17 posts · 13,248 views
A free-ranging science blog with accessible and exciting content from all areas of science.
For a blog called Smells Like Science, you might have noticed that I haven’t written much about smelly science. That all changes here as I get to the bottom of the “Juicy Fruit: which fruit does it taste like?” debate. Plus, what do Juicy Fruit Gum and honey bees have in common?... Read more »
BOCH R, SHEARER DA, & STONE BC. (1962) Identification of isoamyl acetate as an active component in the sting pheromone of the honey bee. Nature, 1018-20. PMID: 13870346
Collins, A., & Blum, M. (1982) Bioassay of compounds derived from the honeybee sting. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 8(2), 463-470. DOI: 10.1007/BF00987794
There’s an engraved marker at the top of Copp’s Hill in the North End of Boston not far from my apartment. The marker explains that the hill provided 17th-century colonists with a respite from the “three great annoyances, of woolves, rattle-snakes, and musketos.” Mosquitos may not be so far-fetched, but rattlesnakes and wolves in the North End of Boston? It’s hard to imagine. But ever since I discovered this marker, I’ve often wondered what the area looked like when European settlers first arrived.... Read more »
Gobster, P. (2007) Urban Park Restoration and the "Museumification" of Nature. Nature and Culture, 2(2), 95-114. DOI: 10.3167/nc2007.020201
Boland, Michael. (2004) Crissy Field: A New Model for Managing Urban Parklands. Places, 15(3), 40-43. info:/
There aren’t many foods that are as closely tied to American identity as apple pie. And Americans love apple pie so much that, at times, we’ve felt compelled to make it even when we don’t have any apples. I’ve heard about a recipe for apple-less apple pie from a number of people over the years, but I’ve never talked to anyone who’s actually eaten it. So this past weekend, I decided to give it a try.
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Spence, C., Levitan, C., Shankar, M., & Zampini, M. (2010) Does Food Color Influence Taste and Flavor Perception in Humans?. Chemosensory Perception, 3(1), 68-84. DOI: 10.1007/s12078-010-9067-z
After the Vasa was salvaged from the bottom of Stockholm harbor nearly intact in 1961 and towed to a dry dock, archaeologists were some of the first people to board the resurrected ship. They squeezed through the Vasa’s cramped quarters and slogged through three-foot-deep mud on the lower decks, searching for artifacts. They quickly began to uncover thousands of objects: coins, bowls, cups, elegant furniture, a board game, a butter cask containing 333-year-old butter. Like a nautical Pompeii, everything was as it had been on the day the Vasa sank. Archaeologists found the ship fully provisioned for a months-long maiden voyage, with casks of salted meat and musket shot stored in the hold. ... Read more »
Hocker, Emma. (2010) Maintaining a Stable Environment: "Vasa's" New Climate-Control System. Association for Preservation Technology International Bulletin, 41(2/3), 3-9. info:/
There are billions of miles of copper wire strung across the globe, buried beneath cities, spanning even the most remote landscapes, winding through our homes, our computers, and our cell phones. Although some of this global tangle of wires has lately been replaced by fiber-optic cable and wireless signals, we still depend on copper and its ‘wandering’ S electron to light our cities, power our appliances, and transmit the electrical signals we use to communicate. While the importance of copper today is sometimes overshadowed by the ubiquity and strength of modern steel, for thousands of years copper was the only practical metal known to humans.
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ABRAHAM, M. (2004) Ion beam analysis in art and archaeology: attacking the power precisions paradigm. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, 1-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.nimb.2004.01.018
As a little kid I was an expert firefly catcher. But these days, I’m clearly out of practice. I spent a good half-hour the other night unsuccessfully chasing down fireflies to photograph for this post. As soon as they stopped glowing they receded into the darkness, becoming nearly invisible. Eventually I gave up the hunt and watched the seemingly random flickers of light coming from the fireflies all around me. What looks at first glance like random sparks and flashes in the night, is actually an intricate, flirtatious conversation between male and female fireflies.... Read more »
Lewis, S., & Cratsley, C. (2008) Flash Signal Evolution, Mate Choice, and Predation in Fireflies. Annual Review of Entomology, 53(1), 293-321. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ento.53.103106.093346
The ruins of La Milpa lie at the top of a steep, slippery path that winds upward from a rutted dirt road in Belize’s Rio Bravo Conservation Area. After scrambling up this path for the first time, I found myself beneath a dense jungle canopy, in the midst of a shadowy ruin. Unlike many other large Maya sites, La Milpa has not been uncovered, reconstructed, and opened to tourists. Instead, it remains shrouded in a thick layer of dirt and a thousand years’ worth of jungle growth. As you enter La Milpa, it’s easy to feel as though you’re discovering it for the first time.... Read more »
Dunning, N., Scarborough, V., Valdez, F., Luzzadder-Beach, S., Beach, T., Jones, J. (1999) Temple mountains, sacred lakes, and fertile fields: ancient Maya landscapes in northwestern Belize. Antiquity, 73(281), 650-660. info:/
There is an unusual, and mostly forgotten monument in a shaded area at the edge of the Boston Public Garden in downtown Boston. It was completed in 1868, and, like many other monuments built during the 19th century, it features classical statuary, granite columns, and biblical inscriptions. But unlike any other monument in the world, it memorializes a drug. The inscription on the front face of the monument reads: “To commemorate that the inhaling of ether causes insensibility to pain. First proved to the world at the Mass. General Hospital in Boston, October A.D. MDCCCXLV”... Read more »
Has warfare been handed down to us through millions of years of evolution? Is it part of who we are as a species? At the heart of this question is whether humans have a natural capacity to kill other humans. Some social scientists have concluded that evolution has in fact left us with this unfortunate ability.
