Science News

The last Monday morning of 2009 brings with it a bunch of science-themed news articles. Here's a round-up of some of my favorites. Over at the NY Times is a review of the book "The Department of Mad Scientists", written by Michael Belfiore. The "Department" in question is DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and group that recently brought the United States a crowd-sourced driven weather-ballon hunt. The review, and the book, explore examples of the research and technology being produced by the DARPA scientists.

The Body Electric by William Saletan; reviewing The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA is Remaking Our World, From the Internet to Artificial Limbs, by Michael Belfiore.

Also noted in the NY Times, and available over at PNAS, is news of current research that suggests that the birdlike dinosaur Sinornithosaurus was venomous. Re-examination of fossils by Enpu Gong of Northeastern University in Liaoning, David A. Burnham of the University of Kansas and colleagues, led to the theory that previously observed grooves in the teeth, a duct running along the base of the teeth, and a newly described skull cavity, are all part of a venom delivery system. This system would allow venom delivery as the dinosaur bit into its prey, allowing for a "Catch-and-Hold" method of hunting. This research joins the recent evidence that Velociraptor's used their claws to climb trees, pouncing on prey from above, in making dinosaurs even more terrifying, and the need for a Jurassic Park remake even greater.

Both Nature and Science are in a reflective mood, publishing lists of their Top 10 Science News, as well as all sorts of articles that will remind you about the major science-related events/discoveries of 2009.

NatureNews Top Stories of 2009

ScienceNOW Top Stories of 2009

Comparing these two Top 10 Lists, Nature presents a serious selection of the most important science related events, including H1N1, the LHC coming online (at last!), and the discovery of water on the Moon. Science seems to have picked between their most popular stories, with number 2 being the always-good-to-discuss-at-parties research showing that bats perform oral sex (And if you haven't read the paper, written Tan et al and published in PLoS ONE - its a classic. Especially the methods section. Also, the supplemental video comes with its own soundtrack.).

For those of you interested in the difference between men and women, ScienceNOW reports research showing that its the ratio between hand size and number of sensory touch cells (Merkel cells, for those of you who know all about sensory systems) that really determines how sensitive fingers are to different textures. Daniel Goldreich of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and his colleagues found that all their subjects had the same number of Merkel cells, but different sized hands: the smaller hands (generally those of the women) were spaced more densely, allowing greater differentiation between textures.

Lastly, NatureNOW has published its weekly news briefing (Science is closed until the new year), including video of the eruption of an ocean volcano, the news that a Swiss court has acquitted geologist Markus Häring of wrongdoing relating to the small earthquakes caused by the geothermal project he was heading in Basel, Switzerland.

That's all for now, more science-related news to come as I read it.



Astra Bryant

Astra Bryant is a graduate of the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program in the labs of Drs. Eric Knudsen and John Huguenard. She used in vitro slice electrophysiology to study the cellular and synaptic mechanisms linking cholinergic signaling and gamma oscillations – two processes critical for the control of gaze and attention, which are disrupted in many psychiatric disorders. She is a senior editor and the webmaster of the NeuWrite West Neuroblog