Author Archives: michelebanks1

Science Caturday: Chimps seek Freedom; Cats Have Other Goals


This week brought confusing news on the legal status of research animals, as a judge in New York state seemed to grant two chimps legal personhood and then revoke it the next day.

New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe signed an order on April 20 requiring Stony Brook University to respond to claims by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) that two research chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, were being unlawfully detained. The NhRP then claimed that by this action the judge had implicitly granted the chimps legal personhood, because the document, called a writ of habeas corpus, can only be granted to a person in New York state.

However, after extensive media coverage on April 21, Jaffe amended the order, letting arguments on the detention of the chimps go forward but removing the words WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS from the top of the document.

Sorry, chimps. As far as legal status, cats really do seem to have it better. In 2012, Hank the cat ran for the senate in Virginia, while in 2011, a cat in Italy inherited $156 million. Power. Money. Noms and naps. What next, kittehs?




Art of Science: Juan Travieso Paints Endangered Species

Juan Travieso, Extinction is Eternal, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013

Juan Travieso, Extinction is Eternal, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013

Earth Day seems like the perfect moment to showcase the work of Juan Travieso, a Cuban-born painter based in Miami. Travieso’s oil and acrylic paintings feature endangered species, particularly a vast array of endangered birds, juxtaposed against design elements that suggest encroaching buildings, technology, and disease – in other words, some of the things that endanger them.

In a recent interview with the art blog Hi-Fructose, Travieso explained his inspiration. “As a part of nature, I am aware of the fact that we are trying so hard as a species to disconnect ourselves from what we are. I feel that it is my responsibility as an artist and as a citizen of the world to give voice to the powerless species on this earth. Therefore, I have been focusing on endangered species for the last six years. One of my goals is to paint all of the endangered birds in the world.”

The ambitious scale of that goal is part of the point. Travieso notes that after two years of painting endangered birds, he realized that the message of the paintings would be magnified by their sheer number.  “The more different species I painted, the more the audience would understand the great value of their loss. One of my dreams is to have a retrospective with all of my bird paintings under the same roof. It would be a grand statement on the toll we have taken on nature.”

You can read the full interview here  and see the full Endangered Birds series at Travieso’s website.

Science Caturday: Coffee Cats in Spaaaaace



Coffee’s here! SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft made its rendezvous with the International Space Station yesterday, delivering food, scientific experiments and other supplies, including the first espresso machine in space.

The machine, called ISSPresso, was produced as a joint venture between the Italian coffee company Lavazza, the engineering firm Argotec and the Italian Space Agency. Lavazza, which expects the machine to operate for several years in orbit, will supply the ISS with capsules of coffee year round, so they never run out – a good plan if they want any science to get done up there!

The honor of brewing the first espresso in space will go to Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who has somehow been surviving on instant coffee until now.

(Our caffeine-deprived space kitty was originally designed by Ben Ducker for British company O2)








Science Caturday: Ah Tawt I Taw a Terror Bird

i am not the mighty hunter i thought i was

Once upon a time, ten-foot-tall carnivorous “terror birds” roamed the earth. In a paper published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists revealed fascinating new details about their anatomy and hunting technique, based on studies of a nearly-complete fossil found in 2010.

Laura Geggel reports in LiveScience that the researchers, led by Federico Degrange, learned a great deal about the behavior and anatomy of terror birds by studying the skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai.

“Given its extraordinary condition, the fossil has helped researchers study the terror bird’s anatomy in detail. The specimen is the first known fossilized terror bird with a complete trachea and complete palate (the roof of the mouth). It even includes the intricate bones of the creature’s ears, eye sockets, brain box and skull, providing scientists with an unprecedented look at the flightless bird’s sensory capabilities.”

The researchers also discovered that the bird’s skull is more rigid than in other species, suggesting that Llallawavis scagliai may have killed by slamming its large beak up and down upon its prey.

Geggel’s article and the paper itself have many more fascinating details. But I think we’ll just leave it at that because we’re frightening the cat.

Art of Science: Deborah Cornell’s Drifting DNA

Deborah Cornell, Species Boundaries: Wind Map. Digital Print, 2006

Deborah Cornell, Species Boundaries: Wind Map. Digital Print, 2006

Printmaker Deborah Cornell juxtaposes familiar images in unexpected ways to prompt viewers to reflect on big questions in science and culture. Her work explores ideas of reality and change, particularly regarding the interaction of science, technology and nature.

Cornell created a series of prints entitled Species Boundaries that look at the consequences of genetic engineering and the unpredictability of genetic interactions over time. This print, Wind Map, uses the visual echo between a map of wind currents and a micrograph of chromosomes to raise make a point about complex systems and the illusion of control. No matter how hard scientists strive to control their experiments, genetic material is about as respectful of borders as the wind.

Says Cornell, “Nothing exists in isolation – complex interrelationships can produce unexpected results. Questions arise connecting genes to the market economy, altering genetic codes, the migration of altered organisms and their impact on environments, humans and on other species.”

You can see more of Cornell’s work at her website.