Sunday, August 30, 2020

Johann Benjamin Groß

browsing through the cello tag on tumblr, I was surprised to discover a cellist and composer who shares my last name (although unlikely to be related, as it's a name that originated in many places independently): Johann Benjamin Groß (1809-1848). His Wikipedia entry only exists in German, French and Russian so far, so I'll compile the basic info in English here(may expand on this later):

12.9.1809 Born in Elbing (West Prussia, today Elblag, Poland, a coastal city with some 120,000 inhabitants). Parents: Georg Groß, bell-ringer (was that a full-time job?) and Dorothea van Bergen (watch this space - there are genealogy records for families with both these names in nearby places so I might be able to find his grandparents etc.)

studies cello at Berlin with Ferdinand Hansmann, a pupil of Jean-Pierre Duport (that's the older Duport, not the one of Napoleon/Stradivarius fame).

1824 Cellist at the theatre of Königstadt near Berlin

1830 First solo cello at the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig.

1833 short stint at the orchestra of the Magdeburg theatre

1834 played in a quartet at Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia)

1835 moved to St. Petersburg to become first cellist at the Imperial Court orchestra.
marries Catharina von Witte from Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia). They had three daughters.

There he composed more than 40 works, including several concertos and many chamber works for the cello.

1.9.1848 died in St. Petersburg of cholera.

2004 After a period of oblivion, his work is performed again at the Schumann Festival at Düsseldorf. First recordings are released from 2009 onwards.

Monday, August 24, 2020

wake-up call

Open Archive Day

If you missed my feature on the science of sleep last summer, here's your wake-up call: It is now in the open archives absolutely free to all. As I remember it, I learned many surprising things about how birds sleep with one half of the brain and even in flight, ducks lined up in a row with the terminal duck keeping one eye open for predators, and such like.

I also came away with the surprising impression that scientists are discovering complex sleep regulation in ever less complex animals, which re-ignites the debate what use it is and what advantage over a simple rest period regulated by the circadian clock. (A crucial difference: The circadian clock wouldn't care how much you slept the previous night, while sleep is budgeted and sleep deprivation can accumulate.)

Anyhow, everything you always wanted to know about the science of sleep is here:

The reasons of sleep

Birds display neural sleep signatures very similar to those of mammals, but also a whole range of behavioural adaptations to accommodate the need for sleep in challenging conditions. (Photo: sipa/Pixabay.)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

back to the beginning

On my crawl backwards through the first cello suite, I am now reaching the beginning, that famous Prelude. Which is to say I'm giving up on memorising the Allemande. While it isn't too difficult to play, I haven't managed to find a way of memorising more than the first seven bars (out of 32). I now think those brain cells are better used in completing movement 5 (the more memorable minuets) so I can play the second half of the suite completely from memory.

Moving on to the Prelude which is the most famous part of the suites, so there are even more performances and tutorials of this than of the other ones.

In addition to the trusted tutorial by Inbal Segev and the slow version from Cellopedia, there is also:

Yo-Yo Ma playing the Prelude at a Tiny Desk Concert and then talking about how he learned it as a child "one bar at a time" (inspired by this video, I tried that last year and got stuck in bar 10 - although back then I spent a lot less time on it than I do now). He started to learn it at age 4, apparently, Inbal Segev only at 6, maybe that's the number that determines your global success as a cellist?

Alisa Weilerstein deconstructing the prelude for an issue of the Vox Earworm series.

It has of course been played on many other instruments as well, as an example here is Ana Vidovic playing it on guitar which I think works really well. She has recorded all movements of the first suite but I feel the clarity of the guitar helps me more with the first three movements which I find harder on the cello.

I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

I was about to record something in the garden, but then a neighbour started playing piano ...

Revision list (newest addition first)

1.2 Allemande
1.3 Courante
1.4 Sarabande
1.6 Gigue
1.5 Minuet I&II
3.5 Bourree I&II

PS where next after the first suite? I guess I'll do the tail end of the third suite (Gigue and Sarabande) to complement the Bourrees which I've learned already, but suggestions welcome.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

useful books

I've packed a box of books on applied sciences (energy, environment etc.) that may be more useful to others than they are to me. If anybody has a bright idea how they could be made to benefit a good cause (I'll accept educating yourself as a good cause), I'm all ears.

