Posts Tagged ‘new’

Brontomerus mcintoshi – the dinosaur with thunder thighs

// February 23rd, 2011 // Comments Off on Brontomerus mcintoshi – the dinosaur with thunder thighs // 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 Vampire Flying Frog by any other name…

// January 11th, 2011 // 2 Comments » // Recent Research

Rhacophorus vampyrus

Vampire Flying Frog. Image by Australian Museum

Actually, it’s not QUITE as cool as it sounds.

This new frog species, the Vampire Flying Frog, was discovered in Vietnam by scientists from the Australian Museum. Rhacophorus vampyrus was a latecomer to the International Year of Biodiversity, which yielded a wealth of newly discovered creatures.

But the name. The name. To be honest, it reminds me of the ten shelves in every bookstore devoted to vampire teen fiction. I’m all for making science sexy, but seriously. In the paper it doesn’t even say “Vampire flying frog” as in the media release and all the news articles. It actually says “Vampire tree frog” which sounds less vampiric and more like it drinks tree sap or something.

The name makes a promise that the frog doesn’t deliver on. Now if the frog looked like THIS then I would applaud the name.

Giant Vampire Frog

The Flying part is true enough. There are several species of tree frog that are called “flying frogs” because they can glide. It’s a good quality to have when you live up in trees. With larger hands and feet and extra webbing they can parachute through the air.

Vampire Flying Tadpole

Tadpole with fangs. Image by Australian Museum

The Vampire part is… well… it’s neat. The tadpoles have fangs.

Normally tadpoles have beak-like mouth pieces, but this one has two black, hard fang-shaped appendages made of keratin (the same stuff as your hair.)

According to the scientists, it looks too big to be involved in feeding but might help the tadpole hold onto tree bark. The frog creates foam nests, laying its eggs in water-filled tree-holes.

More details on the tadpoles will be published in another report. The original report can be downloaded in pdf by clicking through the citation: Rowley, J. et al. (2010). A new tree frog of the genus Rhacophorus (Anura: Rhacophoridae) from southern Vietnam Zootaxa

Another cool thing about the frog is it changes colour. In daylight it’s a pale tan, but at night it’s stunning brick red. I don’t know if that’s a normal thing for tree frogs. Any herpetologists in the house?

Science of electronic cigarettes, as seen on the Tourist

// January 2nd, 2011 // 1 Comment » // How Things Work, Science in the Movies

Happy New Year! On the first of January, I went to see The Tourist. It promised to be an excessively attractive movie starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, the two best heartthrobs on screen. I won’t spoil the plot, but I will say that one cool gadget graces the scene. The electronic cigarette.

As described in the movie, the electronic cigarette does not emit smoke, just vapour. The one in the move was shaped like a cigarette, complete with a red LED light on the end for a burning ember. He tapped the end to put it out, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The automatic versions just turn on when you breathe in, a sensor recognizes the airflow, and I’d say it turns off afterward.

Electronic cigarettes, designed by Chinese company Ruyan “to resemble smoking”, come in a variety of designs. From classic cigarettes to cigars to pipes. Even a ballpoint pen, so you can look like you’re intelligently thinking witty thoughts while taking a sneaky huff.

All the designs have the same basic features. A cylindrical battery, a heating element, and a mouthpiece. When the sensor picks up air flow, it switches on the battery which heats up the element, vapourising the nicotine mixture absorbed on material in the mouthpiece. Manual versions lack a sensor, and you have to press a button to get them started. The nicotine can be replenished by dripping fluid refills onto the absorbant material, or buying a new prefilled mouthpiece.

An electonic cigarette

An electonic cigarette

But it’s the mixture itself that’s really cool. It comes in a variety of nicotine levels and a variety of FLAVOURS. Some are designed to taste like certain brands (such as Malboro), some taste like regular ciggies, some are menthol, and others come in tastes of caramel, coffee or vanilla. One recipe listed on Wikipedia contains hardly any nicotine, but 8% alcohol. That’s a 16 proof cigarette delivered straight to your lungs! Wow. Seems dangerous.

What I wanted to know was how do electronic ciggies compare to the real thing when it comes to health. It seems like we’re still unsure. Electronic cigarettes only hit the market in 2004, so they’re pretty new still. Most countries are taking a conservative stance. In England they can be bought in pubs and smoked indoors. In New Zealand they are only available in pharmacies. In Australia it is illegal to sell them, but they can be purchased over the internet for personal use, and I believe there are no laws against it. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

The debate seems to center around the fact that these electronic cigarettes are KIND OF tobacco products and KIND OF smoking cessation aids… but kind of not. No studies have been done to show that they could help people quit smoking and become nicotine free. To me it seems more like you would quit smoking cigarettes, and start smoking the electronic version instead.

