November 2011


A brinicle is essentially an underwater icicle or ice stalactite.  Their growth and formation has been observed for the first time as part of the new BBC series Frozen Planet.  This link reveals how this was captured on film.  Here is the amazing timelapse footage of the formation of a brinicle:

For information on brinicle formation and structure read this BBC article and wikipedia entry.  A mathematical treatment of their formation can be found in this academic paper:

Martin, Seelye (1974). “Ice stalactites: comparison of a laminar flow theory with experiment”Journal of Fluid Mechanics 63 (1): 51-79. doi:10.1017/S0022112074001017

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A really impressive time lapse video taken from international space station.

HT to Bad Astronomy who says this about it:

“I’m so overwhelmed by the beauty and coolness of this video I’m not sure which part I like best! The cities streaming by underneath; the instantly recognizable outlines of familiar places like the Great Lakes or the boot of Italy; the incredible flickering thunderstorms — giving you an understanding that there are always thousands of such storms all over the planet at any one time; the incredible 3D view of the green and red aurorae which you can actually see as towering structures dozens or even hundreds kilometers in height; the stars rising and setting and spinning over the horizon; the reflection of the Moon on the Earth below following along our point of view at 2:50 into the footage; or the thin glowing arc above the horizon: airglow, caused by molecules in the upper atmosphere slowly emitting light as they release energy accumulated during the day.”

Credit: NASA, Michael König, who used photos from NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of the Earth site.

This week I was involved in a discussion about the future of science, we used a blog post by Michael Nielsen as a basis for our discussions.  Here are some of the major points that he raises:

  • Scientific publishing has essentially remained the same since the 17th century
  • Open source publishing should be a requirement: publicly paid for science should be available to the public for free (this is an issue that has been raised before on this blog)
  • The uptake of open source publishing and open comment systems has been slow
  • The culture of science needs to change in this respect
  • The current model only rewards efforts towards more publications in the top journals, thus it is difficult to break the status quo
  • Scientists have been reluctant to contribute to things like Wikipedia, open thread comments, blogs etc essentially because they don’t get any credit or recognition for it
  • Science has been very slow to take up recent advances in social networking capabilities
  • A revolution in scientific networking and collaboration is possible
  • Successes include the polymath project
  • Combined collaborator effort is very powerful, an interesting example is the Kasparov vs the world chess match
  • There is enormous room for improved efficiency in how science is done
  • Sharing data and model code should be required – a move towards extreme openness is advocated
  • A role model is the development of open source software such as like Linux

Here is a TED talk where he describes some of his ideas:

For those interested further Michael Nielsen has written a recent book on the subject, entitled Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science.

The way things are typically taught at University is at odds with what we know about how we learn.  Here is a fascinating interview with Alison Gopnik in Macleans magazine.  Here are some choice quotes:

“The traditional way of thinking about learning at a university is … not a model that anybody’s ever found any independent evidence for.”

“[in traditional university education] There’s not exploratory learning, there’s not guided apprenticeship.”

“…it’s sort of ironic, [students at elite universities are] over-prepared, … Because there’s insane pressure on high school students to achieve and get into college, by the time they get here they’ve already got a mindset: “All right, it’s absolutely imperative that I get an A+ on every single test and I need to know what I have to do to achieve that.” But what we want in students is creativity and a willingness to fail. I always say to students, “If you’ve never at some point stayed up all night talking to your new boyfriend about the meaning of life instead of preparing for the test, then you’re not really an intellectual.”

“The issue … is we’re selecting a group that has gone through so much pressure to get to university that they don’t have that wide-ranging curiosity that’s a really important part of having an intellectual life.”

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research field is in children’s learning and development, her most recent book is The Philosophical Baby: What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life.  Here she is speaking about her work at a TED conference: