Mississippi Delta

It may look like a branching blood vessel, but this image is actually taken 700km above the surface of the Earth. It is a false-colour image of the Mississippi Delta – the coastal region where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. To highlight the edges of the branching pattern of river channels, vegetation in this image have been coloured red. While engineers have done their best to control the course of the Mississippi River with a series of levees and artificial channels, it is still difficult to control the 17000 cubic meters of water that flow out of the mouth of the river every second. On its 2320 mile journey from its source, the river has picked up a large amount of sediment. As the water slows as it enters the Gulf, this sediment can no longer be carried by the moving water, and so is deposited. It’s not a coincidence the image shares a striking similarity with …

Book Review: In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

In Defence of Dogs Author: John Bradshaw Published: 5 July 2012 Publisher: Penguin Summary: Illuminating but, at times, a little too academic. One of the most widely held views of dog training is based on two scientific observations. Firstly, that dogs share 99.96% of their DNA with the grey wolves from which they’re descended, and secondly, that captive wolves housed in enclosures quarrel and fight until a particular individual is crowned dominant. These two notions have led to the popularisation of the ‘dominance model’ of domestic dog training, an ideology that encourages owners to continuously assert their authority on their furry companion in order to establish themselves as the superior, or alpha. However, anthrozoologist Dr John Bradshaw has a bone to pick with the dominance model of dog training, and In Defence of Dogs is where he presents his arguments. Bradshaw’s objections are compelling: he notes that, unlike the zoos in which a random assemblage of unrelated wolves are forced into an …

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls Author: Patrick Ness Published: 2 February 2012 Publisher: Walker Books Summary: Haunting and incredibly compelling – a must-read. Right from the foreword and first chapters of A Monster Calls, it’s clear that the novel is not so much about the tree monster pictured on the wonderful front cover, as the destructive influence of cancer: an illness that seems to touch everyone’s life at some point. The central theme is all the more pertinent as Siobhan Dowd, the author credited with the inception of A Monster Calls, tragically died from the disease long before she could finish the book. Whilst two of Dowd’s completed novels were published posthumously (Bog Child and Solace of the Road), A Monster Calls needed a champion to see it through to publication, and so Patrick Ness, author of the award winning Chaos Walking series, agreed to take the reins and finish the work. The book begins with Conor O’Malley, teenage son to a single …

Schrodinger’s catch up #3

Here is the third of our weekly roundups of all the interesting news stories we’ve found during the past seven days. Feel free to add anything you’ve discovered yourself in the comments section below. Aspara-guess which plant can help prevent hangovers? Source: Discovery Giant marine reptile meets teenager in school vegetable patch Source: Discovery Space oddity: first original song recorded in space Source: Space.com Slugs are the real winners of 2012, Team GB Source: BBC You’ve got some nerve: new type of nerve cell in human brain discovered Source: Science Daily Extremely stinky plant blooms in Brazil Source: Physics.org Piranh-Arnold  Schwarzenegger: piranha has strongest relative fish bite ever Source: Science Daily ‘Super-material’ gets thumbs up from government Source: Guardian Kinder school children are more popular than meanies Source: Plosone.org Scientists finally get inside the head of a Dinosaur Source: Science Daily Fish mad-wrasse recipe: scientists develop new fish food for wrasse Source: Fishnewseu ‘Bat Pack’ uncover health secrets in bat genome Source: Science …

Quiz 5 – Animals

It’s that time again – it’s Unpopular Science’s fifth and final science quiz. This week the theme is animals. For those that don’t know, after this final week, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall*. The quiz will close at 12pm on Thursday the 3rd of January and the winner will be announced in a post soon after, along with the final leaderboard. If you want your score to be tracked, add your name and email. If you just want a bit of fun, don’t worry. You can start the quiz by simply clicking Next. To see the leaders after the first four quizzes, see our leaderboard. You can still join in, by doing our first quiz here, our second here, our third quiz here and our fourth quiz here. The current high score is 28, so make sure you take part in every quiz to have the best chance of winning. * In the event of a tie, names will be drawn …

Skate fish skin similar to human teeth

This striking image is not the latest Hollywood alien, but actually a microscope image taken of an embryonic Little skate – a fish closely related to the shark family. Like sharks, the Little skate has a skeleton made not out of bone, but cartilage. They may seem very different to us, but these cartilaginous fish have a number of features which betray their close relationship to humans. For example, human embryos develop a skeleton made of cartilage first. Only later on is this added to with bone cells and calcium minerals in a process known as ossification. And, like the video points out we have very similar genes to the ones that control the denticles of the skate. Weirdly though, the genes that create the skate’s scales are not similar to the the ones responsible for our skin, but for our teeth. The structure of the denticle, or placoid scale, is strikingly similar. It has a central cavity filled with blood vessels, which is …

Quiz 4 – Physical Environment

It’s that time again – it’s Unpopular Science’s fourth science quiz. This week the theme is the physical environment. For those that don’t know, after 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of  Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall*.  If you want your score to be tracked, add your name and email. If you just want a bit of fun, don’t worry. You can start the quiz by simply clicking Next. To see the leaders, see our leaderboard. You can still join in, by doing our first quiz here, our second here and our third quiz here.   * In the event of a tie, names will be drawn at random and the Editor’s decision is always final. One entry per person. Also, good luck!

Climate change making a mocha-ry of wild coffee populations

If you’re planning on having a cup of coffee in 68 years time, then you might want to think again. Research published in Plos One suggests that by 2080, wild populations of the world’s most popular coffee species, Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), could be extinct due to climate change. Wild populations of Arabica coffee are important to coffee producers because of their genetic diversity and could be used to develop new strains of coffee in the future. Wild Arabica populations show a range of disease, pest and drought tolerance, all of which have potential advantages in a changing climate. If the wild population of Arabica coffee were to go extinct, coffee producers would struggle to breed coffee that could survive in new conditions. Scientists from the UK and Ethiopia used current data on wild Arabica populations and the climate in those locations to model how the climate might affect the distribution of Arabica suitable sites in the future. Once the …

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