And what’s the harm in that? Most of the damage caused by smoking is not due to nicotine itself. It’s all the other crazy chemicals that come with it which cause the cancer and lung damage and so forth. Nicotine is just the stuff that keeps people coming back. It’s highly addictive, working on the reward system of the brain and our favourite neurotransmitter, dopamine. Smokeless cigarettes are a way to enjoy nicotine without getting a hefty dose of dangerous chemical cocktails. Plus the secondhand smoke is safer. So it’s an example of harm reduction. Plus your teeth would get whiter.

Of course, nicotine is not exactly a friendly chemical. It might not cause cancer, but it IS highly toxic. 60 mg can be toxic to an adult. Nicotine is made by the tobacco plant as an insecticide, need I say more? In fact, it’s also made by other members of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, such as tomatoes. That explains why my basil plant is getting torn to pieces by insects while the tomato plant right next to it is still intact. So maybe we don’t want to encourage people to smoke anything.

But gun to my head, I think the electronic cigarette is a good thing. I don’t think young kids are going to be swayed by sexy marketing into becoming the next generation of smokers. I don’t think we’d allow such sexy marketing in the first place. I don’t even know why the government allows cigarettes to be sold at all; the health problems must cost the economy millions every year. But what do you think? Do you think electronic cigarettes would be the lesser of two evils, or a new evil all on its own, ready to pounce on hapless youths and struggling smokers and catch them forever with nicotine claws.

CERN trap 38 atoms of antimatter

// November 18th, 2010 // Comments Off on CERN trap 38 atoms of antimatter // Recent Research

Facility at CERN

For the first time ever, antimatter has been trapped by a magnetic field allowing it to be studied in detail.

The 38 atoms were antihydrogen, theoretically the same as hydrogen but having the opposite charge. Where hydrogen is made of one proton, one electron, antihydrogen is made with an antiproton and a positron.

Antihydrogen was first made at CERN in 1995, and in 2002 they could make large enough quantities for study. The problem is that matter and antimatter annihilate each other when they meet, so the antihydrogen is short lived. The ALPHA project has changed that. Using strong and complex magnetic fields stops the antimatter from coming in contact with any matter.

This technique allowed the antihydrogen to last for a tenth of a second, plenty of time to study the properties of antimatter.

Antimatter has always been a bit of a mystery. During the Big Bang, equal amounts of antimatter and matter should have been made. But for some reason, everything around us is made of matter and the antimatter seems to have disappeared.

The research was published yesterday in Nature online.

ResearchBlogging.orgAndresen, G., & et al (2010). Trapped antihydrogen Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature09610

Here’s the press release from CERN, and here’s a neat video all about it.

New monkey species discovered, sneezes when wet

// October 27th, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Recent Research

Snub nosed monkey

Image reconstructed on photoshop based on similar species and a carcass of the new species. Image by Dr Thomas Geissmann.

Meet Rhinopithecus strykeri, the Burmese snub-nosed monkey that sneezes when it rains. It is covered with black hair from its head to its very long tail, except for its ears and chin beard which have little white tufts. Angelina Jolie lips complete the look.

On it’s flat little face it has an upturned nose and wide nostrils, perfect for rain catching. When it rains they are often found with their heads between their legs. Hating life.

The monkey was found in Northern Myanmar, formally known as Burma. The research was conducted by a team of primatologists including Flora & Fauna International.

It’s new to science, but old news to the local people who already knew it well in Lisu language as mey nwoah and in Law Waw language as myuk na tok te, both mean ‘monkey with an upturned nose.’

It’s like the Margay cat again… we don’t hear about it until it’s documented in a SCIENCE way, in a journal, written and peer reviewed. /rant.

Though they DID interview hunters as part of the fieldwork. One of the hunters even gave them a bag he had made with the skin of a juvenile snub-nosed monkey. I guess that counts.

Other species of snub-nosed monkeys have been found in China and Vietnam, but this one is different in that it is particularly black, especially sneezy, and the skin around its eyes is pale pink instead of blue (among other things.) All snub-nosed monkeys are considered endangered, and it is estimated that the population of this species is only 260 – 330 individuals. Local people and Flora & Fauna International are working to protect the newly found species, but as always conservation is a tough gig.

Below is the citation for the journal article BUT BE WARNED! I couldn’t find it. I tried to resolve the doi and got nada. I searched all through the American Primate Journal and found nothing. I’ll keep checking and see if it comes back. Post a comment if you can find it before me.

ResearchBlogging.orgGeissmann, T., Lwin, N., Aung, S., Aung, T., Aung, Z., Hla, T., Grindley, M., & Momberg, F. (2010). A new species of snub-nosed monkey, genus Rhinopithecus Milne-Edwards, 1872 (Primates, Colobinae), from northern Kachin state, northeastern Myanmar American Journal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20894

UPDATE: Thanks to the comments below who found the journal article. Download it in pdf.






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