Sunday Science Poem: Lord Byron’s Post-Apocalyptic Vision

‘Darkness’, Lord Byron (1816)

HubertLouvreRuinsDarwin’s argument for evolution by natural selection gets a lot of attention as the science bombshell of the 19th century that shocked the sensibilities of Victorian society, but there was an equally consequential, if less dramatic, scientific development that took place much earlier in the century, a development that left a deep impression on the generation before Darwin: William Herschel’s discovery that the universe is much bigger and much older than nearly anyone had imagined.

William Herschel’s scientific findings, made with his ever larger telescopes, were a frequent target of Romantic poets’ imaginations, and towards the end of his career, Herschel’s speculations about the past and future of the cosmos fed Romantic angst over the role of God and humanity in what now seemed to be a jaw-droppingly vast cosmic stage.

Among Herschel’s more disturbing ideas is the notion of a natural end to the Milky Way. As Richard Holmes notes in The Age of Wonder, Herschel jarred the poet Thomas Campbell by explaining that the night sky was filled with “many distant stars [that] had probably ‘ceased to exist’ millions of years ago, and that looking up into the night sky we were seeing a stellar landscape that was not really there at all. The sky was full of ghosts.”1 Continue reading “Sunday Science Poem: Lord Byron’s Post-Apocalyptic Vision”

Science Caturday: What’s the Matter?

Caturday science question: are cats actually liquids, as claimed here earlier, or amorphous solids? Discuss in the comments.


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The Art of Science: Space Bling

Lunar Landing Module by Cartier
Lunar Excursion Module by Cartier

Surely a strong contender for best trip souvenir ever, this solid gold Lunar Excursion Module is one of three made by Cartier and presented to Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. This stunning piece is now on display at the Forbes Galleries in New York through September 7 as part of an exhibit entitled “Out of This World: Jewelry in the Space Age”.

According to exhibit curator Elyse Zorn Carlin, “Space has always been in our consciousness and often expressed in jewelry. The ancients wore amulets depicting the moon; in Georgian and Victorian jewelry we see numerous depictions of the moon, stars, and Halley’s Comet. The mid-20th century saw an explosion of “space age jewelry” and corresponding couture, and today the “futuristic” look in fashion is “in” thanks to Lady Gaga and other entertainers.” (source)

The exhibit contains many stunning pieces inspired both by the mysteries of the cosmos and by the modern technology that allows us to see space and travel there.  A gallery of images is here.

Science Caturday: Ceiling Cat is Just a Myth

This week, tech writer Virginia Heffernan caused a stir by publishing an essay entitled “Why I am a Creationist“. Here at the Finch & Pea, we believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when it comes to explaining stuff, we put our trust in Science Cat (and his friend Chemistry Cat), and leave Ceiling Cat to looking pretty and keeping mice out of the attic.


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The Art of Science: Collaborations with Bees

The Promise, 2008  Photo: Michael Gibson Gallery
The Promise, 2008
Photo: Michael Gibson Gallery

Aganetha Dyck gets a lot of help creating her artwork. But rather than employ studio assistants or take on interns, the artist collaborates with hundreds of bees. Dyck, who says her main focus is “how knowledge is transported and transcribed between humans and other species”, considers her work to be an equal collaboration with the insects. “My research has included the bee’s use of sound, sight, scent, vibration, and dance. I am studying the bee’s use of the earth’s magnetic fields as well as their use of the pheromones (chemicals) they produce to communicate with one another, with other species and possibly with the foliage they pollinate.” (source) Some of her most striking pieces are small figurines that she places inside hives, to allow the bees to adorn with honeycomb. She also sometimes places drawings or paintings inside hives and lets the bees add texture and color to them.

Dyck’s (and the bees’) small sculptures are particularly striking because of their uncanny effect of juxtaposing something highly refined but essentially useless (porcelain figurines of lords and ladies in fancy dress) with something raw, natural and made with a clear purpose (honeycomb). Both parts of the sculpture seem somehow alien, like something found in grandma’s attic on another planet. That quality may be especially appropriate for work made with bees, a crucially-important species whose numbers continue to drop dramatically. This unique artwork may one day be impossible to create if Dyck’s collaborators continue to die off.

Dyck’s work is featured in the exhibit “Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art and Invention”, which opens at the Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita, KS next month through December 2013.

You can see lots more art and information at Aganetha Dyck’s website

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