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Bora’s picks (April 20, 2012)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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As you may have noticed, Khalil and I are posting our picks on alternate weeks. He did it last Friday, my turn is today:

City of the dead: Tens of millions of people have died in New York City. Here’s where some of them have gone. by Kate Yandell:

There’s a place where the L train emerges from underground and out into the easternmost stretch of Bushwick. Fingers of sunlight reach into the tunnel, and the embankment slides down as the train rises. You look out the left windows to see graves spread below you as far as your eyes can reach.

This conglomeration of over a dozen cemeteries is larger than Central Park. The lines of graves have been here and growing since the 1840s, when the Rural Cemetery Act made it easier to establish commercial cemeteries outside the city, responding to fear of cholera-infected bodies and growing real estate pressure in Manhattan. Rome has catacombs beneath the city. We bury our dead in Brooklyn and Queens….

Origami: when math and art meet by Marissa Fessenden:

When I learned to fold a paper crane out of a piece of paper, I thought I had mastered one of the coolest tricks ever. The crane was the most difficult pattern in my little origami book. But origami is more than paper birds, cups and frogs. It is an art form and a way to gain insights in engineering and math….

The state of Tennessee versus the theory of evolution: One former student’s experience with science education in the Volunteer State by Miriam Kramer:

I should probably go ahead and state my numerous biases right now. I am a product of the public school system in Knoxville, Tenn., my father is a biological anthropologist, and I am firmly opposed to the pro-creationism bill that was just passed back home.

The law, for those of you not following state politics in Tennessee, protects public school science teachers that want to bring creationism into their classrooms by “teaching the controversy” when explaining evolution. The various reasons the law is a terrible idea have been enumerated all over the web, and I could go into it here, but I’ll spare you.

Because this is not an apology for the idiocy of an overly conservative and scientifically illiterate state legislature. No, this is a love letter to my home….

Plastic Number Crunching by Amy West:

With recent news of washing machines spilling microplastics into waterways, a greenwashing lawsuit involving plastic water bottle companies, and bans on plastic bags, plastics are everywhere. Literally.

They are crammed under our cupboards, spilling from trashcans, and discarded along the road. Most families are engulfed in plastic consumables, and those with good intentions, toss them into the blue recycling bin. It feels good to divert most of our consumables and packaging into the blue bin, and helps justify purchasing food such as cottage cheese, which invariably comes packaged in plastic. Out of sight, out of mind, after all….

Life’s building blocks grow close to home: Chemical reactions in the early solar system create complex organic molecules by Nadia Drake is a great article in itself, but what I really, really like about it are the first two comments! Pwnd ;-)

…Though life is a complicated brew, some of its ingredients can be plucked from Earth’s backyard instead of being imported from more distant interstellar fields. In a new study, scientists suggest that complex organic molecules — such as the amino acids that build proteins and the ringed bases that form nucleic acids — grow on the icy dust grains that lived in the infant solar system. All it takes are high-energy ultraviolet photons to provoke the rearrangement of chemical elements in the grains’ frozen sheaths….

Three good new posts by NYU alumni on the NYTimes Green Blog:

An Enemy in Your Sand Castle by Joanna Foster:

The Environmental Protection Agency has had guidelines in place for water quality along beaches for more than a quarter-century. In 2010 alone, the Natural Resource Defense Council estimates, 24,091 beaches were closed or were subject to advisories because of unsafe levels of fecal matter in the water….

Blight Threatens California’s Citrus Trees by Douglas Main:

In a worrisome development for citrus growers in California, or anybody there who has a beloved lemon or orange tree in the yard, the citrus disease huanglongbing, or citrus greening, has been found in southeastern Los Angeles County, the California Department of Food and Agriculture reports.

Young Whoopers Take Flight by Rachel Nuwer:

A group of young whooping cranes that made headlines last winter have flown back into the spotlight.

Last fall, 10 of the birds, an endangered species, set out on a migration route from Wisconsin to Florida by following an ultralight plane piloted by men in bird suits. The thinking was that the birds, which were raised in captivity without parents, could learn the route by trailing the plane and then fly unescorted for the rest of their lives. But after they reached northern Alabama, the F.A.A. grounded the flights, which were organized by the group Operation Migration, after receiving a complaint about the nature of the pilots’ certificates….

Finally, Kate Prengaman is having fun with data visualization – see
Can you see the data through the smoke? and Popular Parks and Family Economics in Lesotho: A Tableau Data Challenge for recent examples.



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  1. 1. notscientific 12:53 pm 04/20/2012

    Another article by Nadia Drake which I enjoyed this week: Hunt for cosmic ray source falls short. (Experiment’s dearth of neutrinos may burst gamma-ray bubble)
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/339995/title/Hunt_for_cosmic_ray_source_falls_short

    Link to this
  2. 2. Nadia Drake 6:32 am 04/21/2012

    Thank you! It’s been a rough week for astro theorists, with both cosmic ray and dark matter theories taking a bit of a tumble (well, depending on whom you ask).

    Link to this

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