wife there. Maria arrived in 1903 to train as a secretary and must have stayed until they married in 1908, so she, too, spent around five years in the city.

Postcard sent in 1917, showing the view across the Neustadt with the neogothic church, towards the medieval core of the city with the gothic cathedral.
Source

Strasbourg in 1901 must have been amazing. After the newly founded German Empire had taken over the city in 1871, it went to huge efforts to expand it and make it a showcase of urbanisation (while forcing the city itself to pay the bills for the works). Inspired by the grand boulevards in Paris built in the 1850s by Haussmann under Napoleon III, the new quarters (Neustadt) were to triple the built area of the city and increase the population from 80,000 to 180,000 by 1914.

A new main station, new university buildings, administration, theatres, churches as well as a synagogue, everything had to be of the finest and designed with style. Even the army barracks where our cellist lived for five years were looking amazing (Manteuffel-Kaserne, now Quartier Stirn, used as an education facility by the French army). From neo-classicism to art nouveau, everything was there and much of it is still there today. Ironically, even though it is now back on French territory, the Neustadt in Strasbourg is the best-preserved example of German urban architecture of that era, and has become part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.

I have to admit, although I’ve visited Strasbourg a dozen times (without really thinking much about the old cellist), I never explored the Neustadt beyond the main station and the always identical path which led me from there into the medieval centre of the city, on the main island. Essentially, Rue du Maire Kuss throught to Place Kleber. (Heck, I've even spent a night in the Neustadt, staying at the Hotel du Rhin, opposite the station!) Last time I was there, I noticed the church St. Paul (shown above), which was part of the Neustadt development and was inspired by the gothic Elisabethkirche in Marburg, but I only saw it from across the water, from the main island. Have to go back and visit properly.

Further Reading:
The Neustadt has Wikipedia entries in nine different languages right now. The French entry is very good.
ArchiWiki page about Quartier Stirn available in French, English, German, with lots of photos.
UNESCO World Heritage site: Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt

More postcards:
Main Post Office 1918
Kaiserpalast 1905
Panorama view from Kaiserplatz
Vogesenstrasse / rue des Vosges 1920

Update 23.8.2021: Further insights into Heinrich and Maria's adventures in Strasbourg

* professor leather trousers
* Mahler and Strauss in Strasbourg

Friday, November 27, 2020

science news on the move

I started archiving the science news items here in January 2019 after tumblr started to hide my blog (which is also called proseandpassion), following the change to its censorship approach.

Recently, however, there have been days when blogger wasn't working when I needed it for the science news archive. As I have now started a new tumblr blog, which hasn't been hidden yet (prosepluspassion.tumblr.com), I'm now trying to move the science news back there, i.e. in addition to tweeting each item, I will also share it on tumblr with the tag "science" (plus up to four other tags for specific fields), so it should show up at https://prosepluspassion.tumblr.com/tagged/science.

You can access these pages without having an account with tumblr, just like any other blog. (If you do have an account, you can reblog them like you retweet things on twitter.) Seems to be working fine so far but let me know if there are any problems.

All other content that isn't strictly time sensitive, such as features, book reviews, etc remains here (and may be mirrored on tumblr if I remember to post the link). For these items it doesn't matter too much if the site isn't working one day and I have to post it the next.

Monday, November 23, 2020

bats revisited

Open Archive Day

A year ago, I wrote a feature about bats and why we should care about them and understand them better. I'm glad I included a section about viral loads, discussing the remarkable ability of bats to harbour viruses without getting noticeably sick. (In a rather interesting and complex way, this connects to their ability to fly.) Back then, the bat virus that served as an example was Ebola. Now it would obviously be the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19 and changing all our lives.

Which means that my feature is still topical in a way, and it is now freely accessible:

Why we should care about bats

Powered flight has enabled bats to expand into a wide variety of ecological niches from nectar feeding to insect hunting, making them one of the largest groups of mammals. The image shows a grey-headed flying fox (Choeronycteris mexicana) observed in Costa Rica. (Photo: Zdeneˇk Machácˇek/Unsplash.)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

stars tell their stories

The science books I get to review for C&I can be a bit of a mixed bunch, but here's one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anybody interested in anything astro-related:

A History of the Universe in 21 Stars: (and 3 Imposters)
by Giles Sparrow
Welbeck, London 2020
ISBN 978-1-78739-465-0

A snippet from my review:

"In his beautifully packaged book, Giles Sparrow merges the old and the new way of telling stories about stars. He introduces us to 24 individual dots on the firmament with their constellation and mythical backstory, and then connects each of them with the part of our modern understanding of the Universe that each has helped to elucidate."

