28 July 2014

an Hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole world

A murmuration of starlings appears to mirror a quantum phenomenon:
[a] new model is mathematically identical to the equations that describe superfluid helium. When helium is cooled close to absolute zero, it becomes a liquid with no viscosity at all, as dictated by the laws of quantum physics.

Image: murmuration at Netivot via TheFabWeb.com

18 July 2014

Seeing things

Newton’s wrong guesses are...as interesting as his correct ones. A well-known example is his conviction that light is made of particles, not waves. What he had in mind were solid ‘corpuscles’, not the photons of modern physics, but it’s still tempting to see him as having been half right. And in trying to explain the splitting of white light into a spectrum, he came up with the beautiful notion that the width of the coloured bands matches the mathematical proportions of a musical scale. People had traditionally counted no more than five colours in a rainbow, but for his theory to work Newton needed more, so he introduced two ‘semitones’, orange and indigo, and we’ve been counting seven colours in a rainbow ever since.
-- Andrew Crumey in Aeon

Image: iridescent cloud above Thamserku, a 6,600-meter peak in Nepal by Oleg Bartunov via APOD

11 July 2014


The ribosome is a tiny organelle present in all living cells in thousands of copies that manufactures the protein molecules on which all life is based. It effectively operates as a highly organized and intricate miniature factory, churning out those proteins – long chain-like molecules – by stitching together a hundred or more amino acid molecules in just the right order, and all within a few seconds. And this exquisitely efficient entity is contained within a complex chemical structure that is some 20-30 nanometres in diameter – just 2-3 millionths of a centimetre.
-- from What is Life? by Addy Pross

Added 27 October 2014: Listen to this section of Radiolab's translation show.

Added 26 Jan 2015: "We are all just different kinds of homes to the ribosomes!"

Image: David S. Goodsell, the Scripps Research Institute via RSBC Protein Data Bank

8 July 2014

"The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it"

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars.

Yet further, you never enjoy the world aright; till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to           enjoy it.
– Thomas Traherne

Image: Laurent Laveder

2 July 2014


It is the episodic squeezing of our heart, the pressure difference between systole and diastole, that give rise to the pulses we feel in our wrists, our temples and our throats. The pulse is the defining characteristic of life. Every so often someone comes up with a design for an artificial heart that pumps without need of a pulse. How would it feel, I wonder, to have blood that moved continuously through the body; not the ebb and flood of a tide, but a ceaseless, circular flow?
From Diary by Gavin Francis, London Review of Books, 6 March 2014

Image: MRI picture of tissue fibres around left ventricular cavity, captured using diffusion tensor imaging, which tracks the movement of fluid through tissue, using different colours to represent the orientation of the strands.  Laurence Jackson