Category Archives: Uncategorized

Science Caturday: The Cat and the Fancy Fiddle


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


Science Caturday: Say Ohai to Nanuqsaurus


It’s always exciting when scientists discover a new dinosaur, especially if it’s a cute little one.  As Brian Switek reported in National Geographic’s Phenomena this week, paleontologists Anthony Fiorillo and Ronald Tykoski have named a smallish tyrannosaur that once lived in the Arctic.

The scientists gave the dino the name Nanuqsaurus hoglundi –combining the Iñupiaq word for polar bear and a philanthropist named Forrest Hoglund.  The incomplete skeleton unearthed in northern Alaska indicates that, although Nanuqsaurus was likely fairly closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex, it was much smaller, around 25 feet in length compared to 40 for a T. rex.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the recent discovery: photographic evidence (above) indicates that some traits of Nanuqsaurus may have somehow veered from their branch of the phylogenetic tree and taken up residence in cats, rather than birds. We await further study.


Liek Dinos? Brian Switek’s ossim book, My Beloved Brontosaurus, is just out in paperback. You can haz.

The Art of Science: A Machine that Vends DNA Samples Like Candy Bars


Gabe Baria-Colombo, DNA Vending Machine, 2013

Gabe Barcia-Colombo’ s DNA Vending Machine is an art installation blending the utterly mundane (a fairly primitive machine dispensing mostly crappy snack food) with the cutting-edge (DIY human genetics) to intriguing effect.

Barcia-Colombo, a 2012 TED fellow, collected DNA samples from a bunch of his friends using a basic swish-and-spit method. With the help of Oliver Medvedik of GenSpace, a community biotech lab in New York, he synthesized the samples in a liquid base.  Barcia-Colombo then created a pack-of-cards sized case for the vials and loaded them into a vending machine.

As the picture above indicates, the only labeling on the vials is a number.  Barcia-Colombo compares this to the concept of “blind box” collectible toys – sealed limited edition collectible figurines packaged randomly with many variations. As with human genetics, people have limited information on which to base their choices, and much depends on luck.

Each sample comes packaged with a collectable portrait of the human specimen as well as a unique link to a custom DNA extraction video. The DNA Vending Machine treats human DNA as a collectible material, exploring the question of who owns our DNA.  Can the person who bought a stranger’s DNA from a vending machine get it sequenced or potentially use it in other ways?

The DNA Vending Machine has been shown in several galleries, and the artist reports that many people have indeed bought the DNA samples. No word on what they’ve done with them – yet.

hat tip: DesignBoom

Science Caturday: Time for the Kitteh Science Committee Annual Meeting


Thousands of science kitties have gathered in Chicago this week for the AAAS Annual Meeting, where they get together to discuss the latest research on catnip addiction and hold panels on the causes of dogs’ inability to read. You can follow along on twitter with hashtag  or see some sessions live-streamed online.

The Art of Science: Hiroshi Sugimoto Gets Right to the (Infinity) Point

Mathematical Model 009 Surface of revolution with constant negative curvature, 2006

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mathematical Model 009, Surface of revolution with constant negative curvature, 2006

Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto is best known for his photography, especially his gloriously simple compositions of seascapes and lightning. But my favorites are his sculptures based on mathematical models. According to Art News, “Drawn to the objects’ purity of form and also inspired by Man Ray’s interest in photographing mathematical models, Sugimoto first photographed nineteenth-century plaster examples for his Conceptual Forms series. During the process, he was struck by the softness and fragility of the vintage models – many had lost pieces or no longer possessed the sharpness that they were meant to represent. Sugimoto sought to extend the limits of these mathematical models using cutting-edge technology, searching out the highest-level precision metalworking team in Japan. For Conceptual Form 009, a model of the equation for a surface containing a single point extended to infinity, Sugimoto succeeded in creating an infinity point with a mere one millimeter diameter, the minimum width before the material itself becomes structurally unstable.”

I can’t even begin to understand the math behind it, but as a visual representation of an “infinity point” it’s hard to top that.  If you live in LA, don’t miss the chance to see an exhibition of Sugimoto’s work at the Getty Museum from February 4-June 8 . If you don’t, see lots more of his work at his website.