Thursday, April 24, 2008

When Galaxies Collide, Part 2

Images of colliding galaxies, courtesy of Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes.



Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Scents and the Sixth Sense

WARNING: Nose jobs may interfere with your ability to see dead people.

During last Wednesday's Norman Lear Center panel on the "Economics of Attention," David Merkoski dropped a knowledge bomb by bringing up the Vomeronasal Organ and its association with the fabled Sixth Sense.

The Vomeronasal Organ is a olfactory sense organ located in the cartilage of the nose. It's a chemoreceptor organ that detects pheromones, chemicals that elicit behavorial responses in others. For many animals, pheromones trigger explicit behavior such as aggression, mating and/or territorial pissing. But for humans, pheromones are attributed to the more implicit "Sixth Sense;" the feeling that the guy across the room is The One. Or a total creep. Or dead.

The presence of VNO in animals is widely accepted among researchers, but its existence in adult humans is controversial. D. Troiter's paper in the Oxford Journal of Chemical Senses concludes that there is a VNO pit in approximately 92% of adult humans, but there is no concrete evidence of its functionality as a sensory organ. Now, we know that humans can perceive pheromones, and the effects of pheromones on human behavior are well-documented: you may have heard about Claus Wedekind's T-shirt study, or the menstrual synchrony of females living in close quarters. But researchers think these pheromones are perceived by other tissues in the olfactory system, rather than the VNO.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Code Green

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you tried to board a flight without a government-issued photo ID?


1. The TSA officer picks up a radio and calls in a Code Green.

2. Another TSA officer walks up and helps the first one fill out some paperwork.

3. You walk through the Puffer, a machine designed to search your body for explosives and narcotics by shooting short blasts of air all over your body (Think the glaucoma test at the optometrist, but everywhere.)


(Yes. It tickles.)

4. Yet another TSA officer searches your bags and dusts your electronic devices and shoes.

5. You get a pretty blue stamp on your boarding pass and proceed to your departure gate.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

New England State of Mind

There's a row of white rocking chairs in the hallway connecting Terminal C to Terminal B in Boston Logan International Airport.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

WeHo Field Guide: Bougainvillea

It's alive!


That jumble of thorny brown twigs in my backyard is alive!

And it's produced hundreds of bright red flowers!

Some fun facts about Bougainvillea:

Human. Animal. HumanAnimal.

You might want to be sitting down for this.

Researchers at Newcastle University in England claim to have created human-animal hybrid embryos.

The embryos were created by injecting DNA from human skin cells into cow eggs.


Rest assured, they only lasted three days. And Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority mandates that all surviving embryos be destroyed after 14 days.

What if these embryos matured? Would they be hunted, caged, kept as pets? Would they be endowed certain inalienable rights? Would we declare a human-animal hybrid history month, honoring history's most prolific human-animal hybrids? Possible candidates:

The Centaur


The Cowardly Lion