Honey Bees

A truly fascinating article :

How could bees of little brain come up with anything as complex as a dance language? The answer could lie not in biology but in six-dimensional math and the bizarre world of quantum mechanics.

Honeybees don’t have much in the way of brains. Their inch-long bodies hold at most a few million neurons. Yet with such meager mental machinery honeybees sustain one of the most intricate and explicit languages in the animal kingdom. In the darkness of the hive, bees manage to communicate the precise direction and distance of a newfound food source, and they do it all in the choreography of a dance. Scientists have known of the bee’s dance language for more than 70 years, and they have assembled a remarkably complete dictionary of its terms, but one fundamental question has stubbornly remained unanswered: How do they do it? How do these simple animals encode so much detailed information in such a varied language? Honeybees may not have much brain, by they do have a secret.

This secret has vexed Barbara Shipman, a mathematician at the University of Rochester, ever since she was a child. “I grew up thinking about bees,” she says. “My dad worked for the Department of Agriculture as a bee researcher. My brothers and I would stop at his office, and sometimes he would how show us the bees. I remember my father telling me about the honeybee’s dance when I was about nine years old. And in high school I wrote a paper on the medicinal benefits of honey.”

Shipman’s work concerned a set of geometric problems associated with an esoteric mathematical concept known as a flag manifold………..

Mathematicians like to examine different manifolds the way antiques dealers browse through curio shops–always exploring, always looking for unusual characteristics that expand their understanding of numbers or geometry………..

One day Shipman was busy projecting the six-dimensional residents of the flag manifold onto two dimensions. The particular technique she was using involved first making a two-dimensional outline of the six dimensions of the flag manifold. This is not as strange as it may sound. When you draw a circle, you are in effect making a two-dimensional outline of a three-dimensional sphere. As it turns out, if you make a two-dimensional outline of the six-dimensional flag manifold, you wind up with a hexagon. The bee’s honeycomb, of course, is also made up of hexagons, but that is purely coincidental. However, Shipman soon discovered a more explicit connection. She found a group of objects in the flag manifold that, when projected onto a two-dimensional hexagon, formed curves that reminded her of the bee’s recruitment dance.

Delving more deeply into the flag manifold, Shipman dredged up a variable, which she called alpha, that allowed her to reproduce the entire bee dance in all its parts and variations. Alpha determines the shape of the curves in the 6-D flag manifold, which means it also controls how those curves look when they are projected onto the 2-D hexagon…………..

Shipman is not, however, content to play Kepler. “You can look at this idea and say, `That’s a nice geometric description of the dance, very pretty,’ and leave it like that,” she says. “But there is more to it. When you have a physical phenomenon like the honeybee dance, and it follows a mathematical structure, you have to ask what are the physical laws that are causing it to happen.”

At this point Shipman departs from safely grounded scholarship and enters instead the airy realm of speculation. The flag manifold, she notes, in addition to providing mathematicians with pure joy, also happens to be useful to physicists in solving some of the mathematical problems that arise in dealing with quarks, tiny particles that are the building blocks of protons and neutrons. And she does not believe the manifold’s presence both in the mathematics of quarks and in the dance of honeybees is a coincidence. Rather she suspects that the bees are somehow sensitive to what’s going on in the quantum world of quarks, that quantum mechanics is as important to their perception of the world as sight, sound, and smell.

Isn’t that awesome!!!! Bees, might be sensitive to quantum mechanics!!! I know it’s just a theory at the moment but the mathematics supports the theory so I am hopeful we would learn a lot from our little companions.

Having said that, this is not a good piece of news :

For some time now, honeybees have been disappearing from farmers’ hives without a trace. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins on the trail of possible culprits …

The mystery of disappearing honeybees is far from solved. The greatest suspects so far are pesticides and radiation from mobile phone base stations. However, it is likely that sub-lethal effects due to GM crops, mites infestations and other factors which alter the bees’ behaviour, affect their memory and learning process or compromise their health and immunity will all have a role to play.

Now I feel really guilty about the small budding bee hive that I have to knock down in my front porch. But I gotta do it before my 5 year old becomes interested in it and pokes her finger into the hive.

Brain Drain In Full Speed

The brain drain from Canada to the US just kicked into high gear!!

One of Canada’s top AIDS researchers is moving to the United States, taking as many as 25 scientists on his team with him.

The University of Montreal’s Rafick-Pierre Sékaly says he is leaving in part because of federal cuts in science funding and hopes his departure will be a wake-up call.

“I hope it will trigger some kind of movement that will foster a deep soul searching and investment,” he said in an interview.

He expects to more than double his $3.5-million research budget in his new position as scientific director of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute in Florida, but will also keep a lab going at the University of Montreal.

