Friday, June 30, 2023

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Update: COVID-19 Origins

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science & Society 

Ed Hessler

I published a post, June 26, concerning which way the finger was pointing with respect to the origin of COVID-19: lab or the wet market in Wuhan?. It was based on reporting by three investigative journalists who concluded that the best evidence for the origin of the pandemic virus is the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). 

The authors of the report said that in June the U. S. Intelligence Community would release a report on its conclusion, hinting, I thought, that it would come down on the side of the journalists. I should have waited a few days. The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was released after being declassified on June 23 2023. 

There are variations in the analytic views on the origin(s) of the COVID-19 pandemic among the various members of the Intelligence Community (IC). The IC report notes that these "largely stem from differences in how agencies weigh intelligence reporting and scientific publications and intelligence and scientific gaps" (my underline). Below are the findings.

• The National Intelligence Council and four other IC agencies assess that the initial human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was caused by natural exposure to an infected animal that carried SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor, a virus that probably would be more than 99 percent similar to SARSCoV-2. 

• The Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation assess that a laboratory-associated incident was the most likely cause of the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2, although for different reasons. 

• The Central Intelligence Agency and another agency remain unable to determine the precise origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, as both hypotheses rely on significant assumptions or face challenges with conflicting reporting. 

• Almost all IC agencies assess that SARS-CoV-2 was not genetically engineered. Most agencies assess that SARS-CoV-2 was not laboratory-adapted; some are unable to make a determination. All IC agencies assess that SARS-CoV-2 was not developed as a biological weapon. 

There is a discussion of research and related activities performed at the WIV broken down into coronavirus research, genetic engineering capabilities, biosafety concerns at the WIV; WIV researchers who fell ill in Fall 2019; and appendix with definitions (very useful) - all in 9 generously spaced pages.

I provide a link to the Office of he Director of National Intelligence.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Teaching Robots How to Touch

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

"Touch is the first sense that humans develop before birth," writes James Mitchell Crow in his introduction to Where I Work, Nature, June 19, 2023. "It is an intimate, emotional way to communicate and can convey a lot of information."

Yuhan Wu, a 3rd year PhD student in mechanical engineering at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York studies "touch in the context of human-robot interaction. She is a member of the Human-Robot Collaboration and Companionship Lab. Communication  through touch is important for social and companion robots. Wu notes that the team developed a soft robot 'skin' that enables touch-based interaction. Our robots can communicate through alterations to the shape, size and motion of textures on their skin."
These short videos -- Goosebumps - Texture-Changing Robot Skin and ShadowSense - Detecting - Human Touch in a Social Robot --are about two of her collaborations.
Crow describes Wu's work and other research by her group in a short read about research in science and engineering. The last two videos are examples of the cultural change in today's scientific and engineering research environment: increasing collaboration.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Science on Tour

Environmental & Science Education, STEM

Ed Hessler

"It all started with Peter Gabriel," writes Madeleine O'Keefe in Symmetry (6.13.2023) where she describes the beginnings of "a group called the Big Bang Collective (which) sets up physics discovery stations at rather unexpected venues: music festivals."  

The first was a "Physics Pavilion" created for Peter Gabriel's 2016 World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD), an annual event, at Charlton Park, Wiltshire, UK.

O'Keefe describes how this idea has grown in a moderately long but essential history. Her story may be read here.

If you want to get to the action straightaway these are some links. 

A short YouTube video (1 m 26 s) of a WOMAD's Science Pavillion.

This takes you to the Big Bang Stage at ICHEP 2020 where you can watch oscilloscope music, a cartoon/live film of a typical day of a particle physicist, a participatory show, listen to a rain forest remotely, the physics of beer, space, hear scientists talking about how research on fundamental questions about the universe directly benefits humankind, read the speaker's list which includes short biographies and learn about ICHEP.

And finally a description of the the Big Bang Collective with some of the key events in which it has participated.

Monday, June 26, 2023

COVID-19 Origin: The Finger Points to the Lab Leak Hypothesis

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

New data based on US government sources on the origin of COVID-19 is the subject of a story on Public Substack by by Michael Shellenberger, Matt Taibbi and Alex Gutentag. 
To cut to the chase their evidence points to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) from which it accidentally escaped.