~ 22 books listed chronologically backwards:

Ethanol: Science and engineering
Editors: Angelo Basile, Adolfo Iulianelli, Francesco Dalena, T. Nejat Veziroglu
Elsevier 2018, ISBN: 9780128114582

Low Carbon Energy Transitions
Kathleen M. Araujo
Oxford University Press 2018

Gregory Chatel

Nanocomposite materials: synthesis, properties and applications
Jyotishkumar Parameswaranpillai, Nishar Hameed, Thomas Kurian, Yingfeng Yu (Editors)
CRC Press 2017, ISBN 978-1482258073

Fracking (Issues in Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 39)
R.E. Hester, R. M. Harrison, eds.
Royal Society of Chemistry 2015, ISBN: 978-1-84973-920-7

Still only one Earth: Progress in the 40 years since the first UN Conference on the Environment.(vol 40 of the series: Issues in Environmental Science and Technology)
R. E. Hester and R. M. Harrison, eds.
RSC publishing, 2015, ISBN 978-1-78262-076-1

Matthias Rögner (Ed.)
Walter de Gruyter, 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-033645-0

Low cost emergency water purification technologies
Chittaranjan Ray, Ravi Jain
Butterworth Heinemann 2014, ISBN 978-0-12-411465-4

The burning answer: a user’s guide to the solar revolution
Keith Barnham
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2014

The economic competitiveness of renewable energy - pathways to 100% global coverage,
Winfried Hoffmann.

Handbook of cellulosic ethanol
Ananda S. Amarasekara
Scrivener Publishing 2014, ISBN 978-1-118-23300-9

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

Hydrofracking: what everyone needs to know
Alex Prud'homme
OUP 2014

Polymers for energy storage and conversion
Vikas Mittal, ed.
Wiley / Scrivener 2013, ISBN 978-1-118-34454-5

Powering planet Earth: Energy solutions for the future
Nicola Armaroli, Vincenzo Balzani, Nick Serpone
Wiley-VCH 2013, ISBN: 978-3-527-33409-4

Physical gels from biological and synthetic polymers
Madeleine Djabourov, Katsuyoshi Nishinari, Simon B. Ross-Murphy
Cambridge University Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-521-76964-8

Functional materials from renewable sources
Falk Liebner and Thomas Rosenau, eds.
ACS Symposium series 2012
ISBN 978-0-8412-2788-0

Natural products in chemical biology
Natanya Civjan, ed.
J. Wiley & Sons, 2012

Advanced Oil Crop Biorefineries (RSC Green Chemistry 2012)
Self-assembly and nanotechnology systems: Design, characterization, and applications
Yoon S. Lee Wiley 2012 ISBN 978-1-118-08759-6

Chemistry for sustainable technologies: A foundation
Neil Winterton
RSC 2011

The physicochemical basis of pharmaceuticals
Humphrey Moynihan, Abina Crean
Oxford University Press 2009

Concepts of Nanochemistry
Ludovico Cademartiri and Geoffrey Ozin
Wiley-VCH 2009; ISBN 978-3-527-32597-9

(Back in the 00s, I used to carry or send books to Latin America, but I no longer travel that far without a very good excuse and the postage has become horrendously expensive, which is why I'm looking for alternatives.)

This was a lovely cover, but I found the content a bit disappointing ...

Friday, August 21, 2020

science news 21.8.2020

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.

ancient climate

Past rapid warming levels in the Arctic associated with widespread climate changes
Using Greenland ice cores, new research is the first to confirm the longstanding assumption that climate changes between the tropics and the Arctic were synchronised during the last glacial period.

Fossil leaves show high atmospheric carbon spurred ancient 'global greening'
Scientists studying leaves from a 23-million-year-old forest have for the first time linked high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide with increased plant growth, and the hot climate off the time.

Anthropogenic CO2 increase is unprecedented
Even in earlier warm periods there were pulse-like releases of CO2 to the atmosphere. Today's anthropogenic CO2 rise, however, is more than six times larger and almost ten times faster than previous jumps in the CO2 concentration.