The long essay review is out in:

Chemistry & Industry Volume 84, Issue 11 November 2020 Page 38

On page 39 of the same issue I also have a short review of a book about food science, which wasn't quite as satisfying.

access to both reviews via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

learning from Balzac

Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise

Dai Sijie

First published in 2000 and hugely successful, this is a short novel about two teenage boys caught up in Mao’s Cultural Revolution and sent to the remote countryside for re-education by the hardworking villagers. Instead, they find intellectual solace in an illicit stash of French novels by Balzac, Dumas, Flaubert et al. and also use them to re-educate themselves as well as the little seamstress of the title. Lives are changed, although perhaps not quite in the way they may have hoped.

(Cover of the 2001 folio edition I have, too. Later editions typically have images from the film.)

I managed to miss this when it came out and was swiftly made into a movie as well, I only vaguely remember seeing the title some time and wondering what it was about. Catching up with it now, I enjoyed the novel and I was amazed at how well it connected with my own experience of growing up around the same time. I was also stuck in the sticks, maybe not as remote and spectacular as the phoenix of the sky mountain villages with their dangerous paths, but still, as a vastly exaggerated fairytale metaphor for my youth, the novel works surprisingly well. And I found solace in the very same 19th century French novels. Today, I wouldn’t find time for Balzac, but I might revisit Flaubert one day.

It does make me think. Maybe there was a bit of Cultural Revolution going on in Europe as well? Between 1900 and 1960, everybody from whom I inherited DNA lived in towns and cities (eg Heinrich the cellist did all his life). Then, in the 1960s, People got cars, moved to the sticks, commuted to work. A slippery slope. I still get an allergic reaction when, ahead of the TV news, I see trailers for shows pretending that moving to the countryside is a good thing. The Cultural Revolution caused between 200,000 and 20 million deaths, depending on who you choose to believe, and traumatised millions like the author, Dai Sijie. We should heed that warning.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

science news 19.11.2020

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

Lurking in genomic shadows: How giant viruses fuel the evolution of algae

Prehistoric shark hid its largest teeth
Some, if not all, early sharks that lived 300 to 400 million years ago not only dropped their lower jaws downward but rotated them outwards when opening their mouths. This enabled them to make the best of their largest, sharpest and inward-facing teeth when catching prey, paleontologists at the Universities of Zurich and Chicago have now shown using CT scanning and 3D printing.

With mouths closed, the older, smaller teeth of the ancestors of today's sharks stood upright on the jaw, while the younger and larger teeth pointed towards the tongue and were thus invisible when the mouth was closed.
Illustration: Christian Klug, UZH

nanoworld

Gold nanoparticles turn the spotlight on drug candidates in cells
A team including researchers from Osaka University has developed a surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) microscopy technique for tracking small molecules in live cells. The technique uses gold nanoparticles to boost the signal from alkyne group tags attached to the molecules. The alkyne group has a minimal effect on the drug molecule behavior and provides a signal that can be easily distinguished from the cell background. Their technique is expected to be useful in drug discovery.

biomedical

Technology lets clinicians objectively detect tinnitus for first time

humans

Lovestruck by oxytocin! Novel roles of the hormone in controlling male sexual function
Hormones are the master regulators of sexual functions in mammals. The hormone oxytocin has a well-established role in social bonding, sexual function, maternal instinct, nursing, and lactation. Researchers from Okayama University have now explored the roles of oxytocin in male sexual function for the first time. Findings from the study suggest that oxytocin-mediated control of male sexual function via the spinal cord may in fact be instrumental in treating erectile dysfunction.

dystopian futures

New test reveals AI still lacks common sense

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

From the news media:

Should robots have faces? asks the Guardian. Well, if you ask me, err, no?

