Surviving on Volcanic Gas

Thriving on Volcanic Gas

Image: Discovery News

Discovery News reports that “Wisps of volcanic gas, rather than photosynthesis, may energize rare microbes eking out an existence on the Martian-like flanks of the tallest volcanoes in South America’s Atacama Desert.

This newly discovered handful of bacteria, fungi and rudimentary organisms called archaea [roughly 80 micrometers, or 10-5 meters in diameter and 200-600 micrometers, or 10-04 meters long] have not been formally identified, but DNA [10-07] analysis has revealed that they are very different from anything else known to science.

‘Genetically, they’re at least 5 percent different than anything else in the DNA database of 2.5 million [10+06] sequences,’ said Ryan Lynch, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who cultured the Atacama microbes in the lab.

When Lynch and his colleagues searched specifically for chlorophyll or genes known to be involved in photosynthesis, they came up dry.  That’s when they realized that some of these bugs might utilize completely new forms of metabolism.

In a recent report in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, Lynch and his co-authors suggest that the microbes may extract energy and carbon from wisps of gases such as carbon monoxide and dimethylsulfide that sometimes drift in the air.  The process wouldn’t give the bugs a high-energy yield, Lynch said in a press release, but enough could add up over time to be meaningful.”

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100-Million-Year-Old Spider Attack

This is the only fossil ever discovered that shows a spider attacking its prey in its web. Image from: Discovery News

Discovery News recently reported on the discovery a 100-million-year-old spider attack in which both predator and prey are fossilized in amber:

“The piece of amber, which contains 15 [10+01] intact strands of spider silk, provides the first fossil evidence of such an assault, the researchers said. It was excavated in a Burmese mine and dates back to the Early Cretaceous, between 97 million [10+07] and 110 million [10+08] years ago.”

“‘This juvenile spider was going to make a meal out of a tiny parasitic wasp, but never quite got to it,’ George Poinar, Jr., a zoology professor at Oregon State University, said in a statement.”

“Both the spider and wasp species are today extinct. But the type of wasp (Cascoscelio incassus) belongs to a group that today is known to parasitize spider eggs, Poinor said. The attack on the wasp by the bristly orb-weaver spider, Geratonephila burmanica, might then be considered revenge.”

To read the full story in Discovery News, click here.

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Powers of Ten: A Rough Sketch

Shooting of "A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of the Universe;" 1968. Copyright: Eames Office, LLC.

Happy Powers of Ten Day! In this universe of continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery, consider all that is around you on scales both large and small!

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Sebastian Cwilich (left) and Carter Cleveland, shown at the gallery Haunch of Venison, constructed an art “genome." Image credit: Eric Ogden

An art genome project called went live on Monday.  Its mission is “to expose as many people as possible to art.” explains that its “growing collection comprises 17,000+ [10+04] artworks by 3,000+ [10+03] artists from leading galleries, museums, private collections, foundations, and artist estates. works with 300+ [10+02] of the world’s leading galleries, museums, private collections, foundations, and artist estates from New York to London, Paris to Shanghai, Johannesburg to São Paulo.”

The site has undergone “two years of private testing and with millions of dollars [10+06] from investors, including some celebrities in the art and technology worlds,” according to The New York Times. takes its inspiration from already successful genome projects such as Pandora and Netflix, which offer recommendations on what kind of music and movies someone might like based on previous selections.  But some people have their doubts as to whether or not the idea can be successfully applied to visual art.  Robert Storr, dean of the Yale University School of Art and former curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art told The New York Times: “It depends so much on the information, who’s doing the selection, what the criteria are, and what the cultural assumptions behind those criteria are.”  He added that, in regard to art comprehension, “I’m sure it will be reductive.”

Others, such as Seb Chan, director of the Cooper-Hewitt’s digital and emerging media, argue that, “You shouldn’t need to be a scholar to discover works of art that you might be fascinated by. . .You go to museums and you browse—chancing upon things is what it’s all about. The Art Genome is another way of creating serendipitous connections. . .For our culture, particularly people who live with the Web as part of their natural lives—anyone under 25—this is a natural way of browsing.”

Check out for yourself by clicking here.

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Exaggerating Facts by Powers of Ten

Presidential Debates, 2012

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney debate in Denver, Colorado. Image credit: Charlie Neibergall / APL

Last night’s Presidential Debate at the University of Denver led to a flurry of discussion about which of President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney’s statements were true, which were false, and which were simply exaggerated.

The information below, from, offers the break down on how Obama and Romney’s claims hold up. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.

  • Obama accused Romney of proposing a $5 trillion [10+12] tax cut. Not true. Romney proposes to offset his rate cuts and promises he won’t add to the deficit.
  • Romney again promised to “not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans” and also to “lower taxes on middle-income families,” but didn’t say how he could possibly accomplish that without also increasing the deficit.
  • Obama oversold his health care law, claiming that health care premiums have “gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years [10+01].” That’s true of health care spending, but not premiums. And the health care law had little to do with the slowdown in overall spending.
  • Romney claimed a new board established by the Affordable Care Act is “going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have.” Not true. The board only recommendscost-saving measures for Medicare, and is legally forbidden to ration care or reduce benefits.
  • Obama said 5 million [10+06] private-sector jobs had been created in the past 30 months. Perhaps so, but that counts jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics won’t add to the official monthly tallies until next year. For now, the official tally is a bit over 4.6 million.
  • Romney accused Obama of doubling the federal deficit. Not true. The annual deficit was already running at $1.2 trillion when Obama took office.
  • Obama again said he’d raise taxes on upper-income persons only to the “rates that we had when Bill Clinton was president.” Actually, many high-income persons would pay more than they did then, because of new taxes in Obama’s health care law.
  • Romney claimed that middle-income Americans have “seen their income come down by $4,300 [10+03].” That’s too high. Census figures show the decline in median household income during Obama’s first three years was $2,492, even after adjusting for inflation.
  • Obama again touted his “$4 trillion” deficit reduction plan, which includes $1 trillion from winding down wars that are coming to an end in any event.