Discovery lays blame on supernova for extinction event nearly 360 million years ago
Between a decline in biodiversity and a series of extinction events, the Late Devonian period was not the most hospitable time on Earth. And then came one or more supernovae explosions whose resulting ionizing radiation was the final push that spelled the end for armored fish, most trilobites and other life.

Ichthyosaur's last meal is evidence of triassic megapredation
Some 240 million years ago, a dolphin-like ichthyosaur ripped to pieces and swallowed another marine reptile only a little smaller than itself. Then it almost immediately died and was fossilized, preserving the first evidence of megapredation, or a large animal preying on another large animal.

Dinosaurs' unique bone structure key to carrying weight
A unique collaboration between paleontologists, mechanical engineers and biomedical engineers revealed that the trabecular bone structure of hadrosaurs and several other dinosaurs is uniquely capable of supporting large weights, and different than that of mammals and birds.


Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads more indoors at low humidity

Contact tracing apps unlikely to contain COVID-19 spread
Contract tracing apps used to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are unlikely to be effective without proper uptake and support from concurrent control measures, finds a new study by UCL researchers. The systematic review*, published in Lancet Digital Health, shows that large-scale manual contact tracing alongside other public health control measures - such as physical distancing and closure of indoor spaces such as pubs - is likely to be required in conjunction with automated approaches.

Researchers show children are silent spreaders of virus that causes COVID-19
Is anybody counting how many studies say this and how many the opposite?


Archaeology: X-ray imaging provides unique snapshot of ancient animal mummification
Analysis of three mummified animals - a cat, a bird and a snake - from Ancient Egypt using advanced 3D X-ray imaging is described in a paper published in Scientific Reports. The technique provides insights into the conditions in which the animals were kept, their complex mummification process and their possible causes of death, without causing damage to the specimens.

Australia's wish list of exotic pets
Unsustainable trade of species is the major pathway for the introduction of invasive alien species at distant localities at higher frequencies. It is also a major driver of over-exploitation of wild populations. In a new study, published in the open-access journal Neobiota, scientists estimate the desire of Australians to own non-native and/or illegal pets and the major trends in this practice. In addition, the team suggests ways to improve biosecurity awareness in the country.

A juvenile ball python for sale at Repticon Trading Convention 2018 in Palm Springs, Florida.
Credit: Adam Toomes (CC-BY 4.0)

Genetics: Romantic relationship dynamics may be in our genes
Variations in a gene called CD38, which is involved in attachment behaviour in non-human animals, may be associated with human romantic relationship dynamics in daily life, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.


From the news media:

Record breaking ice loss from Greenland's glaciers reported for 2019. Your friendly reminder that a total loss of Greenland's ice sheet means six metres sea level rise.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

science news 20.8.2020

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.


Sustained planetwide storms may have filled lakes, rivers on ancient Mars

Microbes living on air a global phenomenon
UNSW researchers have found their previous discovery of bacteria living on air in Antarctica is likely a process that occurs globally, further supporting the potential existence of microbial life on alien planets.


Lungfish fins reveal how limbs evolved


This cuttlefish is flamboyant on special occasions only!

The flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) in full flamboyant display, which it only uses on occasion (for male courtship rituals; or when males are fighting over a female; or to flash briefly at a threatening object when it approaches too close, presumably to scare it away).
Credit: Roger Hanlon Laboratory, MBL

Termite-fishing chimpanzees provide clues to the evolution of technology


Quest for quantum Internet gets a boost with new technique for making entanglement


COVID-19 cytokine storms may prevent a durable immune response


Partner selection ultimately happens in the woman's reproductive tract

Researchers predict deficits in female birth numbers in India over coming decades
Between 2017 and 2030, an estimated 6.8 million fewer female births will be recorded in India than would be by chance, due to sex-selective abortions, according to a new study published August 19, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Fengqing Chao of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, and colleagues.

dystopian futures

Machine learning, meet human emotions: How to help a computer monitor your mental state
I very emphatically do not want a computer of any description to monitor my mental state.


From the news media:

Monday, August 17, 2020

whales of the plant kingdom

Don't tell anybody, but I'm mainly writing all these features to educate myself - everything else is collateral benefits. So this time round I learned that seagrasses are the whales of the plant kingdom - like the cetaceans, they migrated back into the oceans within the last 100 million years. That's the sort of unexpected connection I can get really excited about. In addition, seagrasses are also very useful in terms of carbon sequestration, coastal protection, and habitat, so at this point you've probably guessed that humanity is doing a great job at destroying them comprehensively and they need saving.