The report notes that "After years of official pronouncements to the contrary, significant new evidence has emerged that strengthens the case that the SARS-CoV-2 virus accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

"According to multiple U.S. government officials interviewed as part of a lengthy investigation by Public and Racket, the first people infected by the virus, “patients zero,” included Ben Hu, a researcher who led the WIV’s '  '"gain-of-function'” research on SARS-like coronaviruses, which increases the infectiousness of viruses.

" Now, answers look increasingly within reach."

In addition to Public, Racket was involved in "the lengthy investigation. Public and Racket are the first publications to reveal the names of the three sick WIV workers and place them directly in the lab that collected and experimented with SARS-like viruses poised for human emergence.

"Next week, the Directorate of National Intelligence is expected to release previously classified material, which may include the names of the three WIV scientists who were the likely among the first to be sickened by SARS-CoV-2."

The complicated story is distilled and covers the COVID19 landscape, .e.g, the claim by most governments almost from the beginning that "we may never know the origin", research at WIV that is implicating, a video from Chinese state-run television showing WIV researchers both in the lab and in the field wearing very little protective clothing, DARPA's decision to not fund such research with research at WIV going forward, a link to the U. S. State Department's fact sheet that points to the laboratory leak hypothesis as well as a supporting comment from FBI Director Christopher Wray, other media reporting and a link to a now famous pre-print paper (linked) noting the possibility of a lab leak. The author, Alina Chan was strongly "criticized as a conspiracy theorist."

And, of course, this adds more fuel to the desire to dig deeper and to know "the reason for the cover-up" by WIV and the Chinese government. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded gain-of-function research on closely related viruses although some scientists expressed concerns about the possibilities of viral escape. The reporting concludes with "what-ifs," i.e., what if some things had been done differently in the beginning.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Color the Universe *

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Cosmology, Art & Environment, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) provides a chance to color a famous astronomical illustration of the cosmos.

I loved that the artist had an idea that there is more to be learned, replaced by newer knowledge. Fortunately, the illustration can be colored digitally although colored pencils could be used. It is a richly detailed image, made richer by the accompanying explanation. 

The image was never named which gives you a chance to name it.

* Title from the APOD entry.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Phalarope Feeding Behavior

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Biological Evolution. Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

More than one field season for scientists in many disciplines was suspended because of the coronavirus. However, for some researchers, this provided an opportunity to carefully analyze stored research video from the field.

As Margaret Rubega notes (not involved in the research or its publication),many birders have seen phalaropes "spinning like demented wind-toys. Why do they do this?"

Writing for Science's news section, Erica Tennenhouse begins with a short summary. "Rare shorebirds called phalaropes practice an unusual water dance to help them consume their prey: They spin in tight, quick circles on the water by kicking one foot harder than the other, creating upward jets that pump tiny, out-of-reach insects and crustaceans toward the surface. The birds then dip their bills into the upwelling and feed at high speed. Now, a research team finds that these dizzying birds choose neighbors that spin in the same direction. The cliquishness of right-footed and left-footed birds helps keep the peace within a flock as phalaropes scarf down food, the team suggests." (italics added).

Tennenhouse describes the research leading to this conclusion. She closes with a rule of thumb phalaropes follow according to co-authors Jorge Gutierrez and Andrea Sorian-Redondo: "'Choose neighbors who spin in the same direction as me.' That rule could be adaptive, they say, as it helps the birds eat without interruption. And in fact, feeding phalaropes can peck up to 180 times per minute, faster than any other bird." (italics added)

The very short video (07 s) is found at the top of the link to Tennenhouse's reporting.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Thursday, June 22, 2023

World Health Organization: Winners of the 2023 Health for All Film Festival

Environmental and Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science & Society, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

"Since 2020, the Health for All Film Festival, World Health Organization (WHO) has gathered more than 4300 submissions from 110 countries. In April 2023...almost 300 titles to improve the health status of people globally. A shortlist" was selected from "WHO Staff from all over the world in the preselection. Professionals from the film industry and humanitarianism activism...and WHO senior experts made the final selections." 

The films in each of the seven categories are listed here where they are very briefly described with the film lengths. The film lengths range is from 3 to 8 minutes. I am unable to find the final selections on the WHO website and you may be more successful than me. There is a lot on that site, including the full award ceremony.

