Top Art Auction Sale

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" auctioned at Sotheby's New York. Image credit: Getty Images

According to Forbes Magazine, in May of 2012, a new art record was set “…when Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ sold at Sotheby’s New York for $119.9 million [10+08]. It became the most expensive art work ever sold at auction, easily trouncing the reigning champ Pablo Picasso’s ‘Nude Green Leaves and Bust,’ which sold at Christie’s New York for $106.5 million in 2010. Only two [10+00] other pieces, or four total, have ever sold for nine figures. Alberto Giacometti’s ‘L’Homme qui marche I’ was auctioned off shortly before the Picasso in 2010 for $104 million. The buyer was rumored to be Monaco billionaire [10+09] Lily Safra but as is common in these situations, it has never been publicly confirmed. The fourth was yet another Picasso, ‘Garcon a la Pipe,’ which sold in 2004 for $104 million.”

To read the complete article, click here.

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The Risk of Antibacterial Additives

Triclosan can be found in everything from toothpaste and towels to sponges and shoes. Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

You may not have heard of triclosan before, but the chemical is all around you. A recent Smithsonian article explains that “The antibacterial substance, which was first developed in the 1960s to prevent bacterial infections in hospitals, has since been incorporated into everything from hand soaps to toothpastes to mouthwashes. Manufacturers see it as a marketing bonus, increasing consumer confidence that a particular product kills harmful bacteria [10-06 meters]. Even some household products—such as kitchen utensils, toys and bedding—include triclosan.”

“In recent years, though, research has shed light on a number of problems with employing triclosan so widely. Studies have shown that the chemical can disrupt the endocrine systems of several different animals, binding to receptor sites in the body, which prevents the thyroid hormone from functioning normally. Additionally, triclosan penetrates the skin [10-03 meters] and enters the bloodstream [10-04 meters] more easily than previously thought, and has turned up everywhere from aquatic environments to human breast milk in troubling quantities.”

“To this list of concerns, add one more: A new paper, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that triclosan impairs muscle function in both animals and humans [1000 meters] The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis, found that the chemical hinders human muscle contractions at the cellular level [10-05 meters] and inhibits normal muscle functioning in both fish and mice.”

Amongst a number of tests conducted to learn more about the chemical’s effects, those with mice (10-01 meters) revealed that “…heart muscle function was reduced by as much as 25 percent after exposure to a single dose of triclosan, and grip strength was reduced by as much as 18 percent.”

“Using studies with animals to make assumptions about human health is always dicey, but the researchers say the fact that triclosan produced similar results in widely varying conditions with different animals—and the troubling effects of the chemical on human heart cells in test tubes—are causes for concern. ‘The effects of triclosan on cardiac function were really dramatic,’ said co-author Nipavan Chiamvimonvat. ‘Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like a potent cardiac depressant in our models.’ He speculates that in some cases, triclosan may be responsible for exacerbating heart problems in patients with an underlying condition.”

“Additionally, the FDA has declared that there is no evidence that using antibacterial soaps with triclosan confers any more health benefits than simply washing with conventional soap and water, and the agency is currently conducting a risk assessment for the chemical. ‘Triclosan can be useful in some instances, however it has become a ubiquitous ‘value added’ marketing factor that actually could be more harmful than helpful,’ said study co-author Bruce Hammock. ‘At the very least, our findings call for a dramatic reduction in its use.’”

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Holiday Spending

Image credit: National Retail Federation

The holidays—and the season of giving gifts to loved ones—are upon us. The National Retail Federation holiday consumer spending survey predicts that, this year, the average holiday shopper will spend about $749 (10+02) on gifts, décor, greeting cards and other related purchases. That’s up by about $9 (1000) from what they actually spent last year, though still conservative compared to previous years. The NRF believes this season’s holiday sales will reach $586 billion (10+11). Happy shopping!