Also for some lovely theremin music and explanations in German, check this radio programme celebrating the 100th anniversary of the theremin. With Lydia Kavina and Carolina Eyck.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

science news 17.11.2020

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

SwRI scientists expand space instrument's capabilities
A new study by Southwest Research Institute scientists describes how they have expanded the capabilities of the prototype spaceflight instrument Chemistry Organic and Dating Experiment (CODEX), designed for field-based dating of extraterrestrial materials. CODEX now uses two different dating approaches based on rubidium-strontium and lead-lead geochronology methods. The instrument uses laser ablation resonance ionization mass spectrometry (LARIMS) to obtain dates using these methods.
This is essentially about DATING on MARS - the PR people could have shown a bit more enthusiasm ...

earth

Scientists discover a new mineral
The research team headed by Stanislav Filatov, Professor at the Department of Crystallography at St Petersburg University, has discovered a new mineral species in Kamchatka - petrovite. The scientists named the find in honour of Tomas Petrov, an outstanding crystallographer and Professor at St Petersburg University. He together with his students Arkady Glikin and Sergei Moshkin, was the first in the world to create a technology for growing jewellery malachite.

Petrovit
Credit SPbU

evolution

Henderson island fossils reveal new Polynesian sandpiper species
Fossil bones collected in the early 1990s on Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn Group, have revealed a new species of Polynesian sandpiper. The Henderson Sandpiper, a small wading bird that has been extinct for centuries, is formally named Prosobonia sauli after Cook Islands-based ornithologist and conservationist Edward K Saul.

ecology

When temperatures rise, dog ticks more likely to choose humans over canines

Fish carcasses deliver toxic mercury pollution to the deepest ocean trenches

conservation

Seafood mislabeling is having negative impacts on the marine environment

sustainability

Biochar from agricultural waste products can adsorb contaminants in wastewater

humans

Making the best decision: Math shows diverse thinkers equal better results

dystopian futures

Could robots for sex, friendship improve our aging society?

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

From the news media:

Pet flea treatments poisoning rivers across England, reports the Guardian.

Monday, November 16, 2020

dinosaur dealings

For the last 20 years or so, the biography on my website included a statement along the lines that I write about "everything except dinosaurs" - so I now will have to change that, because my latest feature is actually about dinosaurs, and about the crazy commercialisation of their fossils.

In a sense this is related to the reason why I didn't cover dinosaurs - because they are getting too much attention already. The general public's obsession with dinosaurs has surely contributed to the phenomenon that people with more money than sense have started the craze of buying major fossils to set them up at their homes and impress their visitors with them. So mostly, the feature is about humans going crazy about dinosaurs:

Dealing with dinosaurs

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 22, 16 November 2020, Pages R1331-R1334

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

A cast of Stan the T rex, who plays a big role in this feature. Image: Wikipedia.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

a city through time

Looking into the 20th century transformations of Wuppertal (a conglomerate formed in 1929 the rivalling neighbour cities of Elberfeld and Barmen) to trace the steps of our old cellist, I was amazed at the changes around the Döppersberg station of the iconic suspension railway (Schwebebahn), next to the mainline station that is now Wuppertal Hauptbahnhof.

Looking from the station towards the historic centre of Elberfeld, postcards of 1902 show a futuristic Schwebebahn station on stilts looking like a spaceship has just landed, with the backdrop of a fairytale cityscape with spires and turrets. More to the point, perhaps, it could be an illustration from an original edition of a Jules Verne novel, and the whole Schwebebahn enterprise exudes the Verne spirit. Get on board for a ride through 1902 and into Döppersberg station (at 1:32) with this MoMA video (there is also a colourised version available and one juxtaposing the equivalent ride in 2015 - this last video is slower, the approach to Döppersberg is at 2:55).

By 1912 the spaceship is beginning to get sucked up by the surrounding architecture, but the fairytale cityscape remains intact:

Source (this site sells vintage postcards, but this one may have sold out).

My great-grandparents lived there from 1919 to 1960, and during these four decades the area changed beyond recognition, only the Schwebebahn line remains as a landmark. I am getting the impression that the widespread destruction in worldwar II wasn’t even the worst of it. After that came the planners thinking we have to get in more cars, and by 1974 it looked like this:

Source.

Further mess-ups followed, and when I visited this year, the whole area was still a building site, with a new Primark shop being about the only thing finished. Luckily the Schwebebahn has survived. No idea what it will look like when this round is done, but I’m quite sure the 1912 incarnation remains my favourite. I should say, however, that in the residential areas away from the main roads some of the art nouveau loveliness survives, and there are lots of green spaces in the city too, so mustn't grumble, and I'll be certainly happy to visit again.

Further postcards from Wuppertal are on twitter under the hashtag #talpost, and my photos from September are here.

What all this reminds me of is a series of 8 images by Jörg Müller of a fictional city going through the 20th century, published in 1976 as: Hier fällt ein Haus, dort steht ein Kran, und ewig droht der Baggerzahn. Many years ago I lived in a tiny room at the top of an old house in Marburg, where somebody had artfully displayed these images around the walls of the vast staircase. I think one followed the forward direction of the timeline while going up, but one could debate whether cities have really gone up or forward at all.

