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Khalil’s Picks (27 April 2012)

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


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Lots of great writing from young and early career science writers this week. Selection includes millions of birds killed due to tower collisions, how gaming can be used for science outreach, why some people are better at drawing than others and more. Dig in!

Rachel Nuwer, freelance science journalist, covers a recent in-depth study which estimates that 6.8 million birds are killed annually due to tower collisions, in the US and Canada alone at The New York TimesGreen blog:

A Lethal Beacon for Migrating Birds

On the morning of Sept. 11, 1948, “a good number of dead, dying and exhausted birds” were found at the base of the WBAL radio tower in Baltimore, in what was then viewed as a new and unusual phenomenon. Ever since communication towers began popping up in the United States in the 1940s and 50s, bird bodies have littered the fields below them, especially during migration season.

Jennifer Cable, a medical writer and blogger at nature.com’s New York Blog, wonders how games can be used to get people enthusiastic about science:

All Work and no Play

On Tuesday night, Scott Lachut presented the findings from PSFK’s study, “The Future of Gaming” at the New York Academy of Sciences. Lachut focused on how games are used in education and teaching, but it got me wondering – how can games be used to get people excited about science? There has been a lot of news about the recent successes of Fold-it, a protein folding video game that crowd-sources the efforts of thousands of players to solve protein structures that have eluded experimental and computational efforts. What I love about Fold-it is that it’s not just educational, but it actually allows anybody to be an active contributor to research. Science is now a two-way street between scientists and the public.

Natalie Wolchover, staff writer at TechMediaNetwork, dwells into the science of our ability or inability to draw at Life’s Little Mysteries. Fascinating stuff:

Why Are Some People Better at Drawing than Others?

Since the dawn of human art-making, the divide has been clear: There are people who can effortlessly sketch an object’s likeness, and people who struggle for hours just to get the angles and proportions right (by which point the picture is scarred by eraser marks, anyway). What separates the drawers from the drawer-nots? Ongoing research is revealing the answer to this longstanding question. It seems that realistic drawing ability hinges on three factors: how a person perceives reality, how well he or she remembers visual information from one moment to the next, and which elements of an object he or she selects to actually draw.

Eric Sawyer, science blogger at Scitable’s Bio 2.0, does a masterful job explaining the what, how and why of synthetic nucleic acids which researchers recently made possible in the lab:

Synthetic Nucleic Acids: Beyond DNA and RNA

Synthetic biology is such a wide-ranging and multi-disciplinary field that it seems like every new paper sends me into a new area of science that I hadn’t considered before. The latest issue of Science features a paper on synthetic nucleic acids, completely new molecules capable of information storage just like DNA and RNA, dubbed xeno-nucleic acids, or XNAs.

Sally Till, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, takes a peak into mobile phone microscopes, including lens-free microscopy (which is very exciting), for EUSci:

Magnifying the Potential of Mobile Phone Microscopes

If you’re not up on your geeky gadgets, you might have missed the recent spate of mini-microscopes that have surfaced over the past few years. Thanks to widely available consumer electronics, several nifty mobile phone hacks can now allow you to see the world up close. While recent advances put affordable and impressive magnifying power in your pocket, these smaller, cooler microscopes aren’t just gimmicks; they may be the key to revolutionising global medicine and sparking the public’s interest in science.

Susan E. Matthews, at NYU, has two good stories this week both at Scienceline. In the first story, Susan explains how alcohol works its way throughout your body using numerous party metaphors. The second story is not science related per se but it’s a very nice reflection about life of a newbie in New York City. I thought I’d share this since many people today relocate because of jobs and young science writers are certainly no different:

Ever Wondered? How alcohol permeates your system

You wake up after a night of drinking, and immediately groan. Your head is aching. It feels like alcohol is still seeping through your pores. The heavy feeling of your sweaty skin rivals the sticky surface of the bar that you eventually abandoned last night — the question facing you and the establishments’ owners is the same: how does alcohol manage to permeate every available surface?

Manhattan: The next Atlantis?

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I went running almost every day, along a park that snakes in a thin strip from the pier by my apartment, along the Upper Bay, to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. I needed to battle my New York-induced claustrophobia by inhaling the freshest air available into my 22-year-old lungs, lungs that had spent their first 21 years breathing country air.

Young and early career science writers, do spread the word about your good writings from this week in the comments. Readers, if you came across some gems from such science writers this week, please share links in the comments too. The more the merrier!

 

Khalil A. Cassimally About the Author: Khalil A. Cassimally is the Community Coordinator of The Conversation UK. He's also a science blogger. He hails from a tropical island and is a happy geek. Subscribe to his updates on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @notscientific.

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





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