However, you can see the final selections * by clicking on the image for each in the story linked below. One link to a film is embedded in the text below the image labeled "When Climate Change Turns Violent." The reason is found in the title to the Goats & Soda report by Max Barnhart. As usual text and visuals provide a complete story about the films.
* The films that received special mention are not included in Barnhart's reporting but are probably on the WHO site.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Free Will

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

Ed Hessler

Over at her blog, BackRe(Action), theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder presents a session on the topic of free will (19 m 59 s).

"Do humans have free will or to the the laws of physics imply that such a concept is not much more than a fairy tale? Do we make decisions? Did the big bang start a chain reaction of cause and effects leading to the creation of this video? That's what we'll talk about today."

"I don't believe in free will. This is why." 

You will notice that you can also listen on YouTube, where if you are a subscriber to Patreon, you can read the transcript, review the references and participate in the discussion by reading comments as well as posting your own.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Biodiversity, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Over at WEIT Athayde Tonhasca Júnior presents another of his superb expositions - text and photographs - on biology. This one is on brambles or blackberries. And it was good to see a story by Tonhasca Junior on plants, also a significant part of the wild world.

He closes by saying "So here we are. Blackberry lovers notwithstanding, brambles are generally despised components of our flora, even though they play an important part in supporting pollinators and other animals. These brambles’ customers in turn may depend on secretive moths for the sexual reproduction of their hosts. As is often the case in nature, the plot is considerably thicker than it looks."

When I was growing up a foray into bramble patches for the deliciousness of blackberries warmed by the sun made it worthwhile. Yep, it was nature red in tooth and claw...and thorns.

Thanks to Jerry A. Coyne who regularly treats readers and viewers to "Readers Wildlife Photographs" on his website,  Why Evolution is True (WEIT). I want to pass it along to others who do not know or regularly read WEIT.

Monday, June 19, 2023

The Journey To Find A Very Tall Tree In The Amazon

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature

Ed Hessler

A photojournal essay from Nature (June 7, 2023) takes us on the journey of the team of researchers who visited a forest giant found in the Amazon basin. It is the tallest known tree in South America and was identified from an aerial survey. While it was the tallest tree found, "the data revealed several others reaching" impressive heights and "five other sites with unusually tall trees." It is suspected that still taller trees will be found.

The team was more than likely the first people to have ever seen it. Nature Briefing explains that "no people live within a 100 kilometers ( ~ 62 miles), and even if they had passed by, it would have been impossible for them to see the top through the thick canopy." 

This was the second attempt by the team although the second team was much larger - nineteen compared to first team of seven.

The term "lidar data" is explained here.

The story of this "epic quest" was written by Richard Monastersky and photographed by Pablo Albarenga.  The story is as lovely as the lush photography which also includes video.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Corinthian Canal

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) recently featured an example of how humans have changed the face of the planet. We are earth movers and changers. One can only imagine the ecological changes that followed this one.

EPOD posted almost the same photograph of the Corinth Canal - this one has an important inset - that I prefer (October 15, 2007).

I also want to point out a link below the photograph which has a short history of its construction, owed to the discovery and use of dynamite. The canal cannot accommodate today's ships so is used for tourism and local navigation. It also includes a few more photographs.

I add some additional links which also include photographs I found interesting and hope you will as well. 
Only recently a landslide made the canal unnavigable and work began in January 2022 on removing the debris and repairing the cliff wall. It reopened for navigation June 1, 2023 but the work is not complete. It's completion date is February 2024 . Landslides have occurred before. 
There is a timeline here
A time and weather-worn relief of the Emperor Nero is found on the wall of the Corinth Canal.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Two of Jupter's Moons Crossing the Great Red Spot

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Astronomy, Solar System

Ed Hessler

A video (30s) from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) shows two of Jupiter's largest moons crossing Jupiter's Great Red Spot. 

"The video was composed from images taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft as it passed Jupiter in 2000, on its way to Saturn."

Another jaw-dropping video sequence from APOD.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Friday Poem

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

Ed Hessler


Thursday, June 15, 2023

Prediction in Volcanic Science

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geosciences, Earth & Space Sciences, Earth Systems, Models

--"Can we predict volcanic eruptions?" was the question asked by Oregon Public Broadcasting (9m 58s) of scientists studying the most active volcano in the Pacific NW, the Axial Seamount.

It was featured on Science Friday March 23, 2023. I found it by an accidental click. At the time I thought it would be easy to find again. What an elusive link it turned out to be. Thought I'd lost it. 

