Linda Griffith, a biological engineer at MIT who used a new technique to begin to unravel the molecular cause of endometriosis. Photo credit: Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/FILE 2009
By Carolyn Y. Johnson / Globe Staff
For four years, MIT bioengineer Linda Griffith has been slowly unraveling the biology of endometriosis, a complicated and poorly understood disease that she has silently struggled with her entire life. The condition—in which tissue normally found in the uterus grows elsewhere in the body—is remarkably common. It causes severe pain and infertility and affects up to 10 percent of women, yet relatively little is known about what causes it, how to prevent it, or even how to effectively treat it.
In a study published Wednesday, Griffith and colleagues present new work that is a first step toward providing a more informed way of classifying endometriosis based on the underlying biological cause of the disease. Such tools are sorely needed, Griffith said. The professional guidelines for classifying the disease once lesions are surgically removed vary—and those classifications of tissue samples are not always related to the amount of pain or infertility a woman suffers.
Read the rest at The Boston Globe
On one thing most physicists agree. If the amount of dark energy in our universe were only a little bit different than what it actually is, then life could never have emerged. A little larger, and the universe would have accelerated so rapidly that matter in the young universe could never have pulled itself together to form stars and hence complex atoms made in stars. And, going into negative values of dark energy, a little smaller and the universe would have decelerated so rapidly that it would have recollapsed before there was time to form even the simplest atoms… .
We are an accident. From the cosmic lottery hat containing zillions of universes, we happened to draw a universe that allowed life. But then again, if we had not drawn such a ticket, we would not be here to ponder the odds."
There is a hidden piece of information embedded in the article in ‘Live Science’, “New Record for Human Brain: Fastest Time to See and Image,” by Tanya Lewis on January 17, 2014 that is even more incredible than the incredible information that this article is about -That it takes only 13 milliseconds for a person to identify an image flashed for 13-80 milliseconds, a 100 milliseconds faster than previously believed. “These studies demonstrate that the information only needs to flow in one direction, from the retina to the visual brain areas, in order to identify concepts, without needing feedback from other brain areas.”
Solid science sometimes devolves into pseudoscience, but the imprimatur of being science nevertheless may remain. No better example of this is the popular “left brain/right brain” narrative about the specializations of the cerebral hemispheres. According to this narrative, the left hemisphere is logical, analytic, and linguistic whereas the right is intuitive, creative, and perceptual. Moreover, each of us purportedly relies primarily on one half-brain, making us “left-brain thinkers” or “right-brain thinkers.”
This characterization is misguided, and it’s time to put it to rest.
Two major problems can be identified at the onset:
First, the idea that each of us relies primarily on one or the other hemisphere is not empirically justifiable. The evidence indicates that each of us uses all of our brain, not primarily one side or the other. The brain is a single, interactive system, with the parts working in concert to accomplish a given task.
Second, the functions of the two hemispheres have been mischaracterized. Without question, the two hemispheres engage in some different kinds of information processing. For example, the left preferentially processes details of objects we see whereas the right preferentially processes the overall shape of objects we see; the left preferentially processes syntax (the literal meaning), the right pragmatics (the indirect or implied meaning) and so forth. Our two hemispheres are not like our two lungs: One is not a “spare” for the other, redundant in function. But none of these well-documented hemispheric differences come close to what’s described in the popular narrative.
It is time to move past the popular but incorrect left brain/right brain narrative."
Psychologist Stephen M. Kosslyn, director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, is among the 176 prominent scientists who answered this year’s Edge Question: ”What scientific idea is ready for retirement?”
Also see this animated case against the left/right brain divide, then look back on previous compendiums of famous scientists’ answers to the annual Edge Questions, including “What scientific concept will improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” (2012) and “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” (2013).
Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Aprille Ericsson
Aprille Ericsson (1963–) is an aerospace engineer and the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Ericsson spent her childhood in Brooklyn, New York, where she cultivated an interest in science and mathematics. She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she received a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, and during her undergrad, she worked on a variety of projects geared towards manned space flight, which motivated her to attend Howard University to gain her Masters and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering (Aerospace).
She went on to receive a PhD in Engineering at the Goddard Space Flight Center, becoming the first African American female to do so, and has applied to NASA’s astronaut program.
Eriscsson is currently working as an aerospace engineer at GSFC, where she designs and tests spacecraft, so if you think of any major space missions over the last twenty years, there’s a good chance Ericsson was involved in their success.
She’s also a motivational speaker and a mentor to mainly girls and minorities, and has commented: “I feel obligated to continue to help spur the interest of minorities and females in the math, science and engineering disciplines. Without diversity in all fields the United States will not remain technically competitive.”
Among other honours, Ericsson has also won four NASA awards for excellence and the 1997 ‘Women in Science and Engineering’ award for the best female engineer in the federal government.
Quantum physics is a branch of science that deals with discrete, indivisible units of energy called quanta as described by the Quantum Theory. There are five main ideas represented in Quantum Theory:
While at a glance this may seem like just another strange theory, it contains many clues as to the fundamental nature of the universe and is more important then even relativity in the grand scheme of things (if any one thing at that level could be said to be more important then anything else). Furthermore, it describes the nature of the universe as being much different then the world we see. As Niels Bohr said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.
So sometimes a particle acts like a particle and other times it acts like a wave. So which is it? According to Niels Bohr, who worked in Copenhagen when he presented what is now known as the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, the particle is what you measure it to be. When it looks like a particle, it is a particle. When it looks like a wave, it is a wave. Furthermore, it is meaningless to ascribe any properties or even existence to anything that has not been measured. Bohr is basically saying that nothing is real unless it is observed.
What are you made of? You may never have thought about it before, but every atom in your body was once part of a star, even several stars in succession. And almost all the elements that make up your body — carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and so on — would not exist at all without the stars.
I09: The human body literally glimmers. The intensity of the light emitted by the body is 1000 times lower than the sensitivity of our naked eyes. Ultraweak photon emission is known as the energy released as light through the changes in energy metabolism. We successfully imaged the diurnal change of this ultraweak photon emission with an improved highly sensitive imaging system using cryogenic charge-coupled device (CCD) camera. We found that the human body directly and rhythmically emits light …
Ammonites are an extinct group of marine cephalopods that are more closely related to modern octopus and squid than the nautiloids that they closely resemble. Appearing as early as the Devonian period approximately 410 million years ago, ammonites survived in a variety of sizes and shapes…
What’s the password?
Superb Fairy-Wrens (Malurus cyaneus) from southeastern Australia are often exploited by the Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites basalis), who lay their eggs in a fairy-wren’s nest to pass on parenting duties to unwitting foster parents. In most species, this intrusion is either sorted out before the cuckoo eggs hatch, with the parents recognising and ejecting the eggs, or parents are just resigned to feeding the chick anyway. But in 2003, Naomi Langmore found that fairy-wrens will abandon 40% of nests with a Horsfield bronze-cuckoo chick in it, which means that somehow, they can recognise the intruders. By keeping nests under constant audio surveillance, Diane Colombelli-Negrel from Flinders University found out how they do it: a very neat evolutionary trick. Starting about nine days into the eggs’ 14-day incubation, the mother wren sings a two-second tune to them every four minutes. This tune contains a unique note that’s literally a password—when the eggs hatch a week later, the chicks do what’s natural: beg for food. Their call contains this special note, and the parents know it’s their chick. Colombelli-Negrel found that if she swapped eggs early in the incubation period, the hatched chicks’ calls matched their foster parents’ calls, not their biological parents, suggesting that this isn’t an innate ability—it’s something they learn. Cuckoo eggs are usually dropped into a fairy-wren nest late in the incubation period, so when they hatch, cuckoo chicks haven’t learnt the password. The parents realise something is wrong, and as a Langmore found, 40% of the time they abandon the nest and go make a fresh start at a family elsewhere. It isn’t a clear win for the wrens—maybe they’re getting worse at recognising the signature note, or maybe cuckoos are getting better at mimicking. Either way, it’s a pretty interesting adaptation in the long-running battle of the birds.
"Time is an emergent phenomenon that comes about because of the nature of entanglement. And it exists only for observers inside the universe. Any god-like observer outside sees a static, unchanging universe, just as the Wheeler-DeWitt equations predict."
(Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1310.4691 :Time From Quantum Entanglement: An Experimental Illustration. Yes, that’s from Cornell U.)
We tend to see gesticulation as a behavioral quirk, but research shows these hand movements actually assist our mental processes.
A study published last year found that people were better able to explain math problems and simultaneously remember a string of letters if they were allowed to gesture meaningfully as they spoke [because] gesturing probably makes the math part of the task less mentally taxing by externalizing and visualizing relevant information, thereby freeing up cognitive resources for the memory challenge.
As a bonus, gesturing while you speak won’t only aid your thought processes, it likely will also help you make a good impression. Research has shown that presenters are judged as more effective and competent when they make hand gestures compared with when they keep their hands still. Like tone, volume, and pacing of your speech, gestures are another tool to punctuate what you’re saying. Gestures can also help the audience understand and remember what you said. The key thing here is to ensure your gestures are meaningfully related to what you’re saying, and not just random hand flapping."
The physics of beauty requires math. The sunflower has spirals of 21, 34, 55, 89, and - in very large sunflowers - 144 seeds. Each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. This pattern seems to be everywhere: in pine needles and mollusk shells, in parrot beaks and spiral galaxies. After the fourteenth number, every number divided by the next highest number results in a sum that is the length-to-width ratio of what we call the golden mean, the basis for the Egyptian pyramids and the Greek Parthenon, for much of our art and even our music. In our own spiral-shaped inner ear’s cochlea, musical notes vibrate at a similar ratio.
The patterns of beauty repeat themselves, over and over. Yet the physics of beauty is enhanced by a self, a unique, self-organizing system. Scientists now know that a single flower is more responsive, more individual, than they had ever dreamed. Plants react to the world. Plants have ways of seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, and hearing.
Rooted in soil, a flower is always on the move. Sunflowers are famous for turning toward the sun, east in the morning, west in the afternoon. Light-sensitive cells in the stem “see” sunlight, and the stem’s growth orients the flower. Certain cells in a plant see the red end of the spectrum. Other cells see blue and green. Plants even see wavelengths we cannot see, such as ultraviolet.
Most plants respond to touch. The Venus’s-flytrap snaps shut. Stroking the tendril of a climbing pea will cause it to coil. Brushed by the wind, a seedling will thicken and shorten its growth. Touching a plant in various ways, at various times, can cause it to close its leaf pores, delay flower reproduction, increase metabolism, or produce more chlorophyll.
Plants are touchy-feely. They taste the world around them. Sunflowers use their roots to “taste” the surrounding soil as they search for nutrients. The roots of a sunflower can reach down eight feet, nibbling, evaluating, growing toward the best sources of food. The leaves of some plants can taste a caterpillar’s saliva. They “sniff” the compounds sent out by nearby damaged plants. Research suggests that some seeds taste or smell smoke, which triggers germination.
The right sound wave may also trigger germination. Sunflowers, like pea plants, seem to increase their growth when they hear sounds similar to but louder than the human speaking voice.
In other ways, flowers and pollinators find each other through sound. A tropical vine, pollinated by bats, uses a concave petal to reflect the bat’s sonar signal. The bat calls to the flower. The flower responds.
Sharman Apt Russell | Anatomy of A Rose: Exploring the Secret Life of Flowers [x]