Literature does not mean “big pile of facts”

As scientist we tend to take what has been done before at face value. If a publication demonstrates a result, it is often tucked away into a mental file: or “big pile of scientific facts”.

While Stephen Heard doesn’t advocate repeating all experiments, he does note that this may not always be the case. For example:

“Published research findings are sometimes refuted by subsequent evidence, with ensuing confusion and disappointment.”

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Of dinosaurs and feathers

A 2014 study in Science – provocatively titled “A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales” – might just change how we think about all dinosaurs. Based on the age and identity of the specimen that the paper describes, the authors say perhaps all dinosaurs, not just the ones closely related to modern birds, had feathers! How cool is that?

“Probably that means the common ancestor of all dinosaurs had feathers,” says study lead author Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science in Brussels. “Feathers are not a characteristic [just] of birds but of all dinosaurs.”

National Geographic covered the story (about the little guy illustrated below) here.

This illustration of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, a newfound feathered dinosaur, shows it in its natural environment. Illustration by Andrey Atuchin; reposted from nationalgeographic.com

The secret ingedient is…crystals?

Chameleons are pretty special. With their independently moving Mad-Eye Moody eyeballs

and their “live long and prosper” hands,

Is Spock really a well disguised chameleon? That is not a very logical conclusion (despite their similar hand morphologies).

Probably has a killer Vulcan Death grip.

who isn’t intrigued by these goofy lizards?

Perhaps their most amazing feature is their ability to change color.

Recent research shows that the key to this process may be less biological and more CRYSTALS.

Studying male panther chameleons from Madagascar, a cross-disciplinary team of biologists and physicists from the University of Geneva found that the reptiles’ skin is covered by a thick layer of light-reflecting cells called iridophores, which are embedded with photonic crystals—a latticed organization of guanine nanocrystals. Depending on how closely those crystals are clustered, they reflect different wavelengths of light.

Read more in “The Secret to How Chameleons Change Color” over at wired.com or go straight to the (open!) source at Nature Communications – “Photonic crystals cause active colour change in chameleons“.

So – you want to be an academic?

Stumbled upon a great little slide show (by Josh Neufeld) with all the major pros (and some cons) of being an academic – from start to finish. There’s no script to go with the slides, but they’re put together in such a way that I think it’s pretty coherent as is. It also contains a lot of google-able resources for those knee deep in academia too. (Hat tip to @hollybik!)