Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Legend Explored: Portugal Pavement Art

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Nature, Biodiversity, Culture, Society, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

It is not known whether "The Surprising Story of a 16th Century Rhino Called Ganda" told in a BBC's Reel (7 m 54 s) under the heading of Myths and Legends is fact or fiction.

Records of that legend are found "beneath the feet of everyone who visits the city of Lisbon, Portugal" where "lie hidden gems - floor mosaics made with limestone." According to legend, "in the 1500s, a rhino sent from India, and the first ever seen in Europe," led to the "Portugal pavement art tradition." Its truth or fiction seems much less important today for "this art form may be close to disappearing."

You may be interested in taking another look at Albrecht Durer's 1515 woodcut, "The Rhinocerous," based only on a description and sketch. He had never seen one. Ganda (in Gujarati it is genda) is included in a Wiki discussion of Durer's The Rhinocerous.

Monday, January 30, 2023

A Morning of Crystals in Caversham Reading, UK

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Sciences, Earth Systems, Art & Environment, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

Spacetinkerer.com in Story #6 presents a stunning gallery from a day out and about, camera in hand, in a hoar frost weather event in Caversham, Reading.

After a splendid introduction, the camera let's the natural world shows her stuff.

"The day is December 11, 2022. After a night in thick fog and below-zero temperatures, my neighbourhood in Caversham, Reading was transformed into a World of tiny crystals! I knew I had to do something about it (!) so I grabbed my faithful Nikon D600 camera, put on a reversed lens for macro photography, and stormed towards View Island to capture the tiny crystals on frozen spider webs.

"My favourite photo is the first one. Small, delicate and ephemeral. A miniature of Life itself. Enough said!"

I'm glad the photographer told us his favorite, although instead of the comparison to pearls, I'd have chosen diamonds. The image is my favorite as well but there are close competitors. And all of them reveal that day in different ways.


Sunday, January 29, 2023

Lousiana Coastal Restoration

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science and Society, Wildlife, Nature, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Sustainability, Watersheds

Ed Hessler

The short story below introduces a BBC video (1 m 57 s) on coastal restoration at the other end of the Mississippi River. The picture at the top of this story is perfect --an oyster fisher's hands with a well used knife for separating the shells. Those worn hands indicate the hard work involved in gathering oysters.

"The Louisiana coastal wetlands are being washed away, leaving the region more vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. Now, restaurants in New Orleans are recycling their oyster shells so they can be used to build sea walls."

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Today's Time

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society,Nature of Science, History of Science, Global Change, Climate Change, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

You'd expect the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to reset its famous clock this year. It has been set at 100 seconds to midnight for both 2021 and 2022.  The new time is 90 seconds before "doom's doorstep."

Reporting by NPR's Bill Chappell is headed by a dramatic picture of the quarter clock face reading "It Is 90 Seconds To Midnight."

Chappel includes some history of the clock, its use by scientists "to alert humanity to threats from within -- the perils we face from our own technologies, particularly through nuclear war, global climate change and biotechnology," the focus of the Tuesday announcement (1/25), its founding by Herr Einstein and a full video of the announcement (51 m 38 s) from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

We have entered another time zone.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment, Health, Medicine 

Ed Hessler

[the guideman would want to turn back] is by Kristin Svava Tomasdottir. The poem is written in both English and Icelandic. The link includes a biography of Tomasdottir.

Poetry Daily, 1/22/2023 and Waxwing, Issue XXVIII, Fall 2022.

In my daily copy of Poetry Daily, translator K. B. Thors wrote about the poem.

"The poems in "Herostories" are made entirely of found text from "Íslenskar ljósmæður I-III" ("Icelandic Midwives I-III"), volumes of short biographical articles about midwives who worked around the island from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Published in the 1960s, some Icelandic Midwives entries are memoir by the midwives themselves, some were written by contemporaries or descendants, and some were written by priests gathering the material. 

And from the same issue of Waxwing is information about the accomplished translator.

K.B. Thors is the author of Vulgar Mechanics (Coach House, 2019). Stormwarning, her Icelandic-English translation of Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir’s Stormviðvörun, won the American Scandinavian Foundation’s Leif & Inger Sjöberg Prize and was nominated for the 2019 PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation. Her translation of Tómasdóttir’s Hetjusögur, Herostories, is forthcoming from Deep Vellum.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Self Healing Concrete Engineering Development By Romans

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Archaeology

"Concrete, heal thyself" (What a wonderfully playful short lede!) fronting the full title of an essay by Ars Technica science writer Jennifer Ouellette. It is titled "Ancient Roman concrete could self-heal thanks to 'hot mixing' with quicklime."

The essay explains the function of "lime clasts, dismissed as defects," have "a useful purpose."
Ouellette discusses the durability of the Pantheon Dome, the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, recipes for Portland cement and Roman concrete, recommendations for construction in the  engineering treatise De architecture, written in 30 CE an the studies of the MIT environmental engineer Adam Masic, which led him to new research.

Ouelette concludes that "Masic et al. found evidence of calcite-filled cracks in other samples of Roman concrete, supporting their hypothesis (that the Roman concrete was heated to high temperatures in its manufacture). They also created concrete samples in the lab with a hot mixing process, using ancient and modern recipes, then deliberately cracked the samples and ran water through them. They found that the cracks in the samples made with hot-mixed quicklime healed completely within two weeks, while the cracks never healed in the samples without quicklime."

The link is here and the article contains links to important terms, including some used above. I add two links 1) to Adam Masic's MIT group. (Admir is his first name but he must also be called Adam routinely.) and 2) to this Ars Tecnica profile of Jennifer Ouellette.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Pinker on Denial of Human Nature

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Behavior, Brain, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

In this Life of the Mind presentation (12 m 01 s), cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker discusses "his most controversial book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2003) the fabric of which is human nature's moral, political and emotional colourings.
"He also touches on the numerous aspects of human nature including fear, morality, and finding meaning in life."

For a sense of some of the controversy, read this response by Pinker to reviewer evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr about in the New York Review of Books. The link to the book at the top also provides a brief peek inside.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Amber Preservation Of A Very Large Flower

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Paleontology, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

Amber comes in a variety of colors. My favorite is golden yellow which makes it appear warm and sometimes glowing. When it was a sticky resin it quite often entraps bits and pieces of plants, ants, spiders which sometimes fossilizes, preserving them. Given the right conditions these can last for millions of years.

Museum collections sometimes also "entrap" these fossils for long periods of time  before they are examined closely or can be examined more closely as tools to examine them are developed. When this happens there is often a stir in the research community when a surprisingly well-preserved embedded specimen is found.

Science reporter Jack Tarnisiea has a story in Scientific American about a recent rediscovery. The inclusion had been described more than 150 years ago and was of "a nearly 40-million-year-old fossilized flower...the largest flower ever. The specimen was found near the Baltic Sea, an amber "hotspot." In a study published in Scientific Reports."

What makes this specimen so valuable to science, other than the size (28 mm across; nearly 3" inches. The reported widths are different in the scientific paper and the SA essay.) Furthermore, details of flower structure, including pollen that was preserved are of remarkable quality, sufficient to allow researchers to establish evolutionary relationships. 
In addition, as you will note in the scientific paper is that the researchers were fortunate in the timing of the pollen's preservation. This plant was given a scientific name in 1872, Stewartia kowalewskii in 1872 and then stored. It was recently re-discovered and the quality of the pollen allowed a research team using new scientific tools to study the specimen very closely.

The recent study published in Scientific Reports "proposed," writes Tarnisiea, that "it be renamed Symplocos kowalewskii, making it the first record of an ancient Symplocos plant preserved in Baltic amber." The scientific paper is largely a technical description and you can read it for details. The paper includes many images of the "gold encased flower and flower parts."

The scientific paper briefly mentions that amber has properties that inhibit the degradation process (it turns out is a biocide), making amber an "exceptional preservative."

The scientific paper includes a discussion of the ecology of the area and the authors conclude that S. kowalewskii was likely a constituent of mixed-angiosperm-conifer forests in the Baltic amber source area and supports its affinities to evergreen broadleaved and mixed mesophytic forests of present-day East and Southeast Asia."

Eva-Maria Sadowski, a paleobotanist at Berlin’s Museum of Natural History–Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science was alerted to this specimen by a retired colleague and Tarnisiea tells us she "immediately knew it was something special, and she jumped at the opportunity to reexamine one of these historical specimens with cutting-edge technology."

For your own benefit, read the Scientific American report for the general and popular story, scan the scientific paper for the photographs but there are other important sections to look at more closely, e.g., the abstract with the paper giving you an idea of the process leading to revision. Revision requires these details which provide the evidence on which the decision was based. 
I like Jill LaPore (The New Yorker, January 16, 2023) description of the process: "painstakingly researched and kept kissing close to the evidence."

Monday, January 23, 2023

Not Meeting Expectations

Environmental & Science Education, STEM

Ed Hessler 

A video by Steve Mould explains why "a ball on a spinning turntable won't fly off as you might expect." Instead, it develops it's own little orbit "that is exactly 2/7th the angular speed of the table."

It is known as "the turntable paradox (9 m 10 s), a paradox until it, physics and scientists meet.

It will not be of surprise to learn once again, that nature rules and can be explained.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Extraordinary Images of Gravitational Lensing: Early Universe

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

Webb is providing many new of opportunities never possible to make the difficult learning curve on the nature of the early universe, less formidable, accessible and understandable.

In this JWST image is an example of one, gravitational lensing, that shows what Hubble revealed as a single source of light (in an amorphous blob) to be a small group of galaxies. It also found different colors than Hubble, "indicating differences potentially in the age of dust content of these galaxies."

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), January 18, 2023 features the JWST image of JD objects (last two letters of its astronomical reference). There are three of them, each numbered and with a small box enclosing the objects. Be sure to click on the boxes as you read the explanation.

You may find this short explanation of gravitational lensing from NASA/ESA Hubble which refers to the predictive power of Herr Einstein's theory of general relativity.

I'm reminded almost every time I read about this kind of research of the testimony of FermiLab Director R. R. Wilson's Congressional testimony, April 1969 on the value of funding for the construction of Fermilab's first accelerator. To read the entire entire testimony and the excerpt preceding the full testimony about the value of this investment see here. At least read the excerpt at the beginning although the complete testimony is worth the time.