Posts Tagged ‘blog’

Brontomerus mcintoshi – the dinosaur with thunder thighs

// February 23rd, 2011 // No Comments » // Recent Research

Brontomerus. Image by Francisco Gascó

Across my twitter feed today we welcomed a new dinosaur. Brontomerus mcintoshi was named for it’s “thunder-thighs” and as honour to retired physicist and avocational paleontologist “Jack” McIntosh.

I hope Jack has no hang-ups about his thighs, as I can assure you if someone called a dinosaur “Thunder-thighs skelletti” I would whap them with my peg leg.

But I’m sure Jack is pleased to hand his name to this butt-kicking dinosaur. With huge thigh muscles, as shown by bone fragments, Brontomerus may have kicked his way out of hairy situations.

The authors of the paper suggest kicking could have been used by males fighting over females (or indeed, females fighting over males, which I put forward as an equally possible alternative.) If capable of delivering crippling kicks, they probably used their legs against predators as well.

Another suggestion is that Brontomerus used the thighs as a kind of “dinosaur four-wheel drive,” according to co author Matt Wedel, which helped them climb rough and hilly terrain.

The paper is based on a healthy smattering of bone samples from two individuals, a juvenile (a few years old) and an adult. The samples represent about 10% of the total skeleton, not much, but people work with less. With an incomplete skeleton, caution has been advised in describing its behaviour and good-looks. But I say, if you want to go ahead and imagine the dino as Xena trained in kickboxing, why the hell not?

Authors with fossils. Image by Linda Coldwell

Brontomerus is a sauropod, one of the long-necks, as are the familiar members Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus (my personal favourite. It’s fun to say!) It was found in Utah, North America, and lived about 110 million years ago.

Until recently, the Early Cretaceous Period was a bit of a black hole for fossils. After the stegosaurus, but before T-rex and duckbills, there was a gap. Now paleontologists are looking at rocks from that period, they’re uncovering more about that mysterious time.

It seems to me like there have been a LOT of new dinosaurs found lately. Three found in Queensland, Australia, plus Mojoceratops and Linheraptor Exquisitus.

According to Mike Taylor’s fact sheet on Brontomerus, “although the first dinosaurs were named almost 200 years ago, more than half of all known dinosaurs have been discovered in the last 30 years.” At least it’s not just me.

Check out their blog or read the paper (warning: PDF)

ResearchBlogging.orgMichael P. Taylor, Mathew J. Wedel, and Richard L. Cifelli (2011). A new sauropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, USA Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 56 (1), 75-98 : DOI: 10.4202/app.2010.0073

A night of chocolate at the RiAus

// February 3rd, 2011 // No Comments » // Science Communication

Chocolate Truffle

Image by Digital Sextant

Love chocolate? Tonight at Adelaide’s RiAus the spotlight is on gluttony and chocolate addictions.

It’s sold out, but you can watch the livestream here from 6:00 Adelaide time and have your own chocolate tastings at home.

Brendan Somerville from Haighs will talk about what makes chocolate so good. Chocolate has been around since the Aztec’s were big, originating some 3000 years ago in South America. Back then it was a bitter tasting drink, and nowhere near the delight we enjoy today.

Last year the cacao tree genome was sequenced, creating a blueprint of the source of chocolate. With it trees could be altered to become resistant to disease and to produce higher quality chocolate.

As well as using science to improve chocolate, we use it to justify eating just one more piece. Like red wine, chocolate in the right doses can be good for you. The medicinal powers ascribed to the “food of the gods” include:

Chocolate can suppress coughing.
Chocolate can lower blood pressure
Chocolate reduces stress

But there’s a downside, namely sugar and fat and a potential for addiction. The best chocolate to eat is small quantities of very dark chocolate, low in the bad stuff but high in the good stuff. Fortunately this is my favourite.

In the world of Food Porn Daily and Not So Humble Pie, any one of us can become a weapon of mass chocolate consumption. Cravings and addictions aren’t just limited to chocolate, I know for a fact they extend to Banana Caramel Cream Pie, particularly the one at Café Paparizzi in Malvern. So far I’ve managed to resist, but it’s only a matter of time.

Or is it? Dr Robyn Vale is also speaking tonight about how to resist temptation and avoid food cravings.

But purely for medicinal purposes, I think you should have a bit of chocolate while you watch the livestream.

So what are you craving right now?

Death of a hive, a science story

// February 1st, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Recent Research, Science Communication

Apis bee in honeycomb

Image by By Richard Bartz

It was late afternoon, and Aethina could smell a hive in danger.

Heavy with eggs she felt compelled to investigate. The scent wafted softly though the hot and hazy air, so faint it was barely discernible.

