Books, Creativity, Science

Geek love in its noblest form — Carl Zimmer’s Science Ink

You think crocheting mathematical objects is almost too geeky to bear? Then you might want to sit down now!

It all started when Carl Zimmer saw a friend’s tattoo of a DNA molecule and realized he had bumped into the tip of a vast hidden iceberg.

He soon started to collect pictures scientists sent him. It probably helped that he is a rather well-known science writer for papers like the New York Times and magazines such as Discover; if I’d asked people for pictures of their body they’d have sued me for harrassment.

So far Carl has amassed more than 250 tattoos on his blog The Loom. If you ever feel the need to procrastinate, this collection is a great way to spend time.

And it gets even better. Now a selection of his collection got published as a book — Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

In November 2011 Science Ink even made the #2 spot in the Amazon best seller lists for … Beauty and Fashion!

That makes me hope to see a new trend emerging here. I’d prefer to see more DNA tattoos than those ubiquitous tramp stamps.

Science Ink is on my Christmas wishlist. Let’s hope Nicola James reads this …



We steady ourselves with the past — Lauren Groff: The Monsters of Templeton

Animal from Lauren Groff's homepage

Hey, it’s that beast from Learning GNU Emacs, but what is it doing here? I found it’s flipped twin in the background of Lauren Groff‘s webpage. Her designer seems to be inspired by O’Reilly book covers – every single page features an animal I associate with computer programming.

Anyhow, enough of the geeky stuff. Why was I on Groff’s webpage anyway?

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Books, Creativity, Philosophy, Science

Crocheting reality – beautiful fringe science

“For thousands of years mathematicians believed there were just 2 types of geometry, the plane and the sphere. But another more aberrant structure lurks beneath the surface of Euclid’s laws – one that has been illuminated through the art of crochet.” *

You’ve heard correctly: crochet!

The Institute for Figuring features many ways to make abstract topics more accessible, one of them is to crochet models of hyperbolic spaces. A whole institute dedicated to aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics — this is awesome!

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The book of life and its history

Being so busy beating cancer one technical paper at a time, I often don’t get the opportunity to step back and see how our stuff  relates to what other people are doing in foreign territories … like the humanities. So I was thrilled to be invited to team up with Barbara Zipser, a researcher in the history of medicine at RHUL. In a chapter in her forthcoming book we contrast stemmatics and textual criticism in philology with phylogenetic methods in biology. The following fragment is part of my bit of the bargain. Enjoy!

Unlike physics, biology does not have a strong mathematical theory to explain and predict observed phenomena. This may be one of the reasons why biology is so rich in metaphors. The Tree of Life connects all forms of life on earth. Conrad Waddington famously compared the development of cell  types and tissues to marbles rolling down a grooved slope, the so called epigenetic landscape. And inside every single cell the nucleus contains an organism’s genome, the Book of Life written in the language of DNA. Similar to a text written in a human language, DNA transfers information, it can be transcribed into a different form (RNA instead of DNA) and it can be translated (into proteins).

The idea that the genome can be read and edited pervades all molecular biology and forms one of the most powerful and suggestive metaphors of modern science.

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Books, Duty Calls, Philosophy

Feyerabend and the tyranny of science

In October 2011 PLoS Biology, a top biology journal, tried something new – it took a deeper look at the boundary between biology and philosophy:

“Does the cultural divide between science and the humanities, first articulated by C. P. Snow over 50 years ago, still exist between biology and philosophy? In a mini experiment to find out, we asked a philosopher and biologist to review the recent English translation of Tyranny of Science, by 20th century philosopher Paul Feyerabend, perhaps best known for rejecting the claim that science is a singular discipline unified by common methods and concepts.”

What a nice idea! The philosopher is Ian J Kidd from Durham in the UK, who does research on Feyerabend and other philosophers of science, while the biologist is Axel Meyer from Konstanz in Germany, who studies diversity in fish. And Feyerabend (1924-1994) is a very good choice, because he is notorious as a polemic writer and not known for holding back his opinions. If there is any divide of any kind anywhere, Feyerabend will be right in the thick of it.

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