Of course the brain drain has been going on for years. The simple fact is that there are more jobs in US and more money. But the truth is that Canada was still able to retain top talent especially in the Bush years. Now that the war on science in US is over and is continuing under Stephen Harper in Canada, we are watching the end of the leadership in science.

Congratulations to Harper on his win against science. I expect that Canada will turn to evangelical science soon.

Not Human

A part of my growing and hopefully, maturing :) is the realisation that we humans are really not the lord and master of this planet. We are not the pinnacle of evolution. We are not what “the universe intended”. We are basically a byproduct of the real masters of Earth, bacteria.

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As soon as we are born, bacteria move in. They stake claims in our digestive and respiratory tracts, our teeth, our skin. They establish increasingly complex communities, like a forest that gradually takes over a clearing. By the time we’re a few years old, these communities have matured, and we carry them with us, more or less, for our entire lives. Our bodies harbor 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. It’s easy to ignore this astonishing fact.

………….

Researchers have largely concerned themselves with bacteria’s negative role as pathogens: The devastating effects of a handful of infectious organisms have always seemed more urgent than what has been considered a benign and relatively unimportant relationship with “good” bacteria. In the intestine, the bacterial hub of the body that teems with trillions of microbes, they have traditionally been called “commensal” organisms — literally, eating at the same table. The moniker suggests that while we’ve known for decades that gut bacteria help digestion and prevent infections, they are little more than ever-present dinner guests.

…………..

But there’s a growing consensus among scientists that the relationship between us and our microbes is much more of a two-way street.

……………

They are not simply random squatters, but organized communities that evolve with us and are passed down from generation to generation. Through research that has blurred the boundary between medical and environmental microbiology, we’re beginning to understand that because the human body constitutes their environment, these microbial communities have been forced to adapt to changes in our diets, health, and lifestyle choices. Yet they, in turn, are also part of our environments, and our bodies have adapted to them. Our dinner guests, it seems, have shaped the very path of human evolution.

Read the entire article. Very enlightening.

Saving Ourselves From Ourselves

And they say that we cannot save humanity if we really put our minds to it……..

U.S. and Dutch scientists credit the 193-nation agreement to ban ozone-depleting substances for avoiding nearly catastrophic environmental hazards.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Johns Hopkins University and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency scientists said if the ozone-banning treaty known as the Montreal Protocol that went into effect in 1989 hadn’t existed, nearly two-thirds of Earth’s ozone would have disappeared by 2065. That would have caused ultraviolet radiation strong enough in mid-latitude cities such as Washington to produce sunburn in just 5 minutes and with DNA mutating UV radiation increasing more than 650 percent, with likely resulting effects on plants, animals and human cancer rates.

So, can we now get to work on global warming too or are we going to continue arguing that it’s not a science, just like skeptics of Ozone depletion claim that it is not science.

Absolutely Pitiful

I find it hard to believe that in a progressive and educated country like Canada, this would happen (Update: finally, some positive results, at the last count 55% believed in evolution):

evolution

4,367 so far have said “no”. It really irritates and bugs me to no end that people in this day and age would say that evolution did not happen. I mean, for gods sake, what is it going to take for these buffoons to understand that the Theory Of Evolution rests on unshakable scientific facts.

I don’t profess to know everything about the Theory Of Evolution but I am implicit and explicitly trust scientists who do understand the theory very well. And before you say “ah ha, this prick is trusting some fucking expert”. Well, yes, I do trust someone who is an authority on the Evolution theory, who knows what the details of the theory are just as I would trust an aircraft engineer who tells me that the theory of flight is based on scientific and well tested facts to enable me to climb into an aircraft without uttering a prayer.

At the same time, when someone says they do not believe in the Theory Of Evolution because it “does not sound true”, I call that kind of a statement absolutely full of crap. Just because you think it “does not sound true” does not make it bogus. E=MC2 never sounded true to anyone when Einstein came up with it, but it has since been tested and utilised very well as the nuclear strikes in Nagasaki and Hiroshima have demonstrated.

I found this very interesting tit-bit on the net and may explain why the question of the validity of evolution never was raised in India.

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That’s not to say that the Indian society is not religious. I would say that religion in India is at the same level as it is in the US. However, science and religion have had a comfortable co-existence with some minor flare ups every  now and then.

And here is a complete and utter bullshit version of revisionism by the fucking elite of United States Of Amerika.

UPDATED:

Woohoo!! Check this out. Guess I am wrong about Canadians (yes, yes, I know that this is an unscientific poll, but what the hell. Let me enjoy the moment)

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Robots And Humans

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“Fewer astronauts, more robots” is the call of three European aerospace engineers, Alex Ellery, Joerg Kreidsel and Bernd Sommer. They believe that sending humans in to space to repair the ISS or even Hubble, are wasteful, expensive, and aren’t sending the right message for the space community.

