Archive for 'Arts and science'

Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer

Monday, February 20th, 2017

“The dirt ground into the margins of medieval manuscripts is one of their interpretable features, which can help us to understand the desires, fears, and reading habits of the past.”

– explains researcher Dr Kathryn M. Rudy who is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Art History, of the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She points out, however, that :-

“Cleaning or trimming the dirt from them is tantamount to discarding a provocative cultural witness.“

Dr Rudy proposes instead the use of a densitometer – a machine that measures the darkness of a reflecting surface and which can reveal which texts a reader favoured, but without damaging the dirt.

See: Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer in the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art. Volume 2, Issue 1-2 (Summer 2010).

He smells

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

One of NASA’s best noses got a good writeup in 2003, in an official bulletin called “NASA’s Nose: Avoiding smelly situations in space“:

galdrichThanks to George Aldrich and his team of NASA sniffers, astronauts can breathe a little bit easier. Aldrich is a chemical specialist or “chief sniffer” at the White Sands Test Facility’s Molecular Desorption and Analysis Laboratory in New Mexico. His job is to smell items before they can be flown in the space shuttle.

Aldrich explained that smells change in space and that once astronauts are up there, they’re stuck with whatever smells are onboard with them. In space, astronauts aren’t able to open the window for extra ventilation, Aldrich said.

The Know I Know web site, too, recently took a look at the smelling situation.

(Thanks to Scott Langill for bringing this to our attention.)

You’re invited to the Improbable Research show at the AAAS meeting Saturday

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Join us, if you’re in Boston this Saturday night, at the annual Improbable Research session at the AAAS Annual meeting! Here are details:

AAAS Annual Meeting, Sheraton Boston Hotel (in the Prudential Center), in Constitution Ballroom A, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. — February 18, 2017, Saturday, 8:00 pm.  This year’s Improbable Research session will feature:

This evening special session is open free to the public. BUT NOTE: Every year this session fills rapidly, so we suggest you arrive a little early, if you want to get into the room.

This is the research study that introduced the Dunning-Kruger effect:

Nobel laureates don’t grow on trees

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Nobel laureates don’t grow on trees, but they do go a-wandering in pleasant places. Sheldon Glashow (standing on the left, and possessor of a 1979 Nobel Prize for physics) and Rich Roberts (standing on the right, and possessor of a 1993 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine) sent us this photo of them in Bali.

Rich Roberts writes:

“Taken in the monkey forest in Bali yesterday. The gentleman in the middle is from Brazil. His name is Oscar, and the shirt was bought for him by his girlfriend. We thought you might find a good use for this photo.”

Until we find a good use for the photo, we are posting it here on the Improbable Research blog.

Centrifugal duration: An almost sure-fire way to lose weight (and other things)

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

If someone put you in a centrifuge — for an entire year — would you lose weight?

An essay by someone named Sarah argues, that “Centrifugation makes animals smaller, leaner, more muscular, and denser-boned.” The essay gives many examples. Here are two of those examples:

Female rats exposed to 3.5 or 4.7 G for one year showed “marked depletion of body-fat depots” and “significant decrease in kidney and liver lipids.”[2]…

The drop in body fat from centrifugation can be quite large; chickens went from 13% body fat to 3% body fat at 3G, and mice have a 55% drop in total body fat after 8 weeks of 2G exposure.[18]

Here are the studies that produced those, uh, results:

[2] Oyama, J., and B. Zeitman. “Tissue composition of rats exposed to chronic centrifugation.” American Journal of Physiology–Legacy Content 213.5 (1967): 1305-1310.

[18]Fuller, Patrick M., et al. “Neurovestibular modulation of circadian and homeostatic regulation: vestibulohypothalamic connection?.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99.24 (2002): 15723-15728.

A question raised, but not stated, by these studies: If you rode in a centrifuge for a year, or even for eight weeks, would you inevitably lose not just weight, but also all hope? Would a rat, or a chicken?