Friday, November 13, 2020

science news 13.11.2020

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

Escape from Mars: how water fled the red planet

Cysteine synthesis was a key step in the origin of life
All proteins are built from the same 20 amino acids. One of these, cysteine, was assumed not to have been present at the origin of life. In a new study, published in Science, UCL scientists have recreated how cysteine was formed at the origins of life. Additionally, they have observed how, once formed, cysteine catalyses the fusion of peptides in water - a fundamental step in the path towards protein enzymes.

earth

Possible 1,000-kilometer-long river running deep below Greenland's ice sheet

evolution

San Diego zoo global biobanking advances wildlife conservation and human medicine worldwide
In a study that has unprecedented implications to advance both medicine and biodiversity conservation, researchers have sequenced 131 new placental mammal genomes, bringing the worldwide total to more than 250. The results of the mammal genome project, published in the Nov. 12 issue of the journal Nature, catalog and characterize whole branches of Earth's biodiversity, spanning approximately 110 million years of mammal evolution--the largest and most diverse mammalian comparative genomics project to date.

ecology

In a warming climate, can birds take the heat?

In a new University of Illinois study, tropical birds such as the cocoa woodcreeper (pictured) showed less acute heat stress when exposed to high temperatures than expected.
Credit: Henry Pollock, University of Illinois

nanoworld

Smaller than ever--exploring the unusual properties of quantum-sized materials
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) synthesize sub-nanometer particles with precisely controlled proportions of indium and tin using specific macromolecular templates called dendrimers. Through a screening process spanning different metallic ratios, they discovered unusual electronic states and optical properties originating from size-miniaturization and elemental-hybridization. Their approach could be a first step in the development of sub-nanoparticles with unique functionalities and characteristics for electronic, magnetic, and catalytic applications.

biomedical

Chemists studied the composition of oils extracted from popular medicinal plants

sustainability

Environmentally friendly method could lower costs to recycle lithium-ion batteries
A new process for restoring spent cathodes to mint condition could make it more economical to recycle lithium-ion batteries. The process, developed by nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego, is more environmentally friendly than today's methods; it uses greener ingredients, consumes 80 to 90% less energy, and emits about 75% less greenhouse gases.

Special issue: Cooling in a Warming World < > In this special issue of Science, Cooling in a Warming World, three Perspectives and three Reviews highlight the wide array of new and improved technologies and solutions that aim to keep us and the materials we rely on cool, in our rapidly warming planet.

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

From the news media:



Thursday, November 12, 2020

science news 12.11.2020

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

Scientists release genomes of birds representing nearly all avian families

Rice has many fathers but only two mothers
University of Queensland scientists studied more than 3000 rice genotypes and found diversity was inherited through two maternal genomes identified in all rice varieties.


ecology

Rare deep sea Bigfin Squid sighted in Australian waters for first time

Noise and light alter bird nesting habits and success

The northern cardinal has a relatively low frequency song and delayed breeding in response to noise pollution.
Credit: David Keeling

conservation

Largest set of mammalian genomes reveals species at risk of extinction
An international team of researchers with the Zoonomia Project has released the whole genomes of more than 80 percent of all mammalian families, spanning almost 110 million years of evolution. The dataset, published in Nature, includes genomes from more than 120 species that were not previously sequenced, capturing mammalian diversity at an unprecedented scale. Zoonomia data have already helped researchers in another recent study to assess the risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 across many species.

nanoworld

How molecular chaperones dissolve protein aggregates linked to Parkinson's disease

biomedical

COVID leads to measurable life expectancy drop in Spain, study finds

humans

The mental state of flow might protect against harmful effects of quarantine < >
In which "flow" refers to being so absorbed in an activity that you froget about your surroundings.

dystopian futures

Robotic AI learns to be spontaneous
Now I'm worried - if only about the endless philosophical discussions about the free will and independent mind of robots and people.

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

From the news media:



Monday, November 09, 2020

crispr crowned

Open Archive Day

Slightly belated echo to this year's Nobel prize in chemistry for Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. When the prize was announced, I checked and found that I had already recycled my most recent feature on crispr (applications in agriculture, here), but I didn't think of the previous one, from the early days after the discovery of Crispr, and the nascent discussions on implications for bioethics.

