Music Monday: Symphony of Science

Music Monday will encompass the science of music and sound, songs about or inspired by science, and anything else I can think of that seems to fit. Enjoy!

What’s better than listening to famous scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Brian Cox talk about the wonders of our universe? Listening to them sing about it, of course! Youtube user melodysheep has been making good use of autotune to create some stunning musical mashups. Here are a few:

Onward to the Edge

There is a powerful recognition that stirs within us when we see our own little blue ocean planet in the skies of other worlds.

Ode to the Brain

Here is this mass of jelly you can hold in the palm of your hands, and it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space.

We Are All Connected

The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. The cosmos is also within us; we’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

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Filed under Music, Space

Music Monday: A Song from Space

What better way to get my blog back up and going than by committing to doing a weekly feature? Music Monday will encompass the science of music and sound, songs about or inspired by science, and anything else I can think of that seems to fit. Enjoy!

What’s better than a song about space? How about a song sung from space? Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is a Flight Engineer and soon-to-be Commander of the International Space Station. He recently co-wrote a song called “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)” with Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson (BNL is the group that did the theme song for The Big Bang Theory). They performed it together along with the high school choir The Wexford Gleeks. It’s just beautiful! Check it out:

I like the line “That brilliant ball of blue/is where I’m from and also where I’m going to.”

Chris Hadfield is awesome. He’s great at keeping in touch with us Earth-dwellers – he’s done an AMA (that’s Ask Me Anything – it’s a reddit session where anyone can submit questions), and he has a frequently updated Twitter feed, where he posts pictures such as this one:

The Bahamas – taken on New Year’s Day from the International Space Station

Finally, I’ll leave you with some great life advice from the Commander, illustrated by Zen Pencils:

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The Latest in Science: Looking Back and Ahead

Yes, this is a New Year’s post. And yes, I’m a bit late. But I’ve read several great articles over the past couple of days that have either provided a nice summary of the past year’s accomplishments within the sphere of science or predicted what new marvels 2013 will bring us. So here’s some links for you to enjoy!

What Happened in 2012

NPR’s take on one of the biggest science stories of the year: The Year of the Higgs, and Other  Tiny Advances in Science. Did it change the face of physics? No. But “the way we make discoveries is oftentimes based on the accumulation of a lot of smaller insights and smaller ideas and discoveries.”

Another NPR story detailing 2012’s unusual hurricane season. Experts had many difficulties predicting the erratic weather!

Wired Science magazine gives us its best science images (spiders and dragons and feathered dinosaurs, oh my!) and top science image galleries (tiny things under microscopes and our huge earth as seen from space) of the year.

A ladybug leg, at 10x magnification

A ladybug leg, at 10x magnification

From Nature, the most prestigious scientific journal, here’s 10 people who played a key role in shaping science this year. Includes profiles of an engineer who held a $2.5 billion mission in his hands, a microbiologist who uncovered unconscious sexism in her peers, and an Italian government official convicted of manslaughter after scientists failed to predict an earthquake.

And finally, probably my favorite, is the best scientific figures of 2012 – that is, images that have been published in scientific journal articles. I’m impressed with researchers’ abilities to fit all the chemicals that shape the taste of many different tomato species into one graph. And here’s another fun image below:

Scientists measured the trajectories through space of - you'll never guess it - sperm.

Scientists measured the trajectories through space of – you’ll never guess it – sperm.

What’s to Come in 2013

Turbotodd has a really great article about how computers will soon make use of the five senses. I’d sure be excited to feel texture on my phone, and I would totally watch “Top Tasting Computer Chefs.”

Where we’ll be going in space. More countries are developing space programs, and I’m excited to see what SpaceX has up their sleeve.

Private companies (as opposed to governments) will be jumping in the fray.

Private companies (as opposed to governments) are jumping in the fray.

To top it all off, we go back to Nature for their summary of what 2013 may bring us. Stem cell injections to treat blindness? A comet glowing brighter than the moon? New species discovered deep within Antarctic lakes? This is why science is cool.

Have a wonderful new year :)

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Filed under Animals, Recent Research, Science Pictures, Space, Technology, Weather


Snow is upon us. And by “us,” I really mean me, since I don’t know exactly where you are, dear reader. Although chances are you have snow, too.

To mark the occasion, here are some remarkable pictures of snowflakes taken by Russian photographer Andrew Osokin, via Visual News (along with a couple others from Andrew’s website). Titles were taken from the Google translation of his website. Click one of the pictures to enter the gallery, where you can see each snowflake in all its majesty!

How do these beautiful structures form? This video from the American Chemical Society is a great explainer:

Be safe, but enjoy the snow!

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Football, Beer, and Your Vote

Okay, so a lot of people are familiar with the idea that things like race and geographical location may influence who you vote for. But what about things that are seemingly unrelated to politics? Are people in the same political party more likely to share a taste in beer? Turns out there may be some (quite tenuous) associations. I’m going to say upfront that some of this science is rather dubious, but just for fun, here are some things that have recently been linked to politics:


Buckeyes fan: Obama

Badgers fan: Romney

OSU quarterback Braxton Miller runs in a touchdown. (Source)

Can something completely unrelated to government performance affect how candidates do in a political race? A team of researchers from Stanford University and Loyola Marymount University attempted to answer this question by analyzing election results and comparing them to the performance of local sports teams. They found that the incumbent was likely to do better when the local college football team was winning, and that this effect was amplified when the school was a football powerhouse with a lot of fan support. Their rationale? A person whose team is doing well may be more content; a fan whose team has had a recent loss may think of themselves as having a worse overall well-being. The study authors suggested that this could (irrationally) influence a person’s opinion of the economy and subconsciously influence their view of how the current government was doing. The advantage conferred to the incumbent by football wins was a small one, but as anyone will tell you, even a small boost can have an impact in swing states like Ohio (where the Buckeyes are undefeated) or Wisconsin (where the badgers recently suffered a loss).