The video is introduced in a smashing fashion, beginning with an Oregon Coast Sea Shanty about  such a hoped for and studied prediction--one both scientists and those living near volcanoes would like to be able to do. Prediction is a very high value of scientists and in this case it is wanted by people who live within range of volcanic eruptions.

The shanty is an adaptation of the Wellerman sea shanty about a whaling expedition. First verse: There once was a ship that put to sea / The name of the ship was the Billy O' Tea. The winds blew up, her bow dipped down / Oh blow, my bully boys, blow (huh).

There are many versions, including symphonic, a fantastic 6500 member chorus on ZOOM, an impressive undertaking. These are worth searching for on YouTube. I use Wellerman as the search word. 
The shanty first appeared in New Zealand ca.1860 and the Wellerman is a reference to the Weller Brothers, ship suppliers. Here is one with the lyrics superimposed on the screen. You will notice that what was hoped for was simple: sugar, tea and rum, staples of sea life in another time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Fireflies: The Importance of Field Inventories and Basic Science

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Nature of Science, Conservation, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

"All of my research efforts, writes Christopher Herkscher, Delaware State University, Maryland, have an underlying purpose: to inform wise land-management decisions for federal, state, and non-profit conservation organizations. Our future depends directly on how well we conserve and manage our ecological resources and ameliorating the biodiversity crisis may be humanity’s most dire challenge."

His research subjects amazed me by their diversity. Consider the following list. Thrushes, avian migration systems, effects of sea level rise and alien plants on migratory birds, fireflies (lightning bugs), dragonflies, butterflies/moths, freshwater mussels and conducting field inventories of less visited and known natural areas.

Herkscher research on fireflies was featured in Smithsonian Magazine (June 2023) by Madeline Bodin.  She calls attention to Herksher's commitment to his research, the closing of a data gap, namely information gathering, and "figuring out what species we have in the U.S. and where they occur." The latter represents an important concept in ecological studies: distribution and abundance - where, how many.

Herkscher works in places many of us do not visit frequently and spend much time in (mosquitoes come to mind): wetlands and bogs during the dark hours of a standard day. 

Madeline Bodin includes some of the details in her story: deficiency of data on fireflies (important in making decisions on risk - are they endangered, extinct (locally), in danger of extinction, Herksher's early career, firefly communication which uses light flashes for reproductive behavior and sometimes deception for food), that not all fireflies glow and where most of them are found, comments on naming new species, public interest in fireflies (growing and includes a field guide), and the dependence of some fireflies "on rare habitats."

Herkscher emphasizes the importance of this kind of research (the article omits a discussion of what the publication end of research involves something I think most general readers would find the numerous details boring).

Herkscher said that the field trip which was part of this story was "amazing... this single bog...had three species of fireflies that, before my paper was published, were undescribed," not known to science. Bodin observes that these new data from the night's work "added a few more flowing dots to the map of biodiversity." 

The bottom line for Herkscher is reported by Bodin. "When you add rare insects to rare habitat types, it creates an important conservation target." This provides evidence that can be used for conservation and preservation of these sites. 
I also liked the essay because it has something to say about variation in nature. Firefly species are different from one another in important ways. Nature is what it is because of several different kinds of variation which natural selection acts on to produce species.


Tuesday, June 13, 2023

A Story About a Camera Carrying Bear: Grrrrrrrr

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Science & Society, Law

Ed Hesser

--Amendment IV. Constitution of the United States of America. Bill of Rights, Ratified effective December 15, 1791

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons of things to be seized.

Orin S. Kerr, School of Law, University of California - Berkeley just wrote about a civil suit "recently filed in Federal Court in which the complaint alleged that Connecticut officials violated a couple's Fourth Amendment Rights by releasing camera-carrying bears in the area that came within 200 yards of their home." The full complaint - 9 pages - is linked.

For the record it is about Bear 119.

Kerr notes that the commentariat is having "fun with the case. And to the extent some readers have strong views of putting video cameras on wild bears as a matter of policy. I am glad this case gives them an opportunity to voice those concerns.  

Kerr begins with a link to comments by Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University who thinks that the case has merit based on property rights law. Kerr thinks that the suit does not have legal merit (Amendment IV). Kerr discusses three problems.

-- The bears did not enter a space that the Fourth Amendment protects

-- There's reason to doubt the bears are covered by the Fourth Amendment. 

-- The plaintiffs are seeking a remedy that is not available to them, at least based on the complaint.