All these issues are covered in my latest feature which is out now:

Save our seagrasses

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 16, 17 August 2020, Pages R905-R907

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Seagrass is known to stabilise the ground on which it grows, which helps both the sequestration of carbon and the defence of coastlines against erosion. (Photo: © Paul Lavery at Edith Cowan University.)

Sunday, August 16, 2020

a cello's century

Heinrich the cello has now been in our family for a century, so I've used the lockdown to write up his biography of sorts - a family history / memoir / general obsessing about all things cello-related - which is now almost finished. It's all written in German so far, but obviously if anybody wanted to publish it in English, I'd be happy to do a translation. Some bits and bobs have appeared on this blog before, so here's a table of contents with PDF links to sample chapters in German as well as cross-references to relevant blog entries in English.

Status update 25.10.2022: The initial manuscript is complete, the first three chapters are online as PDF files hosted on my website / backups on Google Drive (GD), see links below. This month, chapter 1 has grown by a couple of sections, after the surprising discovery of Heinrich's poems. The new bits are currently on pages 8 (last para) through to page 20.

Status update 8.9.2023: I thought it was almost finished way back in 2020, but I keep discovering fascinating things that are related to the topic in one way or another, and I still need to visit the city archives at Wuppertal. Today I've uploaded the most recent version of chapter 1, which includes an appreciation of Maria's recipe book as well as a new sub-chapter on W.O. von Horn's romantic stories. A natural end to the timeline of the story has emerged, however, as Heinrich the cello has now moved out of my house to live with the young cellist.

1. Heinrich and his cello [PDF / GD] (updated 08.09.2023)
a railway man
once there were emperors (Tangermünde)
Tangermünde railway station 1889
a whole new city (Strasbourg-Neustadt)
professor leather trousers (Strasbourg)
Mahler and Strauss in Strasbourg
a very romantic poet (Strasbourg still)
blue flower finally found (content of the Strasbourg poems)
romantic stories (clues from a book both young lovers read)
ancient recipes (life in Dieuze as reflected in Maria's recipe book)
a city through time (Wuppertal-Elberfeld)
quartet times three
story of an old cello
musical connections

2. Frieda and her piano [PDF / GD]
moonlight sonata
european nations stirred and shaken (the Jan Dopheide / Jean d'Oppede story)
the Gütersloh connection
finding Minden
railway memories (Minden)
checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
a city on the border (Aachen)
gemstone town (Idar-Oberstein)
a singing lesson
an old family fiddle

3. My musical miseducation [PDF / GD]
my musical miseducation (an English-language precursor to this chapter, about 1/3 of the length)
les chansons de mon enfance
blow along (harmonica)
my school recorder
Blue the guitar
first synthesizer
learning from Balzac

4. The next generation
the right instrument
obscure composers
Beethoven for cello and flute

5. Late beginners
beginning to see some improvement
the dancers will fall over

6. Bach in quarantine
take a leap
stay home play Bach
jigging on
memorising Bach
according to Bach
running slowly
back to the beginning
second wave
movements in tiers
new year, new minuets
sadness and strength
jigging into spring
recording some progress
memory full
jigging into summer
summer holiday
not sure where I'll draw the finish line for the Bach suites adventures, but check the bach tag for further movements and musings.

I'll probably find a space where I can fit these random cellists in as well:
a cellist lost (Zdenka Cerny)
Johann Benjamin Groß
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch

Books which have helped and/or inspired me with this, and which I have reviewed on this blog include:
The cello suites: In search of a baroque masterpiece, by Eric Siblin
The music instinct: how music works and why we can’t do without it, by Philip Ball
Never too late: My musical life story by John Holt

Also, other memoirs that inspired me in this project are now labelled with the memoir tag.

We have a grand total of two (correction: three) photos of Heinrich in his string quartet, dating from 1927. Only now did I notice that zooming in on one of the photos you can actually read what they're playing, it's Brahms. As Brahms only published three string quartets, we know almost exactly what was played ...

