What makes life alive?

24 02 2010

Pebble plants (Lithops salicola) among rocks. What distinguishes one from the other?

What is it, exactly, that makes a thing alive? Why do we call a rabbit alive, but not a rock? Here’s a little dialog to help clarify the problem. This is hardly comprehensive and I reserve the right to make sweeping edits in the future! But here it is, just below the fold:

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David Attenborough and More on Youtube!!

17 01 2010

The man himself! Sir David Attenborough.

The unparalleled naturalist David Attenborough has participated in a huge number of fantastic nature documentaries over the year, and it turns out a fair number of these are available on youtube! Having stumbled on these yesterday and spent several hours enjoying them, I felt compelled to share them with you, the public hungry for knowledge!

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Emergent Phenomena and You

2 01 2010

The matter of the Chimpanzee and the matter of the stone are not so different...

Today I want to discuss something more philosophical than usual. This post contains personal thoughts that are not scientific and upon which there is not a consensus opinion. But I find the topic very, very interesting and I felt like sharing. So here we go.

The topic is Emergent Phenomena.

Let us start with a neuron.

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Water on the Moon Confirmed

13 11 2009
Full_Moon_Luc_Viatour

You can spot the water, can't you?

And another layer of the cosmic onion is peeled back! Scientists from NASA’s LCROSS project have confirmed their previously hesitant assertion that water exists on our moon in the permanent shade of its impact craters. I’m going to defer to the public relations folks at NASA on this one and just send you to their press release, which contains nice charts and pictures to help bring the issue into focus.

So go ahead, and click this link!

I’m hardly qualified to speak on the full implications of the discovery of water on the moon, but I suppose I could outline at least one provocative point. The existence of water on the moon makes human settlement there far more simple. With accessible frozen water (and ample sunlight for hydrolysis), we have a source of oxygen (for breathing) and hydrogen (for fuel). We also of course have the water itself that can be melted and used for drinking or for any of the other myriad purposes water can fulfill. The moon is of course still relatively inhospitable, and I would not expect resorts to start springing up there any time soon, but the presence of frozen water does make the prospect of limited colonization or the establishment of permanent bases a bit more likely.

Until next time, Earthlings!

-Neil
P.S. The lovely photo of the moon was taken by Luc Viatour.





Awesome Cell Biology Animations!

1 09 2009
A few red blood cells imaged under a microscope. Red blood cells are an example of non-nucleated cells, meaning cells which lack a nucleus. Because of this feature, red blood cells cannot reproduce themselves. Luckily your body produces about two million per second, so this isn't a problem.

A few red blood cells imaged under a microscope. Red blood cells are an example of non-nucleated cells, meaning cells which lack a nucleus. Because of this feature, red blood cells cannot reproduce themselves. Luckily your body produces about two million per second, so this isn't a problem.

Cell biology is an extremely fascinating field! The amount of detail and the exquisite organization of the cell is mind-blowing. When I read about cell biology I sometimes throw my hands in the air and start shouting the word “What!” and flail my arms around and grab my head. Seriously. It’s unbelievable stuff. And I have some cool resources for you to help you get as excited about cell biology as I am.

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Chemical Structure of Molecule Imaged for First Time

1 09 2009
This is a diagram of the pentacene molecule which researchers in Zurich imaged. Each corner of each hexagon represents a carbon atom, and the lines represent bonds. The double lines represent double bonds. Not present on this diagram are the hydrogen atoms bond to the periphery.

This is a diagram of the pentacene molecule which researchers in Zurich imaged. Each corner of each hexagon represents a carbon atom, and the lines represent bonds. The double lines represent double bonds. Not present on this diagram are the hydrogen atoms bond to the periphery.

IBM researchers in Zurich, Switzerland have for the first time imaged a molecule, bonds and all. We live in a time when the gates of wonder are being wrenched open by human ingenuity! Check out the BBC News article here for the stunning image. Thanks go out to the inimitable Sam Tung for bringing this to my attention!





KABOOM! Lightning is Spectacular!

28 08 2009
Here's a time lapse photo of a lightning storm over boston, taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Here's a time lapse photo of a lightning storm over boston, taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Hello there! I’m sorry for the long delay in new content. I’m in the beginning stages of constructing a Van de Graaff generator. Don’t worry – there will be video, and it will be awesome.

Anyway, I wanted to start a new series of posts. The subject of this series is “amazing stuff right here on Earth.” I think when we have something we are commonly exposed to, we often forget the really remarkable characteristics that it may have. This is the case with water, a ubiquitous but really wonderful chemical, and this is why I wrote that series on water. And so I want to do the same thing with the planet Earth! People get all worked up about the volcanic activity of Io or the great storms of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn. But our own Earth is home to a huge variety of astounding and even mysterious phenomena! To prove this point, I’m going to start off this series with everyone’s favorite electrostatic discharge, lightning! Everyone has experienced lightning, but how many of us really know what it is, and how it forms? Judging by this site’s traffic, that number might just increase by 1-2 dozen! Let’s get to it!

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