The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

Post 7042

Robbie Gonzalez

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

The brain-bending animations of Dave “my name is david and i make gifs” Whyte are among the most captivating we’ve ever seen.

Whyte, a Dublin-based PhD candidate studying the physics of foam, tells Colossal‘s Christopher Jobson “his first geometric gifs riffed on computational modules he was exploring while in undergrad.” His Tumblr, Bees & Bombs, is updated regularly with new animations created withProcessing, an open-source programming language. (The programmatically inclined would do well to check out Whyte’s twitter feed, where he often links to his source code.) He’s also available for freelance work.

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte2

The Spellbinding Mathematical GIFs Of Dave Whyte3

[ Dave Whyte via Colossal]


This Is How NASA Tests Planes for Safety

Post 7041

Ria Misra

This Is How NASA Tests Planes for Safety

This Is How NASA Tests Planes for Safety

NASA has been working on ways to improve search-and-rescue after a plane crash. But how do they test it? Simple, they hoist planes 100 feet into the air and drop them… over and over again.

This footage of a Cessna 172 being dropped into the dirt 100 feet below is just the latest test at NASA Langley into how to create emergency transmitters that are more likely to survive a crash—and it’s already yielded some surprises.

What kinds of surprises? Well, for instance, it’s not usually better to hit softer ground. A previous test of the same model plane had the Cessna running directly into concrete instead of soil. Curiously, this brush with the concrete was actually less destructive, as the plane skipped like a stone upon first hitting the ground, making the final crash slightly less damaging.

But without that initial skid to throw off some of the force, all the impact was absorbed by the plane itself, which crumpled up like a tin can:

This Is How NASA Tests Planes for Safety

…before completely flipping over:

This Is How NASA Tests Planes for Safety

…to general dismay on the ground:

This Is How NASA Tests Planes for Safety

After this latest test, researchers say they plan to use the crash data to come up with better ways to install emergency transmitters, so that they’re more likely to make it through.

GIFs made via footage from NASA Langley

X-Rays Reveal a Mysterious Component of Human Hair

Post 7040

Jennifer Viegas

X-Rays Reveal a Mysterious Component of Human Hair

X-Rays Reveal a Mysterious Component of Human Hair

A new and surprising component of human hair has just been discovered, according to research recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Crystallographic Association. Remarkably, it’s a discovery that could lead to improved hair products.

Above: An electron microscopy image of a human hair cross section. The top region shows the external part of the hair strand (cuticle). The bottom shows the internal “macrofibrils” that exist in the cortex region. (Fabiano Emmanuel Montoro/LNNano, CNPEM)

Human hair has been extensively studied for decades, but until now, a complete understanding of its structure had proven elusive.

“Hair traditionally has been constituted of three regions: medulla (central part of the hair), cortex (biggest volume fraction of the hair) and the cuticle (external part of the hair),” project leader Vesna Stanic, a scientist working at the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Source, toldDiscovery News.

Related: How Hair Turns Gray

“We discovered a new intermediate zone, which is in between the cuticle and cortex,” she added.

Stanic and her team made the discovery by combining an ultra powerful submicron X-ray beam with cross-sectional geometry. The original goal was to just study materials used in hair treatments, and how they affect hair. While doing this, Stanic wondered about the diffraction patterns of hair.

Diffraction is the bending of waves around obstacles and openings. X-ray diffraction patterns of a given material can therefore reveal the local arrangement of both molecular and atomic structures.

Diffraction patterns of human hair have been documented before, but they usually involved pointing the X-ray beam perpendicular to the hair fiber axis. Stanic and her team decided to do something different.

“We performed a full diffraction map from a 30-micron-thick cross section of hair, with an incident beam parallel to the hair axis, and then compared it to the diffraction map with the beam perpendicular to the hair axis,” she explained.

Before this study, human hair was thought to be composed only of a fibrous protein called alpha keratin, as well as certain minerals and lipids. The scientists were therefore extremely surprised to find that a key diffraction feature of alpha keratin was absent in the area between a hair strand’s cuticle and cortex. The pattern instead corresponded to beta keratin.

Related: Plucking Lots of Hairs Grows More Hairs

Previously, beta-keratin was associated with reptiles and birds. It is what makes claws, scales, beaks and feathers strong, tough and, in the case of feathers, also flexible and elastic.

Alpha and beta keratin are similar molecules, but they have very different sizes and shapes.

Stanic explained, “The basic difference between alpha and beta keratin is the molecule conformations. We can say that beta keratin is essentially stretched alpha keratin. Alpha keratin has a helical structure, while beta is typically arranged in sheets.”

The discovery comes on the heels of other research helping to explain why humans from different parts of the world have distinctive hair types. The reason can be summed up in one word: Neanderthals.

