Windswept by Charles Sowers
Art installation fixed outside a gallery’s wall, displaying natural flow and turbulence of the wind - via dezeen:
The installation, titled Windswept, consists of 612 rotating aluminium weather vanes mounted on an outside wall. As gusts of wind hit the wall, the aluminium blades spin not as one but independently, indicating the localised flow of the wind and the way it interacts with the building.
“Our ordinary experience of wind is as a solitary sample point of a very large invisible phenomenon,” said Sowers. “Windswept is a kind of large sensor array that samples the wind at its point of interaction with the Randall Museum building and reveals the complexity and structure of that interaction.”
You can find out more at Dezeen here, with photos and a video of the work in action.
but seriously, well done.
Vestigiality and Evolution
Google Chrome, enough with the red line - vestigiality is a word, trust me on this one. Hearing people that say “whales have leg bones” or “dude, the appendix has no purpose” is pretty common nowadays - but people rarely know what this phenomenon is, or the implications of it.
What our good friends are thinking of is a phenomenon called vestigiality, which refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function in a given species. Therefore, throughout normal evolutionary processes, features and structures that once had a clearly defined purpose start to lose importance in a changing environment.
Many people use the phrase vestigial organs, when in fact vestigiality extends to include patterns of behavior, structures, or biochemical processes. Despite common belief, a vestigial feature need not be complete useless - it just simply serves a difference function than it would have in ancestral times. A classic example is the human appendix - though vestigial in the sense of retaining no significant digestive function, it still plays immunological roles.
Vestigiality need not even be macroscopic, as similar concepts apply at the molecular level — some nucleic acid sequences in eukaryotic genomes have no known biological function. Although some of them may be ”junk DNA”, it is very tricky to demonstrate that a particular sequence of a given genome is truly nonfunctional. As stated with macroscopic features, the fact that it is noncoding DNA does not mean that it is functionless - just that the sequence has lost its formal former function.
It is fairly easy to confuse the concept of vestigiality with that of a similar phenomenon - exaptation. In exaptation a structure originally used for one purpose is modified for a new one. For example, the wings of penguins would be exaptational in the sense of serving a substantial new purpose (underwater locomotion), but might still be regarded as vestigial in the sense of having lost the function of flight.
In Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, he listed a number of human “vestiges,” including the muscles of the ear, wisdom teeth, the appendix, the tail bone, body hair, and the semilunar fold in the corner of the eye. Interestingly, the formation of goose bumps in humans under stress is a vestigial reflex; its function in human ancestors was to raise the body’s hair, making the ancestor appear larger and scaring off predators. These vestigial organs, Darwin argued, are evidence of evolution and represent a function that was once necessary for survival, but over time that function became either diminished or nonexistent.
Credit: American Physical Society
Forget Asking Why the Sky is Blue, Ask Why It’s Not Violet
Okay ya’ll, what’s the most cliched science-y question that you can imagine? As far as I can tell, it’s “why is the sky blue?” Too bad the entire concept of that question is wrong. Well, not really, but if one really understood the process of Rayleigh Scattering, the proces that makes the sky appear blue - it should, at least at first, seem like the sky appearing violet would make more sense.
When discussing the reason for the sky’s apparent blueness, there are basically two causes:
- Before white light from the sun reaches the surface of the Earth, the various light waves collide with atoms in the atmosphere, specifically nitrogen and oxygen atoms. Naturally, different frequencies (and therefore, different colors) of light are scattered differently. The higher frequencies, such as blue and violet, are much more easily scattered - therefore making the sky appear as if only high frequency light is bouncing around in it (Lord Rayleigh was the baller who discovered this - thus Rayleigh Scattering. Huzzah).
- Hold up Tyler, wait a minute, violet has a higher frequency than blue - so what gives? Shouldn’t it be scattered more? Remember, our eyes are just tools - what we see isn’t necessarily what exists - our eyes perceive the universe and try to explain it to our brains as easily as possible. Our eyes work better at frequencies near the middle of the spectrum (yellow and green), because of the composition of the eye (rods and cones). Since the color blue is closer to yellow or green than purple is, the sky we see appears blue. Technically, violet is more scattered than blue - but our eyes just aren’t as sensitive to it.
The Brain Scoop
Episode 1: The Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum
Episode 1 is out. Words evade me. I pressed the “submit” button, and here we go.
Join me for a tour!
Emily: “…we also have an entire moos *opens up a box* and a horse *opens another box* in here…”
How We See Color
One of the most mind-boggling parts of color theory is the observation that two different colors of light, when mixed, can create a new color. For instance, red and green light shining together, like from the pixels of a TV or computer screen, give the perception of yellow. This is a phenomenon called “additive color” mixing, illustrated below:
It turns out that the word “perception” is the key there. Different colors of light each have their own characteristic wavelength and the yellow coming from your monitor is still red and green wavelengths traveling simultaneously toward your eye. The perception of yellow, or any “in-between” color, comes from simultaneously activating more than one kind of “cone” color receptor in the back of your eye. See how yellow, which by itself would have a wavelength of around 570 nm, falls between the red and green cone receptor ranges:
That explanation up there is thanks to another great video by the folks at TED Ed. Check out my previous vision posts here, including OK Go and Sesame Street explaining primary colors, a fun test of your ability to tell colors apart, and an exploration of the idea that Vincent Van Gogh may have been colorblind.
Also, XKCD did a really fun color survey to discover what people in different cultures and from different backgrounds called different hues. The results are amazing (below), be sure to read about the whole project here.
The device on the picture above is called wobbulator. WOBBULATOR.
Is it normal to laugh at such things?
— Robert Lang about mathematics in his lecture “Folding way-new origami”
Chu, Steven; Townes, Charles (2003). “Arthur Schawlow”. In Edward P. Lazear (ed.),. Biographical Memoirs. vol. 83. National Academy of Sciences. p. 202.
Condensed matter physics homework gives me a headache TT__TT
— Jill Tarter, Director of SETI (via alecshao)
Science-ify your breakfast with a Möbius bagel
You’ve probably heard of a Möbius strip before - it’s a continuous shape that only has one side and one edge. You can make one pretty easily by cutting a strip of paper, giving it a half twist, and taping the ends together to form a loop. However, if you want to really impress, make a Möbius bagel. By following the instructions, you can cut your bagel (or your donut!) into two interlocking bagel halves. From now on, eat your breakfast like a Scientist!
Math up your breakfast, and increase shmear surface area at the same time!! Win-win.