Embracing the Wide Sky, Seltzer Sequestration, Nanomuscles, Job Swap Ants, Woolly Caterpillar Self-Medicates

 

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Embracing the Wide Sky


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Daniel Tammet has a remarkable mind. He's proficient in more than six languages, including Icelandic (which he mastered in one week), he memorized the number pi to 22, 514 decimal places and he literally sees numbers as vivid geometrical shapes. It's all part of being an autistic savant. While these talents seem almost supernatural, in his new book, Embracing the Wide Sky, Daniel Tammet explains the neurological basis for the way he thinks. And, as he argues, far from being "freakish," the remarkable abilities that come with being an autistic savant are natural extensions of the way the average human brain operates. Mr. Tammet argues that by understanding how his unique mind works, we can better understand the basis for human thought and creativity.

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Seltzer Sequestration


smokestack.jpg Copyright GFDL, Gyre

Carbon capture and storage - taking CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel and burying it underground in geological traps - is being considered as one possible solution to our greenhouse gas problems. However, we haven't had a complete understanding of just what happens to carbon dioxide trapped underground over long periods of time. Now Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a geologist at the University of Toronto, and her colleagues, have found natural CO2 traps, and discovered that the gas mostly dissolves in underground water.



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Nanomuscle


nanomuscle.jpg left, muscle relaxed, middle, muscle under voltage, right, muscle at high temperature. (University of Texas at Dallas)

It's lighter than air and stronger than steel. It's thirty times more powerful than animal muscle and much faster. It can operate from temperatures near absolute zero to past the melting point of iron. If you were going to build a muscle that might allow you to leap a tall building in a single bound, it might be the carbon nanotuble muscle produced by Dr. Ray Baughman and his group at the NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas.

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Job Swap Ants


ant.jpg Pheidole pallidula, the species of ant Dr. Sokolowski studied, copyright April Nobile

If the daily grind of your job is getting you down, take a close look at an ant colony: not only are ants expected to work non-stop, they don't really get much of a say in what kind of work they do. Their occupational fate is determined as larvae - whether they're a soldier, worker or food gatherer is well beyond their control. However, Dr. Marla Sokolowski, a biologist at the University of Toronto, has recently discovered a bit of unexpected flexibility in the working world of ants. She's found that some soldier ants are capable of the entomological equivalent of beating their guns into ploughshares, and can help food-gathering ants with their task
under certain conditions.

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Woolly Caterpillar Self-Medicates


wooly_bear.jpg Woolly bear caterpillar, courtesy Dr. Michael Singer

Imagine if a nasty parasite laid its eggs in you. The eggs would hatch within your body, the parasite would live by slowly consuming you from the inside out, finally finishing you off by bursting out like the creature in the movie Alien. You might be tempted to spare yourself the agony by taking poison. That's just what the wooly bear caterpillar does. The caterpillar isn't trying to end its misery with suicide, though. It's eating poisonous leaves to kill the parasites within it, in a kind of insect chemotherapy. Dr. Michael Singer, a biologist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, says the most remarkable thing about this adaptation is that the caterpillar seems to know when it needs its medicine.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein.
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