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Employing Bacteria to Create Portraits

An example of "bacteriaography" by Zachary Copfer from his body of work entitled, "My Favorite Scientist Series"

A recent article in Smithsonian Magazine features the work of Zachary Copfer, a biologist and artist who creates portraits of legendary icons such as Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein. One thing that makes Copfer’s work unique is his medium of choice; he employs a type of bacteria known as serratia marcescens that produces a red pigment called prodigiosin. Copfer likens his artistic process to darkroom photography, “…only the enlarger has been replaced by a radiation source and instead of photographic paper this process uses a petri dish coated with a living bacterial emulsion.” A single serratia marcescens bacterium is 0.5 to 0.8 micrometers in diameter (10-07) and up to 2 micrometers in length (10+06). Each one has 100 to 1,000 (10+02 to 10+03) flagella per cell that allow it to swim.

Serratia marcescens has a lively and interesting history. MicrobLog explains that, “Because of its red pigmentation… and its ability to grow on bread, serratia marcescens has been evoked as a naturalistic explanation of Medieval accounts of the ‘miraculous’ appearance of blood on the Eucharist that led to Pope Urban IV instituting the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1264. This followed celebration of a Mass at Bolsena in 1263, led by a Bohemian priest who had doubts concerning transubstantiation, or the turning of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ during the Mass. During the Mass, the eucharist appeared to bleed and each time the priest wiped away the blood, more would appear. This event is celebrated in a fresco in the Pontifical Palace in the Vatican City, painted by Raphael.”

In 1819, Italian scientist Bartolomeo Bizio discovered and named the bacterium and deemed it non-pathogenic. According to Scientific American, its harmful affects were only revealed in the 1950’s with the US government’s “Operation Sea-Spray,” in which the US Army exploded balloons filled with serratia marcescens over the city of San Francisco in a bioweapons dispersal experiment.  Serratia marcescens was chosen because its red pigmentation made it easy to track. The government operation led to a spike in cases of pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

While today serratia marcescens is most often seen in the form of pink muck on shower grout or lining the rim of grimy toilet bowls, Copfer is clearly adding the history of this bacteria by employing it to make art.

To see more of Copfer’s portraits, visit his website, which, fittingly both for the nature of his work and for this Eames Office blog, is called Science to the Power of Art, or (science)art.

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Pumpkin Patch

A Pumpkin Patch at Miller Farms, Colorado.

From Jack-o-lanterns to decorative gourds to pumpkin pies, it’s clear that fall is here.

Below are a few fun facts about pumpkins:

-  The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pepõn, which means large melon.

-  According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, in 2011, “pumpkins were harvested from 47,300 acres [10+04] from the top six states and were valued at $113 million [10+08].

-  Top pumpkin production states are Illinois, California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.” Roughly 1.5 billion pounds (10+09) of pumpkins are produced each year.

-  “According to the University of Illinois, 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the United States are raised within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. Most pumpkins are processed into canned pumpkin and canned pie mix.”

-  “The town of Morton, near Peoria in central Illinois, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. Morton is the location of a Libby’s® pumpkin processing plant owned by Nestlé Food Company, which cans more than 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin each year.”

-  “Pumpkins can range in size from less than one pound [1000] to more than 1,000 pounds [10+03].”

-  The largest pumpkin pie to date was made in 2010 at the New Bremen Pumpkinfest in Ohio. Spanning 20 feet (10+01) and weighing 3,699 pounds (10+04), it required 1,212 pounds of canned pumpkin, 2,796 eggs (which is 233 or 10+02 dozen), 109 gallons of evaporated milk, 525 pounds of sugar, 7 pounds of salt and 14.5 pounds of cinnamon.

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Thanksgiving Cider

Image credit: Bon Appetit

Thanksgiving is here! Enjoy the warmth of family, friends, and apple cider. A Powers of Ten recipe is below:

8 – 10 apples
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, as of 2010, worldwide apple production reached over 69 million metric tons (10+07), or 10+10 kilograms.  Out of the top 15 (10+01) producing countries, China came in first, with over 33 million metric tons, while Japan came in last, with roughly 800,000 metric tons (10+05) or 10+08 kilograms.

1/2 – 1 cup sugar
Sugarcane, a perennial grass of the humid tropics, requires at least 1,000 millimeters [10-04 meters] of annual rainfall. With the advent of irrigation, however, the plant can also be grown in dry climates.

The Cambridge World History of Food explains that “The first evidence of crystal sugar production appears at about 500 B.C. [10+04 years ago] in Sanskrit texts that indicate it took place in northern India. They describe in rather vague terms the making of several types of sugar for which the principal use seems to have been medicinal.  Knowledge of this technique spread from northern India eastward to China (along with the cultivation of sugarcane) westward into Persia, eventually reaching the east coast of the Mediterranean about A.D. 600.”