Thursday, August 13, 2020

russian riddles

The Anna Karenina fix

Viv Groskop

Harry N. Abrams, 2018
Penguin 2019

It may be an age thing, but I am finding myself reading memoirs a lot, and maybe even writing some. Obviously I’m not all that interested in reading how people got rich and famous or how they changed their diet, but there is a sub-genre that I find really exciting, balancing cultural issues I’m interested in (literature, languages, music, art) with the life experience. So it's about how people interacted with cultural things and it helped them find out who they really are.

An important example and possibly the reason for my new interest is Elena Lappin’s memoir about her family and her five languages (What language do I dream in?). Eric Siblin mixed 1/3 memoir with 2/3 biographies of more famous people (Bach, Casals) to paint a picture of the cultural monument known as The cello suites. Then again, I'll also accept an old house as a cultural asset, see Hancox by Charlotte Moore.

I recently noticed that Viv Groskop has a new book out about French literature, and as I am a bit careful about what Anglophones write about all things French, I opted to check her earlier book about Russian literature first. It turned out to be a fine addition to my new favourite memoir sub-genre. While discussing 11 works by 10 major Russian writers (Tolstoy gets the first and the last word), she applies the philosophical insights to be gained from these books to her own coming of age and finding her identity. In a nutshell, based on her unusual name she thought she might be of Russian origin and therefore went on to study Russian and aspired to become Russian, but in the end her migration background turned out to be something else entirely.

This is arranged as a clever little puzzle, or maybe as a set of Russian dolls. Can’t be quite sure as I read the chapters in the wrong order, first those about the books I’ve read (long ago), and then the rest, not necessarily in the right order, as I was more curious about some of the works discussed than about others. But in the end it was all exciting enough to make me read all the chapters so all good and riddle solved. (Here is a photo of the Groskop family of 1915 including info about their origins, if you want to find out without reading the book.)

At some point, I think I’ll read the French book too. Another book-related memoir is Lucy Mangan’s book about children’s literature, Bookworm. And I need to read Hadley Freeman's House of Glass.

I like the cover, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

science news 12.8.2020

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.


New species of dinosaur discovered on Isle of Wight
A new study by Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton suggests four bones recently found on the Isle of Wight belong to new species of theropod dinosaur, the group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.

Primate voice boxes are evolving at rapid pace

Gorilla skull and larynx
Credit: Copyright Dr Jacob Dunn, Anglia Ruskin University (ARU)


For bacteria, a small genome means some serious decluttering -- even in the ribosome
Researchers have studied the genomes of some 200 strains of bacteria to determine which proteins in the ribosome, part of the key cell machinery, can be safely lost and why. Research showed that frequently lost ribosomal proteins tend to be placed on the ribosome surface, where they usually have fewer contacts to other ribosome components. Yet since ribosomal proteins are in the cell's essential toolkit, they are generally among the last to leave a 'downsizing' bacterial genome.
Funny though that in mitochondria we see the opposite - new proteins being added to a ribosome that has become virtually useless, producing fewer proteins than it needs for its own assembly. See my recent feature here.


Malaria discovery could expedite antiviral treatment for COVID-19
New research into malaria suggests targeting enzymes from the human host, rather than from the pathogen itself, could offer effective treatment for a range of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

COVID-19: Herd immunity in Sweden fails to materialize

food and drink

Gluten in wheat: What has changed during 120 years of breeding?
spoiler: authors find no evidence that breeding has caused rise in gluten sensitivity problems.


What violin synchronization can teach us about better networking in complex times


From the news media:

Underneath its skin, dwarf planet Ceres is an ocean world
, according to the Dawn results reported in the Guardian.

Monday, August 10, 2020

planting trees

Open Archive Day

Planting some trees is (almost) always a good idea, but if we want them to help us out with stopping the climate catastrophe, we should do a bit of thinking before reaching for the shovel.

In my feature last August I rounded up some good and bad examples of reforestation, to give an impression of the complexities involved. The feature is in the open archives now:

How to bring back our planet's forests

If humans weren’t interfering, around two thirds of the ice-free land surface would be covered by trees. Restoring a fraction of the missing natural forests would sequester enough carbon to keep climate change within the limit of the Paris accord. (Photo: jarmoluk/Pixabay.

