Dinosaurs with all the Frills, A Mammoth Amount of Methane, Squirrel Adoption, Herzberg Medal - Dr. Gilles Brassard, The Upside of Irrationality

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Dinosaurs with all the Frills

june5-2010-medusaceratops.jpg Artist's reconstruction of Medusaceratops lokii, copyright Luis Rey
T-Rex might be the king of the dinosaurs, but the Ceratopsians - the family that includes mighty Triceratops - are certainly royalty. These huge herbivores thrived at the end of the Cretaceous - the end of the age of dinosaurs, and their remarkable diversity still enthrals paleontologists. Over the years, paleontologists have found many different species, each with a new and exotic form of bony frill and an assortment of intimidating horns. Dr. Michael Ryan, a Canadian scientist and Curator & Head of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is particularly fascinated by these animals and is always excited to see a new one. His latest is called Medusaceratops lokii, named for a monster from Greek mythology, a god from Norse mythology, and inspired by a comic book.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowNew Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs, edited by Michael Ryan (indcludes Medusaceratops)
external site - links will open in a new windowNews Release from Cleveland Museum of Natural History
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Ryan's Blog
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Ryan previously on Quirks - Nov. 26, 2005 and April 28, 2007

A Mammoth Amount of Methane

june5-2010-mammoth.jpg Woolly Mammoth from display at Royal BC Museum, photograph copyright Tracy O, cc-by-sa-2.0
The extinction of large mammals, such as mammoths and mastodons, more than 13 thousand years ago, led to a decrease in methane emissions, which, in turn, influenced climate change. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a high potential for contributing to global warming. Dr. Felisa Smith, an Associate Professor of Biology and a Paleoecologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, has determined that these creatures produced a total of 9.6 megatonnes (or teragrams) of methane annually. Ice core samples taken in Greenland show an abrupt decline in methane levels at the time of their extinction. The drop in methane also coincides with the arrival of humans, who are believed to have hunted the megafauna to extinction. It also coincides with the Younger Dryas period of massive cooling. This suggests human influence on climate began much earlier than the dawn of civilization.

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Related Links

external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in Nature Geoscience
external site - links will open in a new windowNews release from University of of New Mexico
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Smith's web page

Squirrel Adoption

june5-2010-squirrel_pup.jpg Female squirrel prepares to move pup, courtesy Ryan W. Taylor
Hearing squirrels chattering away in the tree-tops usually means there is a claim being made for food and territory. But new research by Jamie Gorrell, a PhD candidate in Biology at the University of Alberta, and his colleagues, has found that in red squirrels, all that noise may mean something far more altruistic. Red squirrels will adopt pups that have lost their mother - but only if they are related. By calling out to each other, they are aware of all the other squirrels in their neighbourhood, especially relatives. When the communication with a relative stops, a female with pups of her own will investigate and retrieve one of the newborns for her own nest. This is a significant finding because this type of adoption is more common among species that live in family groups; but red squirrels are asocial and live solitary lives, once they reach adulthood.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in Nature Communications
external site - links will open in a new windowNews release from U of Alberta
external site - links will open in a new windowThe Kluane Red Squirrel Project
external site - links will open in a new windowJamie Gorrell's web page
external site - links will open in a new windowCBC News Story

Herzberg Medal - Dr. Gilles Brassard

june5-2010-brassard.jpg Herzberg Medal Winner Dr. Gilles Brassard
Canada's highest science honour, the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal, was awarded this week to Dr. Gilles Brassard, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing at the Université de Montréal. Dr. Brassard is considered one of the inventors of quantum cryptography, and a pioneer in the field of quantum information science. That discipline exploits the strange and exotic properties of the quantum world to accomplish things that would be impossible using any other technique. These include sending messages that can't be successfully intercepted, developing computers able to simultaneously perform every calculation possible to them, and quantum teleportation, which allows, at least for tiny particles, scientists to beam things in a way Star Trek fans would find very familiar.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowHerzberg Medal site
external site - links will open in a new windowNews Release from the Université de Montréal
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Brassard's web page
external site - links will open in a new windowCBC News story

The Upside of Irrationality

june5-2010-upside_irrationality.jpgWe've all had those Homer simpson moments. You know, when you decide to do something really dumb, and your only reaction is "Doh! Stupid Brain!" Well, it's funny, because it's true. According to Dr. Dan Ariely, in many ways our brains are stupid because we're predisposed to irrationality. In his new book, however, he suggests that there might be an upside to this irrationality. Dr. Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University, and his many colleagues in the developing field of behavioural science, are discovering that while we're often irrational, our irrationality is predictable - it follows a pattern. Some aspects of it may be beneficial to society - it makes us altruistic, for example, so we sacrifice our own good for that of others. On the other hand, being aware of the ways in which we're irrational in a less positive way may help us more effectively compensate for our stupid brains.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowThe Upside of Irrationality
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Ariely's web site
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Ariely's old web site at MIT

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