In all of this, I had the advantage that I already knew Jennifer Doudna was brilliant. Nobel laureate Tom Cech told us so back in 1994(ish), when he gave a seminar at Oxford and implored us to remember his postdoc's name because she will go on and do great things. I've often remembered his words and reflected on his remarkable foresight.

Anyhow, my 2015 feature on Crispr, complete with a lovely photo of this year's laureates, is here:

Bacterial scissors to edit human embryos?

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier identified the nuclease Cas9 as a key part of the bacterial immune response to phages and adapted it for use as a universally applicable genome editing tool. (Photo: Justin Bishop/Breakthrough Prize http://www.breakthroughprize.org.)

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Streichquartett Elberfeld 1927- Suchanzeige

NB The English version of this blog entry is here.

Ich suche immer noch nach den Geigern und dem Bratschenspieler in dem Streichquartett, das in den 1920er und 30er Jahren in Elberfeld / Wuppertal aktiv war.

Es löste sich auf, nachdem die Nazi-Behörden erfuhren dass einer der Musiker jüdischer Abstammung war und begannen, unseren Cellisten unter Druck zu setzen, er solle seine Freizeit nicht mit Juden verbringen. Eine kurze Fassung der Geschichte auf Englisch ist hier, eine längere auf Deutsch hier.

Ich habe eine Liste von mehr als 50 Freunden (und wenigen Freundinnen) deren Geburtstage unser Cellist jedes Jahr in seinen neuen Taschenkalender übertrug. Obwohl die erhaltenen Kalender aus einer späteren Zeit stammen, wäre es möglich, dass sich in der Liste auch überlebende Mitglieder des Streichquartetts finden könnten. Deshalb veröffentliche ich hier die Namen mit dem Geburtsjahr und der Straße, in der Hoffnung, dass jemand der nach diesen Namen sucht, vielleicht einen der Musiker wiedererkennt.

Personen die aus dem einen oder anderen Grund nicht in Frage kamen, habe ich ausgelassen, so bleiben uns immerhin 34 Namen. Die Straße mit dem Sternchen heißt heute Friedrich-Engels-Allee und ist der nach Pariser Vorbild angelegte große Boulevard, der Barmen und Elberfeld verband, die heute die größten Stadtteile von Wuppertal sind.

Baak Fritz 1897 Am Brögel

Blasberg Werner 1902 Martin Fauststr.

Brill Robert 1893 Ad. H*tlerstr.

de Bruyer Albert 1897 Farbmühle

Dietrich Wilfried 1898 Emma Str.

Freimuth Paul 1885 E. Teutonenstr. 19

Friedewald Emil 1883 Von Behringstr.

Graus Heiner E. Hauentrief

Haase Kurt 1894 Ad. H*tlerstr

Hackenberg Emil 1879 Farbmühle

Herbst Ludwig 1902 Oberdenkmalstr.

Herhäuser Erich 1885 Hohenstein

Heuerz Josef 1891 Wartburgstr.

Hilger Gustav 1888

Homberg Helmut 1884 Wartburgstr.

Hühl Karl 1900 Schloßstr.

Kautz Hugo 1872 Haspeler Schulstr.

Klein Eduard 1896 Werlestr.

Kluge Hermann 1885 Unterdörnen

Knauer Dr. Karl 1883 Hünefeldstr.

Kobusch Walter 1887 Sudhoffstr.

Köster Erwin 1888 Wartburgerstr.

Luckhaus Hermann 1883 Wartburgstr.

Michael Karl 1887 Hohenstein

Möllmann Dr Hans 1902

Nippel Hans 1898 Sudhoffstr.

Reinsdorf Paul 1890 Ad. H*tlerstr.

Schäfer Karl 1889 Ad. H*tlerstr.

Scheffel Walter 1876 Am Brögel

Schlemmer Paul 1889 Heuberrstr.

Schulze Erich 1896 Ostlerstr.

Tiefenbach Heinrich 1899 Gewerbeschulstr.

Voß August 1893 Unionstr

Weierstall Walter 1891 Paracelsusstr.

Wir wissen, dass Robert Brill der Besitzer der gleichnamigen Rasenmäher-Fabrik war, und ich vermute, dass Hermann Kluge mit dem gleichnamigen Gründer der Klaviaturen-Fabrik verwandt ist, die heute noch die Klaviaturen für Steinway-Pianos herstellt. Das ist allerdings auch die einzige musikalische Verbindung, die ich bisher finden konnte.

