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Samantha Rolfe: Astronomy and Astrobiology


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Navigating ants, hotting up in 2016 and lunar eclipse: Science Feature with Sam Rolfe 30-01-2017

Original post: http://westhertsdrivetime.radioverulam.com/2017/01/navigating-ants-hotting-up-in-2016-and_30.html

Ants use Sun and step count for navigation

Ants brains are smaller than a pin head but they can navigate to a greater extent than many other larger species. They have been found to use the Sun and visual cues in their environment. They have to carry large pieces of food back to their nests so have to rotate their body position independently of their direction of travel to achieve this. If the Sun was obscured they went in the wrong direction. If they were moving backwards, they stop, drop the food, and double check their direction before carrying on.

Understanding how ants navigate informs robotic research including designing algorithms to guide robots, including self-driving cars.

Ants have also been found to count their steps. A pile of food was placed at a certain distance from their nest, once they had been to the food pile they had small stilts made of pig bristles attached to their legs and rather than making it back to their nests some went up to 50% further than they were supposed to. However, they soon adapted to the additions, and by the next day they could find their way to and from the food pile without difficulty.

Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38665058

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/06/060629-ants-stilts_2.html

2016 hottest year since records began

Despite contributions from a known climate cycle phenomena called El Niño, which among other impacts on weather patterns influences increases the global temperature, 2016 was the hottest year on record. This adds to the growing and substantial amount of evidence of man-made climate change due to the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

97% of climate scientists agree that it is a man-made contribution that is causing a year on year trend of increasing global temperatures. It is real, it is a fact, it is not a bargaining chip for businesses to make money or for political gain, it is not in the realm of opinion. Every individual should take action in our effort to reduce the man-made impact, it is not just a problem for government, councils or businesses.

There are many pages of information on how you can reduce your personal impact on climate change, but here are a few things to put into action if you don’t already.

  1. Recycle or re-use. Make a conscious effort to buy products with a recyclable packaging or choose products that have little to no packaging. Recycling is being made easier and easier for us, there is no excuse for recycling not to be a daily habit. Dispose of items like electronics and batteries responsibly.
  2. Reduce your energy use. For example, turn lights off when you leave a room, turn off computers, televisions and monitors not just on standby, replace bulbs and appliances with more modern energy efficient equivalents.
  3. Think about transport. Walk, bike or use public transport whenever possible. Think about your car, could you replace it with a more energy efficient model. Or at least ensure your tyres are correctly pressured and you aren’t carrying a lot of weight, empty the junk out!
    3a. If you aren’t driving, please don’t sit in your car with the engine idling, if you are unlikely to be moving within 30 seconds, turn your engine off! Save petrol and hence money and reduce the release of car fumes into the atmosphere.
  4. Insulate your home and reduce your water use.

Sources:

http://whatweknow.aaas.org/

http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/science-and-impacts/global-warming-science#.WIT2slxMTIU

http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=D27052CE-1

Scientist of the Month

John Hunter (1728 – 1793)

Thought of as the founder of scientific surgery. He made many contributions to medicine including:

A study of inflammation, teeth and bone growth, gunshot wounds, understanding the nature of the digestion and the first complete study of the development of a child, proving that the maternal and foetal blood supplies are separate.

However, to advance his knowledge of the human body he used to pay grave-robbers to bring him cadavers to practise surgical procedures.

In his later career, he prepared over 14,000 samples from 500 species, which were donated to a museum, which now reside at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

Sources: http://www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/hunterian/history/johnhunter.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hunter_%28surgeon%29

Night Sky This Month

The evenings are dark for the next week or so as the Moon heads in and out of New Moon phase, so good viewing for other objects, especially deep sky objects.

There is a penumbral lunar eclipse on the 10/11th Feb, starting at 22:34 10th Feb and the time of greatest eclipse is at 00:45 on 11th Feb finishing at 02:53. The Moon will get darker(, but as it is not a total lunar eclipse the face will not turn a red colour which is due to when the Moon is in the full shadow of the Earth the Sun’s rays are refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere).

In the early evening the very bright object in the West is Venus, visible for the next few weeks – it too has phases, which are visible through binoculars or small telescopes. It will become more and more crescent-like over the next month.