Primatologist Richard Wrangham, a major proponent of this idea, developed the “Imbalance of Power Hypothesis” to explain how evolution could produce a propensity for warfare in humans. The idea is that our primate ancestors could have gained access to additional food and other resources by attacking and killing their neighbors. Of course, these deadly attacks would have only been worthwhile if the attackers could ensure their own safety. So, Dr. Wrangham reasons, our ancestors would have carried out deadly attacks only when they severely outnumbered their victims. The conclusion is that our ancestors who were psychologically predisposed to cooperatively pick off their neighbors would have had a distinct evolutionary advantage. Or, in Dr. Wrangham’s words, ”there has been selection for a male psyche that, in certain circumstances, seeks opportunities to carry out low-cost attacks on unsuspecting neighbors.” This trait would have been amplified and passed down through the generations until it was eventually inherited by modern humans, who presumably took this predisposition and ran with it, inventing more and more efficient ways to kill each other.
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ROSCOE, P. (2007) Intelligence, Coalitional Killing, and the Antecedents of War. American Anthropologist, 109(3), 485-495. DOI: 10.1525/aa.2007.109.3.485
The Chimpanzees who live at the Ngogo site deep within Uganda’s Kibale National Park spend their days foraging and feeding, wrestling and playing, grooming and socializing. But every 10 to 14 days a group of males gathers and moves away from the rest of the group. They form a single-file line as they walk purposefully toward the edge of their territory, eventually striking out into the territory of a neighboring group of chimpanzees. They move in atypical silence, scanning the underbrush and listening for any sign of other chimps. If they encounter a large group of neighboring chimps, and are outnumbered, they flee back to their territory. But if they come across a single chimp from a neighboring group, they attack – surrounding, beating, and jumping on the victim. Some victims are killed outright, others manage to escape, broken, bleeding, and unlikely to survive. Infants are often torn away from female chimpanzees and are killed and cannibalized.... Read more »
Mitani, J., Watts, D., & Amsler, S. (2010) Lethal intergroup aggression leads to territorial expansion in wild chimpanzees. Current Biology, 20(12). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.04.021
At the end of the last ice age modern humans were migrating out of Africa, Neanderthals roamed Europe, and new research has shown that a previously unknown population of ancient humans lived in Asia. All that remains of this mysterious group is a section of finger bone and a wisdom tooth. The group has been named the Denisovans after Denisova Cave in Siberia where the tooth and bone segment were found. A few months ago researchers completed an analysis of mitochondrial DNA from the finger bone and concluded that it had belonged to a child who lived about 40,000 years ago and was genetically different from both modern humans and Neanderthals.... Read more »
Reich, D., Green, R., Kircher, M., Krause, J., Patterson, N., Durand, E., Viola, B., Briggs, A., Stenzel, U., Johnson, P.... (2010) Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature, 468(7327), 1053-1060. DOI: 10.1038/nature09710
Scientists have often looked to nature in the quest for new drugs to treat everything from cancer to infectious diseases, and they’ve found effective drugs in unexpected places – sea sponges, the bark of the Pacific yew tree, a throat swab from a chicken. But archaeologist Patrick McGovern and an interdisciplinary group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are using a different approach: they’re looking to the past in search of new drugs.... Read more »
McGovern, . (2010) Anticancer activity of botanical compounds in ancient fermented beverages (Review). International Journal of Oncology, 37(1). DOI: 10.3892/ijo_00000647
The phrase “solar powered hornets” may conjure terrifying images of a futuristic, stinging swarm of eco-conscious, half-insect, half-machine hornets. But these hornets might already exist. And don’t worry, they’re just normal hornets. Researchers have recently discovered that the Oriental hornet may be capable of harvesting energy from sunlight.... Read more »
Plotkin, M., Hod, I., Zaban, A., Boden, S., Bagnall, D., Galushko, D., & Bergman, D. (2010) Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Naturwissenschaften, 97(12), 1067-1076. DOI: 10.1007/s00114-010-0728-1
Aspirin knows how to multitask. It was originally developed more than a century ago as a pain reliever, but it was soon discovered that it also reduces fever and fights inflammation. In the last 30 years it was found that a daily low dose of aspirin reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. And now a new study suggests that aspirin taken over an extended time period reduces the risk of death from a variety of solid tumor cancers, including colorectal, lung, esophageal, and gastrointestinal cancers.... Read more »
Rothwell, P., Fowkes, F., Belch, J., Ogawa, H., Warlow, C., & Meade, T. (2010) Effect of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomised trials. The Lancet. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62110-1
Were the Salem Witch Trials sparked by grain infected with toxic hallucinogens?... Read more »
In the 1990's archaeologists uncovered a grave in Connecticut dating from the mid-1800's that provided the first physical evidence of a historical belief in vampires in New England.... Read more »
Sledzik, P., & Bellantoni, N. (1994) Bioarcheological and biocultural evidence for the New England vampire folk belief. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 94(2), 269-274. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.1330940210
A real life Indiana Jones style adventure story (with less whips) about a priceless archaeological discovery deep in the Guatemalan Jungle.... Read more »
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