Friday, August 31, 2012

Image of the Week: Six New Species of Millipedes Found in Musuem Collections

A male specimen of Nephopyrgodesmus eungella--one of six new
species of millipede found in leaf litter that was sitting on the shelves
of two Australian museums. Image Courtesy: Robert Mesibov (CC)

Think you have to organize an expedition to an isolated patch of wilderness or the deepest depths of the sea to find news species?  Not hardly.  This week, scientists described six new species and three new genera of millipedes that were found on the shelves of two Australian museums.  Dr. Robert Mesibov, a millipede specialist at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, discovered the specimens among the "residue" (in this case bags full of leaf litter) from previous collecting expeditions focused mainly on beetles.  Our image of week shows one of the new species.  All six are described--and shown in beautifully creepy photographic detail--in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Find out how scientists classify and name the diversity of life on Earth, in our modules: Taxonomy I and Taxonomy II: Nomenclature.

Read about two new bat species discovered in 2009 among the Smithsonian Institution's mammal collections and a new dinosaur discovered in 2011 in Natural History Museum of London's collections.

See the new species of lacewing scientists in California recently found by browsing photos on Flickr.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Video of the Week: Critical Thinking on Climate Change

Our video of the week is a bit longer than usual: it's a full-length lecture by Dr. Richard Milne from the University of Edinburgh entitled "Critical Thinking on Climate Change: Separating Skepticism from Denial."  Dr. Milne offers a clear and compelling explanation of the difference between true skeptics (who help move science forward by asking tough, legitimate questions) and deniers (who cherry-pick data, rely on false experts, and use other questionable techniques to advance a viewpoint in the face of scientific evidence).

Learn More
For more discussion about what constitutes true scientific controversies and how they are resolved (or not), read our module Ideas in Science: Scientific Controversy.

For more about how visuals, such as graphs, are used and misused, check out our module Data: Using Graphs and Visual Data.

You might also be interested in other lectures in the University of Edinburgh's series "Our Changing World."

And, as always, we love getting your comments. Please let us know what you think! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

War Paint Gets a Chemistry Make Over

Soldiers Apply Camouflage Make Up
North Dakota National Guard recruits practice applying camouflage
face paint as part of their training. Chemists from the University of
Southern Mississippi are formulating a new silicon-based paint that
can reflect the intense heat of a bomb blast or fire.
Image: Senior Master Sgt. David Lipp, courtesy of The U.S. National Guard (CC)
This week, thousands of scientists are gathered in Philadelphia, PA for the American Chemical Society's annual meeting.  They'll be doling out the 2012 Heroes of Chemistry awards and discussing all kinds of chemistry-related topics from climate change to drug treatments for chronic diseases

But one symposium in particular caught our eye: Polymers for Personal Care and Cosmetics.  Most of the presentation abstracts focus on the ingredients and chemical properties of familiar products like toothpaste, hairspray, and skin cleansers--which are fascinating in themselves.  But one presentation describes a newly developed camouflage face paint that can shield the skin from the heat of a bomb blast or fire.

For Dr. Robert Lochhead and his research team at the University of Southern Mississippi, developing the prototype of this super make-up for the U.S. Department of Defense was truly a chemistry puzzle. They needed to create face paint that would reflect intense heat but was also waterproof, easy to apply and remove, worked as camouflage, didn't irritate the eyes, and contained at least 35 percent of the insect repellent DEET.

Most commonly used combat face paints have an oil or wax base, which is flammable and may make burns worse by melting to the skin. Lochhead and his team took a cue from many modern cosmetics and substituted silicon for these traditional hydrocarbon ingredients.  Then they used a hydrogel (a network of polymers capable of holding a large amount of water) to encapsulate the DEET and prevent it from catching fire.

In lab tests, the new paint protects skin from intense heat for between 15 and 60 seconds--potentially enough time to allow a soldier or fire fighter to move to safety. The researchers also plan to test it on clothing, tents, and other surfaces that could benefit from extreme heat protection.

For more about the purpose and importance of scientific meetings see our module on Scientific Communication: The How and Why of Scientific Meetings.

For more about how professional societies like the ACS help foster scientific progress, read our module on Scientific Institutions and Societies.

