Showing posts from 2011

Winter break links II

"Texts From Cephalopods" -- in which all famous internet octopus videos are the same octopus, and it has an iPhone. Flavor Network and the Principles of Food Pairing in new journal Scientific Reports classifies foods by the number of similar compounds they share and investigates whether different cultures pair like- or unlike-tasting foods more frequently. Science quilts! (The biological ones are the most beautiful, of course, though CERN bubble chamber traces are nice as always.)

Winter break links I


“G-495, G-495, Gordon Valley. This is 3-6-Juliet inbound. You guys ready for us?” We were not. And we knew they were inbound well before they called because we could hear the rotors echoing to us from down-glacier. It had been about 50 minutes since one of the National Science Foundation helicopters, call sign 3-6-Juliet, had dropped off Adam, Roger, and myself at our soon-to-be campsite for the next week. We were in Gordon Valley in the Transantarctic Mountains, a Middle Triassic (245 Ma) fossil site that had been fruitful in the past for both vertebrates and paleobotanical work (in the form of a standing petrified forest). In those 50 minutes we had to find an appropriate campsite, one that was on relatively level ground and offered us some sort of protection from the ferocious winds that could gust off the polar ice cap toward the frozen Ross Sea. The site we found was a few hundred yards from the helo site across mostly flat, but very boulder-ful, terrain. The goal was to get the…

Nancy Schoeppner & the Ecology of Awesomeness

Originally posted at Rah Rah Radula. I sure don't know Nancy Schoeppner at all.  She really flies under the internet radar, this is literally the only actual information I could find on her. I only paper-know her, as in I've read a handful of what I'm guessing is her PhD research with Rick Relyea at the University of Pittsburgh. But, in addition to being an EXCELLENT science communicator (I totally heart reading her papers!) and experimental biologist, her work has really shaped some of my, hitherto undescribed, thinking about how prey decide whether or not to be terrified.  There are various names for this sub-discipline of Ecology: Risk-Assessment, Inducible Defenses, the Ecology of Fear (Mwahhahahahaha! ...). The quick and dirty is this: Hark back unto my first blog post where I described the terror of being an oyster and knowing a predatory snail was coming for you, grinding a hole into your shell, hell-bent on suckingyourgutsout! In that moment, that oyster can&#…

Mantis shrimp setae

Seen here is a photograph of the mantis shrimp (stomatopod) Odontodactylus scyllarus, a predatory tropical marine crustacean. The two oval-shaped "Dumbo ear" structures attached to its head are called antennal scales. They are composed of a flat lamina of cuticle surrounded by a fringe of red setae (hair-like structures). Interestingly, if one zooms in on these hairs, they bear a remarkable resemblance to bird feathers. A single hair actually has tiny hairs branching off of it, and the secondary hairs bear their own set of accessory hairs! It is not clear what function these antennal scale setae may have, if they have a function at all. Besides possible mechano- and chemo-receptive roles, I would be interested in exploring their potential hydrodynamic roles during fast burst swimming in Odontodactylid stomatopods (manuscript in press, to be discussed soon). Stomatopod photograph by Jens Peterson


Smith Island Sampling

Originally posted at Beach Happenings at Diamond Point, Sequim. Smith Island is the small island beyond Protection Island off Whidbey. Smith and Minor Island are connected by a beach at low tide. Like Protection, Smith now has a marine reserve status protecting the DNR owned sub-tidelands. On Friday a group of seaweed scientists all went out to Smith Island to make a permanent collection of who and what are living there. This was our third attempt to go, and the weather was finally kind to us! Dr. David Duggins took us out on the R/V Centennial from Friday Harbor Labs. Dr. Tom Mumford set up a video camera to record the seaweeds living on the bottom. Next we towed a dredge behind the boat while divers carefully collected seaweeds that were more fragile. This photo shows the basket full of seaweed being lifted into the sorting table. Once the seaweeds are on the table, everyone gathers around, sorts the algae and calls off species names. Voucher specimens for pressing and micros…

Weekend links

Shrines to science. Does everyone have these, or mostly just those who do PCR? The Bill Nye Effect is a grad-written blog covering a variety of disciplines including biograds. The sponsoring class is Science Writing for Impact from the program on the environment, and our own Emily Grason currently has top billing. If you've ever made or used a computational phylogenetic tree, early bioinformaticist Margaret Dayhoff is someone you should know about.

Happy GSS day!

Sorry for not posting yesterday -- there was a combination of a great Graduate Student Symposium, other obligations, and Blogger problems. All of you GSS presenters are in an excellent position to write blog posts now! My vote for best phrase of GSS: "rugosity index." What was your favorite talk and why?

Mushroom bodies

This is a picture of a stained slice out of the middle of a paper wasp brain. This specimen is from the Neotropical genus Leipomeles that was collected from Tiputini, Ecuador. She is a queen. My favorite thing about this slice is the nice resolution of the mushroom bodies, the insect neural centers of higher function (aka the nested rods at the top of the picture). Mushroom bodies are really cool!! Hymenoptera, the insect order that contains wasps and ants, have particularly big, elaborate ones and are particularly good, relative to many other insects, at tasks that require learning, memory, and sensory integration. All in those rods!! These have evolved similarly (ie, folding/elaboration and increase in size in both insect MBs and frontal lobe in vertebrates) but independently to centers of higher cognition in vertebrates. - Marie Clifford

Thanksgiving weekend links

Weekend links

Adorable plush nucleotide dolls (Kickstarter project)

"Rotate Your Owl" (I cannot explain)

Lovely liverwort

This is a pore in the epidermis of the liverwort Marchantia. The plant grows along the ground as what's called a thallus, no stems or leaves or roots, and it's divided into photosynthetic sectors with one pore each to allow carbon dioxide in and oxygen out during photosynthesis. Liverworts are very basal plants and the only ones not to have stomata, though all other land plant groups do gas exchange through those instead. I knew about the pores, but I didn't know they were gorgeous! Before I put a cover slip on, the pore stood up like a volcano over the air chamber. - KMP

Survival of the weakest – when doing poorly does best

Post previously published at Beacon Researchers at Work.

"Survival of the fittest" is a phrase coined by Herbert Spencer upon his reading of Darwin's On the Origin of Species to describe the process of natural selection. In common parlance, the fittest member of a population is the strongest, fastest, biggest and, in general, the best. However, the word "fitness," as used by biologists, is not identical to its lay usage. A small, unarmored fish may be more fit than more armored ones in the absence of predators. Pairs of wild turkey brothers who cooperate in wooing mates are more fit than aggressive loners. Fitness is a description of how many descendants an organism will leave, be it through strength, resistance to disease, ability to acquire resources or some other mechanism. Here, I will describe some work I've participated in where these two definitions of fitness disagree.

First, I should introduce myself. My name is Joshua Nahum, and I am a graduate st…


This blog is intended to house posts by biograds on basically any science-related topic.  We're not picky about format: a photo and caption is just as good as a long essay on a paper that just got published.  Interesting multimedia efforts are encouraged.

Currently we are not officially affiliated with our university, but the blog has been suggested as a way to bring grad-generated content onto the department web site to help with recruitment of new grads and faculty.  The department is willing to link us and possibly feature our posts if:

(1) we want that to happen

(2) we sustain a productive community for some unspecified period of time

(3) we abide by common-sense policies of not using words inappropriate to network TV and not badmouthing the university/department

Everything about this blog is open to discussion, so if you have suggestions please post them in comments.  For now, my goal is to see if we can generate enough posts for a blog to make sense in the long term.  I have…