Daven Presgraves, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Rochester, told Discovery News that people of non-African heritage today retain Neanderthal alleles (alternative gene types) at genes affecting keratin filaments.

“The implication is that these Neanderthal-derived alleles were particularly well adapted to Eurasian environments in which they’d evolved for several hundred thousands of years,” Presgraves told Discovery News. “Modern humans who interbred with Neanderthals on their way out of Africa were, in effect, able to borrow these keratin-associated alleles, perhaps accelerating adaptation to a Eurasian environment that was new to them.”

Both this study and Stanic’s will likely lead to new and improved hair products.

As Stanic said, it “is important to know the structure of hair in order to understand how this structure will change with different hair products.”

Fido might also enjoy a better shampoo in future too, since the researchers next plan to study animal hair using the same submicron X-ray beam/cross-section geometry technique.

This article originally appeared at Discovery News and is republished here with permission.

Million-Dollar Find: Shipwreck’s Golden Treasure Includes Very Rare Coin

Post 7039

Million-Dollar Find: Shipwreck’s Golden Treasure Includes Very Rare Coin

Treasure hunters off the Florida coast recently pulled up the haul of a lifetime: nearly $1 million worth of gold coins and elaborate gold chains, as well as an extremely rare Spanish coin known as a “Tricentennial Royal.”

The treasures were hidden on the seafloor for 300 years before the crew of a salvage vessel brought them to the surface last month, on June 17. The riches were found just 1,000 feet (305 meters) offshore of Fort Pierce, Florida, according to Eric Schmitt, captain of the aptly named salvage vessel, Aarrr Booty, which was used to locate the treasure.

The ships that once carried the valuables set sail from Cuba on July 24, 1715, when the island was a Spanish colony. The ships’ mission was to transport the riches below deck to Spain, which at the time was waging a war against France and was desperately in need of money to fund battles. [Shipwrecks Gallery: Secrets of the Deep]

But the ships never made it to Spain. A hurricane off Florida sank all but one of the 12 ships on July 30, 1715. The so-called “1715 Fleet” has been a treasure-hunter’s fantasy ever since. In 2010, Brent Brisben and his father, William, obtained permits to explore the wrecks in search of sunken riches.

The lucky haul off Fort Pierce was the work of the entire Schmitt family, which includes Eric and his wife, as well as Eric’s sister and parents. The Schmitts were subcontracted to explore the 12 different shipwrecks for Brisben’s company (1715 Fleet Queen Jewels, LLC), which owns salvage permits.

Included in Aarrr Booty’s recent haul were 51 gold coins and 40 feet of golden chain. But the real treasure salvaged from the deep was the rare Tricentennial Royal, one of very few gold coins minted for King Philip V of Spain, according Schmitt, lead diver of the Aarrr Booty vessel’s treasure-hunting expeditions.

The coin is “very round” compared to most coins salvaged from the wrecks, said Schmitt, who told Live Science that the royal coin was die-cast (made by pouring molten gold into a coin mold). Most Colonial coins from this period were made using cruder methods that resulted in less uniform shapes, according to the coin-collecting website Coinquest. The round royal coin, which is about the size of a silver dollar, is worth an estimated $500,000, according to Brent Brisben.

And even though Brisben and Schmitt are excited about the discovery of this precious coin, both remain hopeful that even more treasure lies hidden off Florida. Brisben’s company owns the salvage rights to five of the 11 ships that sank on July 30, 1715, he told Live Science. He estimates that $440 million worth of coins and other treasures have yet to be recovered from these centuries-old wrecks, which include

Among the treasures that are still at large are the elusive queens jewels, which belonged to Philip V’s second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, Duchess of Parma. The elaborate jewels were to be a part of the queen’s dowry and were supposed to be brought to Spain by the 1715 Fleet. Because jewelry wasn’t a taxable commodity in Spain at the time, details about the jewels weren’t entered on any official documents, but a few ornate items were allegedly aboard the fleet when it sank, including a 74-carat emerald ring and 14-carat pearl earrings, according to Brisben.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science@livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Your Burger Is Full of Living Things, Even If It’s Vegetarian

Post 7038

Maddie Stone

Your Burger Is Full of Living Things, Even If It’s Vegetarian

Your Burger Is Full of Living Things, Even If It's Vegetarian

We all have our personal feelings about how a burger should be cooked. But if there’s one thing that’s universally agreed upon, it’s that a burger on bun with ketchup and toppings should be very much dead. In reality, that’s not the case at all.

Your cow patty is a goddamn ecosystem. And yes, vegans, so are your seitan burgers.