Menstrual Cycle

Single ovulating female: Obama

Married ovulating female: Romney

A University of Texas study recently made headlines because it claimed that a woman’s estrogen levels and relationship status were linked to her preferred presidential candidate. Here’s a possible reason for the link, as explained by Kristina Durante, the study’s lead researcher, in a recent news article:

When women are ovulating, they “feel sexier,” and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, she [Durante] says.

“I think they’re overcompensating for the increase of the hormones motivating them to have sex with other men,” she said. It’s a way of convincing themselves that they’re not the type to give in to such sexual urges, she said.

If this sounds like crap, that’s because it is. First of all, this data came from an internet survey – no hormone levels were taken. Also, the survey was given once, so there’s no indication that the viewpoints of the women change over time, although that’s what seems to be implied here. There are many other problems with the study as well; for a more thorough debunking, check out this post by Scicurious and this post by Kate Clancy.

Favorite Websites

BuzzFeed: Obama

Ebay: Romney

The website Engage made this informal map by matching peoples’ Facebook “likes” to their political preferences. Let me emphasize the word “informal.” I wouldn’t draw any solid conclusions from this data – although I was mildly amused to see that Google and Bing were each linked to different candidates – but it’s all good fun.


Sierra Nevada: Obama

Leinenkugel: Romney

Another bubble chart was made by a couple of guys over at NationalJournal – this time, we’re looking at beer. The data came from over 200,000 interviews, as compiled by Scarborough Research. Again, I’m not sure if you can make too many conclusions from this, although I think I’m not surprised to see a general trend of Bud and Busch drinkers being not as politically active.

In the end, will any of  these factors determine our next president? Probably not, but it can be interesting to see loose trends and correlations. Are any of these trends true for you?


Healy, Malhotra, and Mo. PNAS 2010. Irrelevant events affect voters’ evaluations of government performance.

Landau. 24 Oct 2012. Study looks at voting and hormones. WTHITV10.

Ruffini. 10 Jul 2012. Mapping the Politics of the Social Web. Engage.

Shannon and Feltus. 27 Sept 2012. What Your Beer Says About Your Politics. NationalJournal.

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The Annals of Obvious Research: Halloween Edition

Happy Halloween weekend! I hope you’ve got your costumes ready to go … although I know I’m not quite there yet :)

Of course, important scientific studies are being done all the time. But you may not be as familiar with some of the more ridiculously obvious ones – studies that show things that we pretty much already know. Which brings me to today’s topic:


Halloween costumes and drinking!

Are you dressing up for Halloween? Are you planning on drinking? Turns out the two might be related. (Groundbreaking stuff, right??) A group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Madison administered surveys, over the course of five years, to 1,253 New York college students asking them about their Halloween activities. They found a couple of relationships between costumes and drug and alcohol use.

First, they found that students who dressed up were more likely to drink alcohol. Second, they found that if you dressed up with friends as a group, you were less likely to do pot and other drugs.

This seems like common sense, especially when you consider that if you’re dressing up for Halloween, that probably means you’re going out somewhere. The study didn’t mention asking people whether they went to parties or not – if they had, it might have been interesting to see whether costumed people at parties were more likely to drink than the non-costumed party-goers.

(Note: I am not endorsing Heineken! I just like these ads!)

Whatever your plans for Halloween – costumed or not, drinking or not – have a fun and safe Halloween weekend!!

Reference: Miller, Jasper, and Hill. 1993. Dressing in costume and the use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs by college students.

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Filed under Alcohol and Drugs, Drinks, Drugs

For Safe Grilling, Keep the Heat Fast and Low

If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably got a 3-day weekend coming up! For me, and many people I know, Labor Day is a perfect opportunity to bust out the grill – because what’s better than a flame-cooked  cheeseburger (or Boca burger, if that’s your thing)? If you do decide to throw something on the grill, however, it’s important to make sure you do it safely.

When meat is cooked on a grill, chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form. These chemicals can lead to mutations in your DNA, which can then increase your chance of someday getting cancer. Obviously this is bad, so how to get rid of them?

With PAHs, it’s not so hard. Picture this: you have a nice juicy burger cooking on the grill. Grease drips down, and the flame below flares up. These meat juice-fueled flames contain PAHs, which then stick to your burger. In order to prevent this from happening, you need to stop the fat and juice from dripping.

HCAs form when creatinine (a chemical found in muscle), amino acids (the molecules that make up proteins), and sugars are brought together at high temperatures. These three ingredients are all found in meats, so in general, the hotter and longer you cook your meat (regardless of whether you’re grilling beef, pork, chicken, or fish), the more HCAs you’ll create.

So what can you do to reduce these chemicals?

  • Cook your meat in the microwave for a little bit first. This reduces the amount of time the meat will be cooking on the grill, and it allows you to drain the juices before putting meat on the grill so less will drip down into the flames.
  • While the meat is on the grill, flip it regularly – this lessens the amount of HCAs.
  • Cook your meat at lower temperatures.
  • Don’t eat the super-charred parts of the meat.
  • Bring out the beer! One recent study by Portuguese researchers showed that marinating beef before pan-frying it reduced the amount of HCAs. The effect was most pronounced when using a marinade made from beer and herbs!
  • Throw some other foods onto the grill – HCAs are generally only found in meats. If you’ve never tried grilled pineapple or grilled asparagus, you’re missing out!

So now that you know how to be safe, it’s time to get the party started! Go see what Bobby Flay is throwing on his grill, or get 101 easy ideas from the New York Times. Just keep the heat fast and low!


Cross and Sinha. Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis

NCI, “Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk.”


Filed under Food, Health