Kerr closed his short essay by writing "that discussing current law draws the ire of some readers, who prefer we discuss what the law of camera-carrying wild bears should become, not merely what the rulings of small-minded courts would suggest it now is. But I figured I would at least offer the latter."
Here is the essay from the column, The Volokh Conspiracy, published in Reason Magazine June 7, 2023.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Tracking the UN's Sustainable Development Goals

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

Our World in Data (OWD) has a tracker that presents data across all available indicators in the OWD data base on the status of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. There are 17.

This link opens the SDG Tracker where you will find a definition of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. If you are interested in the status of a goal click the icon for that goal. 

One of the icons, "The Global Goals for Sustainable Development," has information about the tracker.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Lab Made Tomatoes

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Agriculture, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

We've heard of lab-made meat - it is real meat - but I'd never heard of any research on the possibility of growing fruit by itself, unattached to plants. A PhD student, Lucas van der Zee at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, taking a cue from research on lab-meat wrote "a master’s thesis on the subject of growing fruits without the plant" worthy enough to lead to testing the idea as a PhD project.  

Ali Francis writing for Bon Appetit has a great article on what moving from the lab to the supermarket entails. The subheading to her essay notes that "The FDA just approved one company’s product—but the answer, like lab-grown meat itself, is complicated." She covers this history from the beginning to the present.

Zee is the featured researcher in an article by James Michael Crow for Where I Work, Nature. You might have already guessed that the subject of his research is the tomato.

Crow's closing paragraph is a description of Zee's thoughtful research agenda. "Some people get excited about the possibilities of my work, but most are hesitant, which I understand. In the past, people have rushed into using food technologies, such as cage-grown chickens and the extensive use of synthetic fertilizer, without considering the potential downsides. An important part of my PhD programme will be to assess the sustainability of my method."

Saturday, June 10, 2023

A Star's Breakfast or Lunch or Supper

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Models, Astrophysics, Earth & Space Science, Solar System

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) features a short animation (36 s) and explanation of what was seen directly in 2020, a Sun-like star eating one of its own planets.

This is a preview of Planet Earth's likely future an event that will happen in about eight billion years from now plus or minus a few million years. Long before then, the planet will be uninhabitable. Here are some possibilities but the ultimate future is depicted in the animation based on current evidence and theory.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment, Nature

Ed Hessler

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Primate Origins

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

Nature Briefing for  June 2, 2023 calls attention to a Nature News report on results from the largest (to date) primate-genome study. "The genomes of 233 primate species were used to classify 4.3 million common gene variants present in the human genome. By assessing how common those variants were across species, the researchers were able to infer that around 98.7% of the variants they checked probably do not cause disease in humans. Before the international effort, just 10% of primate species’ genomes had been sequenced. Now nearly half of them have been catalogued."

Dyani Lewis, writing for Nature News reports on research published in two journals and describes the effort in three numbers -- all 16 primate families were represented, 800 genomes were analyzed from a total of 233 species. Lewis' comments on the growing expansion of primate genome sequencing, how the research started, the geographic scope of the research group, insights it provides into humans -- disease, evolution of the primate family tree, revelations about genetic variants thought to be unique to our DNA, and a foray into the genetics of social structure in primates.

The Nature News story has a lovely photograph of one of the species studied, the golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana) about which there is more to be found in the story.  
Primate Studies is the cover of the journal Science  (June 2) * in which almost all of the research was published. The cover features a lovely photograph of golden snub-nosed monkeys, two adults and a young monkey. There are 11 citations which include access to the title of the paper, the authors and their affiliations and most of the content of the abstracts. 

The research publications are the result of a massive and coordinated research effort from which much has been learned as you will see about our human origins but the origins of primates of which we are but one representative.

*  Clicking on the link may result in the cover of the current issue, i.e., no monkeys.  If this occurs, link to any of the 10 citations from Nature News published in Science to view it.


Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Schrodinger's Moggie Gains Some Mass

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

Ed Hessler

Schrodinger's cat is a well known cat in the thought life of theoretical physicists. It appears to have a dual existence, i.e., dead and alive and whether it is can only be revealed by observation.

Science News writer Emily Conover (April 26, 2023) reports on an experiment in which "a sliver of a sapphire crystal close to half the mass of an eyelash has been put in a 'cat state'" in which its atoms move in two directions at once ...The sapphire cat is more than 100 trillion times the mass of molecules previously put in cat states."