Like everything else on the surface of planet Earth, our meals are teeming with life. We just didn’t notice until recently, when scientists began using genetic tools to study the invisible microbial ecosystems, or microbiomes, that permeate our world. Today, we’re just beginning to discover how the microbiomes in our bodies, our homes, and yes, our sandwiches, impact our health. Let’s explore what we know about the ecosystems we eat.

How Many Bugs We Talkin’?

Obviously the first question on any sane person’s mind is how many microbes am I actually consuming in my meal. At first glance, you might suppose this is the sort of information you could find online. But while food manufacturers are required by the FDA to monitor microorganisms in the case of pathogens and probiotics, until recently, very little was known about the more benign critters we consume on the daily.

Your Burger Is Full of Living Things, Even If It's Vegetarian

Yum. Image via Michael Stern / Flickr

It’s not really an easy question to answer. Produce picks up microbes in the fields, during transport, and at the grocery store. Meat gathers a handful of critters at the processing plants. Even microwave dinners aren’t sterile—freezing will kill most microorganisms, but a small number survive and can be resuscitated after food thaws. Even if you zap the crap out of your hot pocket in the microwave, it’ll pick up bugs from the air, your plate, and your utensils before it ever enters your mouth (also teeming with microbes).

The long and short of it is, every meal you eat is alive, and no two meals are quite the same. But that’s not a very satisfying answer. As we’re becoming increasingly aware, even the non-pathogenic microbes in our environment can have major impacts on our health. Before we can determine how much the microbes we eat matter, we need to get a sense of roughly how many critters we’re consuming—and how much that number varies much from diet to diet.

One of the first studies to tackle this topic is a paper published in the open-access biology journal Peer-J this past December. In the study, researchers from University of California, Davis prepared or purchased a day’s worth of meals and snacks representing three different ‘typical’ American diets: A fast-food diet featuring Starbucks, McDonalds, and frozen dinners, a USDA-recommended diet that included a mix of fruits, veggies, meat, dairy products, and whole grains, and a vegan diet containing oatmeal, protein shakes, and tofu soups. All meals were purchased or prepared in a home kitchen, whipped up in a blender, and subjected to several microbiological tests—plate counts to estimate the total number of critters present, and DNA analyses to determine the overall community diversity.

The USDA diet contained the most microbes, roughly 1.3 billion. The lion’s share of these bugs were found in a cup of cottage cheese (1.1 billion), although the meal plan’s turkey sandwich also contained a notable 38 million microbes, and a small yogurt and apple snack harbored another 55 million. The vegan diet clocked in second with way fewer microbes—roughly 6 million—most of which were hiding out in a blueberry banana soy protein shake. And the processed-food diet contained the fewest, but still a modest-sized city’s worth of life forms: 450,000 critters in a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino, 240,000 in a Big Mac, large fries and coke, and 680,000 in a prepared Stouffer’s lasagna.

Your Burger Is Full of Living Things, Even If It's Vegetarian123

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt contain huge numbers of tasty bacteria. Image via Shutterstock

Most of the foods the researchers studied were dominated by bacteria, although certain meals contained a healthy population of viable yeast (roast turkey sandwich, presumably the bread) or mold (1.5 million cells in a bowl of Kashi cereal, and I’d rather not know why.) For the exact numbers and the full breakdown of all the meals, you can check out the open-access scientific paper.

Caveats to this study abound. The three diets the researchers profiled only contained a limited number of foods, and if different meals were swapped in, the overall numbers might have been dramatically different. For instance, the USDA diet was the only one to included cultured foods—yogurt and cottage cheese—and these contained more microbes than just about everything else put together. If the vegan meal plan had featured kombucha and kimchi, it might have come out the frontrunner.

But while the lives of the hundreds of thousands of microbes in your frappucino are certainly intriguing (I for one am wondering whether they’re into the sugar or the caffeine), the exact numbers aren’t really what’s important here. The takeaway is that most of us are consuming millions to billions of relatively harmless microbes on the daily, and that the total number varies depending on our dietary preferences.

The next question is whether we should care.

Do They Matter?

If the article you’re reading right now — presumably after having consumed millions of microbes for breakfast — isn’t sitting so well, know this: Most of the microbes you eat are swiftly dissolved by your stomach acid, which has a pH of about 1.5. Still, a small number of acid-tolerant microbes will make it past that hurdle unscathed, moving merrily along into your digestive tract. And here, they meet the natives.

Your Burger Is Full of Living Things, Even If It's Vegetarian

The microbial cells in your body outnumber your own 10:1. Image via Shutterstock

If you thought there were a lot of microbes in your food, please have a look at your intestines. Even a moldy bowl of Kashi pales in comparison to what’s living in your gut. It’s estimated that the average human harbors somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 trillion gut microbes—a diverse community comprising bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes. A large body of research now suggests that our gut microbiome influences our health in diverse ways, touching everything from digestion to the immune and the endocrine system.

