How this information affects your day-to-day life, I'm not sure, but the discovery of a new species of scorpion near Seven Cataracts Vista in the Santa Catalina Mountains by Dr Rob Bryson Jr. is interesting in the sense that there's still a lot in our immediate area to still explore.
Here's a description of the scorpion from the online journal ZooKeys:
Relatively small-bodied scorpion from the Seven Cataracts Overlook area of the Santa Catalina Mountains, southern Arizona (total body length of the female holotype is 27.50 mm). Color is light to medium brown, light brown to yellow on the legs, with underlying dark mottling on carapace and mesosoma. Metasoma is light brown with darker carinae.
Researchers, led by a neuroscientist from Duke University, have found a way to link the brains of two rats that are occupying different cages—and that's not even the crazy part.
In the new study, the researchers implanted small electrode arrays in two regions of the rats’ brains, one involved in planning movements, and one involved in the sense of touch.
Then they trained several rats to poke their noses and whiskers through a small opening in the wall of their enclosure to determine its width. The scientists randomly changed the width of the opening to be either narrow or wide for each trial, and the rats had to learn to touch one of two spots depending on its width. They touched a spot to the right of the opening when it was wide and the spot on the left when it was narrow. When they got it correct, they received a drink. Eventually they got it right 95 percent of the time.
Next, the team wanted to see if signals from the brain of a rat trained to do this task could help another rat in a different cage choose the correct spot to poke with its nose — even if it had no other information to go on.
They tested this idea with another group of rats that hadn’t learned the task. In this experiment, one of these new rats sat in an enclosure with two potential spots to receive a reward but without an opening in the wall. On their own, they could only guess which of the two spots would produce a rewarding drink. As expected, they got it right 50 percent of the time.
Then the researchers recorded signals from one of the trained rats as it did the nose-poke task and used those signals to stimulate the second, untrained rat’s brain in a similar pattern. When it received this stimulation, the second rat’s performance climbed to 60 or 70 percent. That’s not nearly as good as the rats who could actually use their sense of touch to solve the problem, but it’s impressive given that the only information they had about which spot to chose came from another animal’s brain, Nicolelis says.
Information was transferred from one brain to another, by way of electronic stimulation, and no other intermediary.
Scientist hope to use this information to help patients who have suffered brain injuries through trauma or stroke to rehabilitate and recover function (though a researcher notes that you don't necessarily need another brain to do that, just a computer program), while I wonder how long it will take before private industry (Google?) acquires and uses this tech to transmit data to us directly—like, say, kung fu.
We're just that much closer to The Matrix, people.
The UA College of Science continues its exploration into the world of genomics with Arizona Center for the Biology of Complex Diseases Director Donata Vercelli explaining "Why DNA Is Not Our Destiny." The free talk will bring a big crowd to Centennial Hall at 7 p.m., so get there a few minutes early, especially since roadwork has closed Park Avenue around University Boulevard.
Here's the idea behind the lecture, via the College of Science:
Two twin sisters, one with and one without asthma. Two genetically identical mice, one black and lean, the other yellow and obese. Two human cells, one from the brain and the other from the skin: they look and act different, but they have the same DNA sequence. All of this is the work of epigenetics. Much emphasis has been placed on DNA and genes as repositories of the code designed to transmit information and dictate biological programs. However, developmental trajectories and responses to environmental cues are — and need to be — highly plastic. This plasticity is made possible by epigenetic mechanisms that enhance or silence gene expression at the right time in the right environmental context but do not change the DNA sequence. Thus the code inscribed in our DNA is necessary but not sufficient to recapitulate our biological identity and determine our biological destiny. This lecture will explore how understanding epigenetics will advance our understanding of human biology and disease.
More details here.
If you're a long-time or native Tucsonan like me, you may have memories of Hector Vector Star Projector like I do from my first school field trip in second grade: An awe-inspiring, state-of-the-art projector rising majestically from beneath the planetarium floor, delivering full-dome images that transported me to Mars and other worlds.
While Hector still cuts a majestic and imposing figure for school groups and adults, he has sadly fallen behind the times - what with the miniaturization and high-definition quality of modern digital projectors.
If you want to get a glimpse of what the future of the Flandrau Planetarium could be, you have your chance for this weekend only. While the laser projector that treats fans to Pink Floyd and other music shows is out for repair, Flandrau will be showing demos of some new dome shows using a SkyScan digital projector, one of the best on the market.
All shows are free this weekend only, and are first-come, first-serve. The featured show is "Life: A Cosmic Story," which takes you on an immersive journey through cells and into galaxies, and is narrated by Jodie Foster:
There's also a cool kid's show, as well as "Voices in the Dark," an awesome music and animation show:
Full disclosure: I used to be in charge of marketing and digital for Flandrau (I helped bring back the Pink Floyd laser show - you're welcome). But if Tucson wants to ever get some cool new gear to get kids excited about science and blow their parents' minds with awesome shows, folks need to come out and show their support.
Show times are available at Flandrau's website.
