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Taking a break from actual science to post a cool aerial shot of some geography. This is in fact a view of the Betsiboka River in Madagascar and shows the different colours caused by different sediments. Also it looks like some weird octopus or jelly fish.

(via geographile)


Smallest Fossil Footprints Found

“The world’s tiniest fossil footprints have been found in Canada. Researchers say they were left behind by a scurrying salamander-like creature 315 million years ago.”


Supernaturalesque Optics: Brocken Specter

“If you’re lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, you might experience a rare and seemingly supernatural optical phenomenon called Brocken specter, named after the highest peak in the Harz mountains in Germany. The Brocken specter appears when the setting sun casts a shadow from directly behind a climber at a higher altitude onto a cloud or mist at a lower altitude. When the shadow is cast upon a mist the sunlight surrounding it enters the suspended water droplets in the air and reflect back to the observer via diffraction, creating a rainbow-colored halo around the shadow’s head. This halo is called solar glory.”


From Live Science: “Astrophotographer Niccolò Bonfadini took this stunning picture in the Finnish Lapland in the winter of 2011. With the sun rising behind the photographer, the Belt of Venus is the pinkish streak caused by the atmosphere reflecting light from the setting or rising sun — giving the reddish hue.”

Two things:

  1. Astrophotographer is pretty much the the best job title I’ve ever heard.
  2. I know I’m supposed to be looking at the Belt of Venus and everything, but holy crap, those show-pillar things are trees!

Scientists in Sri Lanka have found a way to generate electricity from plantain. (Photo: Rhitu Chatterjee/PRI’s The World)

How to make a plantain battery:

1. Take a piece of plantain trunk and tear off the outer layers to get to the central-most part.

2. After extracting the core, boil it and then chop it finely until it turns into a soft mushy material.

3. Take some of the material and stuff it between two rectangular pieces of metal containing copper and zinc, held in place by electrical tape. The two pieces of metal are the battery’s electrodes.

The electrodes react with phosphoric acid from the plantain, creating an electric current. More.


The Gamification of Synthetic Biology Continues: Creators of FoldIt Follow up With RNA Transformation Game

Meet eteRNA, your new internet addiction. Not only is it a super-fun way to procrastinate on that thing you should be doing, it also helps to advance biology’s understanding of RNA and its synthesis- in a big way.

Scientists from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University have developed eteRNA as a successor to Foldit, a popular internet-based game that proved the pattern-matching skills of amateurs could outperform some of the best protein-folding algorithms designed by scientists.

They’re hedging their bets that eteRNA will work similarly - and are even funding the real-life synthesis of the weekly winner’s RNA molecule to see if it really does fold the same way the game predicts it should. 

The scientists hope to tap the internet’s ability to harness what is described as “collective intelligence,” the collaborative potential of hundreds or thousands of human minds linked together.

Using games to harvest participation from amateurs exploits a resource which the social scientist Clay Shirky recently described as the “cognitive surplus” - the idea that together, as a collection of amateurs, we internet people make a very good algorithm because we react to information presented in a game, get better at it as we go along, and make informed decisions based on what has or hasn’t worked for us in the past. 

“We’re the leading edge in asking nonexperts to do really complicated things online,” says Dr. Treuille, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and one of the original masterminds behind the game. “RNA are beautiful molecules. They are very simple and they self-assemble into complex shapes. From the scientific side, there is an RNA revolution going on. The complexity of life may be due to RNA signaling.”

“This [project] is like putting a molecular chess game in people’s hands at a massive level,” he continues. “I think of this as opening up science. I think we are democratizing science.”

And, so far, the democratisation is working. Although the creators warn that game players may start to see legal and ethical issues in gameplay down the road, for now, the collective intelligence is trumping professionally designed algorithms. Significantly, not only do humans outperform their computer adversaries, but the human strategies developed during the course of the game are significantly more flexible and adaptable than those of the algorithms they’re pitted against.


Fifteen-year-old Jack Andraka is a fan of “Glee” and likes to kayak. He’s also the mind behind a new pancreatic cancer test that is 168 times faster than anything else in the field. In May, Jack won $75,000 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his test.

He is currently working on getting this test patented. More.

(Photo: Jack Andraka, via


Earth, From Mars

While this isn’t an actual image from Mars (it’s computer generated), it does correctly show how Earth and other planets would line up if seen from Mars.

(via ilovecharts)

Kickstarter project: A comic book exploring the science of consciousness

PRI’s weekly radio show, To the Best of Our Knowledge, is producing a six-hour radio series on the science of consciousness, featuring interviews with many of the leading experts — neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, philosophers, writers, and artists. And they’ve come up with a great companion piece that will help make all these tricky ideas more approachable: A comic book!

The comic book will be an imaginative story, using illustrations to explore some of the deepest questions in science: How do our brains work? Are animals conscious? What about computers? Will we ever crack the “mind-brain problem”? And what does all this brain science tell us about the most personal question of all: Who am I?

Read more about the project and give them your support!