When it comes to the microbes we eat, then, a key question is whether they contribute to this cast of invisible characters that secretly influence our lives. This is a very, very new area of research, and right now we have more questions than answers. In a few cases, such as breastmilk, we do know that food microbes matter. Not long ago, human breastmilk was thought to be sterile; we now know that it is, in fact, a creamy bacterial soup. And we’re learning that some of the bacteria in breastmilk are making their way into into the infant gutand establishing themselves as permanent colonists.

By the age of 2 or 3, a toddler’s gut microbiome will typically have the full diversity of a healthy adult. At that point, it seems to be harder, though not impossible, for newly ingested microbes to set up shop. According to a review paper published last month in Trends in Microbiology, probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus — which we consume by the billions in certain dairy products — tend to stick around for a short period of time before moving on:

There is compelling evidence that some ingested bacteria can reach the small intestine and colon alive and metabolically active. Here, they make up an important part of our transient microbiome which, in turn, is part of the variable microbiome that is repeatedly identified in comparative microbiome studies.

Even if the microbes we eat don’t stay in us, they can swap snippets of DNA with members of the established gut community, in a process known as horizontal gene transfer. It’s possible, then, that our meals represent something of a reservoir of new genetic material for our established gut biota. But we’ve yet to learn how important this process is and exactly what traits might be shared between the visitors and the natives.

“Ultimately,” the authors of the aforementioned review paper write, “a key question is whether the impact of ingested bacteria reaches beyond pure ecology of the gut microbiome and impacts host health.” As we continue to dig deeper, profiling the microbes in both our diets and our bodies, we will begin to answer that question.

For now, it’s probably best to just make peace with the fact that your meals are in fact quite alive. Every bite you swallow results in a very tiny mass murder.

Contact the author at or follow her on Twitter.

Top image via Flickr

The Milky Way Over Yellowstone is Impossibly Beautiful

Post 7037

Mika McKinnon

The Milky Way Over Yellowstone is Impossibly Beautiful

The Milky Way Over Yellowstone is Impossibly Beautiful

These photographs of Yellowstone National Park by Dave Lane are so gorgeous it’s difficult to believe they’re from real life.

The Milky Way Over Yellowstone is Impossibly Beautiful

The Abyss Pool in Yellowstone National Park. Image credit: Dave Lane

Lane photographed the Abyss Pool in Yellowstone National Park just after a storm had passed the area — you can catch the hint of a flash of lightning between the trees in the center light. The image contains an astonishing example of airglow, the faint emission of light in a planetary atmosphere that prevents the night sky from ever being completely dark. When first posting the photograph to his Facebook page, Lane explained that instead of dropping airglow saturation by 10% like he usually does, he emphasized it by 10% in a gentle tweak on this stunning image. He spent 4 months colour-correcting the night time images to match them to the natural colours seen in the daytime at Yellowstone National Park.

The Milky Way Over Yellowstone is Impossibly Beautiful

Black Pool in Yellowstone National Park. Image credit: Dave Lane

When asked about his astrophotography, Lane practically glows with awe in our astonishing, beautiful universe:

Get away from the light drive out 20-30 miles out of town and look up on a clear dark nite and you may see something that will forever change your life. This is what a galaxy looks like from the inside.

Top image: Multi-Prismatic Springs in Yellowstone National park. Credit: Dave Lane

This Is What Happens When You Dissolve an Antacid On the Space Station

Post 7036

Ria Misra

This Is What Happens When You Dissolve an Antacid On the Space Station

This Is What Happens When You Dissolve an Antacid On the Space Station

Drop an antacid into water here on Earth and you’ve got yourself a glass of fizzy water. Do the same thing up on the space station, and you’ve just made yourself a disco ball.

International Space Station crew member Terry Virts shoot this footage showing just what happens when an antacid tablet is dissolved into a floating clump of water up on the ISS. The results are like so:

This Is What Happens When You Dissolve an Antacid On the Space Station

The demonstration is not just to show the strange fluid dynamics that you can spot on the ISS, although those are certainly on display here, it’s also about the hardware used to capture it.

In the resupply mission earlier this year, one of the new items brought aboard was an incredibly high-resolution camera, capable of shooting in up to 6K. This was a test run for the new camera, and the detail is exceptionally sharp—you can see all the bubbles as they shoot outwards from the water they were dissolved. NASA plans to use the new camera to broadcast videos from the ISS, but it’s also going to double as a piece of lab equipment to document—in incredibly small detail—the experiments they do up there.