Driven by survival, she flew as fast as she could. Weak as the smell was it was hard to tell which direction to go. Through trial and error she travelled across small hills covered with brown grass, wilting seedlings, and huge angular mounds of dirt.

Finally she reached an ocean of bright yellow flowers heads pointed towards the sun. Interspersed between the identical tall and bristled stems were smaller flowers in purples and whites.

Like islands in the sea, these were safe havens for bees, providing a delicious variety to an otherwise blandly repetitive diet. But Aethina wasn’t hungry for nectar. The hive was close, she could smell it.

As a larva, Aethina had heard stories of her ancestors. Generations upon generations ago they had moved across an ocean too. Their land was dry like this, but filled with foreign flowers. They had travelled, said the stories, inside sweet melons.

Suddenly Aethina could see it, the hive. The smell radiated from it, a beacon of hope and danger.

She alighted and walked through the entrance.

At once the guards sprang upon her. Stinking of bee, they buzzed angrily and tried to push her outside. Her own smell must have set them off. To fend off the aggressive attack, Aethina turtled her head and legs under her hard shell. The guards could find no purchase on her smooth surface, and their suicidal stinging could not penetrate her armor.

With small steps, Aethina sneaked deeper into the hive, avoiding the cracks that riddled the tunnels. Below she could hear the cry of her kin, trapped below. As she watched, hunched under her shell, an apparently very stupid bee dripped honey down the crack, feeding her kind as though they were bee grubs.

One step at a time, slowly, slowly, Aethina forced her way though the tunnels. The attacks continued as she inched her way along, turning this way and that along the chambers.

Suddenly the attacks stopped. Poking out one antennae, and then two, she investigated her surroundings. The bees seemed to be gone, perhaps called on another mission.

There was no time to lose. Silently Aethina laid her eggs as quickly as possible, hiding them near the honey-filled pots that rose like ornamental ponds in mosaic. When they hatched, her larvae would have plenty of food nearby. It would be enough for them to molt into adulthood and find their own hives.

Unless removed by the bees, her children had a good chance of surviving. Eating, growing fat on sweet sugar and proteins, they would gradually destroy the hive. No place lasted long after becoming a Small Hive Beetle Nursery. It was only fair. After all, bees had killed her mother, and would kill her in a heartbeat.

Bees were nasty insects, particularly in this melon-founded land. There were other species of bees, natives with a barbaric tendency to catch her kind and mummify them alive. Armed with balls of sticky resin during the day, they created a lacy resin curtain every night that was impossible to get through. The old saying came back to her “Always lay near Apis, never Austroplebeia.”

For good measure, she dusted spores from her six legs. Yeast. It would consume the honey to produce more of the attractive alarm scent that guided her to the hive. Soon there would be even more beetles, and as the larva fed, the yeast would eventual turning the hive from it’s well-ordered structure into a slimy mess. It would seal the fate of this hive.

Served the bitches right, thought Aethina viciously, as she crawled into a crack to take advantage of idiot-bee hospitality.

-

This story is based on scientific fact. Since their accidental introduction in 2002, African Small Hive Beetles (Aethina tumida) have been decimating Australian hives of honey bees (Apis mellifera). Their larva consume the hives, while the yeast they bring in converts hives to slime. But the native bee (Austroplebeia australis) destroy the beetles with resin balls and build resin curtains.

Further reading
Stingless bees entomb beetle invaders by Anne Dolin at Aussie Bee.
Beetle and yeast team up against bees by Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Ellis, J., Hepburn, H., Ellis, A., & Elzen, P. (2003). Social encapsulation of the small hive beetle ( Aethina tumida Murray) by European honeybees ( Apis mellifera L.) Insectes Sociaux, 50 (3), 286-291 DOI: 10.1007/s00040-003-0671-7

Radioactive decay of teaspoons in the workplace

// January 30th, 2011 // 21 Comments » // Just for Fun, Recent Research, The Realm of Bizzare

missing teaspoonsHave you ever noticed a mysterious loss of teaspoons at your workplace? Maybe it’s not teaspoons, but some other cutlery item. At my old work it was forks, which dwindled even when I bought new replacement ones. At the Australian National University neither spoon nor fork were safe, causing some students to eat salad with two knives as chopsticks.

The same thing was happening at the Burnett Institute in Australia. Teaspoons were critically low, no matter how many new ones bought. Clearly it was time for science.

“Exasperated by our consequent inability to stir in our sugar and to accurately dispense instant coffee, we decided to respond in time honoured epidemiologists’ fashion and measure the phenomenon,” they said in the paper.