I totally agree with this statement. I think it would be cheaper and more productive to send drones rather than humans to space missions AS A PRECURSOR to sending human beings. I understand the need to send drones for minial jobs and to undertake missions which are still in a prototype stage, but man needs to be inspired by exploration of the final frontier and drones and Robots can never inspire.

But that does not mean we do not require Robots or artificial intelligence at all. I know there is intense debate about Robots Vs Humans and I am coming on the side of Robots in this debate.

I don’t understand why there is a fear of Robots (and of AI : Artificial Intelligence) when human are inexorably moving in that direction. I know Hollywood has done a great job in showing us how machines can rebel against us but it is, as with everything else in Hollywood, made up. In the future we are all going to be Borgs (hopefully, without the nasty temperament as depicted in Star Trek, to destroy everything in our path). As the link explains, Borgs are an amalgamation of technology (machines, AI etc) and organic beings (that’s us) to better ourselves and our lives. And that is what is going to happen to us.

Why is there a fear of AI and robots? I can only say, fear sells. Fear of communists, of ghosts, of AI, of Liberal media etc. sells and that is what everyone is doing right now.

Gotta Love Science

I knew, I knew, I knew there was a reason why I detested romantic moveis.

LONDON: Planning to go for a romantic comedy with your boyfriend this weekend? Well, scrap all your plans, for according to a study, ‘rom-coms’ can ruin love lives.

The study has found that romantic comedies such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and Notting Hill give people unrealistic – and potentially unhealthy – expectations about real-life relationships. Unlikely happy endings, improbable plots and faux philosophy are to blame, they say.

Ladies, I rest my case. And please never insist I have to watch some x, y, z movie because it will make you “believe in love” again.

Cosmology

I have always been fascinated by cosmology.

I am guessing it started with the TV series COSMOS by Carl Sagan, one of the few western programmes deemed by the Desi bureaucrats to be worthy of being beamed to our homes in the 80’s. I know most of what Carl Sagan said went right over my head but I was fascinated by some of the things he said and showed.

I remember one the episodes had an explanation on the speed of light. He explained that if one of the two twins sitting on a bench on a beautiful day went on a ride in a motorcycle (or was it a scooter?) at the speed of light around the block, when he would arrive back, the rider’s age would stay the same, relatively speaking. However, the brother waiting for him would have aged and the camera pans to this old guy seating on the bench waiting for his brother to come back from the motorcycle ride.

Wow! That imagery is probably what sucked me in to cosmology. I had tried to understand, broadly, most of what has been going around in cosmology ever since. I read books by Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, John Wheeler, Brian Greene, Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg etc. I would be the first one to confess that most of the ideas of Cosmology are beyond my understanding. But I persist because every now and then, a line or a paragraph or a page suddenly presents an understanding that is so astounding, so gratifying, so illuminating that the hours spent on reading and re-reading a book are totally worth it. Which is why news like the this one, is so exciting to me.

By watching the motions of 28 stars orbiting the Milky Way’s most central region with admirable patience and amazing precision, astronomers have been able to study the supermassive black hole lurking there. It is known as “Sagittarius A*” (pronounced “Sagittarius A star”). The new research marks the first time that the orbits of so many of these central stars have been calculated precisely and reveals information about the enigmatic formation of these stars — and about the black hole to which they are bound.

The interstellar dust that fills the Galaxy blocks our direct view of the Milky Way’s central region in visible light. So astronomers used infrared wavelengths that can penetrate the dust to probe the region. While this is a technological challenge, it is well worth the effort. “The Galactic Centre harbours the closest supermassive black hole known. Hence, it is the best place to study black holes in detail,” argues the study’s first author, Stefan Gillessen.

Wow!!! I think, this bit of news is now going to kick start the next round of reading on Cosmology.

Questions And Answers

So all those questions about arming space have been answered now……

The stunning image of a Navy missile streaking into outer space at 6,000 mph to obliterate an orbiting spy satellite boosts the credibility of missile-defense advocates. Yet questions remain whether that success could be duplicated against a surprise, real-world attack.

The idea, whether the target is an unarmed satellite or an enemy missile, is basically the same: fire a guided missile into the path of the moving target and smash it to bits by the force of impact. In theory, the collision could render harmless even a nuclear- or chemical-armed missile, an idea that evolved from President Reagan’s “star wars” program of the 1980s.

This Is Awesome

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Neutrinos, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids through a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed-you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

A Global baby

Technology is truly amazing. Here is a story bound to warm your heart.

In a South Mumbai clinic, a global child is waiting to be born — after the prospective parents, of varying ethnicities, explored markets in three continents, gathered the ingredients that go into the making of human life and decided to create it using India’s medical expertise.

