The Best of Science blogging – August 2012

The month of August was busy: we had Curiosity landing on Mars, events and interviews with scientists who are directly involved with the Mars Science Laboratory, multimedia that followed up the major event, new bloggers joining us – say Hi to Alan and David. If you are interested in science blogging, and contributing to Australian Science, please read the Editor’s note.

Then the news broke that Neil Armstrong died, so we decided to publish  a rare and unique speech that he delivered in Sydney on 24 August 2011. Beside the major events, check out the articles on alternative energy, environment, virology, pharmaceutical policy, ecology and democracy, science of prediction, modelling, and few calls for participation at the various conferences and events. The recap and the top ten articles of the month are here:

 Top ten posts:

Interview with lead Mars Curiosity rover driver Matt Heverly and Where to land Mars Curiosity for the best science? Interview with Marion Anderson, who helped choose the landing site by Alan Kerlin

Last week I interviewed Matt about this important role, about driving rovers in general, and about the science work that he’ll be helping with.  When Matt came online, he’d quite literally been in the “Mars Yard” conducting some testing with Curiosity’s twin, and he had parked it right behind himself before joining me on Skype.

In the interview recorded on 2 August 2012, Marion explains to me what went into the selection of Gale Crater as the landing site for the Mars Curiosity rover, what to expect from the rover as it begins to explore the crater after its landing there on Monday 6 August, and why Curiosity is NOT looking for life, despite what many media people are saying (running time 20 mins).

It’s a wheel! It’s a wheel – a wheel on Mars! by Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, are now checking out Curiosity’s subsystems and 10 instruments.  Curiosity is in the opening days of a two-year mission to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life. Mission team members are “living” on Mars time.  A Martian day is approximately 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, meaning team members start their shift 40 minutes later each day.

The Mathematics of War  by Markus Hammonds, also featured at The SA Incubator

Remarkably, based entirely on written reports between 2004 and 2009, they were able to predict with impressive accuracy, what events would occur in 2010. In short, using nothing but some clever mathematics, the researchers could tell what would likely happen next. Where conflicts would increase in intensity and where things would remain quiet. And this isn’t even a comprehensive model yet. There are many adjustments which can still be made to improve the accuracy still further.

Neil Armstrong’s speech in Sydney 24 August 2011 by Alan Kerlin

On 24 August 2011, Neil Armstrong delivered a very rare and unique speech in Sydney. And it was to rekindle in me an interest in science and space exploration that had laid essentially dormant for many years. Somewhat curiously, the event was the 125th Anniversary of the Certified Practising Accountants Australia. The CPA’s CEO Alex Malley pulled off a real coup, based on the knowledge that Armstrong’s father Steven had been an auditor.

Fear of Ebola by Charles Ebikeme

Ebola is also a virus that works against its own best interest. It kills quickly — within the first week of August, the outbreak had already claimed the lives of 16 people. And because of this simple fact, most outbreaks aren’t long-lasting and are self-limiting. But the simple way in which the virus passes from one person to another (transmission between humans taking place through direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person) sets in motion alarm and panic within a populus. Caring for the sick becomes a true test of altruism.

A Tankful of Sugar by Kelly Burnes

In addition to fueling our cars, could sugarcane also power our homes and offices? As liquefied natural gas is helping to reduce emissions, perhaps liquefied sugarcane (ethanol) will be pumped through electricity grid to run our lights, television sets and coffee makers. I’d say now, that the wild imaginations of childhood (and adulthood) are now on the table as any and all innovations are summoned to help solve the global energy and emissions problem.

An outdated appetite control system in a rapidly evolving world? by David Borradale

It is no surprise that pharmaceutical companies have scrambled to develop new drugs that target appetite, however translating the new knowledge in appetite control into medications with minimal side effects has been far from smooth sailing. The drug Rimonabant for example, which blocked the cannabinoid receptor type-1 (part of the same system that marijuana activates causing the ‘munchies’) in the brain was highly effective at inhibiting appetite, however it had to be withdrawn, due to health concerns, including increased risk of suicidal thoughts. Clearly there are real risks when modifying brain chemistry.

The rise in representation of non-human entities by Charles Ebikeme

But the question and debate goes further than one of simple animal activism. The question points towards eventual representation of all non-human entities. The possibility that our rules of law and humanity will need to be rewritten is becoming more apparent. What we witnessed with Suíça, Jimmy, Tilikum, Katina, Kasatka, Ulises and Corky is that there is a slow convergence of two seemingly distant traditions —  democratic theory and animal rights. Take that convergence to its furthest logical conclusion and what you have is the possibility of including non-human nature within our human spheres democracy.

The (nuclear) alchemists of Darmstadt and the doubly magic tin-100 nucleus by Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

Magic numbers are the number of protons or neutrons that form full shells in an atomic nucleus.  The term is thought to have been coined by the physicist Eugene Wigner.  The model has been used to explain – at least for stable nuclei – the observed sequence of magic numbers: 2, 8, 28, 50, 82 and 126. Nuclei that have a magic number of neutrons or protons are more tightly bound than there non-magic counterparts.  This intrinsic simplicity makes them prime candidates for testing proposed models of nuclear structure.  Even more attractive are the doubly magic nuclei.

Libraries Now! Inspiring, Surprising, Empowering #IFLA2012  by Editorial Board

”Even though we nowadays do nothing else but small talk, we lack real communication”

At the end of his speech von Bagh expressed his deep worry about the surreal ignorance that the younger generations signal. At the same time that ”Finland is drunk from technology”, von Bagh’s young film students are alienated from books and high culture. Finns, who traditionally could not handle small talk, have become masters of quasi-communication.”

For those interested in science blogging and joining the Australian Science, please read the Editor’s note. If you are interested in being the guest editor for the weekly recap of the science blogosphere globally, contact me via email.