They numbered 70 teaspoons and placed them in tearooms around the institute. Lo and behold, they started to disappear. Every week they counted the remaining teaspoons, probably with a lot of suppressed giggling and delight.

After five months, 56 out of 70 teaspoons disappeared, that’s 80%. The half life of the teaspoons was 81 days.

Teaspoons in communal tearooms disappeared faster than those in tearooms specifically for certain projects. Expensive teaspoons disappeared no faster than cheap ones.

According to the study, “at this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical institute-wide population of 70 teaspoons.” The cost? About $100. Extrapolate that to the workforce of Melbourne, some 2.4 million people, and you’re looking at quite a wad of cash.

Stapler sugarAnd it’s not just economic loss, it’s also workplace satisfaction. “Teaspoon displacement and loss leads to the use of forks, knives, and staplers to measure out coffee and sugar,” the study suggested. Staplers? You know it’s a bad day in the office when you’re measuring sugar with a stapler. Indeed, nobody in the office said they were “highly satisfied” with the number of teaspoons in a survey they conducted at the end of the study. Yes, they even did a survey.

But why are teaspoons such hot property?

The study gives a few possible theories. Perhaps there are so many teaspoons, people don’t think it will matter if they take one home. Over time the small acts of thievery add up until there are no teaspoons left.

Alternatively, and I can say this no better than the authors, “Somewhere in the cosmos, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, walking treeoids, and superintelligent shades of the colour blue, a planet is entirely given over to spoon life-forms. Unattended spoons make their way to this planet, slipping away through space to a world where they enjoy a uniquely spoonoid lifestyle, responding to highly spoon oriented stimuli, and generally leading the spoon equivalent of the good life.”

Their final theory is les choses sont contre nous “things are against us.” “Resistentialism is the belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy towards humans, and therefore it is not people who control things but things that increasingly control people,” says the study. Think of all the time you spend cleaning, buying, repairing, using and selling things. Do items really control our lives, sending us on some materialistic goose chase for reasons we cannot yet understand? I can only assume Yes.

I want to hear from anyone who has experienced this phenomenon, be it spoons, forks or knives. What goes missing in your workplace, and why do they constantly disappear. And what is the spoon equivalent of the good life?

ResearchBlogging.orgLim, M. (2005). The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute BMJ, 331 (7531), 1498-1500 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.331.7531.1498

Massive hat tip to James at Disease Prone, who said my posts had slowed down and suggested this paper.

My Christmas baking adventures

// December 21st, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Just for Fun

It’s that time of the year and I’m feeling decidedly unchristmassy. Perhaps it’s the terror of presents left unpurchased, perhaps it’s the missing tree and decorations, perhaps… well screw it. Christmas just skipped me this year.

Times like these you need to bake. Something sciencey would be nice, but I’ll settle for anything. A gingerbread house would be amazing… A gingerbread LAB would be even better! What exactly would that entail, I wonder? Stay tuned, maybe I’ll make one and find out.

At the supermarket today I bought a litre of long life milk and another of long life custard, Sexy Man’s contribution to a Christmas hamper for the homeless or some such.

After a jubilent sms from the checkout to tell him the good news, I learned he had already bought it himself. Now we have a litre of custard that we’ll never use.

But I’m not the kinda girl to waste food, so my solution is to bake with it. Custard recipes ranged from “custard on banana” to tiramisu… and then I found this.

It’s custard baked inside a whole pumpkin. YUM! Well, actually I’ve never had baked pumpkin with custard before, but I like each item individually. Perhaps together there will be a synergy of flavours!!!

The recipe descibes how to MAKE the custard, but seeing as I have a whopping 1 L already I’m just gonna cram it in and put it in the oven, possibly with a stick of cinnamon. Can I somehow make this concoction sciencey? Time will tell. I may blog the results.

I’m really excited about the recipe because it said you could keep the pumpkin seeds you dig out from the centre and roast them with some spices. Holy shizz, how have I never thought of this? I’ve been throwing ‘em out THIS WHOLE TIME, when they were a source of that holy grail of minerals, iron.

As a vegetarian, iron is kinda a big deal. I had an iron test recently and it came out borderline low. Like, it’s supposed to be between 15 and 200, and I was 15. But like a told the nurse who tried to put me on supplements, “it’s borderline.” We make borders for a reason, you know, If I was 14 I’d accept that I have low iron, but I was 15. I made the grade. I passed goddammit.

Still any source of iron is a cause for celebration. I will be celebrating with pumpkin seeds and orange juice.

Seriously though, that baked pumpkin looks badass, I can’t tear my eyes from it. Are you baking for Christmas? If not, how do you get into the Santa spirit, or has it eluded you too?






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