The UA College of Science's spring lecture series on genomics continues tonight with Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor Michael Worobey talking about "The Genesis of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic." The teaser from the College of Science:
The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 was the most intense outbreak of disease in human history. It killed upwards of 50 million people (most in a six-week period) casting a long shadow of fear and mystery: nearly a century later, scientists have been unable to explain why, unlike all other influenza outbreaks, it killed young adults in huge numbers. I will describe how analyses of large numbers of influenza virus genomes are revealing the pathway traveled by the genes of this virus before it exploded in 1918. What emerges is a surprising tale with many players and plot lines, in which echoes of prior pandemics, imprinted in the immune responses of those alive in 1918, set the stage for the catastrophe. I will also discuss how resolving the mysteries of 1918 could help to prevent future pandemics and to control seasonal influenza, which quietly kills millions more every decade.
The free lecture at UA Centennial Hall starts at 7 p.m., but get there early—your fellow brainy Tucsonans typically fill every seat in the house. More details on the series here.
The team behind the UA's HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter released an astonishing image that captures the tire tracks of the Curiosity rover that's tooling across Gale Crater. HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen notes:
This image was acquired for color coverage of the region that the Curiosity rover may explore, but we acquired some extra RED (monochromatic) coverage of the rover tracks.
This image shows the entire distance traveled from the landing site (dark smudge at left) to its location as of 2 January 2013 (the rover is bright feature at right). The tracks are not seen where the rover has recently driven over the lighter-toned surface, which may be more indurated than the darker soil.
You can find out more about what Curiosity is up to here. Spoiler warning: The little robot is set to start using its laser to drill into some Mars rock.
BTW, what was with Danehy's weird aside about the space program in this week's issue? I wasn't happy to hear we were retiring the space shuttles (and I'd be happy to see NASA's budget increased), but the Curiosity mission is just one example of a healthy space program. Right here in Tucson, not that long ago, we put a different robot on the Arctic plains of Mars. The UA is working on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which is going to grab a sample off an asteroid in a few years. And UA scientists are part of the team that's working on the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be replacing the Hubble in a few years. If that's not enough to inspire America to "again become a nation of people who dream and strive and reach," what is? (Given the scientific advances we make in this country, I don't think we've ever lost our ability to dream and strive and reach, although it'd be nice if more kids were interested in science, engineering and math.)
And Tom, please don't tell me that robot space exploration doesn't count. Given that you don't have qualms about robotic law enforcement, it would just be chauvinistic if you're anti-robot when it comes to outer space.
According to a study out of the University of Utah and published by the Journal of Experimental Biology, human hands evolved over time to be just as useful in conflict as they are in use of tools. In other words, they were made equally well to build and destroy.
From The Telegraph:
"The role aggression has played in our evolution has not been adequately appreciated," said Professor David Carrier, from the University of Utah.
"There are people who do not like this idea but it is clear that compared with other mammals, great apes are a relatively aggressive group with lots of fighting and violence, and that includes us. We're the poster children for violence."
The forces of natural selection that drove hands to become nimble-fingered also turned them into weapons, Prof Carrier believes.
"Individuals who could strike with a clenched fish (sic) could hit harder without injuring themselves, so they were better able to fight for mates and thus be more likely to reproduce," he said.
So when it comes down to it, we evolved to punch things better so we could have more sex. Works for professional fighters, I guess.
Glib comments aside, the article continues by going further in depth as to the mechanics of force as delivered by the human hand, noting that the force of a punch, over the same amount of surface area, is three times that of a slap, and the structural advantages a fist has to producing force, over a slap.
For the rest of the article, check out The Telegraph.
UA astronomy professor Feryal Ozel, who studies neutron stars and black holes, is in the midst of watching an enormous hydrogen cloud slide down the throat of a massive black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Shelley Littin of the University Communications team tells us the plan:
The cloud is moving fast enough through space that Ozel and her colleagues predict it will create a shockwave in front of it when it approaches the black hole, like the supersonic boom heard when an airplane breaks the sound barrier, Ozel said. The shockwave should emit radiation observable through radio telescopes.
“Shortly after that we expect that the cloud is going to be basically wrenched apart,” Ozel said.
Astronomers can infer that the intense gravity of black holes absorbs material from objects that come too near, Ozel said, but normally aren’t able to see it happen in real time. The collision of the gas cloud with the black hole at the center of our own galaxy will give scientists a chance to learn about the environment of a black hole.
“It’s the first time we will be able to see a black hole having lunch,” Ozel said.
Because I am a terrible person, I don't generally find myself all that interested in stories about the environment. Yes, I try to do the right sort of things — reusing, recycling, I've been known to carpool and use public transportation, we bought a high MPG car, etc. — but I tune out a bit when the news switches over to news of that sort. I hope the world doesn't collapse upon itself during my lifetime or that of my children, but I also have a remarkably short attention span when it comes to that stuff. Again, I realize this is a fault of mine.
So, I wasn't terribly interested in seeing Chasing Ice, a documentary about the melting of the ice caps opening at the Loft this weekend, but geez, watching this footage of a chunk of iceberg nearly the size of Manhattan break off is pretty compelling film-making, right?
Smooth '70s yacht-rock for dancing in the cantina, live yacht rock on the outdoor stage, photo ops… More