Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Valentina Tereshkova, 1st Woman In Space

On this day in 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Tereshkova returned to Earth after spending nearly three days as the first woman in space and made 48 orbits of the Earth. She had been interested in parachute jumping when she was young, and that expertise was one of the reasons she was picked for the cosmonaut program. She became the first person to be recruited without experience as a test pilot. From Today in Science History

Monday, June 18, 2007

Steve Ditko Explains Science To The Masses

After Steve Ditko left Spider-Man and Marvel Comics in a huff in the mid-‘60’s he landed at 3rd string publisher Charlton where he created The Question, and revamped Capt. Atom and The Blue Beetle.

Blue Beetle © DC Comics
Ditko’s growing obsession with the dictates of Objectivism soon dominated his work. In the pages of this Blue Beetle story, recently published in “The Action Heroes Archives” by DC, Steve sort of explains the difference between Science and Technology:

Dig the dialogue Steve scripted for this otherwise standard fight scene between BB and The Specter (a precursor to Ditko’s later creation, The Missing Man):

Finally, a recap on why scientists are better than you:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The War That Time Forgot

Here's the 1st part of a story from 'The War that Time Forgot' from Star-Spangled War Stories #116, 1964. It's not a classic example of all-out dinosaurs vs. marines carnage that most stories were, but it's enough to give you a feel for what they were all about.

The War that Time Forgot © DC Comics


And here's what else you could have been spending your allowance on way back when:

Buy "The War That Time Forgot" HERE

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Steranko's TALON


Talon © Steranko
One of the great 'often promised but never published' concept's was Jim Steranko's 'Talon'. It first appeared as a poster in Steranko's Comicscene (or it may have been Mediascene by then), and then again (above) in one of Marvel's sword & Sorcery mags in the 70's. Too bad it never got off the ground.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fermilab Physicists Discover "triple-scoop" Baryon

Physicists of the DZero experiment at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have discovered a new heavy particle, the Ξb (pronounced "zigh sub b") baryon, with a mass of 5.774±0.019 GeV/c2, approximately six times the proton mass. The newly discovered electrically charged Ξb baryon, also known as the "cascade b," is made of a down, a strange and a bottom quark. It is the first observed baryon formed of quarks from all three families of matter. Its discovery and the measurement of its mass provide new understanding of how the strong nuclear force acts upon the quarks, the basic building blocks of matter.

The cascade b is produced in high-energy proton-antiproton collisions at Fermilab's Tevatron. A baryon is a particle of matter made of three fundamental building blocks called quarks. The most familiar baryons are the proton and neutron of the atomic nucleus, consisting of up and down quarks. Although protons and neutrons make up the majority of known matter today, baryons composed of heavier quarks, including the cascade b, were abundant soon after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe.

Six quarks -- up, down, strange, charm, bottom and top -- are the building blocks of matter. Protons and neutrons are made of up and down quarks, held together by the strong nuclear force. The DZero experiment, in which six Louisiana Tech researchers participated, has discovered the cascade-b particle, which contains a down quark (d), strange quark (s) and bottom quark (b). It is the first particle ever observed with one quark from each generation of particles. (Graphic and information supplied by Fermilab.)

The Standard Model elegantly summarizes the basic building blocks of matter, which come in three distinct families of quarks and their sister particles, the leptons. The first family contains the up and down quarks. Heavier charm and strange quarks form the second family, while the top and bottom, the heaviest quarks, make the third. The strong force binds the quarks together into larger particles, including the cascade b baryon. The cascade b fills a missing slot in the Standard Model.

Once produced, the cascade b travels several millimeters at nearly the speed of light before the action of the weak nuclear force causes it to disintegrate into two well-known particles called J/Ψ ("jay-sigh") and Ξ- ("zigh minus"). The J/Ψ then promptly decays into a pair of muons, common particles that are cousins of electrons.

Direct observation of the strange b baryon Xi_b^{-}. 2007. Authors: D0 Collaboration, V. Abazov, et al., Physical Review Letters, preprint.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Designer Lizards

Researchers have found that female side-blotched lizards are able to induce different color patterns in their offspring in response to social cues, "dressing" their progeny in patterns they will wear for the rest of their lives. The mother's influence gives her progeny the patterns most likely to ensure success under the conditions they will encounter as adults.

Spider-Man & The Lizard © Marvel Comics

The lizards' main predator, the coachwhip snake, is a highly efficient hunter, and the lizards need just the right combination of traits to avoid being eaten. Sneaky yellow-throated males like to hide in the grass and need a barred pattern that breaks up the outline of their body so it blends in with the background. Aggressive orange males spend a lot of time in the open and need stripes to help them escape from predators (the optical effect of stripes on fast-moving prey makes them hard to catch).

The researchers reported that female side-blotched lizards give an extra dose of the hormone estradiol to their eggs in certain social circumstances. The extra hormone affects the back patterns of lizards that hatch from those eggs, creating either lengthwise stripes down their backs or bars stretching from side to side. Whether they get stripes or bars depends on the genes for other traits.

"This is the first example in which exposure to the mother's hormones changes such a fundamental aspect of appearance. Even more exciting is that the mother has different patterns at her disposal, so she can ensure a good match between back patterns and other traits that her offspring possess," said Lesley Lancaster. link

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Chance Chemistry of Life

A pair of UCSF scientists has developed a model explaining how simple chemical and physical processes may have laid the foundation for life.

The basic idea is that simple principles of chemical interactions allow for a kind of natural selection on a micro scale: enzymes can cooperate and compete with each other in simple ways, leading to arrangements that can become stable, or “locked in,” says Ken Dill.

The scientists compare this chemical process of “search, selection, and memory” to another well-studied process: different rates of neuron firing in the brain lead to new connections between neurons and ultimately to the mature wiring pattern of the brain. Similarly, social ants first search randomly, then discover food, and finally build a short-term memory for the entire colony using chemical trails.

They also compare the chemical steps to Darwin’s principles of evolution: random selection of traits in different organisms, selection of the most adaptive traits, and then the inheritance of the traits best suited to the environment (and presumably the disappearance of those with less adaptive traits).

Like these more obvious processes, the chemical interactions in the model involve competition, cooperation, innovation and a preference for consistency, they say.

In its simplest form, the model shows how two catalysts in a solution, A and B, each acting to catalyze a different reaction, could end up forming what the scientists call a complex, AB. The word “complex” is key because it shows how simple chemical interactions, with few players, and following basic chemical laws, can lead to a novel combination of molecules of greater complexity. The emergence of complexity – whether in neuronal systems, social systems, or the evolution of life, or of the entire universe -- has long been a major puzzle, particularly in efforts to determine how life emerged.

“A major question about life’s origins is how chemicals, which have no self-interest, became ‘biological’ -- driven to evolve by natural selection,” he says. “This simple model shows a plausible route to this type of complexity.” link
Stochastic innovation as a mechanism by which catalysts might self-assemble into chemical reaction networks. 2007. Justin A. Bradford and Ken A. Dill. PNAS