Der Masterpost über das ganze Cello-familiengeschichtliche Projekt ist hier.

Monday, November 02, 2020

on the origins of numbers

When I saw the news story about the fraction signs of Linear A, the cuneiform writing system of ancient Minoans, I felt inspired to go looking for the origins of mathematics. I.e., I was asksing myself: where was the transition when natural abilities that you might also find in other animals led to calculating, book keeping, and the whole culture of mathematics that we have today.? I didn't really find that magic spark moment, but I still learned lots of interesting things about different cultures deal with numbers, and how scientists are debating the numerical (or just quantical) skills found in some animals.

The feature is out now:

Are numbers in our nature?

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 21, 2 November 2020, Pages R1283-R1285

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Animals from insects to primates can distinguish quantities, but their processing is different from the arithmetic we learn in school. (Photo: Luca Ambrosi/Unsplash.)

Sunday, November 01, 2020

second lockdown

Now a second lockdown is coming our way, so there will be plenty of quiet time to learn a second sarabande. The Bach project (36 movements in as many months) doesn't look quite as crazy now as it did in March. Although I also got to play tunes outdoors and with other people every once in a while, a couple of times under the remarkably reflective roof of the band stand in Florence Park.

I enjoyed the Gigue in C, which was my movement for October, and managed to memorise almost half of it, might get the other half into my head at some point, as it repeats many of the patterns I already know from the first half. I have now managed to memorise what was missing of the minuets from the first suite, so I can sort of play from memory the movements 4-6 of the first suite, along with most of the Courante, one of the Bourrees and bits of the others.

So onwards (or backwards, rather, as I did with the first suite) to the Sarabande in C. I'm starting with Inbal Segev's musings, as always, and I found recordings from:
Ophélie Gaillard
Alisa Weilerstein
I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

Heinrich the cello enjoying the winter sun.

Revision list (newest addition first)

3.6. Gigue
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande
1.3 Courante
1.4 Sarabande
1.6 Gigue
1.5 Minuet I&II
3.5 Bourree I&II


Saturday, October 31, 2020

string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927

(For a German version of this entry click here.)

I’m still looking for the violin players and viola player in this string quartet which was active in Elberfeld / Wuppertal, Germany in the 1920s and 30s:

It dissolved when authorities got wind that one of the members was Jewish and leaned on our cellist, Heinrich Groß not to spend his time with Jews. A short version of the story in English is here, and a longer one in German here (PDF).

I have a list of more than 50 friends whose birthdays our cellist used to copy over into each year’s pocket diary. While the two diaries I have are both from the war years, after the string quartet stopped playing, there is a chance that survivors of the quartet are hiding in this list, so I’m putting the names, year of birth, and street name here in the hope that any relatives looking for these individuals might find them here and recognise one of the musicians. (Although any other info on their connection to Heinrich the cellist would be welome too.)

I’ve left out people who for one reason or other were unlikely to be relevant, leaving 34 names. The street with the asterisk is now called Friedrich Engels Allee, it is the main boulevard linking the former cities of Barmen and Elberfeld, now the major districts of Wuppertal.

Baak Fritz 1897 Am Brögel

Blasberg Werner 1902 Martin Fauststr.

Brill Robert 1893 Ad. H*tlerstr.

de Bruyer Albert 1897 Farbmühle

Dietrich Wilfried 1898 Emma Str.

Freimuth Paul 1885 E. Teutonenstr. 19

Friedewald Emil 1883 Von Behringstr.

Graus Heiner E. Hauentrief

Haase Kurt 1894 Ad. H*tlerstr

Hackenberg Emil 1879 Farbmühle

Herbst Ludwig 1902 Oberdenkmalstr.

Herhäuser Erich 1885 Hohenstein

Heuerz Josef 1891 Wartburgstr.

Hilger Gustav 1888

Homberg Helmut 1884 Wartburgstr.

Hühl Karl 1900 Schloßstr.

Kautz Hugo 1872 Haspeler Schulstr.

Klein Eduard 1896 Werlestr.

Kluge Hermann 1885 Unterdörnen

Knauer Dr. Karl 1883 Hünefeldstr.

Kobusch Walter 1887 Sudhoffstr.

Köster Erwin 1888 Wartburgerstr.

Luckhaus Hermann 1883 Wartburgstr.

Michael Karl 1887 Hohenstein

Möllmann Dr Hans 1902

Nippel Hans 1898 Sudhoffstr.

