Posts Tagged ‘RiAus’

More coral crochet (and brief patterns)

// November 25th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Science Art

I’ve got some good blog posts up my sleeve, but they’ll have to wait until after NaNoWriMo, because I’m quite sick of typing at the moment!

Instead, here are some more of my contributions to the Adelaide crochet coral reef over at the RiAus.

Fire crochet coral

Fire crochet coral close up

FIre crochet coral birds eye view

The above were made from a huge ball of wool, with probably eight different kinds of yarn rolled up in it. It was fun when the threads changed colour, especially working with the yellow one on the outside, which was quite thick and crinkly. Pattern for the outside: Chain 20, then dc each stitch, but on every third stitch add another dc into it, so it increases. For example: dc stitch, dc stitch, 2 x dc stitch, repeat. Just kept doing that! Then I stitched up the edge to make it a circle, and dc’d in the center with red wool to make the pokey out part.

rope coral

rope coral close up

This one was tricky to work with, especially with my mid-sized hook. It was, basically, just two pieces of rope. Pattern: Chain 10, dc each stitch twice (so you’re increasing every stitch.) At the bottom I used some fine yarn and the same mid-sized hook and just dc’d along the edge really loosely.

My previous post is here with the big orange curly coral. It’s been fun! Happy to talk patterns with anyone who’d like to try it at home. Essentially, it’s just a lot of regular increases to give it the curly, hyperbolic edge. I think it would look good as a hemming on sleeves or pants or skirts.

The Stupid Species – a science comedy

// March 11th, 2011 // Comments Off on The Stupid Species – a science comedy // Just for Fun, Science Communication

I just got home from seeing Daniel Keogh (from ABC’s the Hungry Beast, aka Professor Funk) performing in the 18+ science comedy show The Stupid Species – Why Everyone (except you) is an Idiot.

It. Was. Awesome.

From the complex and perplexing placebo effect to the Asch Conformity Test, it was a playful romp through the psychology of stupidity. Why is love risky (or whisky) business? How can different colours cure the sick? Why are expensive things deemed better than the cheap, but free things are the absolute best?

I could tell you, but not with as much pizazz as Professor Funk.

Go for the science. Stay for the hair (or the epic pants and jokes.)

I awarded major bonus points for starting the show with Venn Diagrams and Pie Graphs. Plus the video on the placebo effect was simply mind-blowing. Also there’s free wine testing *hell yeah!*

The show toured during last years National Science week, and is now in Adelaide on Saturday and Sunday night at the RiAus. Tickets are still available for Sunday at a tiny $10, or $8 for students (book here) and are worth double that. Take your friends, they’ll appreciate your confidence and good taste in comedy.

“We all like to think we’re special. In fact on average everyone thinks they’re above-average. Although we think we’re pretty smart our tendency towards irrational behaviour is what unites us all as humans – the stupid species,” says Daniel Keogh. Follow him @ProfessorFunk.

Filming the invisible world – 3D documentaries

// February 28th, 2011 // Comments Off on Filming the invisible world – 3D documentaries // Science Art, Science Communication, Science in the Movies

We are at a very disturbing point in film production, where we assume the audience has no imagination and no intelligence. Stories are spoon fed and wrapped up with explosions and effects to sell the same tired old plot.

Such is the opinion of Douglas Trumball, who has spent his career in science fiction animation and visual effects. He spoke on Sunday afternoon at the RiAus about the problems with the film industry and how science can save it.

What’s really lacking is immersion, a story that draws people in and the technology to make it hyperreal.

The technology is certainly improving, there’s no doubt about that. Take the infamous Avatar, which I was completely entranced by. The 3D was so subtle and authentic I honestly felt like I was there, and clapped like an idiot when it finished (much to the chagrin of my friends.)

But apparently, that’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Douglas is experimenting with cameras that capture at 120 frames per second (rather than the 30 they do now), and a projector that displays it at the same rate. For the audience he says it’s like opening a window to a different world. It’s a whole different feeling.

He envisions a cinema with a screen that curves around beyond 120 degrees, so it extends past the corners of your eyes.

And what does he want to do with this set up? Explore space. Vast, infinite and complex, space lends itself to immersive film like nothing else. It quite simply matches big content with big delivery. It needs a story to go with it too, something that captures the imagination of the audience, where they can fill in the blanks and have their own “ah ha” moment of discovery.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and science has some pretty cool stories of its own. Tim Baier is a stereographer who worked on feature films like King Kong and Lord of the Rings, and spoke on the panel about his recent work making science documentaries. I watched a preview of his work “Standing in Amazement” on Sunday, and it was breathtaking.

Image by Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

In 3D, he captured still pictures and stop-motion of Arkaroola and the Flinders Ranges.

The sun rose on mountain tops encrusted with quartzite. Macroscopic photographs showed the indentations on a snakes head which sense heat, and the pads on gecko feet which let them hang upside down on glass.

