Justin sent me an email this morning with the subject line “CRITICAL INFORMATION” that just contained a link to this story of a pipe-cleaning ferret named Felicia from Fermilab.
Back in the ’70s, the scientists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory were looking for a way to clear the tubes of their newly built particle accelerator of the bits of dust that could derail a high-energy beam of particles whipping around at the speed of light.
Some ingenious scientist remembered that ferrets were used on English estates to go down rabbit burrows and scare the critters out (hence the phrase “ferret out”) and so, Felicia the ferret was employed by Fermilab to clean out the atom smasher. They tied a piece of string with a cotton swab to her tail, set her in the tubes, and then banked on her natural curiosity to lead her around the four-mile particle collider.
Felicia is now officially my favorite animal in science history.
(This is actually a pretty interesting article though, guys: “Study reveals how birds lost their penises.”)
The Earliest Days of NASA
Maria Popova, at Brain Pickings, happened upon a treasure trove of early NASA (and its airplane-only predecessor NACA) archive photos. They are really something. From biplanes to the Mercury capsule, pre-1950 aeronautics seemed to live by the motto of “If we build it, then we can go there.” That’s a sentiment we could use a bit more of.
|—||David Rothenberg teaches you to hear all the parts of the cicada sex orchestra in our brand-new short.|
How dangerous are the strikes of common mantis shrimps to humans?
I handle stomatopods every day in our lab and when I’m in the field it is not uncommon to measure and sex 150 animals in an evening. Needless to say, I’m struck fairly often. Some species are far worse than others, but it usually hurts. Even a 2 cm Gonodactylus can draw blood and a 4 cm animal can drive the dactyl tips to the bone…But that is nothing compared to what happen to a diver from South Africa who wrote me a few years ago describing his attempt to grab by hand an 18 cm Odontodactylus. The animal severely injured his finger which became infected by a chiton-digesting bacteria. The infection did not respond to the usual antibiotics. In the end, they amputated the finger. Be careful out there!
Imaging Bacteria: Jon Sasaki’s New Photographic Work
Jon Sasaki’s recent photo-based work situates itself decisively at the nexus of humour, history, art and science. Three works in particular, Microbes Swabbed From a Palette Used By A.J. Casson, Microbes Swabbed From a Palette Used By Frederick Varley, and Microbes Swabbed From a Palette Used By Tom Thomson, all from 2013, embody Sasaki’s characteristic critical wit; the delicate abstract formations are bacterial cultures, grown in Petri dishes and born of microbes culled from paint palettes. Enshrined at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the palettes belong to late members of the Group of Seven.
A nod to the history and mythology of Canadian art and a persistent fascination with landscape, the microcosmic bacterial formations, while formally abstract, hint to painterly landscapes in their subtle tones, organic structures and tectonic shapes. The process of swabbing Group of Seven palettes speaks to a different mythology: that of the ‘Great Canadian painter.’ Is the use of such specific microbes, tied inextricably to the individual painter, an homage to the artist – or a clever critique of artistic genius? Regardless of critical intent, the inherent visual variety of the work affords each image a personality and the ability to act as a portrait of the artist whose palette microbes were used.
Sasaki’s photographs bridge the methodical and the mythological, re-imagining both the traditional Canadian landscape painting and the artist-worship trope. His employment of science-based methods in artistic practice works to undermine harsh disciplinary categories. Classification is cast off playfully; at the site of this betrayal, a rare experience of simultaneous wonder and amusement is afforded.
These and other new works by Jon Sasaki are on view at Jessica Bradley Gallery in Toronto from January 12 through March 16, 2013.
More of Sasaki’s work can be seen here.
At NASA’s Drawing Board - J R Eyerman
Thanks so much to everyone who submitted ideas, voted, campaigned for team Mancestor, and just generally got involved in this science-y silliness.