Saturday, May 30, 2009

Square Trees and Lilliputian Architects

Trees at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza in Albany are trimmed so that they mirror the monolithic architecture of New York State's government complex.

This spring, I've watched a particular cubic tree leaf from one of the few windows near my lab. I suppose that some might think it "cruel" to shape a tree this way; if so, you should see what artist Natalie Jeremijenko has done to her trees at Mass MoCA, or simply think of what every bonsai goes through.

Getting back to the plaza, I wonder if the "tree foraminifera" that we study would build similar monoliths if offered bricks and blocks? This is a serious scientific question: I've long held the notion that we could "train" cells to construct tiny devices. (The alternative concept that most engineers have adopted, i.e., self-assembly of components, is one of the bottlenecks, if not fallicies, of nanotechnology.) Tree foraminifera are magnificant sculptors and build micro-scale shells for a living. Why not teach them how to assemble our miniaturized goodies?

Notodendrodes antarctikos - a "tree foram" from Explorers Cove, Antarctica (photo courtesy Shawn Harper)

Since this post considers the concept of scale, we should be cautious when thinking about working at the level of foraminifera. These single-celled giants are voraceous carnivores; given the chance, they would probably trim our body parts so that we conform to their arborescent aesthetic.

And then eat us!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bleeding Hearts (iii)

Irradiate bleeding hearts with simulated sunlight ...

... capture their shadows ...

... add primary colors ...

... relive 1971

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bleeding Hearts (ii)

An insect in flight encounters a string of bleeding hearts.

Upon approach, it finds company...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bleeding Hearts (i)

Flowers mean springtime and summertime, love and loss.

A solitary bleeding heart has appeared in the garden, which has me thinking about the single-minded pursuit required for success in science. Long nights spent alone in the lab, peering through the lens of a microscope; frozen hours under Antarctic ice, encased in scuba gear. So caught up in the passion for knowledge that we forget to play; forget to tell loved ones how important they are...

Even in the company of others, bleeding hearts lack comfort. I wonder what insects see in them?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Albany bloemen

My brother's family is living in Holland for the next few months. Today we share a little color, as Albany celebrates its Dutch heritage with 200,000 tulips.

Boys, Girls, Art & Science

I've been giving science talks to school kids for over 20 years. I tell them stories about working and living in Antarctica, and weave in some bits of knowledge about marine ecosystems, animal behavior, and climate. After spending 45 minutes with 20 bubbly students, I'll wink a smile at the teacher and leave the classroom feeling confident that our world is being left in good hands.

As part of their learning experience, the younger children are usually tasked to compose "thank you" notes or drawings, which teachers then send to me. These tokens of gratitude are treasure.

It's always fun to see which stories the kids focus on. Toilets, diving, dynamite, pycnogonids, and penguins top the list. When viewing the subjects of their art, one thing that I can predict with >95% accuracy is the gender of the child.

I bet you can, too...