June 18, 2013 11:00 am
“It is no exaggeration to say that almost everything we know about the universe today has grown out of the effort to see past the flat, 2-D appearance of the sky and discern the true depths behind it,” Discover News writes. In the 1920s, maps helped Edwin Hubble discern that the universe is expanding; they clued Fritz Zwicky in on the presence of dark matter in the 1930s; and they helped tease out details supporting the Big Bang Theory in the 1990s.
Now, a new map captures not only the 3D structure of the universe, but the positioning and movement of invisible dark matter, too. The University of Hawaii describes the significance:
The video captures with precision not only the distribution of visible matter concentrated in galaxies, but also the invisible components, the voids and the dark matter. Dark matter constitutes 80 percent of the total matter of our universe and is the main cause of the motions of galaxies with respect to each other. This precision 3-D cartography of all matter (luminous and dark) is a substantial advance.
The correspondence between wells of dark matter and the positions of galaxies (luminous matter) is clearly established, providing a confirmation of the standard cosmological model. Through zooms and displacements of the viewing position, this video follows structures in three dimensions and helps the viewer grasp relations between features on different scales, while retaining a sense of orientation.
To celebrate astronomer Brent Tully’s 70th birthday, Discover writes, he and his friends hosted a conference at which they revealed this and one other new map of the universe that the group created together.
One is the color coded one, above, which depicts the exact location of every galaxy out to a distance of 300 million light-years. But the even more amazing one–the one that truly made my head spin, as I hope it will do to yours–is the 3D video, which shows not only all the visible structures but also the unseen dark matter, and illustrates the dynamic behavior of the whole thing.
The video maps 100 million light-years, or, as Discover rephrases, 6,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. It shows the structures of galaxy clusters, thread-like dark matter and open patches of lonely space.
This is the structure and evolution of the cosmos laid bare, covering distances and times and velocities that are, in a fundamental way, beyond human comprehension. And yet they are not truly beyond the reach of the intellect, because Tully has brought it all into view, with a little help from his friends. Give him 17 minutes and he will give you the universe. Happy birthday to you, and to all of us.
Here, you can take that journey with Tully and the birthday crew:
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May 1, 2013 3:22 pm
It took Santiago Ramón y Cajal quite a while to find his true calling in life. He tried his hand at cutting hair and at fixing shoes. As a boy in the mid-1800s, he planned for a career as an artist. But his father, an anatomy professor, shook his head and decided that young Ramón y Cajal would pursue medicine instead. The would-be artist went on to found the field of modern neuroscience, earning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along the way. Born May 1, 1852, in Spain, Ramón y Cajal would have celebrated his 151st birthday today.
Before he began to stand out as a researcher, Ramón y Cajal had been an anatomy school assistant, a museum director and a professor and director of Spain’s National Institute of Hygiene. His most important work did not begin until around 1887, when he moved to the University of Barcelona and began investigating all of the brain’s different cell types. He discovered the axonal growth cone, which control the sensory and motor functions of nerve cells, and the interstitial cell of Cajal (later named after him), a nerve cell found in the smooth lining of the intestine. Perhaps most significantly, he developed the “neuron doctrine,” which demonstrated that nerve cells were individual rather than continuous cellular structures. Researchers consider this discovery the foundation of modern neuroscience.
In 1906, the Nobel committee awarded Ramón y Cajal and an Italian colleague the prize in Physiology or Medicine ”in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.”
While Ramón y Cajal may have changed neuroscience forever, he maintained his original childhood passion. Throughout his career, he never gave up his art. He sketched hundreds of medical illustrations, and some of his drawings of brain cells are still used in classrooms today.
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March 14, 2013 12:56 pm
A woman whose liver, pancreas, stomach, large intestine and small intestine all began their lives outside her body has just given birth to a life of her own.
At age nineteen, Fatema Al Ansari was diagnosed with mesenteric thrombosis—a blood clot that caused her abdominal organs to fail and require transplant. Now, just seven years later, she is the proud mother of a baby girl, in the first documented case of anyone with five organ transplants giving birth. The Associated Press reports some of the challenges she faced during pregnancy:
Her recent pregnancy was considered high-risk and she was monitored closely by her team of transplant doctors and gynecologists in Miami.
She did not have an infection during her pregnancy, as her doctors had prepared for, but she faced minor complications including the flu, some bleeding and physical discomfort from her growing baby.
Having five organs transplanted is no longer incredible—which, in and of itself, is pretty amazing—but doctors couldn’t find any other case of someone with five transplants then having a child. Organ recipients must take drugs to suppress their immune systems, which would otherwise reject the foreign tissue, and are at high risk for infection. For Al Ansari’s body to even be able to grow with the baby is a feat.
In fact, the first post-transplant pregnancy wasn’t documented until 1963, according to Transplant Living. Several studies have chronicled pregnancy and delivery in patients with kidney transplants and heart transplants. In 1976, guidelines were proposed for those with transplants who wanted to get pregnant, including a one year waiting period after the surgery before pregnancy. And in 1991 the National Transplantation Pregnancy Registry was established to study women with transplants who wanted to have children.
In 2011, the Intestinal Transplant Association recorded 600 people who underwent five-organ transplants. For many of them, having children was probably considered impossible. But medicine is amazing, and now it might not be.
