Scientific Disciplines

The Apollo Guidance Computer

Jul 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Space

Let’s say you’re a NASA engineer in the 1960s, wearing your snazzy black plastic glasses, thinking of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. You start thinking navigation. Getting into the right orbits is going to take a fair bit of computation–plus some fine control of rocket engines and […]



Extraterrestrial Saltwater Ocean on Saturn Moon

Jun 25th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Articles, Space

Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, probably has a saltwater ocean under it’s surface, at least per an analysis of data from the Cassini probe. Take it away NASA and JPL: For the first time, scientists working on NASA’s Cassini mission have detected sodium salts in ice grains of Saturn’s outermost ring. Detecting salty ice indicates […]



The Mammalian Cell Fate Map

Mar 18th, 2009 | By | Category: Embryonic Stem Cell Research

As a part of writing up my PhD thesis, I adapted this figure from Gilbert’s Developmental Biology, Fourth Edition: (This figure is my own. Click for a much larger version–suitable for printing on an 8.5×11 sheet of paper.) When I write about embryonic stem cells, I’m often saying something like this: Making a new mammal […]



The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Mar 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Embryonic Stem Cell Research

What happens when a part of our body gets injured–or just wears out? The ideal response would be to replace the tissue and cells lost with new, full-functional replacements–regeneration. For the parts of our body that are constantly turning over–skin, blood, and to a lesser extent bone for examples–this is exactly what happens. Since the […]



Evolution of Cascades

Mar 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Evolution

Regulated cascades pop up all the time in biology–particularly in complex organisms. Whether coagulation, development or differentiation of specific cell types, they all follow the same general pattern.

Some new work, in the field of skeletal muscle differentiation, points to another way beyond the divine to generate a cascade.



Voyager 2, How I Miss You

Mar 2nd, 2009 | By | Category: Scientific Disciplines

Early in 1986, I snuck out of bed and turned on the ancient black-and-white television set close to my bedroom. Only eight years old, I sat down to watch a PBS special. The Voyager 2 spacecraft was about to send back the first close-up pictures of the planet Uranus. Even at that young age, I […]



Evolution on Darwin’s 200th Birthday

Feb 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Evolution, Featured Articles, Lead Article

Human understanding of life has come in spurts, separated by decades of consolidation and grappling with new data or new ways of thinking about biology. We’re, right now, in midst of another spurt in our understanding of life.



Witness the Magic of Regression Analysis…

Nov 5th, 2008 | By | Category: Stats

… and some damn good statistics. FiveThirtyEight’s election-eve prediction, of 349 electoral votes for Obama: Reality this afternoon, of a projected 349 electoral votes for Obama: I might start caring about baseball, just to further appreciate the awesomeness of Nate Silver.



How to Read a Histogram

Oct 20th, 2008 | By | Category: Stats

Nate Silver, the wonky head of the mathematically rigorous election projection site FiveThirtyEight.com, has a computer model that uses all of the available polling, weighted for accuracy, demographics and the rest, to run through ten thousand possible elections every day. Each one of these simulated elections pops out an electoral vote total for Obama. What’s […]



Genetic Test for Maternity

Aug 31st, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Articles, Genetics, Lead Article

If I were a woman accused of claiming my daughter’s child was my own, and I knew such accusations were false, I’d use science to prove myself right.