Yiwen Chu, ETH Zurich, the study co-author is quoted by the author on the importance of this finding. He said "'We've reached a new regime where quantum mechanics apparently does work.'"told the author "

Conover explains the phenomenon. "In a quantum parable dreamt up in the 1930s by physicist Erwin Schrödinger, a cat is trapped in a box and, due to quantum effects, winds up alive and dead at the same time (SN:5/26/16. This paradoxical scenario doesn’t happen in the real world. While quantum particles are capable of existing in two distinct states simultaneously — what’s called a superposition — those effects wash out for cat-sized stuff."

The border is not well understood as explained by Benjamin Sussman, University of Ottawa "who was not involved with the new study. 'It's of really profound interest to see how these quantum systems scale and how they behave.'" Sussman continued with a comment about future research which included scaling up the mass and the "size of the oscillations."  That he said is "'going to be really hard but will be really interesting".

Conover has other important explanations about "cat states," oscillations and their significance and calls our attention to another classic demonstration which had larger spatial separation.  Here is an AP Physics introduction to superposition. Beneath it you will find several other videos that might be of interest.

It is accessible reading and she knows how to write for folks like me: the general public. This material is notoriously difficult.
The research was published in Science (April 20, 2023) where you may read a brief summary, the abstract, and learn about the author affiliations unless you are a member and the abstract. When you link to each of the authors their roles in the research and publication are described.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Deep Ocean

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Oceans, Biodiversity, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems 

Ed Hessler

"The Deep: Exploring Earth's Last Frontier" premiered December 22, 2022.

"For centuries, humans believed the deep sea was lifeless, but new technologies have revealed that this previously hidden realm is home to rich ecosystems, mineral treasures, and an astounding kaleidoscope of life. 

Oceanographer Dr. Vicki Ferrini, marine biologist Dr. Helen Scales, and explorer Victor Vescovo join Brian Greene for a journey to Earth’s final frontier where for the first time we are discovering what lies beneath the oceans."

YouTube has the full video (1h 32m 20s), a presentation during the 2022 World Science Festival.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Mosquitoes: A Short Ecological History

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Science & Society, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

In an Op-Ed in the May 12, Star Tribune, St. Cloud State University ecology professor Michael Bredeson asks "Are Mosquitoes Necessary?"  The title is a giveaway that the answer is yes, if you are persuaded by the Betteridge Law of Headlines. I am.

And Brederson tells us why in his brief and well-described history of mosquitoes. He uncovers all of it, making it interesting and readable. And of course provocative. He includes the life cycle, the difference in food preferences between male and female mosquitoes (natural selection missed nothing), tells us that "of the 51 mosquito species in Minnesota, 24 take blood from humans," and their role in the spread of disease "one of the mosquitoes' most important contributions to the environment." Mosquitoes play an important part in ecosystem regulation, contributing to "the control of the number of top predators. ...Mosquitoes are experts in this category (of limiting their number)."

I had never considered their role in once protecting the Amazon rainforest "from human development." Bredeson calls attention to the impoverishment of many people who live in tropical environments and their susceptibility of mosquito-borne diseases. He cites the World Health Organization estimate that they are "responsible for about 750,000 deaths annually, 600,000 from malaria alone."

He closes with an observation. "Just like every other organism on Earth, mosquitoes are important, but for reasons we may have difficulty reckoning with."  And there is much to reckon with.

Dr. Bredeson's article may be read here.


Sunday, June 4, 2023

JWST Takes a Detailed Image of a large Dusty Debris Disk

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Earth & Space Science, Astrophysics, Cosmology

Ed Hessler

The bright star, Formalhaut, is a piece up the road - 25 light years distant.

It has an impressive dusty debris disk, the details of which have been revealed by that magnificent eye, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The disk according to Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) "provides evidence for a planetary system surrounding the hot, young star."

You may see this remarkable image -- labeled, including two inserted images of the great dust cloud -- and read the accompanying explanation at APOD.

It is another wonder of the cosmos and also a wonder made available by current science, technology and computer technology informing theory, providing evidence to support various hypotheses and leading to scientific knowledge.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Whatever Happened to Bees?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

Bees are the subject of theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder in a post about the bee apocalypse. She wonders whatever happened to it. 

