by Hydrogene (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Hyrdogene generally creates minimalist posters around science-y themes. The set of six she created celebrating women who made a big impact on science and the world is particularly compelling. According to the FAQs, an online store selling the posters will be opening up this summer, hopefully in time for my birthday.
Rafael Gomezbarros, Casa Tomada, 2014 Photo by David Levene
Ants are crawling over the walls of London’s Saatchi Gallery. No, the cleaners aren’t on strike; the ants are an installation by Colombian artist Rafael Gómezbarros, part of a group exhibition called Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America.
If you look closely, you will see that the bodies of the ants, each of which is 50 CM (about 19 inches) long, are made up of casts of human skulls in fiberglass and resin. For the artist, the ants represent the millions of immigrants traveling the earth in search of a home. In particular, Gómezbarros pays tribute to thousands of Colombians who suffered internal displacement and violent deaths in the armed conflicts that have convulsed his country over the past five decades. His ants have taken over the facades of several important buildings in Colombia, including the National Congress building in Bogotá.
Why ants? It’s easy to see why they work well as a stand-in for the teeming masses of immigrants. Humble, hardworking and capable of building complex social organizations, ants are also unfortunately easy for larger animals to snack on or crush underfoot. But ants are resilient, too. They are able to “farm” their own foodstuffs, band together to kill much larger species, and create rafts of their own bodies to float in water. Ants are survivors.
Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America is on view at the Saatchi gallery through August 31. You can see photos of the ants crawling on other buildings at Gómezbarros’ website
On Easter Sunday, 1722, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen came across a small island in the Pacific Ocean with about 2000-3000 inhabitants. Considering the date, he named the Island “Easter Island”, but its local name is Rapa Nui.
The Rapa Nui population of Easter Island was already in decline at this point, and continued to decline further until an all time low of just over a hundred people in 1877.
A classic theory that explains the population decline involves the massive statues found all over the island. The Easter Island heads, or moai, were carved from volcanic stone between approximately the year 1100 and 1650. This coincides with the time during which, according to paleobotanists, Easter Island went from being heavily forested to completely treeless, which led to the idea that the population used up all the trees in carving and transporting these giant statues. Thanks to this theory, the historic population of Easter Island has been widely used as example of humans being too selfish, using up resources for their own enjoyment, without considering the consequences.
Since all Easter Islands heads were made in the same rock quarry, they had to be transported to their final locations. The classic suggested method to do this would have been to cut down trees, and roll the statues over logs. But a few years ago, one group of researchers suggested that the historic Rapa Nui population could have walked the statues upright to their locations. They even recreated their theory using a concrete replica of a head, in a field in Hawaii:
If this is indeed how the islanders moved their statues, they wouldn’t have had to cut down trees for it, and not used all their efforts in making statues. But regardless of this theory, making statues was probably not the islanders’ only concern, and without that they would likely have seen deforestation and population decline anyway, perhaps due to Polynesian rats eating all the tree nuts.
So if you discover any islands this Easter weekend, perhaps plant some trees while you’re there.
#260 - Running Low
This week, Science for The People looks across the Periodic Table and assesses the scarcity of modern society’s essential elements. They’re joined by Dr. Thomas Graedel, Director of the Center for Industrial Ecology at Yale University, to talk about the rare metals that play a role in our electronic devices. They’ll also speak to physics Professor Dr. Moses Hung-Wai Chan about our dwindling supply of helium. And they’ll talk about the phosphorous that plays a critical role in modern agriculture, with ecology professor Dr. James Elser, co-organizer of the Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative at Arizona State University.
William Carlos Williams’ “Labrador” (1948)
It’s National Poetry Month, and we’re continuing our focus on the poems of William Carlos Williams.
As much as we might wish to have a unified understanding of nature, we have no choice but to break it into tractable chunks. Richard Feynman put it eloquently in his Lectures on Physics:
If we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts – physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on – remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!
This week’s mythbusting prize goes to researcher Claudia Fritz of the Sorbonne, who led two studies, both of which revealed that despite their mystique, antique “master” violins – even Stradivari – produce no better sound quality than modern instruments.
In a piece in National Geographic Phenomena, Ed Yong walks readers through the stages of Fritz’s research, involving a number of different testing protocols, and her findings, which ultimately indicated that professional violinists found no difference in sound quality between old instruments and new.
Of course, our classically-trained kitty will tell you that her particular invisible violin sounds much better than that screeching monstrosity next door.
lolcat via Cheezburger.com
I use twitter primarily to keep up with what’s new and newsworthy in science and science communication. It’s a great tool to quickly catch up on new discoveries or controversies. It also can expose opportunities you had no idea existed. The other day I saw a tweet about small grants to fund science outreach projects. So cool! I didn’t realize these small scale funding mechanisms existed to help encourage scientific outreach.