Q: What is a Biogeoscientist?

A: Someone who calculates biomass on a global scale.

And the results of one such calculation has just been published: it would appear that the bottom of the world’s oceans contain 90 billion tonnes of micro-organisms (mostly from the Archaea domain).

I’ll say that again – 90 BILLION TONNES. Of microbes!!!!!

And while that might sound like a lot, it is equivalent to just 10% of the total carbon mass in tropical rainforests.

From International Ocean Drilling Program (iodp.org), via ScienceDaily


The Three Terras

A trio of ‘super-Earths’ has been found, amongst a batch of 45 new, extra-solar planets.

Last month astronomers reported to a conference in that they had found three large, rocky planets orbiting a single star 42 light years from Earth. This brings the total of planets found outside our solar system, since the first one in 1995, to 270.

These planets were discovered by careful observations of tiny wobbles in the star they orbit caused by the gravitational drag they exert.

Pics from ESO PR site here.


Strange properties of glass explained

Although glass is a hard, seeemingly solid substance, we’ve known for a while that the atoms are actually able to move but jammed, like cars in gridlock.

Because atoms are too small to see directly, scientists have approached the problem of exploring the structure of glass by using a substance (called a colloidal gel) that behaves and look like glass at a molecular level but forms structures large enough to see. What they’ve found is that the icosahedral shapes formed by the atoms in glass as it cools prevent the atoms from crystallising into a regular lattice.

As , the Univeristy of Bristol’s Paddy Royall explains:

“An icosahedron is like a 3-D pentagon, and just as you cannot tile a floor with pentagons, you cannot fill 3-D space with icosahedrons… Without a regular structure, the atoms are caught between the solid and liquid phases.”

In future, this understanding could be applied to the manufacturing of materials that are light, strong and flexible materials that don’t experience stresses like most metals.


Eco-disco

A night club in London is now generating 60% of its energy requirements from the dancing of its patrons!

Under the dancefloor is a an array of piezoelectric elements that produce electric current when they are squashed by the dancers’ movements.

And it’s not the first. Another club in Rotterdam has been going for some time now using the same technology. Clever, isn’t it? I’d love to see more of this. Imagine generating electricity in public spaces like train station concourses or shopping centres, schools, libraries, museums just from the footsteps of the people walking through.

From Inhabit.com via Engadget


From the department of the ‘Bleedin’ Obvious’ …

Apparently, you can’t just throw computers at kids and expect them to learn better! Who would have thought??! Amazing!

Surely this isn’t news? Yet here we have C|Net reporting on a major technology conference, Future in Review 2008, where educators (again, of course, who else?) are identified as the ones failing kids… Blah blah blah.

It seems to me that the responsibility for improving the use of technology in schools ought to be shared. At the school level, for instance, support staff need to take a less active role in determining the constraints placed on learning policy. Allow imagination to drive the use of technology a little.

At the system level, we could do with greater flexibility in tertiary-entry exams to allow a greater choice of tools: students at some technology-rich schools are actually disadvantaged when they sit down at the end of Year 12 to a pen & paper exam like their grandparents faced. Teacher-training courses need to better integrate technology in every single area of teaching methodology and abandon the idea of ICT being a subject in its own right.

Teachers have to accept and prioritise the important – and, yes, time-consuming – responsibility of becoming thoroughly familiar with technology.

And finally, commentators would do well to back off on painting this issue in such black and white terms. The next time someone uses the term digital native or digital immigrant I’m going to scream. I know it makes for snappy headlines and seminar titles, but really…

Technology and education are a match made in heaven. But a cooperative approach is needed.


Viral photos

An advance in the field of microscopy has allowed virologists to see a virus particle being ‘born’ out of an infected cell.

Previous techniques froze the event in time, effectively taking snapshots at several stages amongst several samples.

Via Wired, out of Nature


It’s official: water ice on Mars!

Big news from NASA as scientists announced that the Phoenix mission had found water ice on Mars.

The evidence is a pair of photographs taken 4 days apart showing small chunks of ice disappearing – by sublimation – from the bottom of the small trench dug by a robotic arm. The comparison photos below show the chunks in question before and after sublimation at the bottom left of the picture.

Amazing stuff. When the chunks were first observed, they were hypothesised to be either water ice or salt. However, salt crystals won’t sublime under the conditions at the landing site. Water will.

BTW, the announcement came first ( June 20) on the Phoenix lander’s tweet! And folks have been saying Twitter is of no use…