You will recall, she writes that "15 years ago, dying bees were all over the news. Scientists called it the 'colony collapse disorder', headlines were warning of honey bees going extinct. Some suspected a virus, some pesticides, parasites, or a fungus. They spoke of a 'honeybee apocalypse;, a 'beepocalypse'. a 'bee murder mystery' and the 'head scratching case of the vanishing bees', which are all names of movies I wouldn't watch." Hossenfelder also says "the boring truth is that the honey bees are doing fine."

So Hossenfelder digs in with a short review of the past, causes, "cures",  the demand for pollinators in agriculture and what she regards as "the actual problem."

I include a couple of quotes  so that you can get on to the real business of reading/viewing this thoughtful piece of writing.

The first provides a much needed perspective on science. "If all this sounds really complicated, that’s indeed the major message. Forget about quantum gravity: ecological systems are way more complex. There’s so many things going on that we never had a chance to properly study in the first place, so we have no idea what’s happening now."

The second is on how to help, another useful perspective. "So if you want to help the bees, don’t buy a bee hive. The honeybees are not at risk exactly because you can buy them. What’s at risk are natural resources that we exploit but that we haven’t put a price on. Like clean air, rain, or wild bees. If you have a garden, you can help the wild bees by preserving the variety of native flowers. Quite literally, let a thousand flowers bloom."

Here it is on Backreaction which I think will include the text and a link which doesn't to the YouTube video. 

Friday, June 2, 2023

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker: A New Paper

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Nature of Science, Endangered Species

Ed Hessler

Jilian Forstadt of WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR station provides an introduction to a recently published paper on the controversial question: extinct or not? -- the Ivory Billed Woodpecker (Campeplilus principalis). I am glad that they devoted some air time to this paper.

You will recollect that we are still waiting for an "official" determination by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on whether it is dead or still lives. Make no mistake about it, the question is not easily answered today for this species is  elusive and the current populations, if it exists is a small one. The USFWS wants to get this determination right for many reasons, one of which Forstadt comments on: future habitat protection.

Forstadt begins by  linking readers to a recently published paper "in the peer-reviewed journal Ecology and Evolution (link provided by Forstadt), the group detailed over a decade of evidence they say showed the bird in its native, bottomland habitat in the southeastern United States. 
I want to emphasize that the paper was peer-reviewed - reviewed and critiqued by anonymous experts, which represents an important entry level requirement on whether a published paper is to be taken seriously.
The paper provides an example of what advances in technology bring to scientific investigations as well as in suggesting new research.

Steve Latta, the report’s lead author and the director of conservation and field research at the National Aviary, said the collection could help keep the black, red and white species on the endangered species list. Latta directs Project Principalis at the aviary which has devoted resources, research and time on the status of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. The website represents a considerable effort.

Forstadt provides a link to the technical paper which I include here and then discusses the importance of documentation, standards of evidence and the implications of delisting for their habitat requirements. You will notice that some of the authors are observers - all are skilled and reliable - and I suggest you check all author affiliations. I was pleased that they were included as co-authors rather than merely attributing them. In addition each observer makes comments about their encounter(s). 

The paper is long but includes pictures and descriptions of behavior that suggests that these are Ivory Billed Woodpeckers based on characteristic behavior of this group of birds.

The paper follows these divisions and is illustrated.

-- abstract, 

-- introduction,

 -- materials and methods,

 -- visual evidence,

 --  audio recordings, 

-- trail camera imagery, 

-- drone videos,

 -- three results (visual, audio and trail camera imagery 

-- drone evidence,

-- discussion 

-- conclusion

This is the concluding paragraph.

"The report contained here is not the end of our efforts. We are encouraged and energized by what we have discovered and accomplished. We are optimistic that technologies will continue to improve our outcomes, including documentation through environmental DNA and other physical evidence. We believe that our intentional and systematic survey design is paying off through complementary lines of investigation. Our findings begin to tell a larger story not just of whether the Ivory-billed Woodpecker persists in Louisiana, but how it has survived and why its survival has been so difficult to document. Finally, we also believe that our methodologies can be translated to other sites, thus offering opportunities for additional documentation of the species. Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest that all is not lost for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and that it is clearly premature for the species to be declared extinct."

The debate will continue on whether a final decision is based on science, one that follows the evidence to its logical conclusion or a bureaucratic decision. 

Based on this paper, what do you think? I sit atop a fence hoping to be knocked off in favor of the bird.