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Artist Luke Jerram creates the most dazzling glass-blown representations of microbes, to the awe of scientists and the general public. His glass microbiology series includes viruses like H.I.V. and bacteria like E. coli in remarkable structural detail. Colorblind, the artist focused on the shapes and textures of these pathogens. Some works are currently on display in a Manhattan art gallery.

Luke Jerram’s glass-blown representation of H.I.V. Image provided courtesy of the artist.

Luke Jerram’s series is not without its critics. Some, including medical professionals, question whether he should use the causes of deadly and incurable diseases for artistic purposes. However, such criticisms may underplay the power of these works of art to engage the public and put a face on faceless pathogens. These breathtaking works reveal a world of biology and medicine hidden for millennia by the limitations of the human eye, and dampened even in the 21st century by the limitations of the two-dimensional images we use to view these creatures under a microscope. Luke Jerram’s works bring that much-needed third dimension. Take a look for yourself.

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Maybe


A space capsule has landed in rural Australia, and its contents will help answer a lot of questions about asteroids and the formation of the solar system… Maybe.

The capsule in question hails from the Hayabusa spacecraft. Designed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Hayabusa wasn’t just built for exploratory purposes. JAXA wanted to use Hayabusa to test new technologies for sending unmanned spacecraft to planetary bodies, explore them from orbit, land on them, collect samples, and return those samples to Earth. The spacecraft’s target was 25143 Itokawa, an asteroid (hereafter referred to as ‘Itokawa’). Discovered in only 1998, Itokawa orbits the sun in a meandering path that crosses Mars’ orbit. In case you were wondering, the asteroid was named for Japanese rocket scientist Hideo Itokawa (1912-1999), the father of the Japanese space program. For such an honor, some critics are regretting that the asteroid named for Dr. Itokawa was Hayabusa’s target, considering the number of technical glitches and failures that plagued the spacecraft’s mission
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You are looking at a picture of the world’s oldest known leather shoe. It was found in an Armenian cave in 2008, and an international team of archeologists recently published their analysis of this object in the journal PLoS One.

Scientists have debated as to when humans decided to cover their feet. Most hypothesize that we have been shoed for tens of thousands of years. However, the reasons behind our ancestors’ abandonment of bare feet are hotly debated. As for this specimen, it is not the oldest known shoe. But, it is the oldest known shoe that is not made from plant material.

The shoe itself is made of leather, most likely cowhide. Both the shoe and the grass loosely stuffed in it date to approximately 3627–3377 B.C.E. “B.C.E.” stands for “before common era,” a newer term synonymous with “B.C.” (“Before Christ”). The shoe fits a human right foot. Based on the dimensions, archeologists assume the shoe fit a woman (American size 7). The grass haphazardly stuffed inside the shoe may have indicated that it was inserted to preserve the shoe shape for storage. Leather laces closed the shoe firmly around the wearer’s foot.

The shoe discovery, while newsworthy, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The cave in which the shoe was found is called Areni-1. It has been inhabited by human groups from these ancient times up through the medieval period. However, there are distinct portions of the cave that date from the Chalcolithic (“Copper”) Age, including the areas where this shoe was found. The Copper Age encompasses the 4th millennium B.C.E., during which this shoe was manufactured. Other items in this cave date from the same time period, including dried fruits, a possible winemaking apparatus, obsidian stone tools, animal remains, and several ritualistic jars (including one vessel which contained a teenage human skull). All in all, it seems Areni-1 was a cave of some importance to a population of Copper Age humans. It served as living quarters and sites of rituals.

Areni-1 is a rare window to the past: a glimpse at how our ancestors survived and thrived, and laid the ground for a more prosperous future for their descendants. And the search of this extensive archeological treasure is not complete. More clues to our past may be hidden in the caves depths! After all, shoes work best in pairs, and the left partner of this shoe remains missing.

Image provided courtesy of Boris Gasparian and the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Yerevan, Armenia.

Obsession

Conservation biologists often obsess over counting animals in the wild.

“How many [insert animal name] are in [insert habitat name] this month? How do those population figures compare to last year at this time?”

If you think such questions are exciting, head to your nearest research university to start your Ph.D. in conservation biology. For the rest of us, take a few moments to appreciate how difficult it is to answer those questions. Counting animals? For the 2010 Census alone, the United States government has hired over 400,000 people to help count the total number of Americans, at a cost of over $11 billion. Even the most optimistic of scientific grants for counting another animal species wouldn’t cover a fraction of that budget.

Thus, to count their targets, conservationists have to get creative. A popular method for larger animals involves setting up motion-triggered cameras in the wild: an animal comes close to the camera, sensors record that motion and activate the camera, and the camera records a few seconds of footage for scientists to view later. Over time, the camera can record multiple images of animals passing by the camera, and scientists can extrapolate the total number of animals from a particular species based on the number of appearances of that species in the camera footage. They have to take other measures into account as well (the distance between cameras, what is known about the roaming or migratory patterns of the species in question, etc.), but this passive method sure beats hiring 400,000 Americans to count the number of jaguars in Guatemala.
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Bitter Pill


Apparently, today (and every 8 June) is World Oceans Day. Along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, I’m guessing today’s holiday was overshadowed by more bad news from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

If you’re like me and spent most of today unaware of World Oceans Day, the Ocean Project has a few easy steps you can take (aside from the obvious: drive less) to help out in response to the Deepwater Horizon crisis. Take a look and see how you can lend a hand.

The picture above shows thick oil piled up along a private beach in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Image provided courtesy of Katherine Bourg and the New York Times.

In 2005, the Kavli Foundation, in partnership with the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, announced a new prize for outstanding achievement in three scientific fields. The Kavli Prize would be awarded every two years, and recipients in each category would split a $1 million award. Thus, in 2008, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway handed out the inaugural Kavli Prizes in the three anointed fields: neuroscience, astrophysics, and nanoscience. Two scientists, for example, shared the 2008 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for their studies of quasars, the most energetic and luminous objects known in the universe.


His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway (on the right) hands out the 2008 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience during a ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Image provided courtesy of the Kavli Foundation.
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In July of 2009, something hit Jupiter, leaving behind a hole the size of the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, no one noticed except for Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer from Australia. Wesley runs an observatory out of his home in New South Wales. There, on 19 July 2009, he observed what he thought was a dark storm racing across one of Jupiter’s poles. It didn’t take long for him to realize that there was no dark storm. Instead, something had hit Jupiter, leaving a scar the planet’s thick upper atmosphere.

Wesley contacted NASA, and the space agency turned the Hubble Space Telescope toward our closest gas giant neighbor. They confirmed the scar in the Jovian atmosphere, and word spread that another astronomical body had collided with our solar system’s largest planet, just over 15 years after comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke apart and hit Jupiter.
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