Nature

[box]This post originally appeared on the FTMF.info planning blog.[/box]

In this post, let’s explore the link between the twin worlds of microbiology and creative thought, drawing inspiration from three brilliant scientific discoveries. Labcoats on, people!

1. Sponges

If a sea sponge (phylum porifera) is forced through a sieve to disintegrate it down to its cellular level, those cells, if left alone, will recombine into a sponge again:

Lesson: some ideas only make sense as a whole – passing them through a ‘sieve test’ can reveal whether they were ever meant to be, while others may naturally merge together.

2. Slime Molds

A single-celled slime mold (physarum polycephalum) can solve mazes, mimic the layout of man-made transportation networks and choose the healthiest food from a diverse menu – and all this without a brain or nervous system:

Lesson: deploy resources efficiently – really smart solutions often arise naturally, yet knowing what’s best still requires lots of prior research. But hey, if a slime mold can do it…

3. Artificial Jellyfish

Scientists have created an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart:

Lesson: even the most difficult concept can be somehow ‘brought to life’ – be it in a new context, through the addition of a couple of key ingredients, or sheer appliance of science!

50 Years of the LED

Today is the 50th birthday of the first practical LED, an invention built on an understanding that has transformed our lives: enabling cheap, mass-produced and very hardy display and lighting technologies.

A while back, GE produced a great piece of branded content featuring its inventor, Prof. Nick Holonyak, where he offers some insight into the moment that his light emitting diodes were first conceived:

He leaves us with the advice to “Learn more, do more, build more, reveal more”, which doesn’t take a physicist to know is just brilliant advice for life, for ‘inventors’ of all kinds.

“And you know what? This isn’t the end!”

Cockroach Leg Stimulated With Music

Here’s something you don’t see every day:

From the video description:

A simple plus/minus 1V signal from a beat-heavy song can be used to stimulate the motor neurons in the leg of a cockroach. This is an example of such.

Using setups like this can help us understand how neurons and muscles work, and can assist us in understanding our own nervous systems.

I’ll tell you what else this helped me understand: we’ve reached such mastery of nature that we’re now just having fun with it. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but the above example is certainly a bit macabre.

Nucleus Medical Media

Nucleus Medical Media’s 2011 3D medical animation demo reel shows surgery, anatomy, mechanism of action (MOA), and physiology produced for medical devices, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology, marketing agencies, lawyers, and more.

What Nucleus don’t include in their showreel’s YouTube description, but will become apparent, is that they are probably among the finest computer animators working today.

In my view they depict very complicated biomechanical processes so very clearly, and quite beautifully too. Here’s the aforementioned showreel:

My question is, how is it these guys are nailing it so hard?! Are they scientists trained in CAD, or the reverse?

Fifth World Problems

If you’ve ever had the feeling “same shit, higher dimension”, I’m sure you’d fit right in on Fifth World Problems, a subreddit in the key of  First World Problems, and a place for extradimensional beings to air their cosmic gripes.

I got 99 problems but a 4D hypercube ain't one

Most of the submissions and their respective commentary are childish lunacy, but among the smarter entries lie some fascinating thought experiments. I find myself stretching for a scientifically reasoned solution, if only I weren’t so limited by my inferior human mind!

Equally silly and clever, here are some of my favourites for your delectation and amusement:

  • My membrane girlfriend and I didn’t use protection when we collided and now we’re going to have a universe. I’m not ready to be a deity but my family is pro-existence. What do I do?
  • Minutes have stopped accumulating as hours. It’s now 4:237 PM and my boss still won’t let me punch out 🙁
  • I forgot my admin password and now my memories are read-only.
  • I hired a möbius stripper for a party but she finished her act with her clothes still on and I can’t get a refund.
  • My neutrinos were caught speeding, now my insurance is going up √-17 %
  • I am the very thing I am typing and am terrified that submitting myself will result in a collapse of my consciousness.
  • I was unwittingly assigned to be controlled by a modulation wheel. Now I sound like dubstep.
  • I forced the alive and dead versions of Schrödinger’s cat to mate. The resultant offspring has enslaved my family.
  • I accidntally dstroyd a prtty important lttr.
  • I commissioned an artist to paint me a fractal and I think he is just trying to milk this project out for more payment. Will he ever be done?

Any favourites of your own? Or any solutions, even? Post them over at Fifth World Problems or let’s talk them out in the comments.

Are You Ready For Your Close Up, Miss Colada?

BevShots have discovered what you’d call a niche: they take your favourite alcoholic drink, crystallise a single droplet of it in an airtight container, photograph it at 1000x under a microscope, and then sell the resulting image on a printed canvas.

And man, are these things selling! Since August last year BevShots estimate sales of over 20,000 prints ($24.99-$549). The product is aimed at the ‘hedonist with a mind for science’ segment: those who appreciate good photography, laboratory conditions and a damn-tasty cocktail now and then.

Here’s my favourite image, the classic Vodka and Tonic:

The shots are taken in Florida State University’s chemistry department, where founder Lester Hutt developed the approach, which can take up to three months to produce an image.

Lester says:

“What you can see in the magnified pictures are the crystalised carbohydrates that have become sugars and glucose. With my background in chemistry, I saw the potential in these kind of pictures and am so glad to be able to offer them up as art works. It is a pleasure to show people what makes up their favourite drinks and how beautiful it can look.”

Most alcohols are blends, with varying levels of carbohydrates, sugars, acids and glucose, so each shot taken is entirely different from the last. Some favourite drinks are so pure that when they crystallise  into their component parts, they fall apart or don’t dry out properly. So, not unlike the perfect Margarita, they’re pretty hard to get ‘just right’, sometimes taking up to 200 attempts.

Here’s some more of their work – click through for the full images or visit BevShots.

I’m thirsty! Who’s for a drink?