For a fun look at the chemistry of everyday items, check out Chemical and Engineering News' "What's that STUFF?" page.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Image of the Week: The Science of Garbage (Infographic)

Part of the infographic "World of Waste" from Science
Different countries produce different types of waste. An inforgraphic included in the August 10th
edition of the journal Science compares data about waste from around the world.  G. Grull√≥n/Science

When we think of garbage, we tend to think of municipal waste--the trash (and recycling) that comes out of our homes and businesses.  But there's a whole lot more to the waste stream than just what we set out on the curb.  The August 10th special issue of the journal Science, "Working with Waste," looks at both municipal waste and aspects of waste stream we tend not to think about, like leftovers from agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and sanitary (sewage) systems.

Our image of the week gives a tiny taste of one of the many resources included in the special section: a four-page infographic that visualizes and compares data about garbage from around the world.  This image shows a comparison of the types of municipal solid waste thrown away in France and the United States from 1980 to 2005. View the full infographic, or download a pdf.

While some of the scientific papers in the section require a subscription, many of the other resources (like the infographic) are available free for the next month:
  • Listen to the "trashcast" covering Grabology 101; the challenges of recycling rare and precious metals from consumer products; and getting over "the yuck factor," a purely psychological barrier to handing human waste efficiently
  • Watch a video about efforts to invent a "Toilet 2.0" that more efficiently deals with human waste

For more about visualizing scientific data, see our module "Data: Using Graphs and Visual Data."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Image of the Week: New Fossil Skull Fragments Suggest Greater Complexity in Humanity's Family Tree

The cranium known as 1470, which was discovered in 1972, is shown
pieced together with a lower jaw discovered in Kenya in 2009 and
believed to belong to the same early Homo species.
© Photo by Fred Spoor

In 1972, archaeologists working in Kenya unearthed a mystery: a partial skull with a long, flat face and a large cranium. For the first half of the 20th Century, scientists thought the evolutionary tree for modern humans (Homo sapiens) was pretty simple. We had evolved from Homo erectus on a fairly straight and branchless path, with evidence of only one other Homo species (dubbed Homo habilis) that predated and overlapped with Homo erectus. But the skull, known as 1470, suggested that there might have been another Homo species--a distant cousin of modern humans--living in Africa alongside our direct ancestor Homo erectus about 2 million years ago. With only one specimen to go on, scientists disagreed about whether 1470 truly represented a separate species or simply showed the range of variation in the previously known Homo species.

This week, scientists announced that they had found portions of three additional skulls, which appear to confirm that 1470 was not a complete anomaly and suggest that there were two additional Homo species living alongside Homo erectus. Our image of the week shows one of the new fossils, a lower jaw bone, fit together with 1470 (with the help of computer imaging).

Even with the new evidence, the debate continues about how many distinct Homo species were living in Africa between one and two million years ago. What is certain is that scientists have a new reason to closely examine the shape and complexity of our family tree.

Learn More
Read more about the discovery in the New York Times, Science News, or the press release from the Turkana Basin Institute and National Geographic.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Image of the Week: NASA's Curiosity to Land on Mars Sunday

An artist's rendering of Curiosity in the Gale Crater on Mars. Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech

You can bet that scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be at work late this Sunday.  In fact, they'll likely be at the edge of their seats until at least 10:31 pm local (Pacific) time--that's when the new Mars rover Curiosity is scheduled to touch down and begin its search for evidence of life on  the Red Planet. Just landing the car-sized rover safely in Mars' Gale Crater will be a feat of physics. (Among other things, it requires a maneuver engineers call a sky crane, which involves lowering the rover on a cable from a hovering rocket stage released by a passing spacecraft.)

Once Curiosity has its wheels under it, it will be a rolling geology and chemistry lab. It's equipped with cameras, a drill, a sieve, analytical tools for assessing the chemical composition of air and soil samples, and laser called the "ChemCam" that can vaporize bits of rock from roughly nine meters (30 feet) away and test their composition. Our image of the week shows an artist's rendering of the Curiosity examining Martian rocks with a set of tools at the end of its two-meter (seven-foot) arm.

Visit NASA's "Follow Your Curiosity" page to see more images, watch a video simulation of the Curiosity's landing, download fact sheets about the rover, or find a landing party in your state.

Will you be watching?  If you're an educator, are you using the landing as a teaching opportunity?