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Roadrunner and Largest Flying Bird Described from Fossils

A bird with a 23-foot wingspan was described in the BBC News.  At an estimated 155 pounds, this bird probably had to jump from a height to get airborne and likely rode on thermals.  The article says the bird rivalled in size some light airplanes.  A diagram shows the Argentinean giant with wings upwardly stretched […]

Elephant Trunk Inspires Robot Arm

A German company took inspiration from the soft, supple, yet powerful trunk of the elephant and built an arm to imitate it.  Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a company engaged in “research of practical utility,” rhapsodized on the abilities of the elephant trunk: It is long, gray, soft and – endowed with no fewer than 40,000 muscles – extremely […]

Mother-of-Pearl Inspires Materials Science

It’s not only beautiful, it’s strong.  EurekAlert described how scientists are intrigued by mother-of-pearl, also called nacre, because of its strength: you can drive a truck over it and it will not break.  It is 3,000 times more resistant to fracture than the aragonite from which the oyster makes it.  95% of it self-assembles in […]

Health News that Brings Hope

Why do we never see articles claiming that exercise is bad?  Here are some more reasons to get moving. Work your brain:  Who wouldn’t mind a few more brain cells?  EurekAlert reported research from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden that exercise can stimulate the formation of new brain cells.  They think this helps explain why […]

Our Complex Brains: Lessons from Phrenology

This is your brain on science: it is too complex for simplistic diagrams.  Back in the 19th century, the “science” of phrenology was in full swing.  Phrenologists divided the brain into more than two dozen regions of “mental faculties” that controlled such things as instincts for eating and sex, sensation of color, language ability, and […]

Why Your Eyes Jitter

The coach’s advice “Keep your eye on the ball” is impossible, because your eyes are constantly in motion with tiny jerks called fixational eye movements or saccades.  Why do the eyes move all the time?  Some scientists at Boston University decided to find out.  Reporting in Nature,1 they found that saccades help you discriminate fine […]

Plants’ International Travel Upsets Evolutionary Idea

They may be rooted in soil, but plants really get around.  Some of them make it around the world.  One example has upset a long-believed evolutionary idea.     First of all, plants have a social life.  National Geographic published a story about how plants socialize and communicate.  “Plants have family values, too, it seems, […]

Video Clip:  The Rich Little Bird

A popular video clip has been circulating around the internet for over a year.  It shows an Australian lyre bird imitating other birds and man-made sounds.  Click here to watch the 3.5 minute performance.  Narrated by David Attenborough, it was voted the #1 most popular Attenborough moment from the naturalist’s TV shows. Speaks for itself.  […]

Color-Blind Cephalopods Perform Colorful Camouflage Tricks

Roger Hanlon has studied octopi, squid and cuttlefish for decades.  He stands in awe of their ability to camouflage themselves.  In a Primer article for Current Biology,1 he detailed some of their sleight-of-skin magic tricks.     His article has frames from a movie clip that show an octopus changing its skin from plain to […]

Molecular Motors Move You

The realization that cells are filled with molecules that move like machines fascinates many people.  Students who grew up thinking of chemistry as bouncing molecules that did little more than link up and separate have a whole new paradigm to consider: molecules that walk, fold and unfold, spin and operate like ratchets, robots, wrenches and […]

Ant Brain: Software Compression Extreme

How can so much software fit in such a small space?  An ant brain can’t be very big, but look what it can do.  The BBC News and Science Daily both told about the route-finding ability of army ants.  Not only do they find the most efficient routes to their targets, they even plug potholes […]

Science Is for the Birds

Birds, with all their variety and functionality, are a never-ending source of study for scientists.  Here are some recent feathery findings: Memory masters:  Scrub jays are like us: they can plan ahead, regardless of mood.  Current Biology did a study that proved these common western birds can cache tomorrow’s breakfast regardless of their motivational state.  […]

Seeds Muscle Their Way into the Soil

A biological motor has been found, of all places, on the seeds of wild wheat.  A team of German and Israeli scientists watched wheat seeds and found they could dig themselves into the ground.  How can a dry seed, with no muscles, nerves or circulatory system, accomplish such a feat?  It all becomes clear when […]

Details of Photosynthesis Coming to Light

New tools of science are unveiling the secrets of what was long a “black box” in biology: photosynthesis.  A paper in Nature last week1 described the structure of the plant PhotoSystem I complex (PSI) in near-atomic resolution.  Next day, a paper in Science2 described some of the protein interactions that occur when plants turn light […]

Seeking Explanations for Plant Fibonacci Spirals

The spiral patterns on an artichoke are enough to make a physicist choke.  How do plants like cacti, sunflowers, strawberries and artichokes produce geometric patterns of left- and right- handed spirals?  Why do these spirals follow a mathematical rule called the Fibonacci sequence?  A new theory suggests that it is the optimal energy arrangement for […]
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