Tisn’t the Season

Spring is in the air, and Clostridium tetani is in the earth. On Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk writes “with playing in the dirt comes minor injuries that you really don’t want to turn into anything nasty.” Infection through open wounds can be fatal, as the bacterium releases a neurotoxin that causes uncontrolled muscular contractions. So if it’s been ten years or more since your last vaccination, now is a good time for a booster. Meanwhile, Dr. Dolittle shares the amazing winning images of the inaugural Bio-Art competition on Life Lines. From the discharge of electric fish to the branching capillaries of a mouse kidney, serious science is made more accessible through imaging and visualization. And finally, The Weizmann Wave introduces us to the IceCube neutrino detector at the South Pole, where 5,000 detectors arrayed in a cubic kilometer of ice wait for weakly interacting massive particles. A summer day in Antarctica can reach 40°C below—but south of the equator, winter is just around the corner.


Reaching for the Moon

The moon entrances us—it is near yet far away, familiar, yet unremittingly mysterious. In synchronous rotation, it has a face it never shows. It pulls the oceans; it stirs the blood. It beckons into the unknown. On Universe, Claire L. Evans says that in 1969, six artists snuck “a minuscule enamel wafer inscribed with six tiny drawings” onto Apollo 12’s landing module. Claire writes, “the artistry of this ‘museum’ is as much about the gesture of sneaking it, illicitly, onto the leg of the lunar lander, as it is about the drawings themselves.” On Starts With a Bang!, Ethan Siegel explains that due to the very slight tilt of the Moon on its axis, permanently shadowed craters at the North and South poles may hold “some very, very dirty ice, mixed with normal Moon-dust and rock, possibly similar to a glacier on Earth!” Could these ice-traps help sustain a lunar colony? Or should we be content to study the Moon with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter?

Fusing Art and Science

We are excited to introduce a new blog dedicated to The Art of Science Learning. This project will culminate in the spring with conferences across the United States. Funded by the National Science Foundation, The Art of Science Learning will explore “how the arts can strengthen STEM skills and spark creativity in the 21st-Century American workforce.” Over the coming weeks and months, voices on this blog will “lay out the landscape and articulate many of the issues and challenges we’ll be discussing at the conferences.” To start things off, David Green suggests we bring science into the arts as well as the arts into science, and describes a new course at Bard College that challenged humanities students to do “plenty of hands-on lab work.” Peter Economy compares the math and science scores of the U.S. with those of other nations, saying “we must find new approaches to educating our youth in math and science—the current approaches are clearly broken.” And Helena Carmena shares the results of an “experiment with science, art, and literacy integration” in a fourth-grade classroom, where students were first asked to draw a scientist and artist, and ended up improving their standardized test scores. See the revealing illustrations on The Art of Science Learning, and join in on the discussion as we seek to bring together art and science for the sake of improving education.

Aesthetic Tech

On Universe, Claire L. Evans takes us all the way back to 1966, when an event called 9 Evenings happened in New York City. This “epic art salon” brought together ten artists with a bevy of engineers from Bell Laboratories, who “helped the artists with complex technical components to their pieces.” FM transmitters, infrared cameras, amplifiers and photoelectric cells contributed to “performances, installations, and dances that blended technology with fine art to somewhat legendary effect.” Claire has pictures and video of the event on Universe. And on Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer shows us a “clever little feat of engineering and product design,” a watch which displays the time in braille. Called the Haptica, this watch has a novel aesthetic informed by its function, making it (shall we say) timeless.

Google: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

If the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, then what of the hand that rocks the world? Dr. Jeffrey Toney reports that Google recently showed its revolutionary colors with speak2tweet, a service that enabled netless Egyptians to access Twitter over the phone. After breaking with China over censorship issues last year, Google’s political conscience is becoming clear. Their Android operating system powers smartphones around the world, their driverless cars turn heads in California, and the new information services just keep on coming. Jessica Palmer shares the Google Art Project, where you can virtually tour the world’s museums and inspect artwork at incredible levels of detail. PZ Myers decries the indiscriminate filtering of Google Scholar, which returns creationist sources among its academic search results. And Frank Swain plugs the phrase ‘apparent death’ into Google’s Ngram Viewer, which plots the rise and fall of word usage in its concordance of digitized books. Google’s mantra is ‘don’t be evil,’ but as their influence grows, here’s hoping that power won’t corrupt their good intentions.

Authorial Issues

i-59d03f349b436f96b162b8cf03b41e27-authorbuzz.jpgSelf-expression is a human ideal, but just as you can be a virtuoso with a hammer, you can be a hack with a paintbrush. On Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer questions the value of painted canvas when the painters “neither recognize nor are particularly interested in” the scenes they produce. In the case of Chinese technicians who imitate western styles for the American market, Jessica asks, “isn’t an artist’s active creative input, his or her emotion and imagination, or at least some degree of innovation, essential to create ‘art’?” Razib Khan considers literary issues on Gene Expression, saying it’s okay that novelist James Patterson employs a team of co-writers to ink in his many projects. “The idea of the author as the lonely genius is very powerful,” writes Razib, but “there’s no reason that a workmanlike collaborative writing process necessarily entails lowest-common denominator fiction.” On Confessions of a Science Librarian, John Dupuis compares what things an author can and cannot control in the publishing process. And On The Book of Trogool, Dorothea Salo shares the obstacles of authority control, when many authors may have the same name, and one author may have many.

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