Author Archives: sciencecrossroads


Double thanks to a couple of comrades.

The incomparable and insomniatic Bora recently interviewed Karl Bates from Duke about his nifty new Webzine.

Karl was kind enough to mention this blog.

There’s a really cool video on Bora’s site now of a giant windmill exploding.

~ Clinton


Shrewed survivor

From Vanderbilt’s Exploration online mag comes this dispatch (excerpts below) about the pound-for-pound audaciousness of the water shrew. The zine includes great high-speed video of the creature’s hunting prowess.
The scientist, Ken Catania, is a former MacArthur Fellow … and slightly resembles a woodland creature himself. Exploration previously reported on his groundbreaking work (ahem) with the starnosed mole.

The research reveals that the small animal possesses remarkably sophisticated methods for detecting prey that allow it to catch small fish and aquatic insects as readily in the dark as in daylight.

It is a skill set that the water shrew really needs. About half the size of a mouse, water shrews have such a high metabolism that they must eat more than their weight daily and can starve to death in half a day if they can’t find anything to eat. As a result, water shrews are formidable predators ounce for ounce.

“Water shrews do much of their hunting at night, so I began wondering how they can identify their prey in nearly total darkness,” says Ken Catania, the associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt who headed the study.

Catania teamed up with James Hare and Kevin Campbell at the University of Manitoba and used a high-speed infrared video camera to answer this question. The results of their study are reported in a paper titled “Water shrews detect movement, shape, and smell to find prey underwater” published Jan. 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our research confirms that shrews in general, and water shrews in particular, are marvels of adaptation, with specializations and behaviors that put many other mammals to shame,” says Catania.
Its hunting methods are pretty amazing, and all without a 12-pack of cheap beer.




From the don’t-jump-to-conclussions department

A study from the UMich Health System (go here for the release) makes an important distinction when deciding who to target, market-wise, for the HPV vaccine: women who might need the vaccine most are those who are not already sexually active.

Seems obvious, right?

But often the risk factors turn around sexual history, and catches women who have already had sex.

According to the study’s author, Amanda Dempsey:

Selectively vaccinating women based on risk factors alone would mean that more than 2 million women, ages 18 to 26, who had the potential to derive the most benefit from HPV vaccination because they weren’t already infected, would miss out on getting the vaccine.

 The UMich press page also includes groovy video and audio interviews.


It’s the science policy, stupid

Well, well.

The presidential campaigns might finally get around to talking about science. And, maybe, just maybe, they won’t limit the discussion to stem cells.

The NYTimes’ Andrew Revkin reported yesterday   that a group called Sciencedebate 2008 , comprised of some very smart people, including science bloggers Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney, has scheduled a science debate and invited the presidential candidates.

Gee, do you think the wanna-be leaders of the free world might recognize that science is important?

Hmmmm. Let’s see. They all talk about healthcare reform. That involves, uh, health care, which usually includes medicine, and sometimes biomedical science.

How about the environment? Despite the fact that environment stories often turn into stories about Hollywood personalities, I’m pretty sure science is part of understanding why the Arctic ice cap is melting, which just might carry over to this energy, global warming stuff.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the perpetual war on terrorism, are top priorities. But what about the technological gadgetry that enables us to wage war and defend our military? An engineer or two might have been involved in creating drone aircraft or satellite imaging. Oh, and there’s the whole battlefield medicine and psychiatry angle, but that’s stretching it a bit.

There’s been a big fuss recently about how far behind the rest of the world the U.S. (No. 17) lags in Internet broadband speed. Korea is killing us. Canada — Canada! — is more advanced. But the Internet isn’t an important part of commerce or national security or anything like that.

And then there’s the workforce. All those people depending on medical care, manufacturing, energy … that’s inconsequential. Never mind that some of those sectors might actually improve our quality of life, much less keep us alive.

The candidates have science policies. Obama, Hillary and McCain list science topics on their “issues” pages. They all talk about healthcare reform, which is about the same for all of them. Obama’s is the only one that addresses technology. Hillary lists an “innovation agenda,” whatever that is. McCain adds the environment. Read them and draw your own conclusions.

Also check out the NSF’s wish list.

And let’s hope that science and technology come out of the shadows and take a prominent role in national initiatives.


There’s nothing earth-shattering about this news release at the University of Michigan.

Birds have been flying for a long, long time. And, hey, what do you know? Aerospace engineers learn from observing birds.

Hey, it’s Monday. Let’s ease into the week.

And, the photos are cool.

I feel a black hole rising

This Vanderbilt Exploration story reveals that hundreds of rogue black holes could be roaming our galactic neighborhood.

From editor and writer David Salisbury’s story:

In the past two years, scientists have succeeded in numerically simulating black hole mergers that incorporate Einstein’s theory of relativity. One of the big surprises to come from this effort is the prediction that when two black holes that are rotating at different speeds or are different sizes combine, the newly merged black hole receives a big kick due to conservation of momentum, pushing it away in an arbitrary direction at velocities as high as 4,000 kilometers per second.

If [the modeling is correct], and 200 globular clusters in the Milky Way have indeed spawned intermediate-sized black holes, this means that hundreds of them are probably wandering invisibly around the Milky Way, waiting to engulf the nebulae, stars and planets that are unfortunate enough to cross their paths.

Fortunately, the existence of a few rogue black holes in the neighborhood does not present a major danger. “These rogue black holes are extremely unlikely to do any damage to us in the lifetime of the universe,” says Vanderbilt astronomer Kelly Holley-Bockelmann. “Their danger zone, the Schwarzschild radius, is really tiny, only a few hundred kilometers. There are far more dangerous things in our neighborhood!”

Seeing green

What’s foul and gross and green all over? China’s Taihu Lake during a massive cyanobacteria bloom. Hans Paerl, seen here scooping up some of the algae, is consulting with the Chinese to control the blooms.

Developing countries aren’t the only places vulnerable; these blooms have killed livestock who sought to slake their thirst from U.S. lakes, Paerl says. Global warming will make the problem worse because the blue-green organisms thrive during droughts and in extreme conditions.

In the end (of the world), Paerl says, there will be cockroaches and blue green algae. And in the very end, there will be the algae. Read the Aug. 31, 07 issue of Science or go to the Paerl Lab.