Reinsdorf Paul 1890 Ad. H*tlerstr.

Schäfer Karl 1889 Ad. H*tlerstr.

Scheffel Walter 1876 Am Brögel

Schlemmer Paul 1889 Heuberrstr.

Schulze Erich 1896 Ostlerstr.

Tiefenbach Heinrich 1899 Gewerbeschulstr.

Voß August 1893 Unionstr

Weierstall Walter 1891 Paracelsusstr.

We know that Robert Brill was the owner of the eponymous company making lawnmowers (only the brand name survived a recent takeover), and I suspect Hermann Kluge was related to the eponymous founder of Kluge Klaviaturen, the company that makes keyboards for Steinway pianos (now at Remscheid, but it used to be at Elberfeld / Wuppertal). Which is the only musical connection I’ve been able to find.

PS: Masterpost on the whole cello / family history book project I'm pursuing is here.

New tag: Every picture tells a story.

Friday, October 30, 2020

science news 30.10.2020

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

An Earth-sized rogue planet discovered in the Milky Way

evolution

Shining a (UV) light on the glow-in-the-dark platypus
Turns out platypus fur is biofluorescent - astonishing that this hasn't been noticed before.

The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is one of the oddities of nature: a mammal that lays eggs, and is like a mix of several other animals being duck-billed, beaver-tailed, and otter-footed.
Credit: Goddard Photography

Boo! How do mexican cavefish escape predators?

Study of ancient dog DNA traces canine diversity to the Ice Age

ecology

Touch and taste? It's all in the tentacles
Scientists identified a novel family of sensors in the first layer of cells inside the suction cups that have adapted to react and detect molecules that don't dissolve well in water. The research suggests these sensors, called chemotactile receptors, use these molecules to help the animal figure out what it's touching and whether that object is prey.

Male fin whales surprise scientists by swapping songs

conservation

Losing ground in biodiversity hotspots worldwide
Agriculture is eating into areas that are important in protecting some of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. Most of this new agricultural land is being used to grow cattle feed.

nanoworld

Smart bottle brushes
They look like microscopic bottle brushes: Polymers with a backbone and tufts of side arms. This molecular design gives them unusual abilities: For example, they can bind active agents and release them again when the temperature changes. With the help of neutrons, a research team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has now succeeded to unveil the changes in the internal structure in course of the process.

sustainability

Advanced facade material for urban heat island mitigation

humans

Two studies expand insights into Denisovan ancestry and population history in East Asia
Lots of PRs from institutes involved have been promoting one study or the other, which got me confused, so I'm using the PR from science magazine which discusses both.

Bison engravings in Spanish caves reveal a common art culture across ancient Europe

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

From the news media:

New sensor offers a window into the secret lives of Britain's rarest bats
reports the Guardian

Monday, October 26, 2020

open cities

More than half of humankind is now living in cities, and urbanisation continues to grow. So in my contribution to last year's special issue on the anthropocene, I gazed into my crystal ball to work out how cities can be more sustainable in the future.

The resulting feature is now in the open archives:

The future is urbanised

Making cities resilient to climate interactions requires tailored solutions. Heat build-up is a problem for many cities, and the traditional approach of painting surfaces in reflective colours can help to keep the environment cool. (Photo: SofiaPapageorge/Pixabay.)

Friday, October 23, 2020

science news 23.10.2020

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

OSIRIS-REx TAGs surface of asteroid Bennu

evolution

African crocodiles lived in Spain six million years ago
The crocodiles that inhabited the coasts of North Africa during the late Miocene period embarked on a journey to Europe across what is now the Mediterranean basin. This is confirmed by the analysis of the first fossils of the Crocodylus genus in the Iberian Peninsula, found in the Valencian site of Venta del Moro between 1995 and 2006, and which are now being described for the first time.

Bat-winged dinosaurs that could glide

This illustration shows a reconstruction of Ambopteryx in a glide. Credit: Gabriel Ugueto

conservation

The next generation of biodiversity conservation targets must aim higher than ever
Writing this week in Science, 40 researchers argue for a set of holistic actions for new biodiversity goals that are unambiguously clear, sufficiently ambitious, and based on the best knowledge available. Most importantly, the goals need to aim higher if they are to be successful in the face of worsening trends for the climate and life on Earth.

light and life

Researchers identify how night-shift work causes internal clock confusion

biomedical

Lab-grown mini-lungs mimic the real thing - right down to covid infection

dystopian futures

Comparing the promise and reality of e-scooters

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

From the news media:


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

it's all in the chemistry

Sexual chemistry keeps species alive but what if it fails? What if a mutation means that suddenly a chemical signal fails to find a receptor? There are a few examples where a change in chemistry visibly drives the separation of species, including a recent discovery where it is happening right now. I've discussed a few cases in my latest feature in C&I:

Chemical evolution

Chemistry & Industry Volume 84, Issue10 October 2020 Pages 22-26

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members)

Here's the first page with a picture of some yeasts whose sexual reproduction is also discussed in the feature:

Monday, October 19, 2020

closing in on the RNA world

As a former ribosome researcher, I tend to obsess about the tail end of the RNA world (the early phase of evolution when life used only RNA, no proteins or DNA) sometimes, namely the point when a ribozyme started making peptide bonds, and cleared the way for the division of labour between proteins, DNA and RNA that dominates life today. Now, however it is time to get really excited about the beginning of the RNA world, the point when the very first ribozyme started making more of its own kind. Experiments using in-vitro evolution to find such a ribozyme and they are tantalisingly close to success. Which would be amazing because from that point, we could rerun the evolution of the RNA world in the lab ...

So, while we're waiting for this breakthrough, here's my feature explaining just how brilliant that will be.

Towards the birth of evolution

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 20, 19 October 2020, Pages R1233-R1235

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

The images thrown in were even more symbolic this time than normally:

Some sort of membrane or other enclosure was necessary for the early precursors of life to keep their molecules together and protect them from harm. (Photo: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay.)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

wandering about Wuppertal

I recently visited Wuppertal to look at the places where our family cello Heinrich (and its eponymous owner) lived a century ago, in what was then Elberfeld and Barmen. The conglomerate of Wuppertal isn't generally known as a tourist destination, although I tend to think it should be, as the suspension railway (Schwebebahn) gliding through the airspace above the river Wupper makes it unique. On previous visits I have also seen art exhibitions in the Von der Heydt Museum and as a child I must have visited the zoo there.

Walking from the main station Wuppertal Hbf (which was Elberfeld Hbf a century ago - see this slideshow of old postcards) to the first address where Heinrich lived, I came past this neogothic marvel and took a photo just for touristy interest.

Only after I arrived back home and read up a few things about old Elberfeld did it dawn on me that this building, known as the new townhall (Neues Rathaus), must have been where Heinrich the cellist went to work - he came to Elberfeld because he found a job in the city administration there. Which fits nicely as it is only ten minutes walk away from the flat where he lived in the 1920s, in Schleswiger Str.:

From the 1930s till the end of his life he lived in Gronaustr, which is technically in Barmen but still very close to Elberfeld, and a very nice location too. Behind the buildings you have the botanic garden going up on a hillside, and to the front you look out over the valley of the river Wupper and towards the green hills on the other side.

There are more photos of my visit in the relevant Flickr album now, the ones specifically relating to Heinrich are tagged with his name. I've also thrown in a photo of his string quartet - I'm still trying to find out who the other three musicians were.

Amateur string quartet in Elberfeld, 1927 - can anybody identify the other musicians?

Amateur-Streichquartett Elberfeld 1927 - kann jemand die anderen Musiker identifizieren?

Background story is here.

Friday, October 16, 2020

science news 16.10.2020

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

Monkey study suggests that they, like humans, may have 'self-domesticated'
Asif Ghazanfar led a team of scientists who determined that changing an infant monkey's verbal development also changed a physical marker of domesticity: a patch of white fur on its forehead. This is the first study linking the degree of a social trait with the size of a physical sign of domestication, in any species.

ecology

Bark beetle outbreaks benefit wild bee populations, habitat

Cows prefer "live" co-moo-nication, study reveals

light and life

Researchers deconstruct the "biological clock" that regulates birdsong < >

A team of researchers from Penn State and New York University has deconstructed an important "biological clock" in the zebra finch brain and found that the "wires" between neurons, called axons, play a critical role in the precise timing of the birds' courtship song.
Credit: Christopher Auger-Dominguez

biomedical

Bats save energy by reducing energetically costly immune functions during annual migration
relevant for zoonoses including covid, hence biomedical of sorts.

sustainability

Artificial cyanobacterial biofilm can sustain green ethylene production for over a month

dystopian futures

Researchers develop framework to identify health impacts of self-driving vehicles
Loving the use of the word "impacts" in that title.

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

From the news media:

Have some blue fluorescent tardigrades

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