If all goes well, acupuncture physician Nicole Brown (45) and her husband Scott (39), an insurer, can expect to conceive in India and deliver a child in the US after a full term of pregnancy. A child for which they travelled through Argentina, Greece, Vietnam before landing in India on July 27. A child for which they have flown an egg donor from Vietnam to Mumbai, to retain Nicole’s oriental ethnicity.

Ah! The wonders of science. The rest of the article goes on to explain how India was chosen by this couple as the place to conceive and it’s a wonderful story about how a couple’s dream has come true.

But what really irks me how a national newspaper shamelessly inserts a glowing PR of India’s medical industry.

This multi-racial, transcontinental, two-and-a-half-year odyssey reflects the personal touch and professional maturity of India’s medical outsourcing industry in particular the skills that India can now offer the world, from running insurance checks for US companies to verifying genetic information for clients in Europe.

I know India is really doing well but one sign that Indians have “matured” is to stop calling themselves geniuses all the time. Every major publication in India is guilty of this fact. I mean come one!! Be mature and wait for the accolades. Don’t serve them and eat them yourself. That’s childish and not “mature.

Matrix?

Ok, how is this different from the premise in the movie Matrix where the human body is basically a battery?

Scientists are working on a new type of nanogenerator that could draw the necessary energy from flowing blood in the human body, by using the beating heart and pulsating blood vessels.

Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of technology hope to be able to incorporate the new nanogenerator into biosensors, environmental monitoring devices and even personal electronics that will require no fuel source, internal or external.

It will produce its own electricity while immersed in biological fluids or other liquids, using ultrasonic waves as the energy source. So far, they achieved the nanogenerator effect in an array of nanowires that could produce as much as 4 watts/cubic centimeter.

Boy, can`t wait for the religious nuts to cry FOUL.

I have no idea why Hollywood and popular culture continues to harbour suspicion of humans trying to better our bodies with new technologies. There will come a time when a person’s damaged brain will be supplemented by an artificial brain. Will that person be considered less than any other human being? So why are we always afraid of exploring the realms of science (E.g. Stem Cell Research) when the benefits to human society are huge.

How Evolution Began

Talk about blowing away to pieces……

In a cascade of superlatives that belies the traditional cerebral reserve of their profession, astronomers reported yesterday that they had seen the brightest and most powerful stellar explosion ever recorded.

The cataclysm — a monster more than a hundred times as energetic as the typical supernova in which the more massive stars end their lives — may be an example, they said, of a completely new type of explosion. Such a blast, proposed but never seen, would explain how the earliest and most massive stars in the universe ended their lives and strewed new elements across space to fertilize future stars and planets.

Such supermassive stars are extremely rare in the modern universe but are believed to have been common among the first stars that formed when the universe was less than a billion years old.

Now here is an interesting tit-bit. It has been proposed that we humans (and life on Earth) is made out of star stuff. Star material (Carbon and other slightly complex molecules) landed on Earth and because of unique circumstances (an accident, really) life came into being. Isn’t this huge exploding star support this theory? Anyway, back to the explosion.

The astronomers first suspected that the supernova’s dramatic output was caused by the shock wave of a white dwarf exploding into a dense cloud of hydrogen. When observations with the Chandra X-ray Observatory failed to find enough X-rays to support that idea, the group was forced to consider an alternative: that the luminosity was produced by the decay of radioactive nickel. But to match the observations, the star would have had to produce 22 solar masses of radioactive nickel — way off scale for the core collapse model.

In desperation, the astronomers turned to a theory proposed nearly 40 years ago by Zalman Barkat of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his colleagues. The intensity of radiation in the cores of supermassive stars could be so great, they said, that pairs of electrons and their antimatter opposites, positrons, would be created.

Hawking’s World

Am a big fan of Stephen Hawking as he is one of the few (John Gribbon, Kip Thorne and John Wheeler among others) who have tried to explain to us lay people the worlds of the universe in a clear language.

Here is something interesting that he said :

Hawking spoke to a packed audience in Zellerbach Hall about how Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and quantum theory explained the creation of the universe.

His lecture, which touched upon subjects such as black holes and spacetime, was peppered with quips that drew laughs from the audience.

“If one believed that the universe had a beginning, the obvious question was, what happened before the beginning,” Hawking said. “What was God doing before He made the world? Was He preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

A few “bubbles,” Hawking said, will grow to a certain size until they are safe from collapse, and will begin to develop galaxies, stars and eventually human life.

“The universe began with accelerating expansion which we call inflation, because the universe grows in the way prices go up in some countries,” Hawking said. “It expanded in a million trillion trillionths of a second.”

I wonder why he is moving in this direction. The theory of the first few seconds of the creation of the universe is still in works so why choose to go where the theories don’t exist at all!! But then again, that’s what scientists do!!