This blog started as a collaborative effort. As we all advanced in our careers and grown families some regular contributors have become irregular contributors, and I have been the primary curator for sometime.
Sara Wilbur reached out asking to write a guest post. We worked on getting her delightful post out together.
And with the new school year, she’s back for more! She’ll be writing about artic squirrels and telomeres and quirky scientists and life in Alaska.
And I’m thrilled that’ll she’ll be posting on Thursdays. Welcome to the NiB family!
One of the great misconceptions of science is that great discoveries start with a “Eureka!”.
More often than not, great discoveries start instead with a “that’s funny/odd/strange, I wonder what’s going on here”. And that’s what happened to Bell Burnell. She and her graduate supervisor, Antony Hewish, built a radio telescope to observe strange objects in distant galaxies known as quasars. It printed the data as a line (using red ink) across ~100 feet of paper per day. And in pouring over that data, Bell noticed something strange: “an unclassifiable squiggle”
The squiggle was soon identified as pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars that emit radiation. Finding them is considered one of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the 20th century. So much so that it won a Nobel Prize… for Bell’s advisor.
However, she gets the last laugh: 50 years after the “unclassified squiggle” in red ink, her discovery has earned her a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, which comes with a check for $3 million. Dr. Burnell is donating her prize winnings to the U.K.’s Institute of Physics, where they will fund graduate scholarships for people from under-represented groups to study physics.
“I don’t want or need the money myself and it seemed to me that this was perhaps the best use I could put to it,” she told the BBC, adding that she wants to use the money to counter the “unconscious bias” that she says happens in physics research jobs.
The astrophysicist noted there has been an upside to the Nobel snub all those years ago.
“I feel I’ve done very well out of not getting a Nobel prize,” she told the Guardian. “If you get a Nobel prize you have this fantastic week and then nobody gives you anything else. If you don’t get a Nobel prize you get everything that moves. Almost every year there’s been some sort of party because I’ve got another award. That’s much more fun.”
Read the full story here.
The antlers of an ancient Irish Elk have been found by a fisherman in Lough Neagh, Co. Tyrone.
The creature was the largest deer that ever lived and has been extinct for thousands of years.
The catch has a span of more than 3 m and is believed to be at least 10,000 years old.
This is just a cool look at a cool extinct animal. So cool.
Any regular reader of this blog will know I love collections.
Which is one of the many MANY reasons I’m devastated about the fire at the National Museum of Brazilian.
In summary: the fire burned for six hours and left behind ashes where there had been dinosaur fossils (including the reconstructed Maxakalisaurus topai), the oldest human remains in the Americas, Luiza, and the audio recording and documents of indigenous languages that are otherwise extinct.
We will never be able to replace these items and the knowledge they contain is irreplaceable. Our collective knowledge is worse off as a result.
And with the devastated feeling of the incalculable loss, we’re starting to take stock of how this could have been prevented.
Funding for one (read about how the museum was underfunded for decades). And another is digitalizing the collection.
But for now, I will remain in morning for the knowledge that has gone up in flames.
Every day, birders around the world record which species they see. Many of them contribute their sightings to the groundbreaking citizen science project called eBird, run out of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US. One outcome from this collective activity is a worldwide record of which species have been reported in the same place at the same time – i.e. which species come into contact.
This citizen science has potential to really change the way we work at bird interactions.
Read about it here!
Change creates winners and losers, and that includes climate change, especially at the top of the world. On the losing side of the environmental ledger we find the polar bear, floating glumly on its ever-shrinking ice floe.
On the winning side, a new apex predator is cruising northern waters.
Which might be causing problems for other species of whales… read about it here!