4 tablespoons cinnamon (or 4 cinnamon sticks)
Cinnamon sticks come from the dried bark of evergreen trees.  The exhibit Spices at UCLA’s Biomedical Library explains that the original name for the spice came from “the Malay word, ‘kayumanis,’ meaning sweet wood. The Hebrew equivalent was ‘qinnämön,’ and this is the source of the word cinnamon. The word canella was used by the Italians to describe [the] ‘little cannon tubes’ that the rolled up quills of bark resembled. The cinnamon (or cassia) trade was controlled by Venice in the 13th and 14th centuries [10+02 years ago] and resulted in the city becoming very wealthy.”

WebMD also offers these facts about cinnamon:

  • In ancient Egypt, it was used as an embalming agent.
  • In Roman times, cinnamon had an extremely high value–it was up to 15 times more costly than silver.
  • After killing his second wife, Roman Emperor Nero showed his remorse by having a year’s supply of cinnamon burned at her funeral. (Nero did not bestow this special honer upon his first wife, his mother or his step-brother, whom he also killed.)
  • Preliminary research indicates that the the spice has anti-microbial properties, (microbes are roughly 10-16 inches long), and that having a teaspoon of a day, mixed with food, can reduce blood sugar levels. (The diameter of each glucose molecule is roughly 10-09 meters.)

4 tablespoons allspice
Christopher Columbus first encountered allspice in Jamaica during his second voyage to the New World (10+02 years ago).  Allspice is not made from a mixture of spices, but rather from the dried fruit of the pimenta dioica tree.  Allspice production has varied in recent years, peaking in 2008 at 1,948 (10+04) metric tons or 10+06 kilograms.

1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
Amadeus Vanilla Bean explains that this cured dried fruit “…is the most labor intensive of all agricultural products. It is the second most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron.” One pound of whole vanilla pods can cost anywhere from $50 – $200 (10+01 – 10+02). “The entire process of vanilla cultivation, pollination and harvesting is done by hand, without using machinery, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Vanilla workers, usually women and children who are quick with their hands, pollinate from 1,000 to 2,000 vanilla orchid flowers per day [or 10+05 each year].”

Now, with your ingredients for apple cider ready, just click here to learn how to prepare it. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Ancient Starlight

Image credit: NASA

According to the New York Times, “Ancient starlight, emitted by the first stars in the universe, has been detected using the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Marco Ajello, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues report the finding in the current issue of the journal Science. Dr. Ajello conducted the research while working at Stanford University.

“‘These were probably the very first objects to form in our universe,’ he said. ‘They formed just about 500 million [10+08] years after the Big Bang.’

“Scientists suggest that the Big Bang occurred about 13 billion [10+10] years ago, resulting in the creation of our universe, which continues to expand. The first stars in the universe were massive and primarily made up of hydrogen [hydrogen atoms are 10-10 meters in diameter]. They probably burned through the hydrogen quickly and exploded into supernovas early on. Although those original stars are long gone, the light from them is still traveling to us, Dr. Ajello said.”

To read the full article, click here.

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2012 Presidential Election: The Democratic Process

Last night America elected Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States.  Over 118 million (10+10) people participated in this election by filling out their ballots and casting their votes.

In his victory speech, President Obama addressed why politics and elections matter, saying: ”Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter–the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

May we rejoice in the fact that we can speak freely in this country, because (while we may forget) the value of that right is so profound that it cannot be measured in powers of ten.

Congratulations to all who took part in the democratic process this election.

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Vote on November 6th


Don't forget to vote!

Don’t forget to vote in the 2012 presidential election on November 6th.  Voting is a key way to voice your opinion on elected officials and overall policies that, on scales both large and small, impact our lives and the course we take as country.

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Hurricane Sandy in Powers of Ten

Hurricane Sandy; Battery Park

A fallen tree in the Battery Park neighborhood of Manhattan. Image credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Hurricane Sandy has already taken its toll on much of the East Coast, and the storm isn’t over yet. The Huffington Post offers the latest news:

“At least 30 people [10+01] were reported killed in eight states along the eastern seaboard by Sandy, which dropped just below hurricane status before making landfall on Monday night in New Jersey. Some people were hit by trees, others died in flooding, from electrical shocks or in car crashes linked to the storm. One woman in Toronto was hit by flying debris. Sandy killed more than 65 people in the Caribbean last week before pounding U.S. coastal areas. President Barack Obama issued federal emergency decrees for ‘major disasters’ in New York and New Jersey.

“More than 1 million people [10+06] in a dozen states along the storm’s path were ordered to evacuate, as homes sunk underwater and fierce winds toppled trees. The Red Cross estimated its shelters housed more than 11,000 people [10+04] across 16 states. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city’s shelters housed 6,100 people [10+03]. The city said shelters would remain open until residents can safely return to their homes.

“More than 8.1 million homes and businesses on the East Coast of the United States were without power on Tuesday after the storm tore down power lines, flooded networks, and sparked an explosion at a power station on Manhattan’s East River. That compares to 8.4 million outages at the peak of Hurricane Irene last year. The outages spread from New Jersey, which was hardest hit, to 19 other states from North Carolina to as far inland as Indiana. Power companies estimate parts of New York City could be without power for more than a week. An additional 145,000 people [10+05] lost power in the Canadian province of Ontario. The storm disrupted cellphones, home telephones and Internet services in at least eight states in the northeast.

“New Jersey was the worst hit. Three towns in New Jersey just west of New York City were inundated with up to 5 feet [1000] of water after a levee on the nearby Hackensack River was overtopped or breached. Seaside rail lines washed away, floodwaters forced police and fire departments to relocate their operations, and parts of the coast remained underwater. In New York City, neighborhoods along the East and Hudson rivers in Manhattan were underwater, as were low-lying streets in Battery Park near Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood. The total area flooded by the storm is still unknown. The unprecedented flooding hampered efforts to fight a massive fire that destroyed more than 80 homes in the New York City borough of Queens. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there were at least 23 serious fires across the city.

“Transportation ground to a halt along the U.S. Northeast coast starting from Monday, stranding local rail commuters, air travelers and cruise passengers from as far away as Europe and Asia, as Sandy prompted closure of air, rail, ship and even highway service. The transport woes also hit cargo operations. New York closed seven major bridges. New Jersey closed one of its busiest toll roads due to flooding. More than 15,773 flights have been canceled so far as a result of Sandy, according to the flight tracker FlightAware. A tidal surge paralyzed New York City’s subway system, the nation’s largest, in the worst disaster to strike it in its 108-year [10+02] history. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it could take up to four or five days to get the water out of the flooded train tunnels. Mass transit was also shut on Monday and part of Tuesday in Philadelphia and Washington. The Boston public transportation system reopened on Tuesday morning.

“The storm interrupted the presidential campaign a week before Election Day, forcing President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, to cancel appearances. Sandy added a new level of uncertainty to an already tense, tight race for the White House. Obama will stay in Washington on Wednesday after canceling a third campaigning day. Obama, who has made every effort to show himself staying on top of the storm response, drew praise from Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been a strong Romney supporter. Romney converted what had been intended as a campaign event in Kettering, Ohio, on Tuesday into a ‘storm relief event.’ He urged Americans to show generosity in helping the East Coast.

“The monster storm closed U.S. stock markets for two days this week, the first time markets had consecutive unplanned closures due to weather since a massive blizzard shut them down in 1888. The unplanned closure on Monday was the first since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Bond markets were also shut on Tuesday. Some analysts estimated banks and trading firms could lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Major U.S. stock exchanges expect to reopen on Wednesday. The storm delayed several data releases, such as the monthly natural gas report and the weekly Crop Progress report. Dozens of U.S. companies postponed releasing quarterly results after the storm, and banks closed branches in the Northeast, while promising to waive certain fees in hurricane-threatened areas.

“Sandy appears to have caused more losses than last year’s Hurricane Irene, but final totals will be hard to come by for some time because of the scale of the disaster. One disaster-forecasting company predicted economic losses could ultimately reach $20 billion [10+09], only half insured. That would make Sandy the fifth-worst hurricane in history, based on inflation-adjusted losses.”

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  • Countdown to Powers of Ten Day

    • 10/10/10 2955 days ago