For additional nonpartisan information about U.S. politics and key 2012 political players, visit, or

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Giant Blank House of Cards Community Project at ArtPrize

Eames Blank House of Cards at ArtPrize

This year the Eames Office is participating in ArtPrize, a three-week-long art bonanza in Grand Rapids, Michigan that runs from September 19 through October 7, 2012.  As part of a two-phase community event, 10,000 (10+04) Eames Blank Giant House of Cards have been decorated, assembled and reassembled, inspiring both creativity and collaboration.

On September 22, in the heart of downtown, ArtPrize attendees gathered in Rosa Parks Circle to decorate 5,000 Eames Blank House of Cards.  At the same time, they watched a team from Scott Christopher Homes create an amazing and enormous tower from yet another 5,000 Blank House of Cards.  The tower was on view for just 24 hours.  Once the structure came down, its cards were distributed to thousands of school children and community members who brightly adorned them with drawings, words, poems, ideas and hopes for the future.

Now that all 10,000 cards have been decorated, they have been re-assembled into a brand new configuration of arches, alleys, walls and towers.  If you’re in the Grand Rapids area, stop by to see it! The construction of Eames Giant Blank House of Cards is at the gallery next to the UICA at 1 South Division Avenue and will remain on view through the end of ArtPrize.

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Image: Mark Thiessen; from the National Geographic Article, "Wildfires"

Last year, 74,126 fires across the United States scorched roughly 8.7 million acres (or 10+11 square feet) of land.  That’s 119.9% higher than the average for all wildfires and acres burned.  While lightning caused just over 10,000 of the fires, almost 64,000 (10+04) of them were started by humans, according to’s 2011 US Wildfire Statistics.

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Video still: Carl Sagan in his video on the Googolplex

The largest number with a word naming it is a “googolplex.” This is the equivalent of 10 to the power of a googol—or 10 to the power of 10100.   The term googol was coined in 1938 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta, the nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner.  Kasner then extended the name to this larger number.

Watch a video by astronomer Carl Sagan about the googolplex, which is entertaining both because of its subject matter and because it looks so dated.

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Neil Armstrong: 1930-2012

Neil Armstrong

An image by Buzz Aldrin of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, July 20, 1969. Image credit: NASA

Neil Armstrong died this past Saturday, August 25, at age 82.  The astronaut, who made “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” was the first person to land on the moon.

As commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, Armstrong traveled 238,900 miles (10+05) to reach the 4.5 billion year-old satellite (10+09) on July 20, 1969.

NASA administrator, Charles F. Bolden Jr. said, “As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”

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The Smell of Fear

The Smell of Fear

Lensfodder, "The Smell of Fear," Canada Lane, Carlton, 2007

It turns out that the smell of fear is real.  A recent article in The New York Times addresses a new study on how the smell of fear effects “family dynamics behavior in Eurasian Rollers–spectacular Jay-sized birds…”  What scientists discovered only reinforces the growing evidence that animals–humans included–can smell each others’ fear.  The odor (which comes from molecules roughly 10-09 meters across) raises a red flag that can kick our cognitive skills into high gear and help us avoid danger.

“In human studies, the sweat of frightened people has been shown to cause anxiety and heightened vigilance, and even to enhance cognitive performance on tests.”  In another study, Karl Grammer of the University of Vienna and his colleagues had subjects take a whiff of underarm pads from women who had either watched a benign documentary or a horror film.  They “…rated the latter’s odor as ‘significantly stronger and more unpleasant’ and claimed it reminded them of ‘aggression.’”

Every time a little kid stomps on an ant hill, the disruption causes the bugs to “…produce alarm pheromones that rally colony defenses.  If air is blown over the cage of a rat as it receives an electric shock to the foot, rodents downwind of the jolting event react with a full-blown stress response, as if they, too, had been shocked.”

When the skin of an injured minnow (generally 10-02 meters long) secretes what researcher, Karl von Frisch has coined Schreckstoff, or “fright stuff,” all nearby minnows flee as quickly as possible to avoid the same fate.

Injured plants send out similar alarm signals to animals, only they do so through air and soil.  (Air molecules are 10-10 meters across with a mass of 10-26 kilograms.  There are approximately 10+26 air molecules in a 4m x 3m x 3m room.)  When that signal is transferred through the air to other plants, it “…can be construed as evidence of vegetal despair, or at least a reminder that no life form likes being eaten.”

If it is true that we can smell each others’ fear, then remember this the next time you have to look cool, calm and confident in front of someone who intimidates you: it is best stand downwind.

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  • Countdown to Powers of Ten Day

    • 10/10/10 2931 days ago