Sources: http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2017.html

http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast161/Unit2/Images/lunar.gif

https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEplot/LEplot2001/LE2017Feb11N.pdf

Twitter: @smrolfe

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Forensics: A Review

We the public have a greater understanding of crime scene investigation than ever before along with the science that supports investigations. This is due to the numerous popular television shows, and even in Hollywood, that present the forensic process. However, to keep audiences gripped, some technologies and techniques are exaggerated, which can cause confusion as to the extent of the reach of current scientific forensic contributions to court cases.

To balance this, the true crime and popular science book Forensics, The Anatomy of Crime (320 pages) puts all the current forensic techniques under the microscope (ha) and explores the history and evolution of each with details of trials and pioneers of the techniques as case studies backed by current experts.

Those interested in the current form of forensic science and its power to help solve otherwise unsolvable crimes with fair insight into the limitations, would devour this book going in at any knowledge level, no prerequisites required. As it is an overarching study of the whole field it would also serve as a perfect springboard for those beginning to study in these areas or looking to apply their knowledge of biology, chemistry, computing or problem solving to name but a few cross‑discipline applications.

This comprehensive work was expertly researched and constructed by Val McDermid, a seasoned crime fiction writer who uses authentic scientific techniques throughout her novels and has known many of the experts she interviewed for years. However, a warning – some of the details are not for the faint-hearted, a discussion of forensic techniques easily leads to case studies of heinous crimes that were solved due to improving forensics.

Available at your local, independent or otherwise bookshop or online retailer ISBN: 9781781251706.

forensics


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Gut: A Review

Book Review

It is my gut feeling that few of us think that our gut feeling is as important as what our heads or hearts feel. Classically they conflict, we should follow our heads or our hearts, but you really really should trust your gut.

Giulia Enders weaves a funny and informative narrative about all things to do with our largest organ, I must insist you STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, go buy this book…

Available at your local, independent or commercial bookshop or online various, including: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ 

… AND READ IT STRAIGHT AWAY.

Now that you’ve read it, I don’t need to review it and I am sure you will agree that you have learned more about your body in those ~250 pages than you have since school.

In case you didn’t read it (why not?! I thought the above prose was pretty damn convincing), I will put down a few things here that I hope will make you want to read it.

Firstly, this book is so easy to read, it is a joy to learn about how you should be pooing (yes, you’ve been doing it wrong all these years), about how your gut thinks independently of your brain and the illustrations are just so quaint, yet highly informative!

Secondly, despite having a gut feeling for millennia, it is literally in the past decade (and even then, barely that long) that science is finally waking up to the idea that our gut actually has something to say and we should be damn well listening!

Only someone as passionate about poo as Giulia can make you give a shit about yours.

Did you know that babies in the womb are totally sterile!? As soon as they enter the birth canal or are born by caesarean section, they start acquiring the microbes that will shape their gut flora for the rest of their lives.

There is a brain/gut link, though the gut can do it’s own thinking, sometimes it has to demand that the brain listen (and vice versa). This includes times of stress (and hence, stress-related gut pains/stomach ulcers/constipation etc…), otherwise the gut just gets on with things without us realising as it is made of unconsciously controlled ‘smooth muscle’.

Furthermore, our gut flora (the many billions, trillions? of microbes that live in our gut and on average contribute 2 kg to our overall weight) can also affect our mood, with links to depression and anxiety. Simply (not simply) – happy gut, happy brain – the link between the gut, diet (and hygiene, i.e. contact with bad bacteria), and hence our gut flora, and depression is becoming clearer with each new study.

A healthy gut flora (good bacteria) leaves less and less room for any bad bacteria that we may encounter to latch on and make us feel unwell.

How’s your poo looking? Check out the Bristol Stool Scale to check how you are doing. For info on how to achieve the perfect poo, get this book!

Tend to your gut garden and introduce good flora such as Lactobacillus acidophilusLactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus casei Shirota by eating natural yogurts or yogurt drinks that contain live cultures. (A favourite breakfast of mine: cornflakes/muesli (~15g), flaked almonds and/or seed mix (~10g) and natural yogurt (~100g) with a sprinkle of cinnamon (total: ~225 kcal).)

Ever wondered why being unwell can be made so much worse by an unfortunate “shart”? Or why long distance runners “shouldn’t trust a fart after X miles of running”? I’ll let Giulia explain at her award winning Science Slam talk, where only someone as passionate about poo as her can make you give a shit about yours. Get talking about your gut and you’ll realise that “the anus [and this review] is only the tip of the iceberg”.