Friday, August 07, 2020

science news 7.8.2020

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.


Hubble uses Earth as proxy for identifying oxygen on potentially habitable exoplanets
Taking advantage of a total lunar eclipse, Hubble used the Moon as a mirror to study sunlight that had passed through Earth's atmosphere. As a result, Hubble detected Earth's own brand of sunscreen - ozone - in our atmosphere. The technique simulates how scientists will search for evidence of life on planets around other stars.

New insight into the evolution of complex life on Earth
This is about the proteasome being involved in the cell division of archaea (as well as in eukaryotes).


Fossil mystery solved: Super-long-necked reptiles lived in the ocean, not on land
By CT scanning crushed fossilized skulls and digitally reassembling them, and by examining the fossils' growth rings, scientists were able to describe a new species of prehistoric sea creature. Tanystropheus hydroides, named after mythology's hydra, was a twenty-foot-long animal with a ten-foot-long neck.

The digitially reconstructed skull of Tanystropheus, using CT scans of the crushed skull pieces.
Credit: Stephan Spiekman et al.


Researchers hope to save seabirds by calculating the value of their poop


Chemists build natural anti-cancer compound with lean new process


New science behind algae-based flip-flops
a bit of seasonal science ...


Completing the set: 'Coupon-collection behavior' reduces sex-ratio variation among families
A new analysis of sibling records from more than 300,000 individuals suggests that some parents continue to reproduce until they have children of both sexes.


From the news media:

Tanystropheus (see picture above) is also reported in the Guardian.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

science news 6.8.2020

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.


New study reveals lower energy limit for life on Earth
An international team of researchers led by Queen Mary University of London have discovered that microorganisms buried in sediment beneath the seafloor can survive on less energy than was previously known to support life. The study has implications for understanding the limit of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.


The curious genome of the tuatara, an ancient reptile in peril

International scientists and Ngātiwai, a Māori tribe, teamed up to sequence the genome of a rare reptile, the tuatara, uncovering some unique aspects of the tuatara's evolution. The genome sequence will enable comparative studies to better understand the evolution of the tuatara and its distant relatives: other reptiles, birds, and mammals. Shedding light on the tuatara's biology will help protect this vulnerable species.
Credit: Bernard Spragg (Flickr, CC0)


Herbivores, not predators, most at risk of extinction
One million years ago, the extinction of large-bodied plant-eaters changed the trajectory of life on Earth. The disappearance of these large herbivores reshaped plant life, altered fire regimes across Earth's landscapes, and modified biogeochemical cycling in such a way that Earth's climate became slightly colder.

Bird nests attract flying insects and parasites due to higher levels of carbon dioxide

Algal symbiosis could shed light on dark ocean
New research has revealed a surprise twist in the symbiotic relationship between a type of salamander and the alga that lives inside its eggs. A new paper in Frontiers in Microbiology reports that the eggs compete with the algae to assimilate carbon from their surroundings - a finding that could inform similar processes in the dark ocean.

New Guinea has the world's richest island flora


Drivers from poor cities can be exposed to 80% more air pollution


An iconic Native American stone tool technology discovered in Arabia
A new paper published in the journal PLOS ONE examines fluted projectile points from southern Arabia, detailing production methods and technical aspects that indicate differences in function from the technology of the Americas, despite similarities in form. Findings from experimentation and comparative analysis suggest that highly-skilled, convergent technologies can have varying anthropological implications.

Men scoring higher on 'man box' scale are prone to violence, mental illness


From the news media:

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

science news 5.8.2020

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.


Stars rich in phosphorus: Seeds of life in the universe

Surprisingly dense exoplanet challenges planet formation theories
New detailed observations with NSF's NOIRLab facilities reveal a young exoplanet, orbiting a young star in the Hyades cluster, that is unusually dense for its size and age. Weighing in at 25 Earth-masses, and slightly smaller than Neptune, this exoplanet's existence is at odds with the predictions of leading planet formation theories.

VLBA finds planet orbiting small, cool star
Precision measurements made with the VLBA have revealed that a small, cool star 35 light-years from Earth is orbited by a Saturn-sized planet once every 221 days.