It wasn’t just a film, it was a presentation. During the movie, Tim talked about the geology of the Ranges and how the mountains had formed.

He described the van der Waals forces that work on gecko feet. It was visually breathtaking AND intellectually stimulating. The full film lasts for 90 minutes, and is playing at the RiAus this week, Tuesday to Saturday. Session times here.

He thinks there is a lot of untapped potential in 3D science documentaries. I’d agree, particularly in talking about geology. I’m thinking right now about David Attenborough’s Cave episode on Planet Earth, and combining it with Sanctum 3D.

Sunday night I watched a doco with Sir Attenborough (he is EVERYWHERE!) and they showed a stadium-sized machine that could see inside fossilized embryos in 3D. Now that’s my kinda movie!

A night of chocolate at the RiAus

// February 3rd, 2011 // Comments Off on A night of chocolate at the RiAus // 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?

Science that’s only skin deep

// December 3rd, 2010 // 2 Comments » // How Things Work, Recent Research, Science Communication, Sex and Reproduction

I’m a guest blogger for the RiAus, and this post also appeared on their fancy website. To tell the truth, I really wanted to call this post “Hormonally Yours” in homage to the Shakespeare Sisters (anyone?) but I’ll save it for another post.

Recently I was in Arnhem Land, visiting some Indigenous communities with a couple of friends. While I was there, I got pretty jealous of everybody’s darker skin. “It’s so well suited for Australia,” one of my friends lamented. “I should be in Norway or something.”

Pale skin like mine is not great for Australia. I tan pretty easily, but only after being burned bright red. While I was in the NT I slathered sunscreen religiously, but still managed to get a highly embarrassing burn on my lower back when I was building a sandcastle (an epic sand turtle, actually. Totally worth it.)

Anyway, enough about me and my weirdly tanned lower back (it’s been months! Why won’t it go away?) Let’s talk about Nina Jablonski, an anthropologist. In 2000 she suggested a new reason why skin colour varies so much. It’s not an adaptation to protect against skin cancer and sunburn, like I always thought it was.

It’s real job is to keep us highly fertile by maintaining a delicate balance between two key vitamins: Vitamin D and Folic acid.

Pica's skin tone matched her UVB exposure like her scarf matched her dress. Image by Monja Con Patines

Vitamin D is obtained through some foods, but mostly from drinking in sunshine. UV light turns cholesterol into Vitamin D, which then goes to either your liver or kidneys to be converted to an active form.

Once active it helps white blood cells like macrophages kill bacteria, and helps control levels of calcium and phosphate – important for building healthy bones.

Deficiency in Vitamin D causes rickets, a disease resulting in soft, easily broken bones and deformity which can lead to early death.

So getting enough UV (specifically UVB light) is important to not dying, and therefore having reproductive success later in life. It’s been backed up by Yuen, A. (Vitamin D: In the evolution of human skin colour DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.08.007)

Natural selection favours soaking up UV.

Penny stayed under foliage at noon to protect her folic acid. Image by Monja Con Patines

Folic acid is obtained in leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. Rather than being made by UV, the light can destroy folic acid by literally breaking it apart. (Jablonski, N. The evolution of human skin coloration DOI: 10.1006/jhev.2000.0403)

Critical for DNA synthesis, folic acid is essential during pregnancy when a lot of new cells are being made.

Folic acid prevents against 70% of neural tube defects in embryos. Its destruction by UV is bad news.

Natural selection favours avoiding UV.

So there’s an ideal amount of UV light that needs to get through the skin – enough to produce Vitamin D, but not too much to destroy all the folic acid. Getting the balance right for the environment you’re in means higher fertility, which drives natural selection

This is what Nina Jablonski thinks caused the evolution of skin colour through the sepia spectrum we see today. Dark skin, with high melanin, stops more UV light. That’s exactly what you want if you live in a place with a lot of sun, like places near the equator. Light skin lets more UV in, which is great if you live somewhere overcast and not very high on UV.

Understanding how your skin colour (NOT your race) influences these two vitamins is important in being healthy. It’s more important now than ever, because we humans travel a LOT.

Sadly, Australia is pretty high in UV and I am pretty white. Thank god for sunscreen.

Things are rarely that simple though, and I imagine there’s a few different things going on that connect UV light to skin colour.

On Tuesday the RiAus is holding an event called Skin Deep: Exploring human ancestry. They’ll be showing a preview of a new SBS documentary about skin colour scientific research, as well as results from the Genographic Project. Basically they took DNA samples from a lot of volunteers and some national identities, and now they’re giving us the goss on who’s related to who’s secret love child.

I’ll be there, I’d love to see you (though seats are limited.) I’ll be the one tweeting in the corner. Follow me @CaptainSkellett

Would love to hear from anyone who took part in the Genographic Project, and anyone who didn’t. Who would you most like to be related to? For me it’s David Attenborough, then I can dream of inheriting his voice.






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