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March 4, 2013 12:14 pm
One hundred years ago, as Washington, D.C. prepared for the March 4, 1913 inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, a group of women determined to march for their right to vote descended upon the city, prompting some to wonder what, exactly, they were on about.
Organized by leading suffrage activist Alice Paul (you might know her as the one who went on a hunger strike, only to be force-fed in the psychiatric ward of a Virgina prison), the parade and rally, staged on March 3, 1913, drew a crowd of more than 5,000 women (plus some 70 members of the National Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, and a bunch of hecklers, and people in town for the inauguration). A breathless New York Times account of the parade published the next day set the scene:
Imagine a Broadway election night crowd, with half the shouting and all of the noise-making novelties lacking; imagine that crowd surging forward constantly, without proper police restraint, and one gains some idea of the conditions that existed along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the Treasure Department this afternoon. Ropes stretched to keep back the crowds were broken in many places and for most of the distance the marcerhs had to walk as best they could through a narrow lane of shouting spectators. It was necessary many times to call a halt while the mounted escort and the policemen pushed the crowd back.
In the allegory presented on the Treasury steps it saw a wonderful series of dramatic pictures. In the parade over 5,000 women passed down Pennsylvania Avenue. Some were riding, more were afoot. Floats throughout the procession illustrated the progress in the woman’s suffrage cause had made in the last seventy-five years. Scattered throughout the parade were the standards of nearly every State in the Union.
Despite their numbers and enthusiasm, the ladies and their supporters were not without adversaries:
The procession, it was charged, had not gone a block before it had to halt. Crowds, the women said, had gathered about one woman and her aids, and drunken men had attempted to climb upon the floats. Insults and jibes were shouted at women marchers, and for more than an hour confusion reigned.
Still, the event was considered a success by most who attended, save one famous figure:
Miss Helen Keller, the noted deaf and blind girl, was so exhausted and unnerved by her experience in attempting to reach a grand stand, where she was to have been a guest of honor, that she was unable to speak later at Continental Hall.
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Seven Ways to Celebrate Women’s History Month
Equal Say: A Photographic History of How Women Won the Vote
March 1, 2013 11:34 am
In the NHL, players’ birthdays fall into a strange pattern: the best players seem to all be born in the earlier months of the year. This pattern was extremely clear from youth hockey all the way up to the pros. In Outliers, journalist Malcolm Gladwell explained one possible cause of this weird birthday trend. Here’s New York’s summary:
Gladwell explains what academics call the relative-age effect, by which an initial advantage attributable to age gets turned into a more profound advantage over time. Because Canada’s eligibility cutoff for junior hockey is January 1, Gladwell writes, “a boy who turns 10 on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn 10 until the end of the year.” You can guess at that age, when the differences in physical maturity are so great, which one of those kids is going to make the league all-star team. Once on that all-star team, the January 2 kid starts practicing more, getting better coaching, and playing against tougher competition—so much so that by the time he’s, say, 14, he’s not just older than the kid with the December 30 birthday, he’s better.
Coaches seem to draft based on this idea that older players—players born in the first three months—will have the advantage and be better. A new paper, published in PLoS ONE, looked at those numbers:
Compared to those born in the first quarter (i.e., January–March), those born in the third and fourth quarters were drafted more than 40 slots later than their productivity warranted, and they were roughly twice as likely to reach career benchmarks, such as 400 games played or 200 points scored.
But, actually, this is a daft way to put a team together. The birthday effect that Gladwell describes hasn’t held up to scrutiny, and, in fact, when you look at the Canadian Olympic hockey team, it’s not at all full of “older” players. The NHL doesn’t seem to follow that pattern either, according to SB Nation:
According to nhl.com, at the 2010 Olympic break there were 499 Canadians on NHL rosters. That’s about 55% of the players in the entire league. If you broke their birthdates down by quarters of the year you get the following:
Canadians Non-Canadians (as of the end of the 09-10 season)
Jan-Mar: 25.7% 34.2%
Apr-June: 28.5% 23%
July-Sept: 25.5% 21.3%
Oct-Dec: 20.3% 21.5%
As you can see, if there’s a country with an “old” hockey workforce, it’s not Canada. There were actually more Canadian NHL players born in September (43) than January (41), and June was the most populous month (50). True, there are more players born in the first half of the year, but the notion that Canada is only producing successful players from a small portion of the calendar seems to be, at best, somewhat of an overstatement.
Robert Deaner, the researcher behind the new study, wanted to show people that this birthday effect simply doesn’t hold up. He told the press office at Grand Valley State University:
“There’s no doubt that drafting professional athletes is an inexact science. Plenty of sure-fire first-round picks fizzle while some late-round picks unexpectedly become stars. But our results show that, at least since 1980, NHL teams have been consistently fooled by players’ birthdays or something associated with them. They greatly underestimate the promise of players born in the second half of the year, the ones who have always been relatively younger than their peers. For any given draft slot, relatively younger players are about twice as likely to be successful. So if teams really wanted to win, they should have drafted more of the relatively younger players.”
Take note, coaches: stop listening to Malcolm Gladwell, and start listening to science.
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