Between shark and ray: The evolutionary advantage of the sea angels


Studies shed new light on how biodiversity influences plant decay

Small trees offer hope for rainforests
Small trees that grow up in drought conditions could form the basis of more drought-resistant rainforests, new research suggests.

Scientists discover new penguin colonies from space

Are vultures spreaders of microbes that put human health at risk?

A new analysis published in IBIS examines whether bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that are present in wild vultures cause disease in the birds, and whether vultures play a role in spreading or preventing infectious diseases to humans and other animal species.
Credit: Jorge de la Cruz


Nanostructures modeled on moth eyes effective for anti-icing
Researchers have been working for decades on improving the anti-icing performance of functional surfaces and work published in AIP Advances investigates a unique nanostructure, modeled on moth eyes, that has anti-icing properties. Moth eyes are of interest because they have a distinct ice-phobic and transparent surface. The researchers fabricated the moth eye nanostructure on a quartz substrate that was covered with a paraffin layer to isolate it from a cold and humid environment.


'Price of life' lowest in UK during COVID-19 pandemic, study finds
The price the UK government was prepared to pay to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic was far lower than in many other developed nations, a study has revealed.
Confirming my suspicion that we have deatheaters in charge.

Easy to overdose on paracetamol if you're selenium deficient, says research


Key brain region was 'recycled' as humans developed the ability to read

dystopian futures

Consumers don't fully trust smart home technologies
Not fully? People shouldn't even buy any of these things. Opening your home to surveillance and hackers is the opposite of smart.


From the news media:

A remarkably well preserved mammoth skeleton from a Siberian lake.

Oh and the penguin colonies spotted from space are also in the Guardian. Disappointingly, the sattelites only saw vast areas of ice discoloured by guano - not vast huddles of actual penguins.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

science news 4.8.2020

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.


ALMA captures stirred-up planet factory
Planet-forming environments can be much more complex and chaotic than previously expected. This is evidenced by a new image of the star RU Lup, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

Iron-rich meteorites show record of core crystallization in system's oldest planetesimals

Early Mars was covered in ice sheets, not flowing rivers


Malignant cancer diagnosed in a dinosaur for the first time

Study: Oriole hybridization is a dead end
A half-century of controversy over two popular bird species may have finally come to an end. In one corner: the Bullock's Oriole, found in the western half of North America. In the other corner: the Baltimore Oriole, breeding in the eastern half. Where their ranges meet in the Great Plains, the two mix freely and produce apparently healthy hybrid offspring. But according to scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, hybridization is a dead end and both parent species will remain separate.

Bullock/Baltimore Oriole hybrid.
Credit: Bryan Calk, Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Scientists discover secret behind Earth's biodiversity hotspots

Identifying the blind spots of soil biodiversity

Study calls for urgent plan to manage invasive weed which threatens livelihoods in Africa


Speech processing hierarchy in the dog brain

Humans and flies employ very similar mechanisms for brain development and function

Energy demands limit our brains' information processing capacity


The art of making tiny holes
It sounds like a magic trick: A highly charged ion penetrates several layers of a material. It creates a big hole in the top layer, but travels through the next layer without damaging it. This new technique can be used to modify surfaces with extremely hight precision.


Ancient shell llama offering found in lake Titicaca
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dystopian futures

Novel magnetic stirrer speaks to lab equipment
A small device, called "Smart Stirrer", performed a function of a conventional laboratory stir bar, has an integrated microprocessor and various sensors capable of wireless and autonomous report the conversion of properties of a solution. Results are sent to a computer over Bluetooth, and any changes notify the user wirelessly.


From the news media:

Monday, August 03, 2020

colourful characters

I spotted an interesting book review in Current Biology - Thinking like a parrot - and realised that this was a topic about which I haven't written a feature yet, so I closed that gap with a little help from Nicky Clayton (who starred in this feature) and her colleagues. Oh, and I should mention that I found a lot of inspiration on the ecology/conservation of parrots in the grrlscientist blog.

After the cats and mice, another fun topic, but world-saving services will resume soon.

Clever and colourful characters

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 15, 03 August 2020, Pages R841-R844
FREE access to full text and PDF download

Parrots as companion animals require substantial amounts of attention — as does the threat to surviving parrot populations in the wild. (Photo: Michael Clarke/Unsplash.)