Hack your sleep


What initially attracted me to this article was the blog’s title: Four Hour Work Week – what a fantasy!!! Anyway, the post is a list of 5 simple steps that you can take to improve your sleeping habits.

I found this a few weeks back, and it struck a chord. The author is clearly very knowledgeable about the neurochemistry of sleep. Too many folks out there offer advice which is baseless or wishful…

And then yesterday I found another article along the same lines: this one is less scientific, but has some useful info nonetheless.

So I thought it would be valuable to spread this info; I’ve seen my fair share of students whose capacity to concentrate during the school day is being wrecked by inadequate sleep.

Bacterial arms race

Microbiologists have managed to ‘force’ bacteria to create a new antibiotic in a test-tube-based arms race.


Genetic studies of a bacteria species called Rhodococcus, normally found in soil, revealed large amounts of latent (or potential) proteins coded for in its genome. Some of these sequences displayed an intriguing similarity to existing chemicals, including pigments and toxins. However, the bacteria weren’t expressing these products…

So they were put into a hostile situation – a petri dish with a competing bacterial species. The rhodococcus responded by expressing a latent antibiotic and wiping out the competition!

An excellent example of the scientific method: careful observation and creative testing which achieves a serendipitous outcome.

Moon shot

The search for water (in the form of ice) under the surface of the moon is moving into a new stage.


NASA plans to crash two probes into the southern polar regions of the moon in an effort to find ice underground. A previous probe detected hydrogen in those craters, and scientists now want to see if that hydrogen is bound up as water.

For a long time, there has been a hope that water, discovered on the moon, would remove one of the main problems with establishing a long-term settlement there. Transporting water from Earth to a colony on the moon would be a prohibitively expensive. Much better to get it once you are there.

It’s certainly Large!

CERN‘s Large Hadron Collidor – pictured here – will begin in May to smash protons together in an effort to find out what gives matter its mass.


The leading theory explaining the origin of mass revolves around a mechanism whereby the presence of virtual particles called Higgs bosons generate a field through which matter moves, acquiring mass as a kind of ‘drag’.

The aim of the LHC is to reveal direct evidence of the Higgs bosons, thereby improving our understanding of the mechanism of mass creation.

And they need an apparatus the size of a large building to do it!

Your inner fish

Next time you’re annoyed by hiccuping, blame your ancient brain stem and amphibious ancestors.


In his new book, Your Inner Fish, the head of Chicago University’s Anatomy Dept Neil Shubin contends that hiccups are caused by impulses sent from your brain stem to a partially ‘remembered’ gill structure.

This evolutionary throw-back is just one of many that Shubin uses to highlight the random outcomes of evolution and counter the assertions of intelligent design proponents. No intelligence in its right mind would lay claim for responsibility for the oddities illuminated in books like this!

“I seem to be having difficulty…

…with my paragraph breaks.” with apologies to Douglas Adams.

Update – fixed. I suspect a problem in Safari (used for the original posts) as the edits I’ve made using Firefox are sticking. Hmmm…

Iron-fertilized, carbon-eating oceans

Regardless of whether the oceans boil away in 7.6 billion years or not, we have a real-life crisis developing right now in the form of global warming. Or, as some would rather: ‘climate change’. Doesn’t sound so scary then…

One set of techniques to combat the rise of greenhouse gases is geo-sequestration – basically, sticking the CO2 underground – and there are lots of different ways proposed to accomplish this.

A series of articles is currently being posted that explains the process, benefits and side-effects of a geo-seq method called ocean iron-fertilization which uses excess iron in sea-water to promote the growth of plankton that use CO2 (like plants) and drag it down to the ocean bottom in an organic form.

The articles are long and can get a bit technical – although there are some fantastic diagrams to help along the way – so I’ll leave the final word to a better journalist than I:

You need to know three things … One, putting iron in the ocean does increase plankton numbers. Two, scientists don’t really have any idea how much of the carbon the organisms eat actually drops from the surface into the depths, which is the key to sequestration. It could be anywhere from 2-50 percent, which is almost like saying, “It could work or it could not work.” Three, the leading scientists in the field don’t have enough confidence to say that ocean iron fertilization could have any real impact on stopping or even slow climate change.

Still looking for a solution, then.